Saturday, July 30, 2016

Review of NERVE: Callow and Cavalier

July 29, 2016

"Nerve" is the name of an internet game where players are dared to do wild stunts for cash prizes and fame among the only Watchers. One day, mousy and nerdy girl Vee gets pressured by her friend Sydney to play the game. On her very first dare, Vee  meets another player codenamed Ian. From this first dare, Vee and Ian would go all around New York City doing task after task as they escalate from plain crazy to dangerously deadly.

This film lets us enter an unseen world of the Millennials of this internet age. This world drawn here in "Nerve" is all so cool and colorful, but it may not necessarily be a pretty sight or a safe ride. We get drawn in and get mesmerized by this youth culture, probably in the way films like "Rebel Without a Cause," "St. Elmo's Fire" or "Fight Club" did in years past. 

It is the charisma of the lead characters and the likeability of the actors who portray them which make this risky ride worthwhile. 

Emma Roberts may be less memorable than her same-name contemporaries Watson and Stone. I only recall her seeing her once before playing Nancy Drew. As Vee, she really hits her stride when she is already playing the Game, looking mighty fine in that pricey green cocktail dress she wore for most of the film. I like her winning smile, her fresh innocence and girl-next-door vibe that would make you root for her to win it all. 

As Ian, Dave Franco plays another fun, devil-may-care guy like what he played in "Now You See Me." He has a distinct charm from his more famous brother, James, and should have no trouble establishing himself on his own. He had great chemistry with Roberts in the dares they did together, especially in that wacky stunt in the swanky department store. It was clear to see why they attracted plenty of "fans" in the film. 

I was really surprised when I recognized Juliette Lewis playing Vee's harassed mother Nancy. Time really flies. If this film was done back in the 90s I would not be surprised if quirky Lewis would be cast in it. She would most probably be perfect in the role of Sydney, Vee's insecure best friend played here by Emily Meade.

Of course, the technological advances in special visual effects that the industry uses these days make the impossible possible to happen onscreen in a more realistic manner. They can literally make characters ride a motorcycle down through NYC traffic blindfolded or hang by one hand from a crane atop a skyscraper, and make special effects make it appear that these can happen. In a film like this, we suspend our disbelief and breathlessly immerse in the fun and the danger vicariously.

I thought it would be very interesting for the older generation (Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers) to watch this and worry about what their kids could be up to these days. Like several films about the Internet, like "Disconnect" (MY REVIEW) or "Unfriended" (MY REVIEW), this is another cautionary tale about the risks that abound within the Net.The current craze "Pokemon Go" is already getting some youngsters into trouble and accidents.  This technology we see in "Nerve" may not be as farfetched as you may think. 7/10.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review of JASON BOURNE: Dizzying and Deadly

July 28, 2016

The Bourne films were based on the bestselling novels written by Robert Ludlum. So far there had been five films. The series began with "The Bourne Identity" (2002), followed by "The Bourne Supremacy" (2004) and "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007), all starring Matt Damon in the title role. After a break of five years, they released a film without Damon called "The Bourne Legacy," starring Jeremy Renner as Alex Cross. This was famously shot in the streets of Manila, but the film was not too well-received by the public. For this fifth installment, Matt Damon is back as Bourne.

10 years after the events of "The Bourne Ultimatum'" rogue spy Jason Bourne still wanted to get to the bottom of how his father died and how he got into the Treadstone black ops project. The CIA director Robert Dewey will stop at nothing to keep Bourne from the terrible truth, even if it meant killing him. Meanwhile, a rising new CIA operative Heather Lee thought it would be better to convince Bourne to rejoin the CIA.

Matt Damon IS Jason Bourne. He looks like he is in better shape than ever. He has got this character perfectly under his skin already, with his ruthlessly brutish, deadly skills and nebulously violent past. Not only does he excel in the action scenes (be they chases on foot or by car, or hand-to-hand combat), he also had to make the audience feel his frustration about the the past kept secret from him by this shady organization. 

Tommy Lee Jones plays yet another curmudgeonly character here. His excessively irregular and wrinkled face is really illustrative of that word. As Dewey, Jones revisits a role very similar to his Oscar award-winning role in "The Fugitive" as an official relentlessly tracking a rogue, though their intentions may not be the same. 

Also playing a key role is another Oscar award-winning actress, Alicia Vikander, in the first modern-day role I have seen her in. As Heather Lee, Vikander played it low-key and mysterious, obviously hiding her true motivations, probably to be revealed in a future film. I feel there is much more to this character and we will have to wait for the next film to find out more about her.

Director Paul Greengrass was in full gritty action mode in this one -- shaky cam all the way from beginning to end. The fight scenes were shot extremely closeup. Even the car chases were shot extremely closeup. This makes the action very fast and blurry, you hardly focus on any single detail as the motion was continuous and shifty. That big chase scene down the strip in Las Vegas was one harrowing and dizzying sequence that seemed to have lasted longer than it should. Not for the weak of constitution.

The story seemed to be setting up for bigger things to come, and you can feel that they were somehow holding back. This one was good, but honestly was probably a notch below the awesomeness of the first three films, but not by much. Anyhow, it was great to see Matt Damon back again as Bourne -- that alone makes this film worth watching already. 8/10.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Review of LIGHTS OUT: Defying Darkness

July 26, 2016

Whenever the name James Wan appears on a movie poster, surely that promises to be one helluva horror film. He just directed his own sequel "Conjuring 2" last month. This week, he is the producer of another horror film, "Lights Out," which was based on director David F. Sandberg's first short film of the same title back in 2013. "Lights Out" is Sandberg's feature film debut. He is set to direct the sequel to another Wan-produced film "Annabelle" next year.

