Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review of THE SNOWMAN: Sedated Suspense

November 24, 2017

It is always exciting to catch a well-plotted crime suspense thriller. "The Snowman" was based on a novel by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø, the seventh book in his series about detective Harry Hole. I have just visited Norway earlier this year and saw how picturesque and inhospitable the snow there could be. I remember our guide saying with pride that crime is almost non-existent in Norway, so this should be interesting to watch. 

Jaded senior detective Harry Hole and his eager new partner Katrine Bratt are investigating a series of puzzling murders of married women that coincidentally happened during a snowfall. Aside from his grisly calling card of a snowman with the victim's head on it, the perpetrator of these crimes purposely taunted Hole on a personal level, which made him all the more obsessed to get to the bottom of these crimes. 

Michael Fassbender does very well in these films where he is required to be moody and brooding. His character Harry Hole is a drunk and a drug addict, a loser of sorts in the personal front, thus making him even more melancholic. The sedate way this film was executed, his Harry Hole never really had a distinct Hercule Poirot Eureka moment when he finally figures out who the murderer was, so we do not really see any fire in his performance.

There were so many supporting characters whom we do not get to know too well. Rebecca Ferguson was a pretty and spunky Katrine, who seemed to have ulterior issues. Charlotte Gainsbourg was his odd clingy ex-wife Rakel. Jonas Karlsson played her more respectable new husband, plastic surgeon Dr. Matthias.  Val Kilmer had a bizarre appearance as a detective named Rafto who worked on the previous murders. 

There was a side story about a perverted philanthropist Arve Stop (played by J.K. Simmons) and his very suspicious association with a certain Dr. Idar Vetlesen (played by David Dencik) who worked in a clinic who did abortions.. A heftier-looking Chloe Sevigny played Sylvia (the woman in the hen house) and her twin Ane. I don't really get why they had to be twins. These are just some details that confused the story instead of pushing it forward. 

Director Tomas Alfredson previously gave us winners like "Let the Right One In" (2008) (MY REVIEW) and the remake of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (2011) (MY REVIEW). "The Snowman" no doubt had beautiful photography of the dramatic Norwegian winter landscape. However, Alfredson told his story too coldly and sedately to create any excitement nor suspense. There were certain scenes which seemed to lead nowhere. The eventual solution of the crime was not feel like it was arrived at convincingly through excellence in detective work. Ultimately, this supposed thriller did not really thrill. 6/10. 

Review of COCO: Ancestral Approval

November 25, 2017

When I first saw the trailer of this new Pixar movie "Coco", I was turned off by the several similar elements to another animated film, "The Book of Life" (Jorge R. Gutierrez, 2014) (MY REVIEW). However despite my initial reluctance, the initial reviews that came out for "Coco" were overwhelmingly positive, so of course, we could not possibly give it a miss.

12 year old Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) dreamed of becoming a musician like his idol, the late pop icon and movie star, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt, with Antonio Sol as his singing voice). However, his family vehemently opposed Miguel's musical aspirations. This was because they carried a cross-generational grudge against his great-great-great grandfather, a musician who had abandoned his wife Imelda (Allana Ubach) and infant daughter Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía) in order to pursue stardom. 

On one Day of the Dead, Miguel discovered evidence that seemed to indicate that he was actually the great-great-great grandson of Ernesto de la Cruz himself. Magical events transport Miguel over into the land of the dead. A desperate dead guy named Hector (Gael García Bernal) offered to help Miguel locate Ernesto de la Cruz. In exchange, Miguel promised to bring Hector's picture back to the land of the living so that he would not be forgotten by his daughter. 

First and foremost, similarities with "The Book of Life" were really there. Both films were set on the Mexican Day of the Dead and involved a trip of the hero to a busy city of the afterlife. Both films were about a boy whose dream of becoming a musician (specifically, a guitarist) was being opposed to by his family. Because of these common themes, you can note several common references to colorful vibrant Mexican customs about death and the family. 

Of course, the main story of "Coco" did go into a totally different direction. While "Book" had a love triangle of Manolo, Joaquin and Maria as a backbone, "Coco" was basically about the coming of age of one boy Miguel while dealing different generations within the same family, both living and dead. There is that very common Disney theme of going for your dream, even if it meant going against the wishes of your elders. 

