Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review of SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR: Sin In the Form of a Woman

August 29, 2014

In 2005, a visually-arresting film by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller brought a graphic novel by Frank Miller to striking life. The first "Sin City" film was such a novel film experience. Shot in stark black and white with strategic splashes of color, the stylized sex and violence it showed us was like nothing we have seen in a movie before. It had a memorable cast of over-the-top characters portrayed by big name stars Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Benicio del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan, among others.

Nine long years after, the long-awaited sequel was finally made and released by the same directorial team. "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" has basically the same noir style we marveled at in the first film. This second installments gathers three main stories to tell us, those of Dwight (Josh Brolin) and his sexy Ava (Eva Green), the gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his lucky hand, and finally the stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) and her old score to settle. The common character in the Dwight and Nancy stories was the helpful brute Marv (Mickey Rourke). While in the Johnny and Nancy story, the common denominator was the ruthlessly evil Senator Roark (Powers Boothe).

From the first sequence with Marv chasing down four college kids to teach them a lesson, we know we are in for the same old treat of violence with which the first film held us in awe.  The violence was hyperbolically cartoonish in style with the animated arrows and splattering fluorescent blood. But make no mistake, this film is gruesomely violent, complete with gouging out eyeballs, maiming faces and breaking fingers in stylistically close-up detail.

The sex was definitely still there with Jessica Alba with her raunchy strip routines and Rosario Dawson with her all-leather dominatrix garb. But we already saw these in the first film. Here, this sex factor was amped up more thanks to the bold new presence of one Eva Green who blew all the other ladies in the cast away with her sensuous curves and sultry moves. Ava's seduction scenes ranged from nice and tender with Dwight, to rough with policeman Mort (Christopher Meloni). Note the remark of Mort's partner after their first meeting with Ava. It must hold true for all male audiences during her scenes as well.

It has admittedly been too long in between the first "Sin City" and its sequel. I cannot compare them anymore.  I sort of get the feeling that the story transitions in the first film seemed very smooth and seamless. In this one, the stories Eva Green and Jessica Alba live up to the title of "A Dame to Die For" since they both dealt with fabulous femme fatales. The episode with Joseph Gordon-Levitt seemed out of place since he is clearly no dame.  Nevertheless, the innovative electric cinematographic style and the cool acting performances which made the first film so unique and exciting still make this sequel very much worth the watch. 7/10.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review of THE PURGE: ANARCHY: Mad Social Cleansing Mayhem

August 27, 2014

Last year, a movie written and directed by James DeMonaco entitled "The Purge" was released in cinemas. According to that controversial film, in just ten years from now, the USA had new "Founding Fathers" who believed that in order to keep crime rates down, there should be one 12-hour period a year when all crime will be condoned. 

Therefore each year, March 21, from 7 pm to 7 am the next day is called "Purge Night". On that day, masked vigilantes are free to roam the streets killing whoever they deemed "undesirables" of society. This year, its sequel entitled "The Purge: Anarchy" was made.

The first film had name stars in it, namely Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. The whole film was basically confined to the fortress-like mansion of their characters. This second film though had no name stars at all.  However, this sequel brings the action of "Purge Night" into the streets of Los Angeles. This expanded setting gives "The Purge: Anarchy" more leeway to be more violent, more exciting and more nerve-wracking.

Instead of just focusing on one family as in the first film, this sequel had more characters for us to follow around during the Purge.  Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are a couple whose car broke down downtown. Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Cali (Zoe Soul) are a mother and daughter whose apartment gets broken in just for kicks. The Sergeant (Frank Grillo) is a man with an old debt to settle.  Fate had it that these five people would get together to try and survive the madness of Purge Night, when crazy masked and armed goons sowed violence in wild abandon.

There were also scenes that emphasized the social stratification during the Purge. Poor people voluntarily sold themselves to some rich family in order to fulfill their Purge obligations. The society folks gather some poor folk together to play a Purge hunting game. The ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor was vividly painted with scarlet to highlight the insanity of the Purge law.

In this second installment, we see what was happening on the streets during the Purge. This horror was merely suggested in the first film since that film happened inside only one house, making it tense with claustrophobia. This time the tension was caused by agoraphobia as the danger literally came from anywhere as senseless anarchy ruled the streets.  We see the bigger societal picture here. Come to think of it, the franchise would have made more sense if this had been the first Purge film. 6/10.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review of SOMEBODY TO LOVE: Sassy Smorgasbord

August 25, 2014

When I saw the poster of "Somebody to Love", it did not immediately make me want to watch it. The title is so ordinary and nondescript. I'm sure there have been many films with that unimaginative title before. There are many young attractive actors in the cast like the smorgasbord movies of Regal Films (incidentally also the production company of this film) back in the day, which, though popular, were mostly of mediocre cinematic value. However, when I learned that this film was rated A by the Film Evaluation Board, I got curious about it. 

Mrs. Valderrama (Jaclyn Jose) once left her husband and two children. Her barren daughter Sophie (Maricar Reyes) is now trapped in an unhappy marriage with Daniel (David Chua), who is philandering with beauty queen Tara (Nathalie Hart). Her son Tristan (Mateo Guidicelli) is now the young CEO of a real estate company. 

Tristan has a "friends with benefits" relationship with Valeria (Isabelle Daza) for more than five years. Valeria is the good friend of narcissistic TV hostess Margo Castro (Iza Calzado) whose career seems to be on the rocks. Margo goes to great lengths to gain public attention, including a surprise engagement to triathlete Rainier (Alex Castro).

Margo vents her frustrations on her harassed personal staff members: Karen (Cai Cortez), Winston (Vincent de Jesus) and Amelie (Ella Cruz). Amelie is being ignored by her personal trainer boyfriend Jayson (Albee Casino), who is busy with his matron clients. Winston is having trouble with his boyfriend Yves (Manuel Chua), on whom Amelie's friend Chloe (Kiray Celis) has a big crush on. 

Tristan hired the services of the ad agency where Sabrina (Carla Abellana) works as an executive. Sabrina has a long-term BFF relationship with Nick (Jason Abalos), who will soon be leaving for the States before he can make an important confession. 

Did you get all that?  It's okay, despite all of these inter-connected story lines, writer and director Jose Javier Reyes manages to keep the various threads distinct in their interweaving. We have all seen these problems before: infidelity, non-commitment, homosexuality, missed opportunities, people getting together and coming apart. But this is one film that tackles all of that with a rich dose of sassy sense of humor, without sidestepping the seriousness of the topics tackled.

In the dramatic parts, the standout performances would be those of Carla Abellana and Jason Abalos. The scene of Sabrina and Nick over croughnuts was impressive for saying so much in its simplicity. In that scene where Nick walks in while Tristan was bringing Sabrina to her car, the deep pain Abalos showed in his tearful eyes was remarkable. Jaclyn Jose was so elegant in her dinner scene with Maricar Reyes. 