Little Martin kept falling asleep in class because of sleepless nights. The school could not contact his mentally-disturbed mother Sophie, so they called in his half-sister Rebecca to pick him up. Rebecca finds out that their mother had been off her psych medication and was once again talking to her terrifying "friend" Diana who only existed in darkness -- the same reason she left their house years ago. Rebecca decides to stay and help their mother finally get rid of the malevolent dark scourge that had been terrorizing their family for several years.

The lead character Rebecca is played by Australian actress Teresa Palmer who made her Hollywood debut in another horror film, "The Grudge 2" in 2006. Since then though, she only had sporadic success in choosing the right roles, usually winding up in forgettable films in the past 10 years. However, with the remake of "Point Break" last year and this one, she may finally be on her way to bigger things. 

With her unconventional beauty, Maria Bello had long been cast into strong but unusual characters. The role I remember her for the most was unfortunately not her best, that of her terrible miscasting to replace Rachel Weisz as Evelyn in the third "Mummy" film. As the tormented mother Sophie, Bello was right in her weird comfort zone. We feel for her as we feel for her children. 

Having a kid terrified by a ghost is a common horror movie trope. 10-year old Gabriel Bateman does play a scared kid very well, as he also did in his first film "Annabelle" two years ago. He has a lot of disturbing encounter scenes with Diana herself which were some of the best scares in the film. 

The character of Rebecca's boyfriend Bret (played by Alexander DiPersia) was an interesting one. He was fiercely loyal despite the dismissive noncommittal attitude of Rebecca. The way his character was being built up, I did not expect what happened to him at the end. Always good to see side characters that get developed well, especially in a horror film where you might expect them to be the throwaway first victim.

The film starts strong with a very creepy sequence set in a mannequin warehouse (of all places!) starring Billy Burke as a man attacked by a shadowy figure. That scene where his assistant Esther (Lotta Lotsen, Sandberg's wife) was turning the light switch on and off many times was so simple yet so full of heart-stopping tension. This excellent opening sequence setup the mood and pace for the rest of the film. 

Director Sandberg relied a lot on the darkness of the scenes coupled with the eerie musical score to build up and set up for jump scares. It was fun to catch a glimpse of the shadowy outline of Diana while it was still not obvious visible. That whole sequence lit up by black light was very-well executed. The atmosphere created was so thick with suspense you will be at the edge of your seat to the very end. 8/10.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Review of STAR TREK BEYOND: Inspiriting Impetus

July 24, 2016

The vastness of outer space really gave the Star Trek franchise a very long lifespan indeed, 50 years now and going strong. Aside from its origins on television in the 1960s, Star Trek is also a thriving film franchise, now on its thirteenth film already, and third installment in the current reboot series, starting with "Star Trek" in 2009 (MY REVIEW) and "Star Trek Into Darkness" in 2013 (MY REVIEW). 

While docked on the Starbase Yorktown for supplies and shore leave, the USS Enterprise and its crew respond to a desperate call for help in an uncharted nebula, taking them on the most deadly adventure of their career. A beelike swarm of small but destructive spacecraft to attack the fabled starship and force it to crash land on remote planet. The main perpetrator was an alien named Krall, who seemed to have deeper issues of vengeance he wanted to address than meets the eye. 

Stars Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Simon Pegg (Scotty), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (Bones), John Cho (Sulu) and the late Anton Yelchin (Chekov) reprise their respective roles in the crew aboard the USS Enterprise. They have really settled in comfortably into their characters. They do not feel like they were doing any acting anymore, all like second skin already, especially in their interaction with each other. They are convincing as a team who knew their roles and who genuinely cared for one another. 

There are two new characters introduced in this installment. One was an antagonist, while the other would prove to be an ally. The intimidating Idris Elba played the vindictive Krall with formidable intensity, something he can do even by just standing still. Up-and-coming Algerian actress and hip-hop dancer Sofia Boutella gets a major featured role here as an alien warrior named Jaylah. Her martial arts skills were as graceful as they were deadly.

I liked the cool depiction of Starbase Yorktown with its ultramodern transport technology and antigravity features within a transparent glass sphere. The attack of the Bees was very scary to watch because it was just too relentless. It was painful to witness a beloved icon being blasted apart. However, many fight scenes were shot so closely, they can be difficult to watch. There were also moments when the CG was not too convincing, like there were scenes when Kirk's motorcycle (yes, he actually rode one!) was not touching the ground. 

Overall, this film is another entertaining episode in the Star Trek canon, though the story felt lighter than the first two. Really, the Beastie Boys as a deadly weapon?? Anyhow, the humorous interaction of Bones and Spock even in the face of danger was fun to watch, as well as Spock's version of romance with Uhura. There was a brief yet touching reference to the original TV cast. The closing credits contained a dedication to the memories of Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. It would be interesting to see how the production would handle the character of Chekov with Yelchin's untimely passing. 8/10. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review of IGNACIO DE LOYOLA: A Steadfast Spiritual Soldier

July 23, 2016

The Philippine premiere of "Ignacio de Loyola" at the Theater at Solaire this afternoon was very special indeed. This showing was a fund-raising activity mainly attended by members of the Ateneo de Manila community, for the benefit of the Jesuit Infirmary (for elderly debilitated priests) and the Jesuit Formation (for training young priests). On top of that, the entire musical score of the film was performed LIVE by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra (under the baton of Gerard Salonga); with the Ateneo Chamber Singers handling the chorale segments. 

