Monday, November 30, 2015

Review of THE GOOD DINOSAUR: Sentimental but (Occasionally) Scary

November 29, 2015

At first, I was not entirely convinced by the first trailer of this animated film since it seemed too cutesy and juvenile. However, when I found out it was a Pixar film, then it automatically became a must-see film. The Pixar signature promises a storyline which would appeal to both kids and adults, as well as spectacularly innovative animation techniques.

"The Good Dinosaur" assumed that the giant space rock which was supposed to have wiped out the dinosaurs missed the earth completely. This enabled an imaginary world where dinosaurs of all kinds to continued to co-exist along with more modern creatures like birds, mammals and yes, humans. The dinosaurs had agriculture and spoke English, while humans walked on all fours and howled like dogs.

The title character is Arlo, a young Apatosaurus born as a runt. Awkward and cowardly, he was hard-pressed to put his "mark" on the family wall. One day, while chasing a pesky grain thief (a human caveboy), Arlo fell into the big river and got swept off faraway downstream. Arlo and his human pet (whom he called Spot) had the adventure of their lives trying to get back home.

The first act of the film had a definite "Lion King" vibe. Although, he was a farmer and not a king, the character of the Arlo's father (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) possessed the same majesty and dignity (and fate) as King Mufasa. The father and son scene with the green fireflies was magically executed.  As voiced by child actor Raymond Ochoa, Arlo himself can be a bit too cute for comfort. However, as a young dinosaur faced with the awesome dangers of Mother Nature herself, his naivety and helplessness are understandable. 

Along the way, Arlo and Spot (who was unbelievably agile and fearless for a human boy) encountered a mixed bag of other dinosaur characters in Act 2, Some were bizarre, like the Styracosaurus with the various creatures nesting on his horns. Some were dangerous like the sly and vicious Pterodactyls led by Thunderclap (voiced by Steve Zahn) and the Velociraptor cattle rustlers. The additional dimension in the rendering of the characters made them even scarier. The quick jump-scare editing made the events shocking for very young children. I thought these were some of the most savagely violent scenes I have seen in a supposedly "kiddy" film. 

Arlo also meet some giant Tyrannosauruses but ironically, they turn out to be the most delightful characters in the film. Grizzled macho square-jawed cowboy Butch (looks like Jack Palance and voiced by Sam Elliott) and his two children Nash and Ramsey (voiced by Anna Paquin) became unexpected allies. Throw all reason to the wind and just enjoy their fun and spirited interactions with Arlo and with each other. 

Adults may judge the storyline of self-discovery, family and friendship to be too familiar and predictable. But admit it, Disney-Pixar really knows how to milk sentimental emotions about those topics. Those realistic teardrops from the characters' eyes can really get your eyes to well up also. However, as a visual spectacle, this Pixar film definitely does not disappoint. The background scenery of mountains, forests, rivers, waterfalls, and prairies was all very very realistic. It was as if the animated characters were superimposed on real life film footage of magnificent yet dangerous Mother Nature -- truly amazing and powerful to appreciate on the big screen. 8/10. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Review of VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN: Meticulous and Messy

November 26, 2015

When I saw that they were going to show a film called "Victor Frankenstein" this week, I was puzzled. Why do they keep making movies about Frankenstein and his monster? I bet Mary Shelley never imagined that her book, one of the earliest examples of science fiction, will continually inspire movie makers from the silent era to the present day. Frankenstein films have traditionally been in the horror genre, but there were also those in other genres like comedy and animation. "I, Frankenstein" from the graphic novel of the same title was just last year.

"Victor Frankenstein" is told in the point of view of Frankenstein's aide Igor. He started off as a mousy deformed nameless clown at a circus who had a fascination with human anatomy and the lovely girl on the trapeze, Lorelei. One night, medical student Victor Frankenstein notices the hunchback's uncanny medical knowledge and skill, and spirits him away to be his assistant, giving him the name Igor. Frankenstein would then reveal the experiment we all know him for -- the reanimation of a dead body by the power of electricity. Faced with his master's mad ambition and personal demons, Igor struggles in a dilemma between debt of gratitude and freedom to live his own life. 