In contrast, the supposedly intense confrontation scene of Sophie and Daniel was marred by the stiff, self-conscious acting of David Chua. Isabelle Daza was also underacting to a fault. She seemed to be sleepwalking through her role most of the time.

In the comedic parts, Iza Calzado really went to town with her flamboyant role, obviously inspired by real-life TV divas.  She delivered all of those hilarious one-liners of hers so naturally, she's hilarious.  Her character Margo was so maddeningly haughty that Karen's big slapping scene with her was wish-fulfillment for all of us. As expected, Kiray Celis gave her all as a deluded homely woman who thinks her "beauty" can convert a gay man straight. Her expressively funny face can do it all.

Overall, this film was an entertaining watch. It is by mainstream company with mainstream actors, yet it had a raw indie vibe running through it which I appreciated. We may have seen these stories all told in various ways before, but the inventive manner in which they were woven together here with its current, hip, witty and smart script is well worth a look-see. 6/10. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Review of PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE: Recognizing Unsung Heroism

August 22, 2014

Last year, "Planes," an full-length animated feature film by Disney, was a pleasant surprise. It may have had practically the same "race-against-all-odds" story as "Cars", "Turbo" and many other animated films. But "Planes" still managed to be distinct and charming on its own, for both kids and adults.

We get a lot of this homespun country charm again in its sequel called "Planes: Fire & Rescue." Our hero crop-duster plane Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) is having problems with his gear box and cannot push his engine to racing speeds anymore. One day, Dusty crashes and causes a fire at his hangar. This accident revealed the inadequacy of the emergency capabilities of his community. Dusty decided to try and have himself accredited as a Fire-Fighter. 

The story is pretty slim, standard and predictable, so this film spent a lot of time showing grand forest vistas, amazingly realistic and scary fire scenes and more amazing aerial feats by Dusty and the other fire-fighting aircraft. The vivid artwork is definitely breathtaking on the big screen, and was able to evoke intense dramatic moments with a very real sense of danger and urgency.

Personally, my favorite part was when it was revealed that Dusty's stern mentor Blade Ranger (authoritatively voiced by Ed Harris) was once an actor in a TV cop-show called "CHoPs". When the very memorably familiar theme song of 70's motorcycle cop show "CHiPs" (starring Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox) was played, the nostalgia it evoked brought a smile to my face. Of course, this "wow" moment for me would just fly over the heads of the generally juvenile audiences.

For many adults, this may be an average affair for the most part. In fact, my tween kids were not really too interested to watch it. But despite the fact that this is a film for young kids, I give it props for tackling a form of heroism not usually shown on the big screen -- the noble courage of fire and rescue teams. Given the immense risks to life and limb these people face in the line of dangerous duties, their unsung bravery certainly deserve more notice and recognition from the general public. 6/10.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review of RUROUNI KENSHIN: KYOTO INFERNO: An Elaborate Bridge

August 21, 2014

"Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno" picks up where the excellent first episode left off. The year is 1878, the New Age of Japan had taken over the Imperial/Samurai Age. 

A ruthlessly ambitious assassin bandaged from head to foot, Makato Sishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara), had been wreaking terror in the countryside. Government officials seek out Himura Kenshin, the young ex-assassin with the X-scar on his left cheek, as the only possible match against Sishio. Upon witnessing the terrors inflicted by Sishio and his goons on the citizenry, Kenshin decides to take up his sword again and sets off to Kyoto to try and put an end to Sishio's mad plans.

From the first film, we still have Kenshin (Takeru Sato) and his friends: the peaceful fencing instructor Kaoru (Emi Takei), brash street fighter Sonosuke (Munetaka Anoki), dedicated doctor Megumi (Yu Aoi) and the young boy Yahiko (Kaito Oyagi). We also see samurai-turned-police chief Hajime Saito (Yosuke Eguchi), ever with a lit cigarette on his lips. The actors still act in their anime best. Those distinct mannerisms expected from these characters are there.

Aside from a couple of big battle scenes where Kenshin practically single-handedly plows through entire troops of Sishio's soldiers, we also see Kenshin in a number of impressively choreographed one-on-one fights scenes with major supporting characters. He had a funny fight scene with feisty little Misao Makimachi (Tao Tsuchiya), who tries to steal his sword. Kenshin had an elegant fight with Sojiro (Ryunosuke Kamiki), Sishio's effeminate but highly-skilled right-hand man, where his old trusty back-bladed sword actually broke. After a big brutal fight with the crazy blond fighter, Cho (Ryosuke Miura), Kenshin would gain a new sword to continue his fight with.

Happening parallel to the huge Kyoto Inferno scene was another big fight scene between Elder Nenji Kashiwazaki (Min Tanaka), the leader of the Hidden Watchers, a group of vigilante ninjas of which Misao is a member, and an enigmatic man in a white overcoat Aoiji (Yusuke Iseya), an ex-Hidden Watcher who was now on a singular mission to kill the Battosai (a.k.a. Kenshin). Aoiji's role in this film is quite puzzling, so we expect his character to be important in the next film.

As with the first film, the cinematography, costumes and production design are all so meticulously good. The execution of the sword fight scenes are so very well-done. The musical score ranged from traditional Japanese melodies to rock music during the climactic and fiery Kyoto Inferno scene. 

However, this second film is clearly just a bridge between the first and a future third film. Even if this film ran for a long 2-and-a-half hours, its main purpose was set up a battle-royale between Kenshin and Sishio in the third and final film. Unlike the first movie, this film does not really stand by itself. The ending of this one is obviously set up as a cliffhanger for bigger things to come. Fortunately for us, we will only have to wait just another more month to watch that ultimate war. 7/10.

Review of THE ANGRIEST MAN IN BROOKLYN: Robin Williams Deals with Dying

August 20, 2014

This film was released in local cinemas almost immediately after Robin Williams shocking death by suicide just last week. I watched it without knowing what this was all about, except that Williams was playing the titular "angriest man in Brooklyn." As this black comedy unfolded though, you could not help but think about the probable parallelisms of his character's story to his real life.

Henry Altman is a successful lawyer, but he is one very angry man. He is at odds with everyone around him, be it his wife Bette (Melissa Leo), his son Tommy (Hamish Linklater), his brother Aaron (Peter Dinklage!) or anyone around him. Anything and everything makes him snap, making everyday a bad day for him.  

One day, while at the hospital for a checkup, Dr. Sharon Gill (Mila Kunis) tells Altman that he has serious case of a brainstem aneurysm. Altman badgers Dr. Gill for a prognosis. The harassed young doctor, who was having a very bad day of her own, blurts out that he only has 90 minutes to live. 

This shocking pronouncement sends Altman out on a personal mission to get together and make up with all the people he had ever wronged. However, given his really lousy behavior in the past two years, this quest will not be simple to do within an hour and a half. Meanwhile, realizing her fault and haunted by guilt, Dr. Gill goes on a wild goose chase after him.

