Thursday, January 28, 2016

Review of BROOKLYN: Saoirse's Showcase

January 28, 2016

Most of its buzz surrounding "Brooklyn" comes from the lead performance of Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, which has so far earned her Best Actress nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, BAFTA, SAG and of course, Oscar. It also earned two more nominations for the 88th Oscar Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and the biggest prize of all, Best Picture itself. Even if the trailer suggests that this film would be a simple sedate period romance which is not exactly my cup of tea, it still has to be seen to see what the big buzz is all about.

It was 1952. Eilis Lacey is a young woman from a small Irish town who worked for a mean old maid, Miss Kelly. Thanks to her older sister Rose, Eilis bravely accepts the opportunity to travel and try her luck in Brooklyn in New York City, where a lot of Irish folk have migrated to seek greener pastures. Meeting the kind Tony Fiorello helped Eilis buck her homesickness and gives her inspiration. However, when a family emergency necessitated her to return back to her Irish hometown, she found that she may actually have a place there after all. Will she be able to go back to Brooklyn and to Tony who was anxiously waiting for her return?

It is clearly evident why most of the awards buzz is on Ms. Saoirse Ronan. She is resplendently luminescent in her portrayal of Eilis. We have seen this young actress grow up with her two other Oscar-nominated roles in "Atonement" (2007) and in "The Lovely Bones" (2009), where she played unusually complex roles way for someone her very young age. She is only 21 years old now, and this is already her third Oscar nomination, her first for the lead role. In contrast with her two previous roles, her role as Eilis is pretty straightforward. However, Ms. Ronan played her with so much elegance and grace, an uplifting performance of a role which may be seem so ordinary in the hands of a lesser actress. 

Emory Cohen played Tony with the requisite charm and gentility required of this critical role as Eilis' first love. Cohen played Tony so well that Domhnall Gleeson had a hard time competing with him as Jim Farrell, the boy Eilis meets in Ireland when she goes back. The veteran actors Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters do the most they can with their limited roles as Fr. Flood (Eilis' sponsor to Brooklyn) and Ms. Madge (Eilis' landlady). Northern Irish actress Brid Brennan played with starchy spite that most memorably hateful character, Miss Kelly. I liked how she dripped with bitterness with her every line.

As a whole, "Brooklyn" is a pleasant enough film with its clean crisp cinematography and excellent production design. I did feel that the story was too simple and old-fashioned for a film competing for Best Picture. In fact, when it ended, I thought "that's it?". I think the chances of winning the big prize are quite slim, given the more challenging subject matter of the other nominated films. Its primary conceit is rightfully the graceful and dignified central performance of Saoirse Ronan. She is the main reason this film deserves to be seen. 7/10. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review of CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES: Surprisingly Smart

January 26, 2016

Four young men, Zach (Michael Pitt), Warren (Christopher Abbott), Bryce (Rob Brown) and Noah (Dan Stevens), become partners in a risky stock market investment that involved insider information. When that investment went bust, it was revealed that their financier was actually a mob boss named Eddie Lovato (John Travolta). Of course, Lovato wanted his money back. However, since the boys cannot pay up, he offers them to perform a task that would erase their big debt, but would further plunge the four into further criminal activities. 

I know, that short synopsis also sounded so commonplace. However, I cannot tell you more details as it would spoil the intricate plotting with twists and turns which were riveting to follow. While you will feel the influences of other mob films in there, particularly Quentin Tarantino, in the graphic violence, dirty language and dark humor, I thought the execution of director-actor Jackie Earle Haley was on-point. I hardly felt a lull in the story development as I was kept hanging on to each word and scene. In fact, when the film reaches its crafty epilogue, you may even want to go watch it all over again. 

John Travolta is his usual hammy self here, with a distractingly stiff combed-up hairstyle to boot -- perfect for how his slimy character should be played. Michael Pitt played the Alpha male of the group Zach with such annoying hyper-ness, so spot on. Dan Stevens also did well playing Noah, the nerdy one who struggled to get in with the clique. My favorite performance though belonged to the cool as ice portrayal of the kidnap victim Marques by Edi Gathegi. Gathegi, whom I only saw before as Laurent in the "Twilight" films, was really good here with his suave and smart delivery of lines. 