Visually, this film cannot be faulted. The cinematography was adequately done to achieve the dark and dank gothic mood with its generally muted color palette. The period sets and production design were very meticulous in their authentic-looking messiness in the circus, workshop, hospital and castle. The costumes of Lorelei are the only bright colors we see on screen, symbolizing her positive role in the story. 

The special visual effects for the two grotesque Frankenstein monsters when they came to life were very realistically done. The second monster in particular was a nostalgic throwback to the early Frankenstein monster design in the early films with the flat head, visible sutures and screws on the sides of the neck. Of course, the computer-generated effects brought the entire scene alive with electric tension and action. I believe monster fans will not be disappointed with the reanimation scenes.

Having James McAvoy on board as title character Victor Frankenstein gave this mad heretical scientist main character a peculiar charm and goodwill. A reliable actor, McAvoy was able connect with the emotional motivations behind the obsession of the character and convey this with intense conviction. 

As Igor, Daniel Radcliffe adds yet another oddball loner character to his post-Harry Potter acting resume. Why his circus colleagues hated him for his medical knowledge was never made clear. It was the brotherly relationship between Igor and Frankenstein that sets this film apart from the other Frankenstein films that came before by giving it an underlying human soul. Interesting to note that the Igor character did not appear in Mary Shelley's novel, and was just an addition in films in the 1930s. 

The way Police Inspector Turpin was portrayed by Andrew Scott gave the film a sort of Sherlock Holmes vibe. When I first saw the inspector with this astute deducting skills and sidekick Alistair (Callum Turner) with his bowler hat, I thought they actually had merged Holmes and Watson into this film (they did not). Jessica Brown Findlay as Lorelei was a welcome vision of beauty and grace amidst all the ugly and depraved that dominated the screen. The ever-elegant Charles Dance had a strong cameo as Victor's father.

For me the detail that derailed this film's good intentions was the addition of an effeminately bratty aristocrat Finnegan as Frankenstein's benefactor with evil ulterior motives. As played by actor Freddie Fox, he stuck out like a squeaky white mouse from his very first scene. I thought that his appearance distracted from the proceedings. For me, the presence of Finnegan and his henchmen there helping Frankenstein during his climactic moment of reanimation greatly diluted the drama of that pivotal scene. Nothing rang true about this miscast portrayal.

Overall, "Victor Frankenstein" is not as dreary as you'd initially imagine. Director Paul McGuigan was creative with the technical aspects of the film, though his pacing may drag at certain points. The lead actors did their best with the overwrought material they had. Apart from the Victor-Igor bromance though, there was not really anything more substantial that this film could add to the already overdone Frankenstein legend. 6/10. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review of THE VISIT: Aggravating and Annoying

November 24, 2015

Thanks to one excellent film in 1999 called "The Sixth Sense," I began to look forward to watching every film by writer-director M. Night Shyamalan. However, with every new film of his that came out in subsequent years, nothing more would match the incredible experience that "The Sixth Sense" was. 

By the time, he came out with the truly wretched "Lady in the Water" (2006), everything went downhill. Even if he tried big-budget productions like "The Last Airbender" (2010) and "After Earth" (2013), both turned out to be big duds as well. When I heard that he would have a new movie this year, I did not expect too much anymore. But, I had to watch it to give him another chance to redeem his reputation.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) were a couple of tween kids who were sent by their mother (Kathryn Hahn) to their grandparents place in the countryside while she was on vacation with her boyfriend. However, the longer the kids stay with their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie), the more bizarre the behaviors of their elderly folks get.

For me, the main problem for this film was that the two grandchildren were so unlikeable. Both had such annoying bratty personalities such that watching them was painful. I thought choosing to portray the kids this repellent way was unwise because there was absolutely no one to root for in this film. Those rapping scenes were atrocious! At least, the actors who portrayed the grandparents did well to be creepy to keep the suspense up.