The whole scenario is a series of highly improbable events happening. The protagonist supposedly only had 90 minutes to live, but he spent the whole of that time running around New York City, instead of driving around.  Many scenes, like the scene on the Brooklyn Bridge, or the old friend in the cafe, to mention a few, were awkwardly staged and too melodramatic. Those scenes with the Uzbek taxi driver were simply bad.

This is not exactly be among Robin Williams' best films, but he still makes the best out of its flawed screenplay. Only he can make this most miserable and disagreeable character still come out charming and sympathetic. Only Williams can deliver those mile-a-minute lines with such energy and inimitable style.  That scene where he was delivering a message for his estranged son is an acting highlight. His talents will really be missed.

Mila Kunis also does well in her role as a burned-out young medic struggling to deal with very difficult and demanding patients. I just wished those scenes where she was fornicating with a senior doctor did not have to be shown, as it ran so much against her character. The other impressive names in the cast like Melissa Leo and Peter Dinklage were simply so underused. How I wished they could have had more scenes of interaction with Williams. It was such a waste of award-winning cast members. Watch out though for a cute cameo by the revered James Earl Jones as a camera store owner.

Ordinarily, a film with such a negative topic like this may not really be appreciated very well or even given much notice at all. I dare say it might not even be released in local theaters. However, given the tragic real life events surrounding its star, this film's sensitive story line with Robin Williams dealing with death and dying gains an entirely different significance. 6/10.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review of THE EXPENDABLES 3: The Villain Saves the Film!

August 17, 2014

Fans of the Expendable series just want continuous adrenaline-pumping action from these senior old-school stars! There should be minimal downtime as much as possible. However, in this installment, with a running time of almost 2 hours, there were a lot of garbled talking scenes, hokey drama scenes and messing around with the tried formula. I felt this episode was not at par with the first two. 

From the first two films, we still get Barney (Sylvester Stallone), Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture). Caesar (Terry Crews) was in there too, but was out of commission after the first act.  Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) still pops in and out of the scene with his cigar.  Yin Yang (Jet Li) is sadly relegated to a "short joke" cameo. 

For the new characters, we see Doc (Wesley Snipes) in the first part of the film being rescued and he seemed to have a promising role, but too bad that he did not have much to do later in the film. Harrison Ford plays Drummer, covering for the role Bruce Willis used to have. While it was good to see Ford pilot a helicopter (bringing back memories of his Han Solo character), I had never seen him act so hammy ever!  Antonio Banderas plays the motor-mouth new recruit Galgo who was supposed to have been a comic relief, but he turned out more annoying than funny. 

In the second act of this film, Barney goes out to find new young recruits to replace the oldies in his group.  Unfortunately, these young 'uns (Kellan Lutz, Randy Ortiz, Glen Powell and Ronda Rousey) do not have the screen charisma of the older guys, making their detour a most useless waste of time. This includes the cameo of Kelsey Grammer as the guy Bonaparte who recommends them to Barney.

So far, most of the new things introduced in this third Expendables film fail to fly.  However, the choice of villain was a smashing success. Mel Gibson makes a major comeback here as Stonebanks, Barney's old pal and co-founder of the Expendables who turned to the dark side as an arms dealer. He really chews up all his scenes gleefully, corny lines and all.  It is just too bad that his climactic fight scene with Stallone is predictably short on account of a time bomb that was about to explode.  Of course, you know who had to get out of there pronto.

Overall, the original Expendable team and their chemistry together still works. Too bad that they seem to have a hard time getting a better story to work with. They try to inject new blood, but these new elements not really work too well.  It is either this idea is getting old and they need to reboot the franchise completely, or they just stick to what made the first two films the fun explosive action romps that they were and not mess with the formula too much. All the stars this film is going to get is for the nostalgia factor only.  4/10.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review of SEX TAPE: Trailer Trumps Film!

August 16, 2014

When they were just dating, Jay and Annie had the best sex anywhere and anytime.  Since they got married and had kids though, their sexual activity dipped to below zero. One frustrating night when their attempts for sex were going nowhere, Annie hits on the idea to take a video of themselves having sex to make things more exciting. Aroused by the rolling camera, they had a three-hour sex marathon following all the positions prescribed in the book "The Joy of Sex".

The morning after, Annie reminds Jay to delete the video.  However, Jay inadvertently uploads the video onto the cloud and an app automatically shared it with people to whom they had given their old iPads to, including their kids, parents, friends, and even the mailman. Jay and Annie scramble to get all of these iPads back and keep the video off the internet.

After the initial funny premise had already been laid down, the rest of the film was hollow, nothing more than prolonging the agony. That whole very long sequence in the house of Rob Lowe's character (as the CEO of the company interested in buying Annie's mommy blog) was unbearably unfunny and useless. 

Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz are funny actors, but these are already very familiar roles for them and they seem to just be lazily going through the motions. Segel, in particular, seems to be stereotyped already in this type of role as a lovelorn loser.  Diaz is a favorite actress of mine, and I am usually able to find something positive in even her reviled films, like "Bad Teacher" (which also starred Segel). There is still her perky-at-42 body to like here, but unfortunately, her performance is below her par. 

The film feels like it had a bright idea but it just did not know how to expand the story to be worth its screen time. You can get the whole story from watching the trailer.  Furthermore, all the funny parts are already there! When you watch the whole film, there was nothing else worth watching anymore. In fact, the trailer was even edited better than the film itself, making it more entertaining to watch. 3/10

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review of BARBER'S TALES: Female Empowerment

August 14, 2014

"Barber's Tales" ("Mga Kuwentong Barbero") has been shown in film festivals abroad since late last year. Lead actress Eugene Domingo had won the Best Actress at the 26th Tokyo International Film Festival last October 2014. It has earned a Grade A from the Cinema Evaluation Board. After all that impressive advanced press, it finally gets its local commercial run this week. 

The year is 1975. Marilou (Eugene Domingo) is the lonely wife of the village barber Jose Aguallo (Daniel Fernando), who treats her like a doormat. When her husband unexpectedly passes away one night, Marilou decides to continue the family trade. Customers though tend not to trust a female barber. However, when the parish priest Fr. Arturo (Eddie Garcia) and the town mayor Alfredo Bartolome (Nonie Buencamino) become her avowed customers, her new career gets going.

Marilou has two close friends. There is Susan (Gladys Reyes), whose husband keeps on wanting to have a boy, even if they already have five daughters. There is the spinster Tessie (Shamaine Centenera), who has a nephew Edmond (Nicco Manalo) on vacation from his studies in Manila. Marilou will get to meet her husband's favorite prostitute Rose (Sue Prado). Later, she will also get close with the mayor's beautiful but lonely wife, Cecilia (Iza Calzado).