As told by director Lee Unkrich from a story he himself developed, "Coco" had the trademark charming, funny, sentimental Pixar style, going for the tear ducts of the audience. It beautifully dealt with old age, death and afterlife as normal parts of life, with top-of-the-line animation effects we expect from Pixar and catchy songs we can sing along with.  Expecting this to take the lead in the race for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. 8/10. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Review of BRAWL ON CELL BLOCK 99: Viciously Violent Vaughn

November 23, 2017

The few times I have seen a Vince Vaughn movie, they had been wacky comedies, like "Dodgeball" (2004), "Wedding Crashers" (2005) or, more recently "The Internship" (2013). Since the debut of his latest film at the Venice International Film Festival last August, Vaughn had been gaining buzz about his unconventional character performance in it, with critics calling it the best performance of his whole career.

When what was supposed to be a routine drug pick-up went wrong, Bradley Thomas was arrested and thrown into a medium-security prison. A "Placid Man," representing the mastermind of the botched drug job, visited him on his second day to tell Bradley that harm will come to his pregnant wife Lauren and his unborn child if he does not obey their order to kill a certain prisoner who was currently locked up inside Cell Block 99 at the high-security prison Redleaf. Bradley had to come up with very violent acts of aggression, in order to get him into that cell block reserved only for the most psychotically-dangerous criminals.

With a huge tattoo of a cross on his clean shaven scalp, this is definitely a very different Vince Vaughn we see here. This 6-foot 5-inch actor, who was usually portrayed as a gentle giant, had been totally transformed here into a fearless, ruthless killing juggernaut. I can see why critics have been noting his portrayal of a role so way outside his usual comfort zone. His quiet moments could also make your skin crawl knowing how destructively crazy violent he could get. That car he took apart with his bare hands in the beginning was just a prelude to how he violent he could get.

It was good to see Don Johnson in a badass role as the tough Warden Tuggs of Redleaf. He has certainly aged a lot since his "Miami Vice" days (he is now 67 years old), but I could still recognize him behind that thick mustache he had on. Scrawny and scowling Jennifer Carpenter was such an unfortunate and unphotogenic choice as Bradley's wife Lauren. German actor Udo Kier, a familiar antagonist in several films, lived up to his character's nickname, Placid Man -- acting so cool on the outside but oh so evil to the core.

The ultra-violence of those fight scenes in this film by S. Craig Zahler (only his second feature film). The sound effects editing and mixing of those heavy punches, breaking bones, skull crushing was bad enough, but actually seeing them happening on that big screen is literally mind-blowing. That disturbing image of that scene where a man's face is dragged along concrete before being smashed in by one massive stomp is not something I want to see ever again. That shocking final scene will stick with you long after leaving the theater. Not my cup of tea for sure, but this film does well for its niche and genre. 6/10. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

C1 ORIGINALS 2017: Review of HISTORIOGRAPHIKA ERRATA: Interesting but Inconsonant

November 21, 2017

Thanks to the very long vacation break brought about by the ASEAN Conference in the city last week, this is the first time I had actually been able to catch all 7 of the Full-Length Narratives in competition for the Cinema One Originals film festival this year. The awards had already been given out last Sunday, with "Paki" winning Best Picture, and "Changing Partners" as Audience Choice. Because of its difficult schedule, this winner of the Jury Prize is the last of the bunch that I got to watch, even if it was the title that intrigued me the most.

This film is a trilogy of separate stories set in different times in Philippine history. 

The first episode was set in the wane of the Spanish rule, prior to the birth of the Katipunan. Andres Bonifacio (Jett Pangan) and his close colleagues in the reformist movement, namely Emilio Jacinto (Kean Cipriano), Deodato Arellano (Dong Abay) and Ladislaw Diwa (Kevin Roy), were shown wearing wigs and women's clothing while praying in front of an altar with a photograph of their icon Jose Rizal.

Meanwhile in a Berlin hotel, Jose Rizal (Joem Bascon) was having severe writers block, was flat broke and was actually contemplating suicide. While he was having fantasies of his love Leonor Rivera (Max Eigenmann), his friend Maximo Viola sends a German prostitute his way as a gift and messenger that he was going to fund the publication of Rizal's book (which we all know was going to be the "Noli Me Tangere").