The big reveal that came at the end flew in from completely out of left field. I thought that it was implausible, unrealistic, or maybe just too lazy. The potential of the story may have been there, but the execution was truly aggravating. Ultimately, this was another pitifully terrible disappointment on Shyamalan's resume. 3/10.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review of THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY Part 2: Revolution and Romance

November 19, 2015

So, another hugely popular young adult series has come to an end. Like the "Harry Potter" and the "Twilight Saga", the "Hunger Games" franchise also chose to divide the final book, "Mockingjay", into two films. When I saw Part 1 of "Mockingjay" last year, I thought it lacked substance to stand alone on its own. However, now that I have seen Part 2, I understand why they could not have just made it as one single big movie.

After the long introduction to the action that is Part 1, Part 2 begins where it left off. Katniss is dead set on killing President Snow. Peeta is slowly recovering from the brainwashing he suffered by the guys in the Capitol. Gale is wasting no time in trying to win Katniss back. The three of them are members of a team sent by President Coin to storm the Capitol and kill President Snow. However, their mission is beset with dangerous and elaborate booby traps, as only the best Gamemakers of the Capitol can concoct.

Being their fourth film already together, Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss), Josh Hutcherson (as Peeta), Liam Hemsworth (as Gale), Woody Harrelson (as Haymitch), Elizabeth Banks (as Effie Trinket), Stanley Tucci (as Caesar) and Donald Sutherland (as grand old President Snow) have really settled and fit their respective characters like a glove by this time. With Jennifer Lawrence there portraying her, every rash act of Katniss becomes heroic somehow. She gets the audience to actually root for this indecisive, foolhardy character.

Julianne Moore (as Coin) and Natalie Dormer (as Cressida) had to contend with distractingly bad hairstyles but they do get their jobs done right. It was good to see and hear the departed Philip Seymour Hoffman one last time as Plutarch, though his screen time here was very short. It was good to see the other victors like Finnick (Sam Claflin), Annie (Stef Dawson), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Johanna (Jena Malone), though their screen time was also very brief. It was great to see Game of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie in a small scene as Commander Lyme. 

"Mockingjay Part 2" is a very long movie and it can feel like it. It was more than 2 hours (137 minutes to be exact) of war, politics, and yes, the love triangle. There are actually no more Hunger Games to show in this one, but the Capitol itself was turned into one large-scale Hunger Games arena when Katniss and company encounter the "pods" (which were spectacularly violent land mines). I actually do not recall that there were oil tsunamis or mutant monsters underground in the books, but these were the most shocking and thrilling parts of this film. Without these, the younger members of the audience may doze off with all the talking scenes. 7/10.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cinema One 2015: Review of MANANG BIRING: Maternal Moxie

November 18, 2015

Of all the films in competition in this year's Cinema One Originals Filmfest, "Manang Biring" is the most distinctive one because it is presented in black-and-white animation format. The reviews have been very positive from the get go, culminating in its nabbing of the coveted Best Picture trophy come award night. I was fortunately able to watch this film on the very last day of the festival when the Best Picture winner was given a special screening schedule in all the participating theaters.

Manang Biring (Erlinda Villalobos) has been diagnosed to have breast cancer, stage IV, and had been given only six months or so to live. One day, she receives a letter from her long-estranged daughter Nita (Cherry Pie Picache, in a cameo role) stating her plan to visit her mother on Christmas Day that year. Funds drained by chemotherapy, Biring, together with her wacky friends, Eva (Mailes Kanapi) and Terrence (Alchris Galura), concoct the wildest plans to be able to prepare the best Christmas reunion party. Biring did these things even when knew she may not even live to see that day.

Erlinda Villalobos was such a joy to watch as Manang Biring. This indie character actress finally gets to play a lead title character and she gives this dream role her all. Even when her face was rendered in animated lines, her emotions still richly shine through.  Her deadpan delivery of hilarious cantankerous punchlines during her witty repartee with various oddball characters was delightful. That bold bath scene was heart-rending. When I saw in the closing credits that Villalobos also played another character, I smiled in admiration because I did not realize it when I watched that fun scene. I am wondering why she was not awarded the Best Actress award for this wonderful effort. This is a role of a lifetime.