I had never watched a film with live music this way, and it was a totally unique and enthralling experience. I am very fortunate to have had this rare opportunity today because I am not sure if another one would ever come again. It is said to be the first movie ever to premiere locally accompanied by a live orchestral musical score. Performing the musical score live in sync with the film must have entailed a lot of practice and it was perfection today. The choral voices of the ACS were soaring and ethereal as it complements the orchestra in creating an atmosphere of divinity and solemnity.

"Ignacio de Loyola" is a film of many firsts. This is the first film to be produced by the Jesuit Communications (or JesCom), the media outfit of the Jesuits community in the Philippines. They sourced funds from Jesuits communities all over the world, as well as generous local sponsors, to be able to finance the creation of this film. The cast we see on screen are all Spanish actors, but the entire production crew behind it is Filipino, led by the writer-director Paolo Dy, his first ever feature film. Last June 14, 2016, it was the first Filipino film ever to have a premiere in the Salle della Filmoteca at the Vatican, a private theater where Popes watch films.

This film tells the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (or the Jesuits). We first meet him as Inigo, a decadent and arrogant young nobleman. He was a gallant but reckless soldier who longed for a hero's' death on the battlefield. However, God had other plans for this young man as injury and depression led him to discover the Lord in an extraordinarily profound manner. The film leads us through his conversion to poverty, his Spiritual Exercises and his brush with the dreaded Inquisition.

Paolo Dy had written an excellent distillation of life highlights based on the autobiography of the saint himself. The first half may feel slow on the build up, but it escalated its pace steadily and surely. By the second half that detailed his spiritual transformation, the words were so beautifully written and so inspirational to listen to. You may worry a religious film like this may be boring, but this was not. It was engaging, and got better as the film went on. There were even some moments of unexpected humor. 

Lead actor Andreas Munoz really rallied in the second half to display his most passionate acting performance. There was no doubting his sincerity when he was acting out St. Ignatius's eloquent words, while preaching on the streets of Salamanca with his early disciples, and especially in those intense scenes in the cave and on trial. 

As the main antagonist, Gonzalo Trujillo seemed miscast as the formidable lead Inquisitor Fr. Frias. He did not even fit his costumes well and this affected his credibility with his role. Julio Perillan had his good moments as Inigo's defender Fr. Sanchez, particularly in his closing argument. However, his very thick, almost bouffant hairstyle can be distracting. 

Paolo Dy did very well for his ambitious directorial debut for a film of such epic scope. His telling of this sprawling story managed to be generally clear in its focus. The second half is very wordy and philosophical, but Dy was able to execute and present this part in a fascinating manner, which was a very pleasant surprise. He seemed to be over-reliant on showing montages of flashbacks of Inigo's various life moments. These can be confounding as they were being repeated in various times, sometimes with unclear motivations. 

"Ignacio de Loyola" does not feel like a Filipino film at all not only because of the all-Spanish cast and the English dialogue. The camera work and film editing were simple but clean and commendable. Ryan Cayabyab's musical score was really breathtaking as it soared during the intensely inspirational moments of the film, and was hauntingly quiet in the most intimate scenes. Actually hearing this music performed live while watching the film gave an additional richness of dimension. The quality of the visual effects and some costumes may betray the limited budget, but these were only minor quibbles in the general scheme of things. 

This film exhorts us to be better soldiers of God during our life, mainly by denying the temporal trappings and prioritizing what really matters most. If you watch this film with the proper frame of mind and attitude, the message will definitely get across and egg you to learn more about St. Ignatius's life and times, as well as about his most important legacy -- the Society of Jesus and setting the "world on fire" with the passion for God. 

Film alone: 8/10. With the live orchestral musical score: 9/10.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review of ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN: Charades and Conspiracy

July 21, 2016

This film had been hailed as one of the best Filipino films of 2015.  It came with many accolades, awards, citations and nominations from foreign film festivals before it was first shown locally last October 2015 during the 2015 QCinema Film Festival. It was only this week that it finally had its limited commercial run in only very few local cinemas, perhaps because of its MTRCB rating of R-18.

The year is 1993, in a place called Marag Valley, where there was a civil war between soldiers and militant rebels. As a result, there are displaced people in that area called "internal refugees". Nardo and wife Emma are among those forcefully uprooted from their homes and brought to live in another place by the military. However, they eventually met and made friends with a genial soldier named Joel.

On one night marked by a lunar eclipse, Joel visited Nardo and Emma. They start by playing card games. As the night progressed, the visit eventually progresses to comparing notes and surprise revelations. The secrets lead to philosophical discussions about the armed conflict, charismatic leaders, their friendship and sex. 

The very detailed opening credits were shown in absolute silence.  The film quality is grainy, with a dull color palette, shot in dim light. The camera work is rather shaky as it followed the three main (and only) characters in one long continuous take. The main (and only) setting was in and around a hovel in a forested area, furnished only with a dining table and a bed. These set the sombre mood for the whole film perfectly. After the final shot, there will be an empty screen and total silence.