On the surface, this new film may not seem very promising. "Criminal Activities" had such a generic title and generic poster, one would probably pass it up as another B-action flick. The only big name in the cast is John Travolta, and these days are not exactly the best days of his career as far as his movie roles go. However, I still gave it a go (honestly, because it was the only one that fit my schedule), and wow, was I pleasantly surprised! This film was actually good -- very good, in fact. Give it a go. 7/10. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Review of THE 5TH WAVE: Adolescents vs. Aliens

January 21, 2015

The trailer defined the scenario for us. From out of the blue, aliens (called "The Others") have taken over the planet. The first wave deprived the world of electricity or any other form of energy. The second wave drowned the world with water. The third wave infected the world with a deadly bird flu virus.  The fourth wave had the aliens incorporate themselves and take over human hosts. The fifth wave was actual war and takeover. While it showed a young girl evading capture, the trailer did not give any much else away. It did make me curious enough to watch this movie.

The first half of the film simply expanded what the trailer already told us about this alien invasion. We follow Cassie, a typical highschool girl from Ohio. Her life was turned upside-down by the first three waves when she was left alone to fend for herself without her parents and separated from her younger brother Sam. Along the way, she encounters a young man Evan (Alex Roe) who was helping her recover from an injury and search for Sam. Cassie finds herself attracted to this mysterious guy, yet because of his unusual behavior, she can't shake off her suspicions that he may be one of the Others. 

Cassie was played by Chloe Grace Moretz. From "Kick-Ass" to "If I Stay", this young actress is undoubtedly very talented. However, in this film, try as she may, the material was simply too cheesy for her to save. The film became nonsensical for me when Moretz can still maintain her fresh look even if there had been no more fresh running water since the first wave. I felt sorry that she had to do that embarrassing (and laughable) scene where Cassie chances upon a bare-torsoed Evan bathing in the lake. It was pretty hard to take the rest of the film seriously after that scene. 

I had no idea that this was going to turn out to be another one of those dystopian Young Adult films with child/teen warriors, like "The Hunger Games", "Divergent" and "Maze Runner". Based on the open ending, this seems to bound to be a trilogy too, if its box office fate allows. This realization was confirmed when I saw in the closing credits that it was based on a book by Rick Yancey. This book was published in 2013 and yes, it is the first book of a future trilogy.

There is a looming love triangle as well, between Cassie, Evan and Cassie's school crush Ben Parish (Nick Robinson). After the fourth wave, Ben (codename Zombie) became a squad leader of a youth army organized by Col. Vosch (Liev Schreiber) to fight during the fifth wave, until he discovered a major kink in the truth that needed to be untangled. The two guys are good-looking blokes, so that would ensure the teen girl fanbase required to make films like this succeed. 

The premise of the alien invasion started out strong. However, the execution by new director J Blakeson was slow, boring and uninteresting. When it degenerated into an all-too-familiar teen romance plot by the second half, it just became too corny to bear. It frankly did not look too promising for a sequel for me since this genre is already over-done. However, since the second Yancey book in the series "The Infinite Sea" is already out, that sequel might still come to pass. 4/10.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Review of THE BIG SHORT: Financial Fallout

January 20, 2016

The cast of this film is so star-studded, you will certainly get drawn in by its smart poster, even if you had no idea what that puzzling title was all about. This film is now very high-profile because of the awards buzz surrounding it. In fact, just last week, "The Big Short" had just been named one of the nine nominees for the Oscar for Best Picture. It has also picked up nominations for Best Director (Adam McKay)Supporting Actor (Christian Bale), Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing. 

"The Big Short" followed the interconnecting individual stories of a few maverick financial gamblers as they made unusual, high risk yet critical investments in the housing sector which would eventually lead to the US financial crisis of 2007. 

Asperger's Syndrome and fake left eye notwithstanding, quirky hedge fund manager Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), unearthed faults in the mortgage derivatives market and put multimillion dollar bets against it via a credit default swap market. (I still do not really understand what this huge deal was all about. I do not even know what a hedge fund manager is.)

Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), an enterprising employee at Deutsche Bank, got wind of Burry's investment and discovered a goldmine in collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). He began selling this idea behind his bank's back. (His presentation using Jenga bars was illustrative, but I did not completely get what those AAAs and BBBs meant.)

Because of a wrong number, Vennett got to pitch for and convince Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his company to invest in his CDOs. Baum got interested with the big payback potentials, but later his moral conscience realized its far-reaching tragic implications. (I liked the Baum character but frankly I did not fully grasp why he was delaying the "swaps" that was he was delaying or what he hoped to achieve or prevent by delaying it.)