Mailes Kanapi was again at her quirky best playing Eva. Quirky is an adjective I will always associate with Ms. Kanapi. Every performance of hers is a signature performance that only she can deliver in that particular way. Despite the disparity in their ages, there is so much genuine chemistry of friendship between Biring and Eva, it was so much fun to watch them interact together. Her best scene was the scene inside the coffeeshop when Biring fainted. Even if the topic of that scene was not pleasant, Kanapi never failed to liven things up. Good to see Kanapi nominated for Best Supporting Actress, although she did not win.

I really enjoyed this film from beginning to end. There was not a dull moment even if the topic should have been very depressing. Writer-director Carlo Joseph Papa has triumphed with his concept and his delivery. The animation was done in a style where the animated moving lines were seemingly superimposed on the film with the actual actors acting. That scene at the nightclub was psychedelia in monochrome, enhanced by the award-winning musical score. The ending sequence kept me at the edge of me seat, until that final scene and word made me gasp and catch my breath.

Although I was not entirely amused or in favor with those criminal activities that she foolishly got herself mixed into, Biring (as played by Ms. Villalobos) was a character so endearing and likeable, with a deep maternal yearning that drove her to do whatever it takes to stage the perfect reunion with her daughter.  I can clearly see how this film won the Best Picture award at the filmfest, but why not Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actress as well? 9/10. 

Cinema One 2015: Review of MISS BULALACAO: Essence and Enigma

November 17, 2015

"Miss Bulalacao" is set in Punta de Bulalacao, Isla de Panamao (which is now known as the island province of Biliran, in the Visayas). It tells us about Dodong (Russ Ligtas), a 15-year old gay boy who inexplicably got pregnant after he saw bright lights from the sky. We also meet his womanizing father Poldo (Ferdinand Mesias), his long-suffering stepmother Lisa (Chai Fonacier), the parish priest (Mon Confiado) and the rich matrons Mercy (Tessie Tomas) and Marlina (Nanette Inventor) and how they react to this incredible event.

You can compare the acting of the mainstream and the indie actors here. Tomas and Inventor tend to be over-the-top and exaggerated.  Ligtas and Fonacier were awkward and very raw, very realistic. Russ Ligtas was nominated for Best Actor for this breakthrough performance. Chai Fonacier in fact was named Best Supporting Actress during the awards night. It would not even seem Fonacier was acting, as it was so real. Her highlight would be that scene when she was packing her clothes while thinking of leaving her husband. Beside her, Ferdinand Mesias seemed miscast as Poldo since he did not really look like a poor native islander like Fonacier did.

The script was the accorded the Best Screenplay award. It was definitely thought-provoking with a subtle ironic sense of humor. A male bearing a child in his abdomen for nine months without a uterus is of course a scientific impossibility, but such artistic license is what made this film interesting in the first place. 

My one comment is the seemingly unbelievable social reaction to this "miracle". Everyone was so nonchalant, as if this was the most normal thing to happen. I would have expected a massive "Himala"-like reaction, especially among superstitious folk. No media coverage (mainstream or online) -- really? Is that even possible these days? Nonetheless, I do respect the director's decision to keep the exposition simple. Personally, I also found the religion aspect rather disturbing. Parodying the Catholic religion is a very familiar theme running in many local indie films, so I was not surprised that the story would go that way.