The second episode was set in the American occupation. An ex-Katipunero named Mateo (Alex Medina) was conscripted to become a guide for a troop led by an American lieutenant (Basti Artadi) for his freedom and a hefty amount of money. Their group was ambushed by native tribesmen but Mateo managed to escape. He sought shelter in a cave, which turned out to be guarded by an enchantress with curved horns on her head. 

The final episode was set somewhere in Luzon during the Japanese occupation. Ernesto (Paolo Paraiso), the husband of a beautiful Fil-American woman named Librada (Nathalie Hart), was incarcerated in a Japanese garrison. Desperate for food, she sells her body to a couple of men in the neighborhood, Pancho (Jess Mendoza) and Fidel (Rafa Siguion-Reyna), on the condition that they should not get her pregnant. One day though, the two men wanted her "services" even when she was not feeling well. 

The most remarkable aspect of this film is its cinematography. In the first episode, the scenes were shot with a sepia filter in keeping with the era it depicted. In the second episode, the whole trek through the forest and thru the river was spectacularly shot from all angles. In the third episode, there was a smoky filter to create a steamy mood for the intimate scenes. There were some pretty adventurous camera angles in all three parts. Being a period film, appropriate production design was also a challenge which was met very well by this production.

The acting varied in style for the three episodes. Being a farce, the acting of the cast in episode one was tongue-in-cheek, and oddly funny. They were fully aware that they were being absurd. Alex Medina's acting in episode two was at par for his course. Nathalie Hart naturally exuded sexiness, even if she was just roasting corn or harvesting taro. Jess Mendoza was more convincing than the hammy Rafa Siguion-Reyna as a horny rascal. 

At the end of it all though, what did writer Jim Flores and director Richard Somes really want to tell us? Honestly I am not sure. The first episode was entertaining in its dark comedy. I get the Rizal part, but on the other end, why would the would-be Katipuneros be wearing women's clothing? The second (with its fantasy element) and third (with its erotic element) episodes seem to say something about Filipinos who lose their morality in order to survive the war, but what connection did those two episodes have with first episode? 

"Historiographika" may have been engrossing visually, but I did not see any clear thread the three disparate shorts. I feel that an expanded version of the more original, farcical first episode alone could have been more interesting. 6/10. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Review of JUSTICE LEAGUE: Heroes in Harmony

November 20, 2017

I grew up on DC Comics than Marvel. My favorite comic books as a child were about the Justice League of America, particularly JLA No. 10 about "The Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust." I liked and followed all those animated series on TV about the JLA, from "Super Friends" (1973-1986) to "Justice League" (2001-2004) then "Justice League Unlimited" (2007-2010) 

Over the years, there have all sorts of Marvel Comics movies. However in the DC camp, only Superman and Batman movies got a silver screen treatment in various incarnations. An attempt at Green Lantern was lousy and it bombed. I never thought the day would come that a JLA film would ever materialize. 

Then last year, the successful casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" reinvigorated the dream. She had her own WW solo pic earlier this year and that was a huge critical and box office winner as well.  The momentum was certainly on a roll. Now, even before 2017 ended, the JLA film I longed for is finally a reality.

Continuing from the events of "B v S," Superman died and was buried. Meanwhile, an ancient demon named Steppenwolf attacked Themiscyra to gain possession of a so-called Mother Box that the Amazons had been guarding. He also launched an attack on Atlantis to steal a second Mother Box left to the Atlanteans' care. 

Batman and Wonder Woman convinced meta-humans Barry Allen (Flash), Victor Stone (Cyborg) and Arthur Curry (Aquaman) to join their cause to secure the last Mother Box left to the care of Humans to stop Steppenwolf's intention to unite the three Mother Boxes to destroy the whole world. They soon realized that they needed someone to return to complete their team.

The story line about the villain needing to collect three boxes to complete a grand plan of world destruction is too simple and rehashed. He and his wasp-like minions could have been done with better CGI. However, this film was not really about the villain. He just needed to be powerful enough to get these superheroes together to work for a common goal. I thought all the heroes were given their fair share of the screen time in terms of action, so that is good. There was a healthy sense of humor (even for the Batman), and that was a lot of fun as well.