The dialogue written by director Jun Robles Lana is like it was written for a theater stage. It felt as if this material started from the Virgin Labfest with its stark setting, daring theme and frank language. The words tend to be poetic, not exactly sounding like words people will use in actual conversation in real life. However, in the context of this film, the language of the script was on point, and not pretentious.

LJ Reyes plays Emma, the woman caught between two men of different political persuasions. Emma is a strong character with her own independent mind. She had her own plans and had the steel will to execute them well. Reyes's Emma was raw and earthy. Her lusty performance earned her a well-deserved Best Actress award both abroad in the Vladivostok film fest, and locally in the most credible Urian critics award.

Anthony Falcon underplayed for the most part as the husband Nardo. He finally got his dramatic highlight in the penultimate act when Nardo's pent-up dam of emotion eventually gave way with his frustration. Luis Alandy played the soldier Joel like a confident rogue who knew he could have his way with the ladies and get away with it. With his refined features, Alandy seemed out of place in that rough neck of the woods yet he used it very much to his advantage given the nature of the story. 

After his two previous entries in his acclaimed rural films, namely "Bwakaw" and "Barber's Tale", writer-director Lana reaches an artistic peak with "Anino." They play poker in the first act, foreshadowing the element of cunning and strategy which will be expertly unfolded in the course of the film. The notorious 15-minute sex scene may seem gratuitous, yet it was also symbolically necessary on hindsight. Despite the uncommercial look and language, the audience will definitely be riveted into this tale of charades and conspiracy within this triumvirate of flawed and duplicitous characters. 9/10.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Review of EYE IN THE SKY: Dynamic Drones and Difficult Decisions

July 21 2016

Colonel Katherine Powell is overseeing a mission to capture members of the notorious Al-Shabaab militant extremist group in their hideout in Nairobi, Kenya. Undercover field agent Jama Farah uses a short-range drones, one in the form of a bird and another in the form of a beetle, to get a closer look at the enemy. USAF pilot Steve Watts provides aerial surveillance via a Reaper drone he controls from Nevada.

When it was determined that these terrorists were about to launch another deadly attack at that moment, the mission was heightened to kill the perpetrators. Before the bomb is actually launched though, there had to be a series of diplomatic legal decisions through a complex chain of command, cognizant of the potential collateral damage to civilians around the immediate target premises.

Such is a short synopsis of this heart-gripping military thriller, "Eye in the Sky." Unlike other films of the same genre, this one highlighted the most current equipment of warfare. Of particular interest here are the long-range and short-range drones used not only to infiltrate but also destroy enemy targets.  There was also advanced facial recognition technology in play here. These high-grade technological gadgets were amazing to behold in action.

It was also very interesting to see people (military and political) from all over the world decide on the actions to be taken in one specific mission via teleconferencing using images simultaneously provided to all concerned by these drones. How these international group of officials make major life and death decisions from conference rooms far removed from the actual place of operation is eye-opening.

Helen Mirren was tough as nails as the decisive team leader, Col. Powell, very convincing. The late Alan Rickman gave another memorable performance as Lt. Gen. Benson, who coordinated the London group. His delivery of his final line was perfection. Aaron Paul gives an emotional performance as the main drone pilot Watts. Barkhad Adbi, recent Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as a Somali pirate in "Captain Phillips," played the onsite Kenyan operative with grit. 

The heart of the suspense and drama of this film is little Alia, a Kenyan girl selling bread at the wrong place and time. With her as focal point, South African director Gavin Hood creates an atmosphere of high-tension with his skillfully-timed editing of scenes. Distantly located officials arguing and quibbling via teleconference may sound dull on paper (not to mention that ugly local poster), but watching this riveting film definitely disproved that first impression. This film had action, adrenaline, and more importantly, heart. 8/10

Monday, July 18, 2016

Review of THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR: Political Propaganda?

July 17, 2016

"The Purge" (2013) (MY REVIEW) posited that in the year 2022, the US government under its "New Founding Fathers" enacted a law enabling people to legally commit any crime on the 21st day of March each year, from 7 pm to 7 am the following day. They do this to ensure a crime-free year the whole year round. The filmmakers decided to limit the scope of that first film within the confines of a single house. In the sequel called "The Purge:Anarchy" (2014) (MY REVIEW), we finally get to see the purging events that happened out in the streets, and it was not pretty.

In this third installment set in the year 2040, we meet US Senator Charlie Roan. Her family was killed in front of her during the very first Purge Night 18 years before. She is now running for US President, with the main campaign promise of putting a stop to the violence of the Purge. The New Founding Fathers of America, headed by Caleb Warren, is threatened by Roan's popularity. So for Purge Night that year, he purposely removed the immunity of government officials, making Roan fair game for elimination.

Frank Grillo, one of the more memorable actors from "Purge 2," is back. His Sgt. Barnes character is now the security officer of Senator Roan, so Grillo (who did not look like he aged 18 years) gets to show off more of his action skills. Elizabeth Mitchell channels Hillary Clinton as she plays Sen. Roan. I cannot help but think if this film had a real-life political agenda in coming out with this film this year, right in the thick of the US Election season. So the biggest question boiled down to -- Who will win the election at the end? Would it be the Pro-Purge NFFA party or would it be the Anti-Purge party of Sen. Roan?