It's Martial Law time. The NPA are very active in the provinces, and the military are constantly on their tail. These rebels play a major role as the story of Marilou unfolds. This setting gives the film a platform to showcase the events and highlight popular opinions about Marital Law during that time, on both sides. To accurately recreate the period, this film had a meticulous production designer and costume designer. A sepia-toned color palette further put the audience into the atmosphere of that time in recent history.

Eugene Domingo tones down her usual hyperactive acting tics several notches in order to achieve the very serious Marilou we see on the big screen. She hardly even smiles in this one nor does she crack a single joke. Her character undergoes major awakenings in her life that makes her grow immensely within the film. Domingo shows us these developments so subtly, yet so effectively. She was really very good, a riveting presence in the entire film. 

The supporting cast does really well. Nicco Manalo is really turning out to be THE indie actor to watch. After his award-winning turn in "The Janitor", he gives us another affecting performance here. His short haircut in this film actually made him look like his father Jose Manalo for the first time since I have seen him act. Nonie Buencamino, as always, stands out as the charming town mayor, who has unspeakable activities on the side. Gladys Reyes is steady as rock in her portrayal of the ever-loyal and ever-pregnant Susan. At the end, the film still surprised us with an unexpected special guest of superstar proportions.

Writer and director Jun Lana, fresh from his success with "Bwakaw" last year, comes up with yet another excellent character study.  What he does for gay senior citizens in the first film, he does for women in this film. On top of that, he adds on a layer of interesting historical and social commentary which for me, makes this film even better and substantive than "Bwakaw". The storytelling was impeccable. He was able to build up a tension so thick, it can be hard to breathe in certain parts. I read that this is Lana's second in a trilogy of films about provincial life.  I cannot wait to see the third installment. 9/10.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014): Darker Juvenile Reboot

August 13, 2014

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are characters that were first seen in comic books way back in 1984.  Since capturing the fancy of the audience, this franchise spun off to have its own cartoon series, toys, video games, and of course, films.  The first TMNT live-action film was shown in 1990, followed by two sequels. In 2007, a CGI-animated film simply entitled "TMNT" was shown. This current TMNT film is a live action-computer-generated motion capture combination-style reboot of the franchise, produced by Michael Bay and directed by Jonathan Liebesman.

In this reboot, we start at the very beginning again, before the world knew about the turtles. April O'Neil (Megan Fox) is a TV journalist who desperately wants to be taken seriously at work. When she incidentally witnessed shadowy figures fighting against some criminals, she reports them to her boss, who of course does not believe her. She will later discover that these unseen vigilantes are actually four young overgrown turtles with ninja fighting skills. 

From there, we will again be told the origins of our four "heroes in a half-shell who are named" after Italian Renaissance painters. There will be certain big changes in the story of how the turtles came to be from how we used to know it. Their Sensei rat Splinter learned his awesome martial arts skills from a book. It also showed how April first knew the Splinter and the turtles as a little girl in her scientist dad's laboratory.  

When main villain Shredder (this time in an all-metallic suit armed with boomeranging blades) finds out where the turtles' lair was, he and his henchmen attack it and abducts three of them captive in order to suck out their blood to extract the secret super formula that runs in them. Of course, the bad guys leave one turtle, as well as April and her driver/admirer Vernon (Will Arnett), to save the day. You know how this story will end, so that should not a spoiler, is it?

When Michael Bay's name is attached to a film, we expect wild action and big explosions, and we won't be disappointed here in that regard. The "cowabunga" action sequences still ruled!  Even Splinter had a grand martial arts fight scene with Shredder. This reboot is for the young kids of today so it is acceptable and understandable that everything felt so juvenile. The sense of humor in these action scenes is also juvenile, most of the visual jokes would be best appreciated by young kids. Most adults could muster a smile at least.

Megan Fox seems to be Michael Bay's muse, as she also appeared in Bay's other franchise, Transformers. She is no doubt beautiful, but unfortunately her acting sadly remains to be very amateurish. Will Arnett is not really any help if his function here is to be the comic relief. His character was actually extraneous with corny lines.

However, the best part of film remains to be the Turtles themselves. They are as we know them: Leonardo the serious leader. Raphael the hotheaded one. Michaelangelo the whimsical one. Donatello the smart one. They were made to look a little darker, heftier and angrier, like most classical superheroes are expected to look these days. No more bright cheerful colors allowed, it seems. Nevertheless, these Turtles are still fun and funny for the younger set, and fondly amusing for the parents. That silly elevator scene is proof of this appeal. These cool Turtles will endure despite the uneven quality of this film reboot.  5/10.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review of INTO THE STORM in 4DX: A Vicarious Thrill

August 12, 2014

I saw the trailer of Into the Storm and was curious as to how different could this movie be from Twister (1996) which is also about chasing tornados in the American Midwest.  Also, I figured this film would probably be the perfect one to go see to try out the new 4DX theater in town, with all the storm effects going on around me.  

In the small Midwestern town of Silverton, a high school was holding their outdoor graduation ceremony, oblivious that a tornado was going to run right through them.  Meanwhile, a desperate storm filming crew keeps right on chasing these tornadoes seemingly unmindful of the risks. To add some complicating circumstance, two students just had to do an off-campus location video shoot right on on that same day the tornadoes hit. So there was not really any substantial story. That's ok, that did not really matter.

The central family composed of the school vice principal Gary and his two sons Donnie and Trey were played by Richard Armitage with Max Deacon and Nathan Kress. The ruthless main storm-chaser Pete was played by Matt Walsh.  The lead meteorologist Allison was played by Sarah Wayne Callies. They even got Scott Lawrence, an actor who looked and spoke like President Barack Obama, to play the clueless school principal. I did not know any of these actors. You might enjoy watching a couple of daredevil country bumpkins played by Kyle Davis and Jon Reep chase tornadoes on their beat-up pickup or tractor. So there were not really any big name stars in the cast. That's ok, they did not really matter as well.

However, as expected what the production saved on story and cast, they poured the majority of the budget on the massive computer-generated special effects. Of course, with the considerable advance of visual effects technology since 1996 when "Twister" wowed us all with flying cow and the like, the degree of devastation seen onscreen in "Into the Storm" was so much greater. Director Steven Quale just wants to bring us right into the thick of a monster tornado with multiple vortices. THAT is the main point of this film. (Unfortunately, the trailer already showed how the super strong winds were able to pick up jumbo jets and trailer trucks, so those big scenes were not a surprise anymore, which was a pity.) 

So, was the 4DX worth it?  For me, yes.  It added a sense of fun. It feels a bit guilty to say the word "fun" knowing you are watching a grand-scale disaster unfold with an untold toll of lives and property.  So in that perverse sense of entertainment, yes, those shaking seats, strong winds and lightning flashes did add so much to the realism of the special effects you see onscreen. I really felt like I was in a dangerous storm. But I also felt like I was riding a 90-minute long amusement park ride. Too bad that I did not feel any water spraying on me though, despite the fact that there was splashing water on the screen. I also mistakenly thought that the whole film would be in 3D when you watch in 4DX. It was not.