Ben Affleck actually lightened up his Bruce Wayne and Batman portrayal in this one, and I thought that was okay as he was not annoying at all, unlike most other Affleck characters. Gal Gadot continues her streak with another on-point portrayal of Wonder Woman, especially in her awesome-looking fight scenes. 

The name of Henry Cavill is prominently billed in the opening credits so you know he will not just be fleeting cameo in this one. He is a good choice for Superman, so glad to see him back. However, we could have done without those cringy statements said about his itch and his smell. I admit this whole "Superman comes in at the end to save the whole League" was the one thing I was most afraid of happening here, and they really went there. This "easy" way out was the my one disappointment about this film. 

Ezra Miller's giddy fanboy-portrayal of a young Barry Allen made him very likable and appealing. This younger Flash had more of Wally West's personality than the more sedate Barry I knew in the old comics. His funny lines were a hit with the audience for the most part, even in that charming extra scene of his mid-closing credits. 

Jason Momoa's look and portrayal totally turned around the image of Aquaman of the original comics who had blond hair and an orange and green wetsuit. Even his ability to talk to fish gets ribbed in this film. Loved that scene where he was sitting on the Lasso of Truth. That scene when he surfed down from the sky on the body of a dead enemy, crashed through a building and landed with a cool flip of his hair -- that was pure badass. I don't know why he had to throw a bottle of liquor into the ocean though, I guess he did not know yet at that time that he was supposed to be guardian of the seas. 

I did not really know anything about the Cyborg character until promotions for this film came out. The only android I knew from the old comics was the Red Tornado. This was a character whose origin was connected to the power of the Mother Boxes as well (mentioned but not fully elucidated how his father Silas gained possession of the box). He was only discovering his powers and was still in denial of his state of mortality, so that made for some interesting character development. 

The dark color palette, leathery costumes and the driving rock music are not exactly what I had in mind when I tried to envision a JLA film in my youth. But here it is now so cool and hip. I liked its new execution and direction for future development. It was entertaining and engaging; and that is what films like this are about, not awards. The final extra scene at the very end of the closing credits suggests the beginning formation of a "Legion of Doom" sort of super-villain counter-league. I am definitely looking forward to the next episode. 8/10. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

C1 ORIGINALS 2017: Review of NERVOUS TRANSLATION: Insipid and Inscrutable

November 19, 2017

I had seen five out of the seven Cinema One Original full-length narrative films in competition this year, and so far, every one of these five had been above average in quality. I was expecting this sixth one "Nervous Translation" would also carry on the torch of excellence of the field this year. Sadly, it did not.

It was the late 1980s. Yael (Jana Agoncillo) is an introverted little girl who lived in a world of her own. She spent her day listening to and memorizing tapes sent by her OFW dad Dodong to her mom Val. One day while watching TV, she saw a weird Japanese ad for Ningen, a pen that was supposed to be for "a beautiful human life". She was so obsessed with this pen that she even went out of the house one stormy day to try to buy one at a nearby store. 

My first issue with this film was the time setting. What year exactly is this story set in? One of the father's tapes was labelled "Christmas 1987". They mentioned Typhoon Unsang, which was a strong typhoon in 1988, so the story was presumably set in that year. However, why was the news we heard and saw from their TV still about the fall of the Marcos regime, including footage of people overrunning Malacanang Palace and Imelda's shoes. We know that this historical revolution happened in 1986. 

To be fair though, the production designer was careful to have only dial phones, cassette players (which they call a "component") and tapes, Betamax players and tapes, cathode ray tube TV sets inside Yael's house.

The whole film was like one flight of consciousness piece about what goes on inside this shy, odd little girl Yael's active mind. We do not see the mom Val (Angge Santos) onscreen until maybe 20 minutes into the film, and she was always cold and distant for the whole film. Why was the skin of Yael's arms suffering from some sort of dermatitis which required her elbows to be wrapped with bandages? It seemed like a big deal, but it was never brought up except when her cousins teased Yael of being a mummy.