Greenhorn investors Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) also get wind of Vennett's deal from a proposal they incidentally picked up at a bank lobby. They sought the help of retired Wall Street veteran Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them get into the action. (They brought up another concept called an ISDA, which totally eluded me.)

I have to give credit to screenwriter/director Adam McKay for trying his best to explain all the financial gobbledygook involved in this technically-complex story. He had some actors break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. He had some pop icons like top celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and teen idol Selena Gomez to take part in explanatory side videos to discuss about concepts like CDOs, or even more abstract concepts like synthetic CDOs. 

Frankly it was difficult for me to get through a huge part of the film precisely because those finance jargon was too alien to me. The bank for me is just for my savings and checking accounts and probably time deposits. But I am totally lost when the discussion goes deeper into loans, stock market, mortgages and the like. I literally tune out when my bank's manager talks to me about these things (but don't tell her about it). I had to look up what the "short" in the title meant, yet I still cannot explain it in my own words and comprehension. I guess there are just those topics that fail to connect with me, and Finance is one of them.

I guess this upbeat chipper tone in the first two acts of this film gave the Hollywood Foreign Press Association the idea to nominate "The Big Short" under the category of Best Comedy or Musical. Sure, Ryan Gosling gets to deliver some witty zingers, but this film is really hardly a comedy at all. 

My favorite character was Steve Carell's who seemed to see himself as some advocate for morality. For me, it was his Mark Baum who gave this cold and calculating film warmth and accessibility. Steve Carell was this film's heart. Too bad he was not recognized for his performance on the Oscar list. In fact, for me it was these dramatic moments of moral dilemma with Mark Baum that turned my initial opinion around and made me actually like this film by the final act. 7/10.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My Yearend Roundup: The Best FILIPINO Films of 2015 That I Have Seen

January 19, 2016

For the year 2015, I had only been able to watch 17 Filipino films (down from 25 in 2014).  I only got to see 2 from the Sinag Manila filmfest in March.  I got to watch 2 entries from the QCinema Filmfest in October and 3 entries in the CinemaOne Originals festival in November. I got to watch 3 from the Main category from the MMFF in December. The big difference was that I was not able to watch any of the new films (an all-Short Film fest in 2015) shown during the Cinemalaya filmfest in July (whereas I was able to watch 9 of them last 2014). Hope to be able to catch more in 2016.

Honorable Mentions:

12. #Walang Forever (My Full Review) (7/10)

11. Above the Clouds (My Full Review) (7/10)

Counting down my Top 10 Filipino Films of 2015 that I have seen:

10. Felix Manalo (My Full Review)

This whole movie by director Joel Lamangan had the sedate tone of a documentary with an episodic enumeration of highlights in the life of Felix Manalo and the INC, with the characters portrayed by an all-star (all-network) cast for mainstream appeal. The focus was mainly on Felix Manalo's search for the perfect completely bible-based religion. Religious discourse and debate would dominate the screenplay by Bienvenido Santiago. Historical and personal events would play in the background, but religion is always in the foreground. The running time of nearly three hours worth of religious philosophizing may be formidable (especially if you are not a member of that faith), but the epic scope, solid production values and Dennis Trillo's central performance do make this film worth the while. (7/10)

9. Buy Now Die Later (My Full Review)

I liked the way the stories five overlapped over each other in the course of the film as told by director Randolph Longjas. The story was strange and over-the-top in execution. The brilliant cinematography, meticulous set design, effective sound mixing and atmospheric musical score were all top notch. It was just too bad that the last act which combined all the five stories together turned sort of messy, thereby marring this with a rather unsatisfactory ending. Anyhow, the film looked great production-wise and the storytelling was really clever which made for a very entertaining horror-comedy. (7/10)

8. An Kubo Sa Kawayanan (My Full Review)

The most memorable scenes for me are those close macro shots of insects, the nice angle on that handsome carabao, and that novel point of view shot on that bamboo pole being unloaded off the river. The editing work on the embroidery sequence in the beginning with shots all in macro was very striking, as was the editing work on the tinikling dance sequence of the kids which was very thrilling. I thought of it as an allegory about Filipinos (Michelle) and the Philippines (her House) -- that we should not abandon our home country. Is that what director Alvin Yapan meant to tell us? I do not know. The true meaning is not explicitly spelled out. You give it your meaning. That is the art in films like this. (7/10)