So, just ask yourself, do you want to experience how it is going to feel like to be right in the middle of a tornado? If you say yes, then you go watch this film and have a blast with all the realistic effects. However, since we live right on the path of several tropical cyclones, I guess that won't be much of a come-on in these parts of the world. But I think that vicarious thrill may still draw a lot of people in. 6/10.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

CINEMALAYA 2014: Review of DAGITAB: Ode to Middle Age Love

August 9, 2014

This is the film that is being tipped to be the front-runner for awards in the New Breed category of the current Cinemalaya film festival. Before the festival ends, I simply cannot miss this particular film even if it was a bit out of my usual time to watch.

The Tolentinos, Jimmy (Nonie Buencamino) and Issey (Eula Valdez), are a childless married middle-aged couple. They are both writers and professors based in the University of the Philippines in Diliman.  Jimmy is on the verge of publishing the book he has spent many years researching and writing. Issey is a panelist on a writers workshop in Mt. Makiling for students, which included her godson Gab Atienza (Martin del Rosario), a prodigy who was accepted in the workshop right out of high school.

Gab wrote an outstanding essay called "Intersection" about his love affair with an unnamed 45-year old female, which garnered public attention in more ways than one. While Issey was unwittingly dragged into this scandal, Jimmy has found Lorena, his first love who became a rebel and disappeared into the mountains. Will their marriage withstand these storms that threaten to break it apart?

Being about writers, the highlight of this film is definitely the very poetic and witty use of words in its script. As audience you savor every word as you hear them being uttered, and you'd like to have the screenplay in front of you so you can read it back over and over. All the conversations between Issey and Jimmy were dripping in rich wry humor and lingering unhappiness. Most memorable of these exchanges included that one in the car while Issey was drunk and that one over breakfast while Issey was in the toilet.  "Intersection" is a highlight in itself as we hear Gab reciting it over a beautifully shot scene on the beach, and then again later, when Jimmy was reading it out in full in front of an unwilling listener.

The acting of veterans Nonie Buencamino and Eula Valdez were flawlessly raw and riveting. When the two of them are together, it felt like they were not acting at all. You can feel the bitterness, loneliness and longing of their characters in their delivery of their crazy-good lines. They are definitely the top contenders for winning the Best Lead Performance trophies in the New Breed category. Martin del Rosario also has his moments to shine with those big expressive eyes of his, which he can certainly put to good use. He can hold his own in the presence of the more experienced senior actors. 

The cinematography was topnotch. That innovative camera angle used on that scene where Issey and Gab were seen lying down on the beach while the surf came in and out was mesmerizingly artistic and breathtaking. The quiet ending scene with Issey and Jimmy in the tall grass with the sun setting behind them and the fireflies flying around them -- simply dramatic. I enjoyed how this film photographed its beautiful main setting, the UP Diliman campus, where I also spent my college days. I can recognize the roads where they jogged or the classroom and corridor in Palma Hall, or those cluttered offices in the Faculty Center. 

My main issue with the film was about the storytelling. I felt it did not flow so smoothly all the time, and made the film feel long. Those scenes of Jimmy in the mountains with a daring nude Lorena (Max Eigenmann) and the perfectly dug hole in the ground were very strange. There some puzzling scenes, like Issey with the electronic mosquito swatter or Issey with the hiding cat, which do not seem to mean anything. There was the gay subplot which seemed out of place in the main story, except maybe providing a way out of the conflict at the end. 

I agree that this film is one of the best of the festival. Based on the New Breed entries I have seen and written about, "Dagitab" should go home with the awards for Lead Performances (at least Best Actress is a sure thing), Screenplay (by its Director Giancarlo Abrahan) and Cinematography. Best Picture is not a remote possibility. 7/10.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Review of LUCY: Superhuman Genius

August 9, 2014

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a party-going American girl studying in Taipei, who gets meets a guy named Richard in a club. Richard tricks her into delivering a suitcase to a certain Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik). Instead of a simple turnover, Richard was shot and Lucy was abducted. Jang turned out to be a maniacal sadistic Korean drug lord. The contents of the suitcase turned out to be a blue crystalline drug, and Lucy was to be its mule.  

A bag of this powerful substance was surgically implanted into her abdomen, but it leaks and spreads throughout her body. This drug would accelerate Lucy's usage of her brain to levels no one has yet experienced, giving her incredible superhuman abilities. Using her Lucy eludes her abductors in order to reach eminent expert in brain physiology Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) in Paris to offer herself for the benefit of science.

Scarlett Johansson finds herself again in another sci-fi feature, third in a row now. First she was the voice behind Samantha, the operating system Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with in "Her".  Just last month we saw her as the mysterious alien seductress picking up and killing hapless men in "Under the Skin." This time, like her most popular film role as Black Widow in "The Avengers", she again gets to use her action star skills to good use as Lucy.  Her performance is distinct in each of these recent films, and in "Lucy" she gets to display great range as her character undergoes the dizzying effects of the drug.

Director Luc Besson is back in the groove as he sells us this outlandish story of an unlikely super-genius in great style and flair.  Besson is known for his over-the-top action scenes in films like "Taken" and "The Fifth Element", and he displays some of his work best here. There are those bloody violent fight scenes, so well-conceptualized and executed in brutal grace. There was that ridiculously awesome car chase scene in Paris had some of the wildest car stunts I have seen onscreen. 

The sci-fi aspects of the film are very imaginatively presented, with surreal images ranging from microscopic cells dividing to vast galaxies of stars. Besson would intertwine images of nature to his narrative, like that of a cheetah going after a gazelle which added further tension to the scenes when Lucy was abducted.  The authoritative voice of Morgan Freeman keeps the film grounded, lending credence to the science on which this story is based on.  

Besson also keeps us updated on the percentage of Lucy's brain access as the film goes along. It was interesting to note their theory that the more realized human brain potential is, the less human we become. The extraordinary sequence of events that happen when Lucy reaches 100% was a cornucopia of bizarre images, highlighted by an incredible series of flashbacks of Times Square in New York City through history to prehistory to the beginning of time.  Those dreamlike scenes need to be seen on the big screen for best effect.

Overall, "Lucy" is an exciting, fast-paced, action-packed sci-fi thriller, very entertaining to watch. It keeps you at the edge of your seats during the ride, and concludes the trip with awe and wonderment. We may have seen this same scenario of drug-induced brain perfection recently with the film "Limitless" starring Bradley Cooper. But "Lucy" went further with the idea, taking it to a more philosophically ideal level. Lucy did not use her new-found genius to try to solve her own personal problems, but instead she aimed for something more altruistic. 8/10.