Then the next scene, we see them welcome into their house her father's charismatic rock star twin brother Ton Ton (Sid Lucero), from the famous band called The Futures. He brought along his very annoying wife Bette (Thea Yrastoza) and their even more annoying children. This family disappeared from the scene as suddenly as when they arrived, with no apparent purpose in the story. Was Val supposed to have a hidden desire for brother-in-law Ton Ton, since he looked identical to her husband except for his tattoos? That was the uncomfortable vibe during that whole sequence of scenes. 

The whole Ningen pen sequence was exasperating beyond relief. It just went on and on with nothing happening. Yael shown to go back to that school supply store more than once, even during a heavy downpour. The pen was worth P50, but she only had P17 in her porcelain rabbit bank so she never got to buy one. What really was this pen supposed to be about? Was this about how kids are affected by TV advertisements? I do not get the point that was being pushed at all.

After patiently but restlessly sitting though the first hour and a half of the film's running time, we arrive at an open ending that did not give me any sense of being worth waiting for. I will commend the production designer for painstakingly creating a doll-sized house and doll-sized neighborhood out of paper which was seen soaked in dirty water. But again, what was this supposed to mean? Did Yael and her mom survive the bad typhoon and flash flood? 

If not for the pure wide-eyed innocence of 8-year old Jana Agoncillo (she grown up a bit since we last saw her as "Ningning" greeting us a "Magandang buhay!" on TV)  so well-projected on screen as Yael, no other adult cast member gave a remarkable performance. The film was so languorous in pace and so laborious to watch, with frustratingly no worthy redemptive value to reward the viewer afterwards for staying to finish the film. 

I'm pretty sure writer-director Shireen Seno was trying to tell us something about a child's unique perspective (or something to that effect) but I did not get at all from the film I saw. I do not even know why it was entitled "Nervous Translation" at all. I did not see anyone nervous, nor see anything translated.  2/10. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

C1 ORIGINALS 2017: Review of CHANGING PARTNERS: Seamless Sentiments in Song

November 16, 2017

There had been so many theater musicals that have made the transition to film. The first Filipino movie, "Dalagang Bukid" (Jose Nepomuceno, 1919) was based on a musical play, and so were several of the early Filipino films. Lately though, there had been a dearth of Filipino musical films, much less Filipino musical films derived from musical plays. 

For some sheer coincidence, this year, there will be two Filipino musical films, both based on Filipino musical plays! The film version of Tinio-Cayabyab's 1997 musical "Larawan" (Loy Arcenas, 2017) had already premiered in the Tokyo International Film Festival last month, and hopefull will be shown in local cinemas later this December. This one, the film version of Vincent de Jesus' "Changing Partners" (Dan Villegas, 2017) premieres this week in the Cinema One Originals film festival as one of the feature films in competition.

Within the past two years, I had seen "Changing Partners" in all its incarnations. First in June 2016, it was a one-night only staged reading at the CCP as part of Virgin Labfest XII (MY REVIEW). Second, in September 2016, it was a full-length play produced by Munkeymusic staged at the PETA Theater (MY REVIEW). And now November 2017, it had already crossed over to the silver screen! I think this should count as one of the fastest film adaptations of a theater musical play ever. 

I quote my own description of the plot as the screenplay was adapted from the book and libretto as is: ""Changing Partners" tells us about the love relationship of Alex and Cris, two individuals 15 years apart in age who decide to live together. It tells us about how their love story began and how it eventually evolved six years later. The twist of this ingenious script is that the roles of Alex and Cris can interchangeably be played by male and female actors such that the dynamics of the relationship also change significantly. Then again, it also shows that the outcome of such relationships may not really be that different after all, whatever the genders of the people involved." 

Needless to say, I already know "Changing Partners" and its uniquely ingenious storytelling style very well. I know for a fact that Vincent de Jesus' words in both spoken dialogue (with co-writer Lilit Reyes) and in the song lyrics were all impeccably chosen to convey their intended messages in the most heartbreaking ways possible. There was no doubt that these same words, all drawn from the deepest well of emotions possible, will resonate similarly well in movie form. I simply needed to see how director Dan Villegas will translate this intricate web of human relationships into the film medium.