Since we had already seen what happens in and out of the house during Purge Night, there was nothing really new that we can see here in the third episode. So they inject a controversial political issue in the mix, and then by the second half it will boil down again to practically a rehash of "The Purge 2". It is another guessing game which of the characters they introduce in the beginning of the film will end up surviving the Purge or not. Will it be the friendly Storekeeper Joe (Mykelti Williamson)? or Laney the badass EMT (Betty Gabriel)? or how about those two hateful foul-mouthed war-freak Candy Bar Girls? 

In short, "Purge 3" is basically just a repeat of "Purge 2" no-holds-barred bloodbath with some creepy white supremacist antagonists. However, it is currently relevant in that it had that additional dimension that ties it to reality, especially with US elections in full steam now. Locally, it seems our society is having a Purge of our own, with the rash of deadly shootings involving drug addicts, though this real one does not end in only 12 hours. Anyhow, I liked those masks representing historical American icons which the evil purgers used -- definitely a creepy highlight. I still thought "Purge 2" is still better than this one though. 5/10.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review of GHOSTBUSTERS 2016: Spirited and Sidesplitting

July 16, 2016

The first "Ghostbusters" was a classic American comedy film from 1984. Written by actors Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and directed by Ivan Reitman, it was about three parapsychologists (Venkman, Stantz and Spengler) who ran a ghost hunting outfit in New York City. This year, a reboot of this film with an all-female main cast written and directed by Paul Feig is released. 

Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) have been interested in ghostly phenomena since they were in high school. After a period of estrangement brought about by differences in career paths, they are reunited when they were called to investigate a ghostly sighting at a local museum. 

Together with nuclear engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann and her prodigious talent for inventing weapons and New York subway employee Patty Tolan, they formally launch a ghost hunting business, later dubbed by media as "Ghostbusters". For their first major case, they track down a mentally-disturbed janitor of a local hotel who had been causing malevolent spirits to appear all over New York City. Never would they have guessed that this case would actually lead to a city-wide ectoplasmic apocalypse. 

Melissa McCarthy was not annoying here as Abby, unlike her early films. She continues her winning run following "The Heat" and "Spy" (also by director Feig). Kristen Wiig is so geeky, so self-deprecating, so delightfully funny as Erin. It took time for me to warm up to the unorthodox comedy styles of Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, since this is the first movie I have seen them in a film. They eventually do hit their stride as the quirky badass Holtzmann and the loud excitable Patty. coming up with their own comic highlights. 

The scenes with their pretty but dumb receptionist Kevin were so awkward and cringe-worthy. But only because he was played by Chris Hemsworth, the against-type casting actually worked to make this character hilarious. In addition, I found the scenes accompanying first part of the closing credits featuring Hemsworth were so embarrassingly funny. You won't see Thor the same way again. While this Kevin character could also be seen as feministic male-bashing, but I did not take offense because of the good-natured comic treatment.

Being a reboot of a beloved film, comparisons, fair or otherwise, will be inevitable. Most evident would be that the comedy in the original film was more subtle and mature, while the comedy in this reboot can be gross and childish. The disparity of male and female team dynamics and interactions are very clearly noted. There was none of the sexual innuendo and smoking which were prominent in the first film. The ghosts of this reboot had the same colorful and cartoony style as the first film, but the technological advance of 30 years is evident to make them look polished.

There was no mention of ever having a previous Ghostbusters, which may bum out loyal diehard fans. However, I enjoyed seeing many references to the first film, like the logo, the old firehouse, Dana's apartment building (now a hotel), Ecto-1 (now a hearse), Slimer and the Marshmallow Man. I had fun seeing the original cast members (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver) in cameo appearances, though too bad that they were not as their old characters. The late Harold Ramis was cited in a dedication at the end of the closing credits. 

There was also a very short extra scene at the very end of the credits when the song faded out. There was a mention of a name which can be recalled from the first movie. Was this just another nostalgic throwback or was it hinting a possible sequel?

I had so much fun watching this light-hearted and happy-vibed film. I was actually laughing out loud so much at some pretty side-splitting silly gags. The interaction between the four ladies started off uncomfortable and rough. But as the movie got on, they really hit it off very well, and their individual comic styles gelled very well as a group as they spouted all their pseudo-scientific jargon and wielded their sophisticated proton-pack weaponry. 8/10. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review of DUKOT: Stylized Suspense

July 15, 2016

I do not usually watch mainstream Filipino movies because they are usually rom-coms or rom-dramas, which are not exactly my cup of tea. That is why for Filipino films, I prefer watching indie films for the edgier topics they tackle. However, there are some rare exceptions, and this mainstream film "Dukot" is one of them.

Bureau of Customs official Charlie Sandoval and his loving wife Cecille just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. They have two children. Eldest daughter Cathy has an MBA and is now running a classy yoga studio. His youngest, 19 year old Carlo dabbled in photography, but was generally still aimless in his life. One day, a gang of thieves held up Cathy's place of business. Diverting from their usual MO, they decided to kidnap Carlo for want of a higher monetary yield.

The suspense began right from the opening sequence alone, where multiple characters were being introduced one after the other in a tightly-edited montage, accompanied by an intense musical score.  The camera angles used were quite adventurous and dramatic, adding not only to the photographic beauty but also to the atmosphere of dread and danger being built up. That overhead shot tracking the kidnappers' car from the road to their remote hideout was technically stunning.