7. Bambanti (My Full Review)

Sometimes the simplest stories make the best films. It depends on the way the filmmaker frames this simple story in the most breathtaking images and scenes. Director Zig Dulay effectively contrasted the way children and adults react to an accusation. Those moments of childhood innocence between Popoy and his sister were priceless. The cinematography of this film is glorious, with camera angles that are very imaginative and compelling and colors that burst through the screen. The symbolic festival dancing scenes were very colorful and enticing. (8/10)

6. Baka Siguro Yata (My Full Review)

On paper, the three intertwined 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)

5. Honor Thy Father (My Full Review)

To simply say that John Lloyd Cruz went out of his comfort zone to play Edgar would be an understatement. There was nothing romantic nor comedic about his performance here. Of course, his leading man looks and carriage do somehow get in the way of being convincing as a Bontoc miner, but Cruz was completely committed to his character and we all felt it. It was disappointing that he was not rewarded with the Best Actor Award. Director Erik Matti made it so stifling and uncomfortable from beginning to end. It was so relentlessly bleak down to its uncertain ending, yes, yet you know you are witnessing something extraordinary. (8/10)

4. Kid Kulafu (My Full Review)

The grittiness and realism of this film is rooted in the casting of an relatively unknown young actor Buboy Villar, who actually looks like one of those lean sinewy amateur pugilists we see in undercard fights. Villar's acting skills were impressive as they have a raw unforced quality. His athletic ability was also evident in those shadow boxing scenes, hauntingly executed so that it looked as if we were watching Pacquiao himself. He was also excellent in those recreations of Pacquiao's early fights -- very excitingly choreographed and edited. This film tells the familiar life story again, but director Paul Soriano manages to tell it again in a gritty and realistic style which will connect with most audiences. (8/10)

3. Apocalypse Child (My Full Review)

Writer-Director Mario Cornejo had created very rich web of interesting characters. All of them were very well-rounded real people who had a stories that could be individual films in themselves. I wanted to know them all more. One hour and a half of this film is not enough. Cornejo captured the beauty of Baler in breathtaking vistas and compelling close-ups to frame and enhance his characters. It is such a mystery for me that the beautiful cinematography of this film was not cited for an award. The images we see were powerful and symbolic as they were imaginative and energetic. (9/10)

2. Manang Biring (My Full Review)

I really enjoyed this film from beginning to end. There was not a dull moment even if the topic about cancer and impending death should have been very depressing. Writer-director Carlo Joseph Papa has triumphed with his concept and his delivery in rotoscopic animation. 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 my seat, until that final scene and word made me gasp and catch my breath. (9/10)

1. Heneral Luna (My Full Review)

Even from his intense penetrating gaze and formidable mustache in the poster alone, you already know John Arcilla will be excellent in this film. His comic timing was impeccable. It was a most vibrant performance of a most vivid man, making him really loom larger than life. He was over-the-top in his explosiveness, just the way director Jerrold Tarog wanted him to be. The way he was built up, we were ready for that climactic assassination scene, however outrageous the savagery. 

This film will also grab you with its gorgeous cinematography. The images on the big screen had such vivid colors and innovative camera angles. The period production design and the costume design were meticulous in detail. During a beautifully-edited flashback sequence, there was a stylized scene about Rizal's execution that was so uniquely and hauntingly rendered. There are most gruesome and graphic special effects showing the violent brutality of warfare which will shock you. That reference to the Juan Luna's painting masterpiece "Spoliarium" towards the end was both poignant and ingenious. (9/10)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review of OUR BRAND IS CRISIS: Election Exigencies

January 15, 2016

I may be in the minimum, but I liked the very hip and unique-sounding title that this movie had. And that poster, what can that be about? Even if I did not know nor hear anything about it at all, I decided to go see just to see what that cool title and poster was all about. 

Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), a retired veteran political strategist was hired by Bolivian politician Pedro Castillo to help him win the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Big problem was Castillo was perceived as elitist and unapproachable, ranked a lowly fifth in the polls. The leading candidate Rivera also had an American handling his campaign, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who just so happened to be Bodine's long-time arch-nemesis. 

When the story unfolded, it turned out to be political in nature, based on a real presidential race in Latin America to boot. I was apprehensive if I would be interested in it at all. However, my worries were unfounded. I was actually quite entertained with the storytelling, even if you can already see the climax a mile away. I would give most of the credit to Sandra Bullock who was simply delightful in the lead role of "Calamity" Jane Bodine. 