CINEMALAYA 2014: Review of S6PARADOS: A Decidedly Male Viewpoint

August 8, 2014

One day, six men were attending a wedding, listening to the priest deliver a sermon about the sanctity of matrimony. Unfortunately, these six men were men who have been separated, on the process of separating and planning to separate from their wives

Santi (Victor Neri) is a chef. He is separated from his wife who is an annulment lawyer too busy with her work to care about him. He is the groom of this wedding, his second stab at married life. Pancho (Alfred Vargas) is Santi's cousin, a Balikbayan who opened a car detailing business. His strained relationship with his wife drives him to be an alcoholic. Marcel (Ricky Davao) is Santi's new father-in-law, a bank manager. After 26 years of marriage, he decides to confess to his wife that he is gay.

Armand (Jason Abalos) is a car salesman. His wife is a shabu addict who has drawn him into the habit, causing him trouble at work. Rico (Anjo Yllana) is a seaman between jobs.  His wife is a condescending businesswoman who drives him nuts and unfaithful.  Christian (Erik Santos) is a call center agent who moonlights as a wedding singer. His wife is his supervisor at work who would violently beat him up for every little infraction. 

Victor Neri credibly plays a chef. It turns out in reality, he took up the culinary trade during his sojourn from acting in the past seven years, so he looked comfortable in the kitchen.  He's solid in his performance though his face tends to look stern constantly, even when he was in a happy scene. Santi's wife Pia was played with confidence by smart pixie-haired Angel Jacob. His new girlfriend turned bride Gabbie is played by the beautiful Ritz Azul, who gave a very winning portrayal. The scene where Santi proposes to Gabbie was very well-executed.

Ricky Davao plays his natural best as the gay Marcel.  His confrontation scene with his wife played by Melissa Mendez was very well-written and well-acted by both veteran actors. Davao's scenes with Jason Abalos (as Armand, the apple of Marcel's eyes) were quite funny. The first time I saw Abalos in a film was also in a Cinemalaya film, "Endo" back in 2007, and he has gone a long way since. His scenes with Althea Vega, who played his drug addict wife Connie were shot in poor light, perhaps to emphasize the darkness of their existence.

Anjo Yllana, whom we know mostly as a comedian, was very natural as the philandering character Rico. Sharmaine Arnaiz likewise does well as his domineering wife. Unfortunately, Rico's character felt most unconnected to the rest of the story. Christian is incidentally the singer during Santi's wedding and the call-center guy who answered Rico's call. Erik Santos' portrayal of the battered husband is quite good for a first timer. Iwa Moto's performance as his raving virago of a wife felt too outlandish though.

Alfred Vargas also does well as the alcoholic Pancho, though a little cliche-ish in his approach.  His mysterious wife Iris is played coyly by Diana Zubiri. There would be a flashback scene which would try to explain the root of their problem. But the director seemed to have forgotten to close this particular story.

The technical aspects of this film are very clean.  The cinematography looks very good in general. The film editing was neat. I liked the director's technique of having each man show up in the stories of the other men as incidental characters. This made the story telling more interesting to watch and showed how their lives intersected.

With a title like "S6parados," the plot is no surprise.  This film discusses the lives of six men and the wives with whom they have or will separate.  The unique aspect of this melodrama is that it is told completely from a male point of view, of men confiding to other men. While many would criticize it for being one-sided, I actually thought it was a refreshing change from all the usual female-driven drama stories. Director GB Sampedro has filled a long absent void for male-oriented relationship stories. 6/10.

Friday, August 8, 2014

CINEMALAYA 2014: Review of HUSTISYA: Nora's Last Laugh

August 8, 2014

“Hustisya” is the most awaited film in this year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival and the one with the most advanced publicity for one reason.  It stars no less than the Superstar, Ms. Nora Aunor.  Every new film that stars Ms. Aunor is an event, especially this one, following the recent controversial presidential snub of her nomination for National Artist.

Virginia Cabahug, more known by her nickname Biring (Nora Aunor), is a trusted aide of a bigtime human trafficking queen Vivian (Rosanna Roces). She does the rounds with the payoffs and deliveries walking around with her umbrella, white bag and thermos jug.  One day, Biring gets framed for murder.  While in prison, she was linked up with a hotshot young lawyer, Atty. Gerald (Rocco Nacino). The attorney not only gets Biring released, but also revealed bigger plans for her within their organization. 

Nora Aunor is really an acting force to reckon with and delivers all the goods her fans expect from her.  She may not seem too comfortable with the comedy aspects, with a number of one-liners that did not fly. But you cannot deny that her serious dramatic scenes were all nailed perfectly.  The way she delivers those lines punctuated with Tagalog or Bicolano profanity was so crisp! She is not a saint here. And yes, those eyes still pack their punch.

The rest of the cast also mostly do well. Rocco Nacino exudes confidence in his role as a crooked cocky young lawyer. Rosanna Roces looked and acted every inch like a wicked madame, with Gardo Versoza as her libidinous consort.  Romnick Sarmenta was realistic as an investigative reporter hungry for an expose.  Miles Kanapi stood out as a lesbian bully inmate who loves videoke and beating people up. With her fair skin color, there was no way Sunshine Dizon could be Nora's daughter, but she manages to  convince us she could be. 

While I get that it is a metaphor, I am wondering if it is indeed possible to go up the clock tower of the Manila City Hall, like Biring did regularly to appease the city by throwing prayers and cash off its balcony. As it is, it seemed too strange and contrived a ritual for a scared woman from the province to think of doing in real life.

And that strange scene at the very end deserves special mention. What could that be all about? It echoes the classic open ending of "Lost in Translation" as we see Atty. Gerald whisper something to Biring, which elicited a most unexpected reaction from her, the meaning of which will long be speculated upon.

Director Joel Lamangan works with a Ricky Lee script that was rich in detail and well-plotted. The film as a whole may be just good on the whole, as Lamangan detoured a lot from the main story to showcase poverty porn and anti-imperialism rallies. He just did so more pointedly in his recent film "Kamkam" (My Review). But for "Hustisya", there is little doubt that its main highlight is Ms. Nora Aunor, and she is well on her way to winning another Best Actress statuette here. 6/10.

CINEMALAYA 2014: Review of THE JANITOR: A Commercial Indie

August 8, 2014

It used to be that indie films meant a film with an intense story wrapped around an interesting topic of focal interest, but with largely unknown actors and relatively poorer production values than mainstream films, as they were either poorly lit or roughly edited. So therefore, they would be of interest to only serious cinephiles in film festivals, like the Cinemalaya. 

But as I got to watch more and more local indie films over the years, I see that more and more mainstream actors are getting into the indie scene, and that the production values are getting much cleaner and better. Save for a few little details, this film "The Janitor" follows the lead of last year's "On the Job", with its big name stars and sleek production, it also looks and feels like a very commercial mainstream film.