This film was designed to be an acting vehicle for teen heartthrob Enrique Gil. He delivered very well in his mostly silent role as Carlo. He wordlessly made us feel his misery and helplessness as the kidnap victim. Ricky Davao and Bing Pimentel were given plenty of dramatic highlights as the distraught parents Charlie and Cecile. Shaina Magdayao felt underused in her rather limited role as the guilt-stricken sister Cathy. 

Ping Medina played the usually level-headed gang leader Alex, who turned to crime to raise money for the eye surgery of his blind mother (Erlinda Villalobos) and the education of his deaf-mute daughter Jenny. His character was the most puzzling and erratic one as the story unfolded. Alex Medina played the crazy loose cannon of the group Jimbo, who the scariest one because of his unpredictability. He played this one-dimensional role with manic relish. Bangs Garcia played Girlie, Jimbo's sexy girlfriend and criminal accomplice. Too bad they did not play up the Bonnie and Clyde dynamics of this pair. Dino Pastrano (best actor in the indie film "Baka, Siguro, Yata") was wasted in a nondescript role of a goon who did not even have any speaking lines. 

Christopher de Leon, whose recent films have been plagued by some hammy acting mannerisms, was surprisingly restrained in his performance as the ex-soldier "Shotgun" Johnny, the oldest gang member assigned to stand guard over Carlo in captivity. He projected the sinister nature of his character quite subtly, without those irritating and florid facial tics he had been known to do in the past. 

The story is rather straightforward. It even became predictable a little more than halfway through because of some obvious clues. Several issues brought up within the film, like the motives for crime and the corruption in the bureaucracy, were never heard about again. However, it was the directorial skill of Paul Soriano that made this film rise above the limitations of its script. The unique cinematographic decisions and the heart-pounding film editing were outstanding and worthy of recognition. 7/10.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Review of ICE AGE 5: COLLISION COURSE: Fatigued Franchise

July 10, 2016

The Ice Age franchise produced by Blue Sky Studios began in 2002 with the film "Ice Age" which introduced us to a gang of prehistoric mammals friends during the Paleolithic Ice Age. They were a talkative sloth named Sid (John Leguizamo), a cautious mammoth named Manny (Ray Romano) and a smart saber-toothed tiger named Diego (Denis Leary). Since then, there had been three more films in 2006 ("The Meltdown"), 2009 ("Dawn of the Dinosaurs") and 2012 ("Continental Drift"). I was surprised that there was actually a fifth sequel this year, this time subtitled "Collision Course".

Scrat the squirrel was still in hot pursuit of his elusive acorn but this time the absurdity of the situation went too far. Unbeknownst to Scrat, the acorn was stuck to the steering wheel of a space ship. Scrat's desperate pulling of the acorn actually launches the flying saucer into outer space causing various cosmic accidents that sent an asteroid hurtling towards Earth.

Meanwhile, Manny and Ellie (Queen Latifah) are trying to deal with their daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer), who was already thinking of marrying her beau Julian (Adam DeVine). When the threat of the falling asteroid becomes apparent, the three friends and their families, along with the renegade weasel Buck (Simon Pegg) and the beautiful sloth Brooke (Jessie J), a new acquaintance from the enchanted crystal land of eternal youth Geotropia, quickly try to figure out a way to reverse the cataclysmic event in order to avert the end of the world.

With the fourth installment, I was already feeling that each subsequent film was stretching the franchise too long already. I confirmed this feeling while I was watching this new episode. Yes, the wacky interactive comedy from the original characters we know well are still there and were still the best parts. However, I felt that quite a number of the new characters and their jokes did not entirely fly.

I thought the Shangri Llama (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) turned to be a dud. He was not funny. He did not even look like a llama at all because of his curved horns like a ram. Those scenes where Buck was cradling and talking to a pumpkin as if it were a baby were very corny. The characterization of Julian was not too well done. I was not sure if he was really inept or trying hard to be cool. That family of ugly dino birds were supposed to be the antagonists, but their odd look made them seem out of place. The presence of a spacecraft in this movie about the Paleolithic age was even more out of place. 

Overall, this movie was okay for a family bonding activity for a lazy rainy afternoon. However, it cannot be denied that this franchise is already showing signs of fatigue. The new elements they have introduced could not reinvigorate the freshness of the original concept that has now gone stale over the years. This one could have simply gone straight to home video and it would not have been that great of a loss. 5/10.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Review of MA' ROSA: Jaclyn Jose Justified

July 9, 2016

Brilliante Mendoza's latest opus "Ma' Rosa" again made it into competition at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. What made it memorable was the unprecedented win of Ms. Jaclyn Jose as Best Actress. Fortunately, it did not take long that this film was given a commercial run locally, almost right after its highly-publicized campaign in Cannes. 

Nestor and Rosa Reyes were a middle-aged couple who ran a small variety store in the slum area where they lived. One night, they were busted by police for possessing illegal drugs. The corrupt police officials were willing to let them go if the Reyes's can cough up P50,000 to pay for their way out. Their three grown kids, Jackson, Kerwin and Raquel, had to come up with the formidable amount by fair means or foul.

As you can read in the synopsis above, the story of "Ma' Rosa" is not new. It is in fact a very familiar tale, oft told in several films and tv dramas in several variations. By the time I saw the actors playing the police officers (stereotypically bad boy actors Mark Anthony Fernandez, Mon Confiado and Baron Geisler), their crooked intentions were apparent even before they brought it up. Story is not really the strongest or most original aspect of this film. 