The whole look of the film is beautiful and classy. The quality of the film, camera and colors is first rate. The four apartments where the four pairs of "Alex and Cris" lived were all stylish to look at. The editing for a film like this is one of paramount importance. This intertwined-intersecting story of eight separate characters portrayed by four actors needed to flow smoothly from pair to pair, and the fluid editing simply blurred the distinctions between each individual episode to create the coherent illusion of unity, no matter which gender preference the characters are. 

Practically the whole film was shot in elegant close-ups of its cast of four actors -- Agot Isidro, Jojit Lorenzo, Anna Luna and Sandino Martin (the same four actors in the full stage version) -- each one playing two distinct characters.  Every little emotional nuance on their faces can be seen full on. This was one of the main advantages of a film version of a play, where audiences are at quite a distance away. With their faces magnified on that giant screen, all four actors truly bared all their heart and soul as they mouth those painful lines to each other and to us. 

The highlight of the play was the climactic confrontation scene with all four actors on the stage at the same time. In the screen version, director Villegas weaved the scenes with all four actors alternatingly switching roles from one Alex to another, from one Cris to another so smoothly to create such a powerful unforgettable sequence. Sometimes you could not tell anymore which Alex and which Cris was singing, but it did not matter anymore. They were all one in the same pain. You simply could not pick one actor over another.  This was a truly seamless ensemble in the pure sense of the word. 9/10. 

C1 ORIGINALS 2017: Review of NAY: A Nanny's Nurturance

November 16, 2017

The nanny is an integral part of many Filipino households. There are many children who retain the services of their nanny when they grow up and have children of their own. There have been Filipino films about nannies, like "Inang Yaya" (Pablo Biglang-awa & Veronica Velasco, 2006). There have even been foreign films about Filipinas who became nannies in other countries, like "Ilo Ilo" (Anthony Chen, 2013). Surely though, there would never be another nanny film like Kip Oebanda's "Nay."

Martin Koa was left by his parents to his nanny Nay Luisa since his childhood when they left to work abroad. Martin reached young adulthood under Nay's care and worked in the company owned and run by his trusted friend and cousin, Francis. One day though, Martin was stricken with a terminal illness. Since he was all she had, Nay could not just allow Martin to die knowing that she could give him immortality -- even if it meant she herself would die, and that he would become a blood-thirsty murderer.

Despite a logjam of excellent lead women characters in the festival this year, I think Sylvia Sanchez stands the best chance to win the Best Actress prize. Her portrayal of a surrogate mother willing to do everything for her ward was made more challenging by imbuing her with an underlying secret monster persona. Enchong Dee's skill in acting also rose higher to meet the high standards set by Ms. Sanchez. His character's inner conflicts were well-conveyed by Dee's external physical suffering. 

Of the four films I had seen during this Cinema One Originals film festival, this was the one with the most remarkable cinematography and editing, very clear and cleanly done. This was despite having a lot of scenes set in the dark of night, as the story would require. That climactic bloodbath in the 11th hour was the most well-executed massacre scene I had ever seen in a local horror film. The special effects employed for the various gory killings, particular Francis' final scene, were so cleanly done, so realistically ghastly. 

During Nay's training of her reluctant apprentice Martin, there were moral discussions about how so much easier it was to kill the poor. There were pointed political statements being made here as these scenes reflected current issues of the drug war and EJKs. There was even a scene that recreated the viral photograph of a girl cradling her dead relative on the street to make the connection even clearer.

The bloody supernatural monster angle aside, the heart of "Nay" is a captivating drama of two lonely people who only had each other in the world, a case of "two of us against the world." Here the sacrifice of love and life of Nay to Martin can be considered a gift or a curse depending on who is looking at the situation. Nay only had the prolongation of Martin's life in her mind. But Martin cannot accept the dire consequences of this renewed life. This moral impasse made for a very interesting dilemma to watch unfold on the screen. 8/10. 

C1 ORIGINALS 2017: Review of THROWBACK TODAY: Taught by Time

November 16, 2017

In real life, we need to own up and live with the consequences of lapses in our judgement. What is done is done. But in the fantasy world of cinema, there had been several films made about an ability to break the ever-forward convention of time in various imaginative ways. In this same vein, this debut feature film by Joseph Teoxon attempts to answer that oft-asked question, "What advice would you tell your younger self if you had the chance to actually talk to him?"