"The Janitor" is about Crisanto Espina (Dennis Trillo), a committed cop who was suspended when he shot a minor drug suspect dead.  On June 21, 2011, the Mabuhay Bank in San Pedro, Laguna was held up and ten of its employees were killed.  A drug addict tricycle driver Junjun Carasco (Nicco Manalo) was apprehended for questioning and a list of suspects was tortured out of him. The new police chief Bugaouisan (Ricky Davao) instructs a senior police officer Rudy Manapat (Richard Gomez) to handle the case Solitaire style, which turned out to mean summary execution. Manapat assigns Espina to "clean up" these suspects.

Dennis Trillo credibly played the flawed hero Espina.  We see Trillo's quiet tender side at home, in his scenes with his new wife Melba (LJ Reyes) pregnant with their first son, his mother Ester (Irma Adlawan) left a vegetable after a major stroke, and his dad Monching (Dante Rivero) a grumpy perverted old man who never forgave his disgraced son. On the other hand, when he is "on the job" so to speak, action star Trillo comes out with some very well-choreographed chase and fight scenes. 

We suffer together with poor Nicco Manalo throughout his cruel torture scenes, the method of which was determined by a spinning a wheel, be it Helmet or Kwek Kwek, among several other brutal ways. The one called Adidas made some queasy audience members scream with its realistically bloody rendition. The execution scenes escalated from simple to complex.  The way Alex Medina was killed in a cornfield was suffused with suspense.  The way Raymond Bagatsting was killed was extremely thrilling, effectively eliciting shrieks from the audience.  

Derek Ramsey, who plays the idolized scourge of drug lords SPO3 Dindo Marasigan, was given an idealized masculine presence onscreen, with his steamy bed scene with the sexy Kristal (Sunshine Garcia), his big macho wheels, his devil-may-care demeanor and look. 

The technical aspects of film-making, particularly the cinematography and the sound, were excellent. There were some editing issues noted though, such as in the fight scene between Trillo and Ramsey where the gun on the floor was drastically shifting position with every scene, or in one of the first scenes when Trillo seemed to have made the sign of the cross in reverse. I was also confused whether Manapat and Espina were policemen from Laguna or Manila, because I thought I saw Manila on their badges of their uniforms.

Although it is not exactly to the caliber of "On the Job" with which it shared some similarities (the summary executions topic and the poster style, to mention a couple), "The Janitor" is an entertaining and exciting action film which the mainstream audience will also like. Director Michael B. Tuviera has succeeded to create an indie film with a definite commercial look, feel and appeal. Yesterday, it had already been declared the box-office hit of the festival. A blockbuster regular run won't be far behind. 7/10.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

CINEMALAYA 2014: Review of MARIQUINA: Requiem for a Shoemaker

August 6, 2014

"Mariquina", as in most outstanding indie films, wraps an intense story around a topic of focal interest, As the title would suggest, we learn as much about the problems that beset the Marikina shoe industry, as well as about the Guevarra family whose fate is entwined in it.

Old Romeo Guevarra (Ricky Davao) commits suicide by jumping off a bridge. While searching for the perfect classic black wingtip shoes for his wake, his estranged daughter Imelda (Mylene Dizon), busy businesswoman dealing with garments, reflects on the travails of their family when she was growing up. 

Flashback to 1986, Romeo was the topnotch shoemaker in Marikina. No less than Ms. Imelda Marcos wore his shoes.  He has what seemed to be the perfect life with his simple wife Leonor (Che Ramos) and spirited daughter Imelda (Barbie Forteza).  When Romeo got involved with a female business partner, the stylish Tess (Bing Pimentel), tensions arise which would break his family apart.

There are so many excellent aspects about this remarkable film.  

Of course, the acting of the two main players were amazing to witness as always. Mylene Dizon is so natural as the adult Imelda.  She was more preoccupied with business concerns at work than the death of her father, for whom she could not seem to shed tears. Ricky Davao is as reliable as ever in a difficult role of balancing the clashing emotions of a father whose family is crumbling around him. 

However the performances of two supporting actresses actually become bigger highlights of this film. First is Ms. Bing Pimentel who was a riveting presence, drawing attention every time she is onscreen. She was so classy as the younger Tess, and was absolutely sublime as elderly Tess. Second is Barbie Forteza who gave a heart-tugging performance as the adolescent Imelda. That scene where she was left waiting in the restaurant by her parents was quietly eloquent, with only her eyes conveying her conflict of emotions.

The production design also deserves mention.  Half of this film transpired in the late 1980s so it was essential to get the props and costumes right.  The set showing the aftermath of the flooding brought about by the devastating Typhoon Unsang in 1988 was so hauntingly realistic. Painstaking attention to detail was evident in the way the exterior of the shoe factory was weathered and aged in the thirty years that had passed.

If this was an indie film done in a rush on a shoestring budget, it was not obvious at all. Director Milo Sogueco has transformed the screenplay of Jerrold Tarog into an elegant vision. The cinematography was clear with crisp colors with beautiful blocking and angles. A paler palette was used to distinguish the flashback scenes, with impressively clean film editing work. "Mariquina" is definitely a serious contender in most categories among the New Breed entries come awards night. 8/10.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

CINEMALAYA 2014: Review of KASAL: Closeted Commitment

August 5, 2014

Sherwin (Arnold Reyes) is a lawyer who dealt with annulment cases.  Paolo (Oliver Aquino) is an indie film director.  They had been in a relationship with each other for the past three years. When Oliver suggested for them to take what they had to the next level and get married, Sherwin insisted that same-sex marriage will never fly in the Philippines, all the while dwelling on an episode of infidelity by Paolo which happened a year ago. 

One day, the couple go to Sherwin's hometown to attend the wedding of his teenage sister Mary Jane who got impregnated by her similarly teenage boyfriend Bong. Before, during and after the wedding ceremony, Paolo and Sherwin see more clearly how they stand in the public eye, and make very important decisions about their own relationship.

Arnold Reyes plays Sherwin as very pragmatic and logical. Oliver Aquino plays Paolo as the more emotional and sentimental partner. These two guys performed well with and against each other. It was good to see 90s sexy nymphets Maureen Mauricio and Rita Avila now playing mothers of Sherwin and Paolo, respectively.  I was impressed with newcomer Chloe Carpio who plays the young bride Mary Jane.  Her scene before the wedding apologizing to Sherwin and that scene during the exchange of vows were both short, but her performance was memorably infused with so much emotion.

This film tackles love and commitment in the context of a homosexual couple, but such issues also hold true for any couple, gay or straight.  In fact, we have seen this same story in various incarnations with various characters, in both local and foreign films. This is a very universal conflict that no one group holds exclusively. 

However, there is still the closet to contend with in gay relationships, especially in the Philippine setting. The pointed homily during the wedding Mass drives home that stigma. 