In a turn reminiscent of her roles in "The Heat" (2013) and "The Proposal" (2009), Bullock plays another flawed perfectionist achiever. Her character may be high in IQ, but she would score terribly low in term of people skills. Bullock is unafraid to make fun of herself, and her fans love her for it. She actually had a mooning scene in this one! This film is not a pure comedy as the political topic was actually quite serious. However, Sandra Bullock's comic timing kept this film afloat as it tenuously straddles between contrasting genres. 

Billy Bob Thornton, whom I have not seen in films for some time, was very cool as the rival campaign manager. The actors who played members of Bodine's crew (Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy and Zoe Kazan) were also quite funny in their respective quirky roles. Joaquim de Almeida caught the "unwinnable" cold aloofness of Castillo. Young Bolivian actor Reynaldo Pacheco had the requisite innocence and political naivete his role as Eddie (one of Castillo's loyal supporters) required. 

This film was actually based on a 2005 documentary about political campaign marketing tactics employed by Greenberg Carville Shrum (GCS) in the 2002 Bolivian presidential race between Gonzalo S├ínchez de Lozada and Evo Morales. It was actually very interesting to see all these tricks of campaigning and damage control, legit or otherwise, utilized to get the upper hand in the surveys and in the election itself. I wonder how standard it was for foreign countries to hire American campaign consultants to advise them.

Some wacky scenes may feel out of place like the bus race or the drunken pranks, which seemed unlikely to happen in real life and were just placed in there in the name of comedy. Otherwise, I found the film fun to watch despite the seemingly uneven focus of director David Gordon Green. It was also eye-opening, especially for us who will have our own presidential elections coming in the next few months. I can't help but wonder what sort of maneuverings and shenanigans happen behind the scenes to manipulate public opinions about candidates in our local setting. Truth, as we know, can be stranger, and funnier, than fiction -- in Philippine politics. 7/10. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review of MACBETH (2015): Torturous Tragedy

January 14, 2016

I know the basic story of William Shakespeare's classic tragic play "Macbeth." Honestly though, I only knew this from a simplified comic book version I read when I was much younger. I have never seen a live theater performance nor any of the previous films made (by Orson Welles, Roman Polanski or Akira Kurosawa) about this tale. I was pleasantly surprised to see this new film version come out in theaters. I made sure to catch it and finally see what this long-renowned play was all about.

Macbeth was a Scottish nobleman who fought for King Duncan. After winning a bloody battle, Macbeth and his compatriot Banquo encounter three mysterious ladies (with a little girl and a baby) who tell their futures. Macbeth will become King of Scotland, while Banquo will become the father of kings. When his wife Lady Macbeth learns of the prophecy, she exhorts her husband to kill Duncan in order to fulfill it. With this deed done though, Macbeth's very sanity unravels with his greed and guilt.

Combined with the soliloquies in archaic Shakespearean English, the dirgelike musical score, and the very slow pace of storytelling, this was not a very easy film to watch. This is especially true if you had no idea whatsoever what the story was all about. I appreciated that we were mercifully provided with subtitles to help understand the mumbled words. However truth to tell, it was not easy to keep awake during the plodding first act.

The cinematography was very somber as well with a generally grey and ashen palette, with only occasional bursts of light and color. I'm not sure if the cinema I watched this film in had a very dim projector, but several scenes were so difficult to see, some of them were very important parts of the story.  However, in the final act, the angry Macduff, vengeful for Macbeth's crime against his family, burned the woods around the castle. This gave the whole climactic fight scene between the two a fiery backdrop -- very nicely done.

Michael Fassbender did creditably in the lead role of Macbeth, especially during his scenes of tyrannical savagery and madness. He was truly terrifying in those tense moments -- a very convincing and powerful portrayal. He also shone in a sad, confused yet tender final scene with his wife.

Marion Cotillard also did very well as Lady Macbeth, although her attack on this role was understated and quieter than I would have expected the way I thought I knew the character. An odd scene was a climactic scene when Lady Macbeth was anxiously trying to wash off an imagined bloodstain from her hand. She was mouthing the classic lines, but she was not literally washing her hands nor was there even any water around. Anyhow, Cotillard killed that heart-wrenching scene. Her eyes are so deeply expressive.