Written and directed by Ara Chawdhury, "Miss Bulalacao" is a charming slice of life film about the quaint and rustic life on a remote island province. It was an entertaining peek into the less-complicated lives of the simple townsfolk. The grainy look of the film complements this. This was the first indie film I have seen completely in Cebuano language (with English subtitles). I had seen Pampango, Ilocano and Bacolod indie films in just this past year. It is so good to see authentic regional cinema alive and kicking all over the country. 6/10.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cinema One 2015: BAKA SIGURO YATA: Familiar Yet Fresh

November 17, 2015

Like last year, the schedules of this year's Cinema One Originals Film Festival was not too ideal for me. The two times I had time, I was only able to see revisited films from last year. While that was not really that bad, I had really wanted to watch and write about any of the seven films in competition this year. Again I could only catch films after the awards night, so I was already biased in my choices. This film won the Audience Choice and the Best Actor award. I was luckily able to squeeze it into my schedule despite the monstrous EDSA traffic the APEC meet created.

"Baka, Siguro, Yata" ("Maybe, Probably, Possibly") is comedy about three couples and the doubts they have about their relationships. The central couple is overweight slacker Carlo (Dino Pastrano) and Melissa (Valerie “Bangs” Garcia) the girl he gets knocked up on their first drunken encounter. We also see Adrian (Ricky Davao) and Remy (Cherie Gil), Carlo’s estranged parents who rekindle their old flame behind the backs of their current partners. The third couple is Melissa's sister Myka (Katrina Legaspi) and Jinno (Boo Gabunada) and their typical high school dilemma of losing their virginity after the prom.

I did not know Dino Pastrano before this film. I thought this was his first film (it was not) but with the Best Actor award he won, this is definitely his breakthrough film as an actor. Carlo was a loud, lazy loafer, yet the charming Pastrano still manages to get us to like him a lot, and even root for him to get through the tight situation he got himself into. That scene when Melissa shows Carlo the pregnancy test was LOL funny with Pastrano's odd and awkward antics. His face gets slapped left and right here so many times, but hey, the audience loved him for it so the pain was all worth it.

Honestly, I actually liked the parts with the senior stars Ricky Davao and Cherie Gil more. It was truly fun to watch these two actors, more known for their serious dramatic roles, let loose as they played their naughty roles with comic relish. It was just too bad that we do not get to know more about their past, particularly why they separated at all in the first place. They seem so in sync with each other, it made me wonder what event drove them apart and settle for less satisfying relationships.

Katrina Legaspi gave a winning performance as the annoying younger sister Myka. She can steal the scenes from the leads whenever she is onscreen. Strangely, the usually fiery Bangs Garcia did not register too strongly with me this time around despite her bigger role as Melissa. Mailes Kanapi even made a stronger impression than Garcia in her two small scenes as the quirky mother of the girls. Boo Gabunada seemed like an odd choice to portray Jinno. However, he will always be remembered for his corny yet catchy ditty which rhymed the English word "bliss" with the Tagalog word "nakakainis" (annoying).

On paper, the three stories are not at all new. The third act was also too neatly tied up. However the humorous way that these stories were written and directed by Joel Ferrer makes them resound to the millennial, senior and the youth generations. Ferrer was also able to assemble together the right actors to embody his wacky yet endearing characters. The loud guffaws and the generous applause at the end credits were proof of its effective connection with the audience. It is no wonder it won the Audience Choice award. 8/10.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mini-Reviews: 4 C1 Originals 2014: VIOLATOR, RED, HINDI SILA TATANDA, LORNA

November 15, 2015

For this year's edition of Cinema One Originals Film Festival, I had not been fortunate to catch any of the films in competition yet. Whenever I had time to go to the Trinoma Mall cinema, there would only be old C1 original films scheduled, all of them from 2014. Lucky I was able to finally see two which I long wanted to see since missing them last year.


Everything about this film was relentlessly dark and depressing. From the beginning, there were various scenes depicting the most grisly deaths, involving a building rooftop, fire and a pig's head. There was also a very eerie, grainy and silent "found footage" sequence about a mass suicide in a religious cult.

It would then settle down to tell the story of a group of men (three policemen played by Joel Lamangan, Victor Neri and Anthony Falcon, their janitor Andy Bais and a driver RK Bagatsing) trapped in a police precinct during a very strong storm.  Hell breaks loose when a mysterious new prisoner (Timothy Mabalot) was brought in because this boy seemingly knew the secrets of these five men.