However, the best aspect of this film is its direction.  Director Joselito Altarejos takes the sensitive script he has co-written by Zig Dulay and brought it to life with innovative visual technique. We listen in on a couple arguing through closed window panes during a rain storm.  We bear witness to a couple fighting via a scene shot through the back window of a car. We have seen so many wedding videos in real life, but Altarejos manages to capture these simple rural matrimonial rites and all its attendant traditions in radiantly dramatic and evocative camera angles, right up to the touching ending. 5/10.


I confess I did not really plan to watch this film.  I had a choice between this film and another film entitled "Asintado".  Reviewers had not been kind to "Asintado", one even going on to say that it was the worst of all the entries he had watched. At the last minute, I decided to watch "Kasal" instead. 

Knowing that this had a gay theme, I was apprehensive about watching this film. I was hoping that nothing too graphic would be shown until I saw the R-18 rating. That uncomfortable scene would be shown in the first fifteen minutes -- a bold lovemaking scene not hidden under the covers, obscured only slightly by lights and shadows of a movie (starring Boots Anson-Roa!) being projected over them.  This scene was in one long continuous take.

Anyway, after that  scene was done and over with, the rest of the film was actually a very good discussion on various aspects of relationships, love and commitment, thus being pertinent to audiences of all preferences. I personally thought they could have done without that sex scene and still not lose the messages it wanted to convey.

CINEMALAYA 2014: Review of RONDA: A Subdued Ai-Ai

August 5, 2014

Ai-Ai de las Alas made her name as a comedian with a boisterous and brazen performance style, with her big wide toothy smile, loud raucous laughter and wild gesticulations.   We also see her in some TV soap operas doing some drama as well, but she tends to act also with a florid style with bawling and copious tears. In "Ronda", one of the ten entries in the New Breed category of the current Cinemalaya film festival, we see a totally different Ai-Ai de las Alas. In this her first indie film, she proves that she can also act in a completely subdued style, with no hysterics at all.

SPO3 Paloma Arroyo (de las Alas) is a serious, no-nonsense policewoman. Her husband is currently working in Dubai so she is raising her son Leo (Julian Trono) on her own. Leo has not been home for two nights already and this is gnawing on Arroyo during her duty that night.  In this film, we follow her as she goes on her regular police beat with her partner Tamayo (Carlos Morales). Because of her guilt regarding some personal indiscretions, she has her own suspicion on why her son is not answering her calls and she tries to set things right. However, the real reason was way beyond her expectations and its repercussions will shake their lives forever.

As you can see, "Ronda" is just a simple story of a mother and son, stretched out to two hours with various scenes of police work and side characters, filmed in true indie fashion by new director Nick Olanka.  Aside from scenes depicting Arroyo making arrests and booking random criminals, we also have to sit through seemingly pointless scenes of their police car just driving around the dinghy streets of Manila.  While we stare at the police car or Ai-Ai's face during these prolonged interludes (which last what felt like ten minutes at a time), we also hear a lot of political radio commentary, mostly about the namesake of our lead character, ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. 

In addition, other peripheral characters were given their share of the running time. We will repeatedly hear about Tamayo's womanizing, juggling three wives at a time. We see Hepe, their corrupt and abusive chief, played with sleaze by Menggie Cobarrubias.  We meet Ima, a retired teacher now down to selling cigarettes and snacks, played by Perla Bautista. A barely recognizable Bernardo Bernardo plays Mindy, a gay pimp. Indie favorite Angeli Bayani is also in there as an aggressive news reporter on the police beat.  Kiko Matos (who was introduced in last year's "Babagwa") has a few minutes as a drunk bully who harasses Officer Arroyo. But the most surprising guest appearance of all is that of Cesar Montano, as Leo's guidance counselor with "extracurricular activities". 

The main selling point of "Ronda" is Ai-Ai de las Alas' rare performance in a no-frills, unglamorous and unfunny role.  Otherwise, this film could well have been two hours of just impatiently waiting for the answer of what Leo was up to for the past two nights. To be fair, these last fifteen minutes were the best shot scenes were the best in the whole film, and was well-worth the long wait. 5/10.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

CINEMALAYA 2014: Review of 1ST KO SI 3RD: Super Nova

August 4, 2014

TV writer Real Florido makes the big jump to film directing via "1st Ko Si 3rd", one of the entries under the New Breed category of this year's Cinemalaya film festival.  It is one of the most highly anticipated film because of the excitement over the screen reunion of Nova Villa and Freddie Webb, who for many years played the married couple Ines and Jimmy Capistrano on TV's popular local sit com in the 1980s, "Chicks to Chicks". 

Cory (Nova Villa) has just retired from her job in a government office. She felt so bored just staying at home with her homebody husband Andong (Dante Rivero), who would do nothing but tinker with their old car to try to make it run.

One day at church, Cory caught a glimpse of her first love, the tall, fair and fit Third (Freddie Webb). She did not go talk to him, but this sighting brought the spark of life back into Cory, recalling those halcyon days in high school when they were still a young couple very much in love (Ken Chan and Colleen Borgonia). When Third actually called to invite her to meet over coffee, just two of them, Cory was flustered but agreed. How will their reunion date fare?

Despite what you may be expecting, this film is far from being a laugh-out-loud comedy.  In fact, it is a rather slow and sad look at retirement and the life and love of senior citizens.  A lot of times the film felt like it was stagnating, just going around in circles over the same boring issues. This of course is to emphasize the extremely depressing boredom of Cory after her mandatory retirement.

It is then a stroke of genius to cast Ms. Nova Villa as the central character of Cory.  I would say it was Ms. Nova and her natural comic appeal who single-handedly lifted this movie from of wallowing in its own melancholy.  That scene with Cory was chatting online with Third via Facebook for the first time was just so sweet and gleefully exciting.  That scene where Cory went to the parlor for a major makeover was funny like only Villa can pull off. She had those subtle little facial expressions that can make a rather mundane scene like reading old love letters or talking on the phone come to vibrant life.

Dante Rivero played Cory's husband Andong so naturally and very generously. He plays it so laidback and easy to further emphasize Cory's boredom in their humdrum existence as an old childless married couple.

Newcomers Ken Chan and Colleen Borgonia were delightful as the young Third and Cory. They are attractive and charming together.  They do not exactly resemble Freddie and Nova, but we can let that go because of their winsome smiles and effective chemistry. Hope to see more of these two promising actors in future films.

As far as Freddie Webb is concerned, let's just say that the anticipation to seeing them together was much better than when they were actually together.  I do not know if Mr. Webb was too nervous or it was the director's instructions, but he was acting so stiffly. For all the build-up to that climactic scene, Mr. Webb's stilted performance was rather disappointing for me. You can't deny though, that the chemistry is still palpably there.

Overall, "1st Ko Si 3rd" is a simple film about regular people, of senior citizens and their dreams. Honestly, it tells a story you might have already seen before on a TV drama anthology. What makes this film really special is its star, Ms. Nova Villa. She definitely gives this film in general that vital spark that elevated its common story into one of uncommon poignancy and charm. 6/10.