Sean Harris (as Macduff) and Paddy Considine (as Banquo) also gave haunting performances in their key supporting roles. The ubiquitous David Thewlis appears briefly as King Duncan. Child actor Lochlan Harris had a memorable scene when his character, Banquo's son Fleance, witnesses a heinous crime. Elizabeth Debicki managed to grab attention in her very short scenes as Lady Macduff.

As told by young Australian director Justin Kurzel, this version of "Macbeth" never let up with its heady voice and timbre of unrelenting gloom. The effective acting of the cast might be prime, yes, however, the whole dreary and murky packaging of this film was simply too funereal and overbearing. I will have to check out previous "Macbeth" films made for proper comparisons about the treatment and storytelling. 6/10. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review of EXTRACTION: Wasted Willis

January 12, 2016

Thanks to the "Die Hard" films, Bruce Willis has earned a huge reserve of goodwill as an action hero in films. Even though he is getting older already, he is still a bankable movie star. Unfortunately, many of his projects in the past decade though are of very erratic quality as he would do some pretty generic and lazy action flicks which were barely a shadow of what he is capable of doing. Even the last "Die Hard" film ("A Good Day to Die Hard") did not exactly reach the same lofty standards of entertainment Willis had set for his career.

In "Extraction," Leonard Turner (Bruce Willis) was a CIA operative whose wife was once gunned down dead in front of their young son Harry.  Ten years later, Harry (Kellan Lutz) also undergoes combat training, but could not seem to get approved for field service. One day, Leonard gets abducted by terrorists. Unsatisfied by the efforts of the agency, Harry goes on his own unsanctioned operation to rescue his father as well as recover a certain secret government defense project from enemy hands.

If the poster and trailer made you think you were there to watch a Bruce Willis film, alas, it is not. Willis were just in scenes that bookended this film. He was not really required to do too much here, except look cool and unruffled and maybe confuse the story a bit. His name was just there to give this film some semblance of credibility. Well their ploy worked, it got me to watch this. 

The bulk of the middle section, the main meat of this action flick was care of that rather unremarkable hunk named Kellan Lutz, who can never seem to get his career launched. Despite roles in a big film franchise like the "Twilight Saga" and headlining his own forgettable films like "The Legend of Hercules," full stardom continues to elude this guy. I think this new one will not really help advance his career too much.

Mixed Martial Arts champion, Gina Carano, was there to help inject some much-needed adrenaline and charisma. Unfortunately, I felt her awesome fight skills were underused here to make Lutz shine more as the main hero. She was even made to become a damsel in distress at one point so that Lutz needed to rescue her -- bad idea. Maybe if Carano had played Willis' offspring instead of Lutz, the film would probably have been more interesting.

If you thought that the synopsis read just like any other B-grade action film, alas, it really was. The main story was thin and absurd, but okay, a great story is not really what this film like this is going for. As consolation, the fight and action scenes were at least bone-crunching and explosive. They were nothing more spectacular than the next B-grade action flick, but they kept the film from becoming a total waste of time. 3/10.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Review of THE PEANUTS MOVIE: Timeless Throwback

January 9, 2016

Peanuts was very popular back when I was growing up because of their cartoon strips and TV specials. However, in the year 2000, 50 years after its inception, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz decided to retire from writing daily comic strips. Since then, his beloved characters are still around in pop culture, maintaining a steady but low-key presence in various children's merchandise. 

This holiday season though, the Peanuts gang is again getting a lot of media exposure due to their new computer-generated animated film. The local distributors of this film though do not seem sure that Filipinos will still recognize the name Peanuts anymore, so they made the names of the star characters Snoopy and Charlie Brown larger above the title in local posters and newspaper ads.

From beginning to end, this film shows us again the Peanuts we know and love, except that it is now executed in brilliantly colorful digital animation. It would seem that absolutely every little quirk and detail that I remember about the Peanuts canon were crammed into its hour and a half running time, and I was smiling knowingly throughout.

Charlie Brown is still our meek and cowardly hero, who cannot fly a kite or play ball. He still cannot muster up enough courage to talk to his crush, the Little Red Haired Girl. On the other hand, Snoopy is still typing his novel on his doghouse, fantasizing that he is an ace World War I pilot fighting the Red Baron. Of course, his best friend Woodstock is always right there to help him. There is a new twist here though, there is now a cute female dog Fifi he is trying to save.