This film was the big winner at last year's festival awards, winning Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Andy Bais), Best Editing and Best Sound. The Best Picture award is a big surprise since this is a pretty disturbing film. Kudos to the board of judges for looking beyond the conventional parameters as techniques prevailed over plot here. The other awards won were all well-deserved. Andy Bais really gave a most chilling performance of a man being churned inside by unforgiving guilt. The editing and sound were both very effectively done to augment the tense atmosphere developed by the disturbing images of director Dodo Dayao. 7/10.

2. RED

Red (Jericho Rosales) is a known fixer in Bacolod City. Someone commits a crime, Red is called to come and "fix" the situation. One day, he gets framed in a crime himself, his charmed world, including his marriage to childhood love Mai (Mercedes Cabral) comes caving down on him. His best friend Milton (Nico Antonio), a radio voice talent who was also the favorite storyteller in the local marketplace, spins his best tales in order to save Red's face and reputation.

The cinematography, production design and costume design were quite beautifully done. From his accent to his tears, Jericho Rosales is really a very good subtle actor who does not have to resort to anything over-the-top or annoying to be effective. Mercedes Cabral was underused here, but that scene in the underpass was a such a heartbreaking killer. JM Rodriguez was very campy playing the rich, spoiled brat who gets Red involved in a fix he can't fix. While I thought those storytelling scenes with Nico Antonio and his excitable audience at the marketplace were very unnatural in execution, I do recognize it as a necessary device to deliver the main point of the film. 

This film won the Best Screenplay award for Jay Abello and Dwight Gaston. Although the plot did get a little too out-of-hand in its complexity in the middle with so many characters and side events cluttering the storytelling, director Jay Abello was able to rein it all in with a good satisfying ending. 7/10.


A photographer Diwa (Kean Cipriano) had a self-consuming fascination with UFOs and aliens. A trip to Sta. Cruz, Zambales with his girlfriend Mona (Mara Lopez), and best friends Ryan (Ketchup Eusebio) and Andrea (Dawn Jimenez) gives him the encounter with the third kind he had been long-obsessed about. However, the consequences of this bizarre trip on their friendships were less than ideal.

The story was supposed to be very interesting, but it just went to directions that I did not expect. It had an alien character but they did not tell us more about him. It had a simpleton houseboy with revealing old photographs from his old camera. Instead writer-director Malay Javier chose to dwell on the mundane and angst-ridden relationships between its millennial characters. I felt this was such a waste of its unique promising premises.

I never really got why the title of the film was such. The whole film wallowed from dim light to pitch-black darkness. The climactic nighttime search in a deserted field lit only by flashlights echoed the tension of "The Blair Witch Project". However, this would only to be totally ignored in the next scenes, which was a downer for me. Anyhow, I give positive props to the rock-driven soundtrack, which I felt was the best part of this project. 5/10.


I thought this would be an action film because of the guns in the poster. It turns out it is a serio-comic look at the life of a lonely 60 year old lady who was always unlucky in love. The guns were a metaphor for the hurt that love inflicts on people, rather than the usual Cupid's arrows. Writer-director Sigrid Bernardo tried to stuff so many side stories into this package which may have bloated it a little. However, the main message of moving on from life's misfortunes remains loud and clear.

Shamaine Buencamino really gave this film her all in a passionate bravura performance where she totally bared herself here, fractured spirit and abdominal flab and all. This would surely win the Best Actress prize any other year, but too bad for Buencamino that it was the same year as Angelica Panganiban had her more popular winning turn in "That Thing Called Tadhana".

This film won the Best Supporting Actress Award for Ms. Maria Isabel Lopez. Well, she really caught attention in this film and got to deliver the funniest, wildest and most memorable lines. I liked the all-star supporting cast with Angel Aquino, Jim Paredes, Felix Roco, Miguel Faustman, Juan Rodrigo and Raquel Villavicencio (who was so funny in those zumba scenes). But the biggest surprise of them all was the cool (and high?) participation of celebrated long-form indie film director Lav Diaz as Lorna's high school crush, Rocky. Diaz' performance was so raw and unpolished, yet so oddly compelling. 8/10.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Review of SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: Silly, Shallow but Sweet?