The story may be old-hat, but the performances were not. Each member of the Reyes family had at least one scene that grabbed attention -- Nestor (Julio Diaz) wearing an old police t-shirt, Jackson (Felix Roco) carrying the television around, Kerwin (Jomari Angeles) throwing back the money, Raquel (Andi Eigenmann) slipping on the wet path. Cannes red carpet scene-stealer Maria Isabel Lopez only had one scene as the Nestor's vindictive sister Tilde, and she made sure it was memorable. And then of course, there was Jaclyn Jose and her award-winning performance as Rosa. 

I guess most people come to watch "Ma' Rosa" in order to see how and why Jaclyn Jose won Best Actress at Cannes, so did I. She gave such a controlled performance. There was no big, typically award-bait hysterical scene. In fact, her best scenes were wordless. Ms. Jose did very mundane things here, like carrying groceries in the rain, mopping the floor at the station, pawning a cheap cellphone. Ms. Jose imbued these seemingly ordinary scenes with uncommonly deep and passionate underlying emotion so well-communicated by her eyes. She even made eating fishballs at a roadside stall an extraordinary acting highlight which eventually led to her historic victory. She raised the commonplace and prosaic to a higher level, and with her, up went the rest of the film.

I remembered when I watched Mr. Mendoza's 2012 film "Captive" (My Review). I was so dizzy from shaky-cam that I could not look at the screen anymore. I felt the same here, though not as much. I have to accept by now that my constitution really finds it difficult to tolerate his signature shaky-cam. I wish Mendoza did not have to resort to such vertiginous gimmicks to evoke the sense of gritty realism. It is not necessary. His well-chosen images already realistically establish the squalor, the apathy, the greed and the desperation in which his film was set and where his characters wallow. 8/10.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

WPFF 2016: Review of RINGGO: THE DOG-SHOOTER: Mending Major Mess-Ups

July 5, 2016

The 3rd World Premieres Film Festival (WPFF) is currently running from June 29 to July 10, 2016, organized by the Film Development Council Philippines in cooperation with the Cinematheque Centre Manila. It has a Filipino New Cinema showcasing contemporary indie films screened in select cinemas all over the metro (Cinematheque Centre Manila, Uptown Cinema, SM North Edsa, SM Megamall, Greenbelt 3, and Shang Cineplex).

The six entries in competition vied for awards which were presented last Sunday night. The winner for Best Picture is Alvin Yapan's "EDSA", which I hope I can still catch. However, I did get to watch the Second Best Picture "Ringgo, the Dog Shooter", which also won Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Despite this acclaim, I saw some pretty harsh ratings for "Ringgo" in social media (including a 0/5), and this made me even more curious to go see it for myself. 

Ringgo (Sandino Martin) is a 16 year-old apprentice dog-shooter, a person who facilitates the mating of two dogs to assure a good chance of conception. When his master Mang Willy (Bodgie Pascua) suddenly fell ill, Ringgo took over his job. His luck changed when he was hired full time as a pet caretaker by Bong (Janice de Belen), a butch lesbian who kept various breeds of dogs in her home. 

Their love for dogs, particularly for an abused Doberman named Inca, bonded the two closely as they faced their own personal problems. Ringgo had to deal with his Uncle Frank (Bembol Roco, Jr.), an adoptive father for whom he owed a lifelong debt of gratitude despite being an abusive alcoholic. Bong had to deal with her own father issues, as well as her relationship with her life partner, the beautiful vet Dr. Alva (Liza Dino Seguerra).

Sandino Martin initially had to play a tough, stoic street urchin, a boy abandoned by his drug addict mother. Martin had a difficult challenge to show the slow process of healing his broken character experiences. He was able to deliver very well in a some well-crafted dramatic scenes, one with Inca and a couple of scenes with Bong, to highlight this to us.  He was not an easy person to like at first, with ugly hairstyle, uncouth manners and annoying attitude. He eventually does make us feel for his plight later as the film went on.

Even if the title role belonged to Martin, the showier role belonged to Ms. Janice de Belen. She was really convincing as the masculine Bong, in her short-cropped hair, tattooed arms, muscle t-shirts and her love scenes with Alva. Her confrontation scene with Bembol Roco, Jr. may have seemed extreme and out of place, but she pulled that off gutsily. There was no denying that she deserved that Best Actress Award for this transformative performance like we have never seen her before, as well as for those tenderly maternal scenes with Ringgo. 

With a background theme like dog-shooting (an occupation I only learned about today), there was a preponderance of scenes and references of a sexual nature that pervaded this film. These sex scenes may have given this film some cause for controversy, but for me they did not seem entirely necessary to build up its central message of healing. On the other hand, they even detracted from this message by sending confusing signals. 

That side plot about Ringgo's affair with a flirty neighborhood beauty Emily (Micha Oteyza) felt extraneous. It could have been cut out entirely without affecting the story. The same is true with that side plot about Alex (Manuel Chua Jr.), the sex pervert stalker of Alva. In fact, that Alex story ended in a climactic bloody scene which turned out unintentionally hilarious, nearly ruining the whole film. 

With this film, director Rahyan Carlos and veteran screenwriter Ricky Lee convey a most reassuring message of how healing can happen even to the most damaged among us, and this healing can come from the people who may not even be related by blood. This core essence was effectively delivered mainly because we all saw how the close relationship that developed and forged between Ringgo and Bong (as very well-portrayed by Martin and de Belen) which led to their respective healing and redemption. 6/10. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review of BEFORE I WAKE: Delicate Dread

July 3, 2016

The poster looked eerie and its tagline sounds interesting. Even if there was hardly any publicity for this film and the lead actors were not exactly top-tier, I am always game for a good horror film, so I still went to watch this one.

Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) Hobson are a couple still recovering from the loss of their little boy Sean who died in a freak bathtub accident. To help them move on, they decided to adopt a foster child, Cody (Jacob Tremblay). Eventually, they realize that when Cody dreams of something, it becomes a reality. At first, these dreams were all pleasant and wondrous. Later on, they would take a turn for the ghastly and deadly.

It was a most welcome surprise that the kid playing the foster child Cody was portrayed by none other than Jacob Tremblay, the wonder boy who impressed us all with his performance in the Oscar-nominated indie film "Room." I personally thought that Tremblay should have been at least nominated for an Oscar himself for portraying and pulling off such a challenging role.  In this follow-up film, he was again the center of story. Tremblay was able to successfully tread that delicate line between innocence and menace his character had.

It was good to see Kate Bosworth on the big screen again. Like Brandon Routh, her career seemed to have stalled after the ill-fated "Superman Returns" (2006) where she played Lois Lane. Since then, I have not really heard anything of note about her, until I saw her here again (which is not to say that this film is of any great note). Her performance was solid here as the grieving mother Jessie, who still longed for her dead son, a portrayal you can empathize with.

The Thomas Jane I saw here was a shadow of the Thomas Jane who we remember best as "The Punisher" (2004). He seemed to just be coasting along here, with nothing distinctly remarkable about his performance as the father Mark. Annabeth Gish I remember as Agent Monica Reyes on the forgettable Season 10 of "The X-Files". She played the social worker who facilitated Cody's adoption with the Hobsons. Her limited role did not really give her any dramatic opportunities. 

This film had been sold as a horror film when it was more of a dramatic film. The "horror" lay in some disturbing scenes, nothing really terrifying. There were not even any true jump scares. However, an effectively creepy atmosphere had been created to make the dramatic storyline more compelling and unique. The fear and foreboding factor is heightened because the story involves young children, a familiar trope in many horror films. The very first time we see Cody's dreams turn from whimsical to ghoulish would count as the scariest scene.

Writer-director-editor Mike Flanagan had to also tread a line between tenderness and dread which his story called for. He was able to do so with effective performances by Tremblay and Bosworth, aided by appropriate visual effects, both delicate and nightmarish. Overall though, it succeeds more as a drama than as horror. 6/10.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Review of THE LEGEND OF TARZAN 3D: Vitally Visual

July 2, 2016

When I learned that there will be yet another Tarzan movie this year, I was really puzzled why Hollywood keeps retelling this story and rebooting this character over and over again. I thought I will never go watch it. However when I saw the trailer, it looked so beautifully-made, so I became excited to watch it. The initial reviews I read had been bad, but the stunning visuals I saw in the trailer had greater weight on my decision to go judge this film myself.

It has been several years after Tarzan a.k.a. John Clayton III (Alexander Skarsgard) had returned to England and reclaimed the title of Lord Greystoke. One day, he was convinced by an American activist George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to lead an expedition to investigate the reports that King Leopold of Belgium was enslaving the natives of the Congo to gain control over its precious gemstone mines via the ruthlessly cruel Capt. Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz). 

While going back to Africa with Jane (Margot Robbie) on this new adventure was the main story, the film would also flashback into the past recounting the oft-told legend of Tarzan we are already quite familiar with. We see here yet again how the baby Tarzan was adopted by the female ape Kala and how he struggled growing up with the apes. We also get to see another version of how Tarzan met Jane Porter, among other memories, both good and bad.

The tall (1.94 m) Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard bulked up for four months to achieve the Tarzan physique he proudly displayed in most of this film. His Tarzan is the epitome of the strong silent male, an unemotional man of action not words. He looked gracefully animalistic in his action scenes, be it running, fighting, or swinging on the vines. His Tarzan effectively struck an romantic chord in his scenes with his beautiful Jane. 

Because the central character Tarzan was so stoic, it was up to the characters around him to liven up the scenes with their more colorful characterizations. Margot Robbie was a spirited Jane who did not allow herself to be a damsel in distress, even when she was already in chains. Samuel L. Jackson provided most of the comic relief as a smart-aleck sidekick character who never seemed to lose his way in the jungle even if he could hardly keep with Tarzan. Christoph Waltz is already so stereotyped in these European villain roles that he seems to just be playing the same role over and over, but he does them so well.

The storytelling might be a tad slow for a such a predictable storyline with some cheesy dialog, but I did not really mind. I thought director David Yates (who also directed those fantastic last four Harry Potter films) did well in executing this film with his vital sense of imagery. While several scenes with the great apes gave a palpably hostile atmosphere of peril, those gentle scenes showing Tarzan interact with his old animal friends were a welcome respite.

The cinematography of the jungle was mesmerizing. The film editing and visual effects of the action scenes were exciting and spectacular. The visuals were excellent as the trailer promised. The 3D looked so good, definitely giving the action sequences that extra punch. It is fair to note though that the CG animals of the recent "The Jungle Book" movie still looked better than the animals here. 

Anyhow, this film had my attention and I was entertained. I thought the iconic character of Tarzan was successfully rebooted for the modern generation in this film. Do catch this one on the big screen to fully appreciate its visual grandeur. 8/10.