The rest of the Peanut gang are all here with their own little idiosyncrasies. Linus with his Blanket, Lucy and her Psychiatric Help booth, Schroeder and his Piano, Marcie and her "Sir" Peppermint Patty, Frieda and her naturally curly hair, and so on. The most improved depiction (because the computerized rendering) was that of Pigpen and his cloud of dust (which I am sure was quite a challenge for the traditional animators in the 60s and 70s).

This is a great way to reintroduce the Peanuts franchise to the younger generations. I am sure parents will enjoy this more than their kids. They grew up with these characters so the sense of nostalgia will definitely be there throughout the film. Among the kids, maybe this film will appeal more to the younger set, meaning ages 10 and below. Teenagers may find this material too old-fashioned or too wholesome in contrast with the more frenetic or violent type of animated films they are used to nowadays. 

The Peanuts Movie was indeed a refreshing throwback to a simpler and less complicated time. Watch it and feel happy. 9/10.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

MMFF 2015: Review of BUY NOW, DIE LATER: Paying the Price of Pride

January 5, 2016

Honestly, the title did not sound so promising at first. I did not get to read any pre-festival buzz about this film at all. I did not even know who the actors would be. However, come awards night, this film stepped out of obscurity when it won Second Best Picture (and Best Production Design). Add to that the favorable reviews I see online on social media. Unfortunately, I was the only one in the whole orchestra section when I went to watch it. This is sad, because I think people are missing a lot here. 

The film was divided into five episodes, one for each of the five senses. "Masid" was about Odie (Vhong Navarro), a frustrated photojournalist and blogger who yearned for the perfect camera to take his photos. "Dinig" was about Chloe (Alex Gonzaga), a showbiz wannabe who can't sing. "Sarap" was about Ato (Rayver Cruz), a chef who wanted his restaurant to succeed. "Halimuyak" was about Pippa (John Lapuz), a homely gay guy who desperately wanted to be noticed by men. "Kanti" was about Maita (Lotlot de Leon), a middle-aged woman who yearned for her youth interrupted by unexpected motherhood. 

At their most down and out moment, they all stumbled into an old curio shop in Malate and meet its mysterious owner. Santi seemed to have exactly what they needed to succeed. The five fall for his charismatic sales pitch and each of them buys the item which does make their wildest dreams come true. However, they will soon realize that their success came with a much higher, and diabolical, cost than the price tag.

The acting of the cast was not bad in general, with Lotlot de Leon once again proving her worth in films of this genre (like she did in the first "Feng Shui"). The episode that had the Addams Family reference (featuring guest star Jason Gainza) was really off-the-wall crazy with gruesome food images that gore fans would approve of. The voice of Alex Gonzaga though can be a bit too shrill for comfort, ironic for her episode. I wish they developed backstory of Santi and the girl in the portrait better. It was hinted about for a bit, but unfortunately set aside right away and never referred to again. 

I liked the way the stories five overlapped over each other in the course of the film. The story was strange and over-the-top in execution. The brilliant cinematography, meticulous set design, effective sound mixing and atmospheric musical score were all top notch. It was just too bad that the last act which combined all the five stories together turned sort of messy, thereby marring this with a rather unsatisfactory ending. Anyhow, the film looked great production-wise and the storytelling was really clever which made for a very entertaining horror-comedy. 7/10.

Monday, January 4, 2016

MMFF 2015: Review of #WALANG FOREVER: Conflicted Commitment

January 4, 2016

I am not really a fan of rom-coms but they are really the rage in the industry it seems, even among the indie scene since the huge success of "That Thing Called Tadhana" last year. This year, director Dan Villegas and Antoinette Jadaone came up with this award-winning story (like they did for "English Only Please" last year's MMFF) which was developed into an award winning script by Paul Sta. Ana. Last year, "English" only won 2nd Best Picture, but this year "#Walang Forever" went one notch higher and actually nabbed the big prize Best Picture. Add to those three major prizes the trophies for Best Actor and Best Actress. This should be a must-see, most definitely. 

Mia Nolasco is a successful scriptwriter of hit rom-com films (inspired no less by Jadaone herself, I guess). Her fiance is Ethan Isaac, a successful computer game developer and entrepreneur. They had a fairy tale relationship which Mia had mined for her most acclaimed scripts. However eventually, pressing family concerns on both sides drive the two apart, much to the chagrin of their common circle of wacky friends. A chance meeting four years after their separation triggers a spark between them again. So now, will there be a "forever" between Mia and Ethan?