November 12, 2015

Ben, Carter and Augie are three high school boy scouts whose camping trip was disrupted by a relentless attack of zombies in their town. The boys use their practical scouting skills to try and stem the murderous tide of the undead. Meanwhile amidst the ruckus, Carter is itching to attend a Secret Seniors Party, Augie sees the inside of a girl's bedroom for the first time and Ben gets valuable lessons about the opposite sex from a stripper

Despite the crazy premise of this film, the film is engaging because the actors playing the three scouts were likeable with their nerdiness. We wanted them to beat those zombies and get the girls as well. The juvenile humor can be raunchy and offensive, just as how the teens like it. The special zombie effects of the bursting heads, spilling guts and splattering blood are right up the teens' alley of gruesome violence as well.

Tye Sheridan, who plays straight scout Ben, is one very busy actor. I saw him earlier this year in Dark Places where he played a very intense dark role. It turns out, "Scouts Guide" is already his fifth film this year alone. He already has four films lined up for 2016, including a role in "X-Men: Apocalypse" where he will play Scott Summers. Nowhere to go but up for this charismatic young man. 

Logan Miller, who plays the rascal scout Carter, is also a very busy actor, with three films shown this year including this one, aside from his work on TV. He also has three films lined up for next year as well. Joey Morgan, who plays the overweight scout Augie, makes his film debut with "Scouts Guide". He may be typecast in these sidekick roles for a while. 

The tall and sexy Sarah Dumont plays the statuesque stripper Denise, who is also a mean shot with the shotgun. Pretty and blonde Halston Sage plays Ben's crush Kendall. She is also another busy and up-and-coming young star, appearing in two bigger films this year namely "Goosebumps" and "Paper Towns."  

This is one of those movies that the long title already gives away fully what we should expect from it. We already know beforehand that we need to check in our brains at the ticket booth since this will be a shallow no-brainer.  With such low expectations and if you don't mind the rude humor, I think you could actually enjoy this silly and mindless little film, as written and directed by Christopher Landon (of "Paranormal Activity" fame). 6/10.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Review of SPECTRE: Solid but Slow-Paced

November 8, 2015

Since its inception more than 50 years ago, a new James Bond film is, and has always been, a must-see film. Especially after its spectacular franchise reboot when rough and tough Daniel Craig took over the iconic spy role, anticipation for a new Bond film had been thoroughly revived and is at an all-time high. After the huge critical and commercial success that was "Skyfall," expectations run very high for this latest Bond outing, "Spectre," even if several other spy films had already come and gone earlier this year.

In this episode, James Bond (Daniel Craig), based on a tip from his previous boss M (Judi Dench via video recording), is going against the instructions of his present boss M (Ralph Fiennes) to investigate a highly secret crime organization called Spectre. Meanwhile, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), codenamed C, the new head of Joint Intelligence, is pushing his own Nine-Eyes international intelligence cooperation scheme, in effect trying to get the 00 system closed down for good.

Wait, didn't that summary sound familiar? Yes, wasn't that the plot in the last Mission Impossible film? In "Rogue Nation," agent Ethan Hunt goes rogue to prove the existence of a super crime organization called the Syndicate before the IMF gets closed down. Not to worry though, there are still a lot of classic uniquely Bond elements and gimmicks to make the seemingly unoriginal story of "Spectre" still pass as a Bond movie. 

The various action scenes were very well set up, with Bond elegance and sense of humor. I liked very much the pre-opening credits action sequence set in Mexico City during the celebration of the Day of the Dead, especially with that vicious fistfight set on a flying helicopter. There would also be an exciting Aston Martin vs. Jaguar supercar chase scene in the narrow streets of Rome, even down to the embankment of the Tiber River. The breathtaking action cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema, with gripping film editing by Lee Smith made the action scenes outstanding. The final action sequence in London though looked like they already ran out of fancy ideas as they even recycled elements from the fantastic initial Mexico City scenes. 