Because of her winning performance in "English" last year, we know what Jennylyn Mercado can do in both comedy and drama departments. For "#Walang Forever", Mercado is more serious and mature as Mia, no more the ditsy flighty Tere Madlangsakay of "English". There is no doubt that Jericho Rosales is a natural charmer as a romantic lead, evidenced by his past body of work. The two had so much chemistry going on between them. There was indeed a romantic spark which should thrill susceptible audiences. I can hear girls giggling and sighing in the theater during these very realistic "kilig" scenes.

The "Rak of Aegis" reunion of PETA actors who played their wacky and supportive friends (Pepe Herrera, Kim Molina, Jerald Napoles, Myke Salomon) were very funny in several awkward moments. The guest stars playing cameo roles from supposed clips from Mia's hit films (from Melai Cantiveros and Jason Francisco to Maja Salvador and Derek Ramsey) were also fun to see. That segment with Liza Dino and Sid Lucero was so good in itself with very deep emotions. It was good to see Lorna Tolentino there, though she did not seem to gel too well with Mercado as Mia's mother. It was also good that they did not reveal anymore if Tolentino was the "cougar" being mentioned in a minor subplot.

I am not sure why MTRCB gave this film a rating of PG. It tackled a mature topic about adult relationships. It had scenes of premarital sex and provocative lines about sex. This should be rated R-16 for those scenes alone.

I thought the storytelling took a bit too long, taking two hours to develop fairly familiar scenarios with scenes that felt repetitive. Frankly, I did not like that twist in the story direction where the Ethan character went. I somehow felt Rosales was not comfortable with what his character was doing. His facial reactions in the end did not feel appropriate. Nevertheless, the charm of Jennylyn Mercado still saved the day in the end. She carried this film very ably and was largely responsible for making it succeed so well. 

"#Walang Forever" is not a bad film at all. In fact, it is quite entertaining as rom-coms go. However, being named Best Picture of the festival makes people expect something bigger and better than usual. If this is already the Best Picture of the lot, it does not really speak too well for the festival films this year (except maybe for the one film that was disqualified to compete for that prize). 7/10.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

MMFF 2015: Review of HONOR THY FATHER: Depths of Despair

January 2, 2016

This deadly serious film was tops for most critics list to be the Best Picture of the current Metro Manila Film Festival. However, a day before the awards night last December 27, this film was notoriously disqualified from competing for Best Picture because of its alleged nondisclosure that it had been the opening film of the CinemaOne Originals filmfest last November. Oddly however, it was still okay to compete in the other categories. Its newspaper ads proudly declares its disqualification as one of the reasons why this film had to be seen.

Edgar was an outsider living among the rich folk of Baguio City, silently watching on the sidelines as his sociable wife Kaye brought home the bacon by inviting investors in a get-rich-quick scheme hatched by her father. Eventually, his wife's foolish activities plunge them into dire and dangerous straits. Pushed to extreme desperation, Edgar had to swallow his pride, go back to the past he left behind in order to try and save his family.

To simply say that John Lloyd Cruz went out of his comfort zone to play Edgar would be an understatement. There was nothing romantic nor comedic about his performance here. Of course, his leading man looks and carriage do somehow get in the way of being convincing as a Bontoc miner, but Cruz was completely committed to his character and we all felt it. It was disappointing that he was not rewarded with the Best Actor Award. While Jericho Rosales was not bad in "#Walang Forever," he did not go through the harrowing wringer Cruz had to go through to do "Honor Thy Father." 

Meryll Soriano (as Kaye) effectively reflected their family's fall from grace on her expressive face. This performance should have been recognized with an award. Krystal Brimmer was very brave to play Angel, the young daughter innocently caught in the perilous web her parents got themselves into. 

Director Erik Matti made it so stifling and uncomfortable from beginning to end. The immaculately white scenes of the church services were clearly satirical of organized religion. Tirso Cruz III's award-winning performance of the head preacher reeked with deluded hypocrisy. The scene when the house was ransacked and that one in the bank stand out because of their outstandingly heart-stopping tension with its editing of images and sound effects. Only during that remarkably calm scene of Edgar with his mother (played with dignity by Perla Bautista) can we breathe for a moment, but it was all too brief. 

"Honor Thy Father" was relentlessly bleak down to its uncertain ending, yes, yet you know you are witnessing something extraordinary. 8/10.