I found it funny how those scenes with Christoph Waltz harkened back to classic spy movie tropes where the villain would want to slowly torture the hero to death (instead of just simply outright killing him), all the while explaining his elaborate evil scheme in the process. I like the sense of Bond history evoked when the name Ernst Stavro Blofeld was dropped, with his white Angora cat and the scar over his right eye (like Donald Pleasence had in "You Only Live Twice"). Dave Bautista's silent brute henchman character Mr. Hinx never really becomes as memorable as Jaws was in "The Spy Who Loved Me". 

Gorgeous Monica Bellucci finally becomes a Bond girl at 50, three years older than Daniel Craig. Admittedly though, her role was not really substantial or even entirely necessary in the story, which is a pity. She could have been Pierce Brosnan's Bond girl in "Tomorrow Never Dies" back in 1997, but the producers back then gave the role to Teri Hatcher instead. Lea Seydoux's smart and savvy Dr. Madeleine Swann initially felt like she could do something badass, but too bad she also ended up a typical damsel in distress towards the end. 

A main beef about "Spectre" would be the slow sections in between the action sequences where the momentum sagged. While I appreciated the exotic locations, beautiful scenery and camera angles, the development of the story seemed very slow especially since the story was already quite evident. To be fair, it did not bore me, but some other fans may find the pace tiresome. Daniel Craig still has one Bond film left on his contract, and surely that will be another highly anticipated affair. Let's hope it has a better story to give Craig a proper Bond sendoff. 7/10.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Review of SICARIO: Revenge and Retribution

November 3, 2015

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an FBI operative who was invited by the CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to join his mission by to close down the operations of a major Mexican drug cartel doing business in the US. She felt disturbed that she had to work with a mysterious "agent" Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), who seemed to have total carte blanche to crack this case however which way, legally or not.

Emily Blunt's character Kate volunteered for this mission with the intention of getting back at the man responsible for the death of her men. However, for the whole film, I could not get over the impression that she was not ever the right person for this job. The way Blunt plays her, Kate always looked like a fish out of water -- nervous, clueless, reckless. Was that intentional? Alejandro himself mentions this, "You look like a little girl when you are scared." She had that look for the whole film it seemed.

That was my one major problem with the story of this film. I take it that Kate is the person we are supposed to identify with, the outsider among men who were well-aware of the crooked system. She was supposed to be the main character, yet somehow it felt like she was not even supposed to be there at all. Why was she even chosen to join this mission in the first place, when it was obvious that she did not fit in and may cause problems? 

Emily Blunt has gone a long way since she first captured my attention in "The Devil Wears Prada". We know from "Edge of Tomorrow" that she can play an all-out action hero.  She further shows her versatility here with a sensitive portrayal of a flawed character. The character of Kate is my problem, not the actress. Here we have an action film with a female star in the top billing, yet her naive character was never the action hero we would expect.

Benicio del Toro, with his squinty eyes and languid aura, is known for playing cool unruffled characters, and he plays another one here. The title word "Sicario" is the Spanish word for "hitman," and del Toro sure looks like formidable one. The last thirty minutes or so were totally del Toro's. That climactic scene around the dinner table may be one of the most chilling I have seen. Del Toro killed that scene with his ice cold performance, and we the audience would be breathless when it's over. Word is there is going to be a sequel and it will all be about del Toro's character Alejandro. Kate will not even be in the sequel it seems.

The technical aspects of the film are by no means unimaginative or dull, as the generic-looking poster might make you suspect. The cinematography by Roger Deakins was spectacular even if the subject was bleak, like deserts of Texas or the mean streets of Juarez. The music of Johann Johannson was eerie and unsettling, perfectly complementing the dark yet dynamic theme of the film. The sound effects mixing was an essential feature of this film and it was done very well to vivify the violence of events even as they happen offscreen. This was certainly an action film of a higher order as put together by director Denis Villeneuve. 8/10.