Primo Jose Lacson is 32 years old now and jobless. He was about to be kicked out of his house by the landlord for failure to pay rent. His best friend, secret love (and companion to Lav Diaz film showings) Andie was about get married to someone else and move to Canada. This did not seem to be the destiny of someone who used to be a popular and promising art designer student back in college.

While going through his boxed things in storage one day, he unearthed an old computer of his. It still worked, and he decided to click on a chat program he and his friends used before and type messages for fun. To his big surprise, someone replied to his messages. Upon further online interaction, it turned out he was actually chatting with his 20 year old self! Could he actually instruct the 2005 Primo to avoid the big mistakes he had done that led him to such a lousy future?

Ever since his most memorable (and award-winning) role of Vilma Santos's son in 1998's "Bata. Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa?," Carlo Aquino had always been known as a very serious young actor who can really come up with deeply nuanced portrayals of the problematic characters he played. Here in "Throwback," he gets to play both the defeated older and brash younger Primo, an acting challenge for any actor. 

The always prim and proper Empress Schuck played Primo's ever-loyal doormat friend Andie. The always rebellious and liberated Annicka Dolonius played his wild child girlfriend Macy. These female characters were written to be static and one-dimensional in their ways even if Primo's life was changing. One was always the good girl, one was always the bad girl in 2017 Primo's eyes, and, consequently, also in our eyes. 

His good film-maker friends Alex and Jen (played by Benj Manalo and Kat Galang) also remain basically unchanged by Primo's standard over time. It was notable how his kind but alcoholic father Teddy (Allan Paule) would live or die based on Primo's actions, when I would think that one's mortality was independent of another person's circumstance.

As with most time-bending films, there could be a lot of plot holes if you take the time to nitpick every detail. The story of 2005 Primo moved two years up to 2007, but it did not seem like the 2017 Primo moved forward in time, since he was still not kicked out of his house yet (supposedly by month's end). When the 2005 Primo was already packed up his computer in the box, at first 2017 Primo lost contact with him, but later, how did the two Primo's reestablish contact? 

At first the distinction of the two Primos was very clear cut, especially when older Primo had his mustache. However, there came a time later in the film when the time loop theme was in full swing, I could not readily tell one Primo from the other. I would eventually I get the drift from various context clues, but the time frame confusion can be distracting. 

When a second concurrent time-warp communication was introduced as a twist, it actually gave rise to more questions. Whose time line was being given priority in such cases when the two linked subjects were rewriting their individual histories in two divergent ways? This was an interesting concept to be sure, but the film did not delve too much into that issue.

Overall though, the film's story was still very engaging to the end. Thanks to Carlo Aquino's earnest portrayal, you will care for what happens to Primo's character. There were some nice touches, like the wrist tattoos which change with each change in Primo's situation. I commend director Joseph Teoxon for his audacious choice of a complex time-themed sci-fi love story (by Pertee Brinas) for a debut feature, and pulling it off satisfactorily despite obvious technical limitations. 6/10. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

C1 ORIGINALS 2017: Review of SI CHEDENG AT SI APPLE: Flighty Friends in Flight

November 14, 2017

Last year, Fatrick Tabada wrote "Patay Na Si Jesus" (MY REVIEW), a hilarious road trip movie about a woman who went on a road trip with her children to visit the wake of her long-estranged husband. This year, Tabada wrote and co-directed (with Rae Red of "Birdshot") yet another road-trip movie about a woman who went on a road trip with her best friend to find an old love she left behind many years ago to get married to someone else. 

Mercedes "Chedeng" Suarez was a 66-year old retired school principal and mother of three adult boys. She now spent her days taking care of her invalid husband, Francisco. When her husband passed away one morning, she surprised her whole family during his cremation by announcing that she was a lesbian.

Chedeng's best friend was Apolinaria "Apple" Macaraeg. She was a 63-year old woman who had been living in with a violently abusive man named Doriteo Gomez. One day, after being severely beaten up and burned, Apple killed him. Chedeng went to help Apple clean up the mess and dispose of the body (except for two vital parts). 

The two women then boarded on a ship bound to Cebu, each for their own reasons. Apple needed to get away from the major crime she just committed. Chedeng needed to go search for and reconnect with fa certain Lydia Cantilla, an old girlfriend who had "talented fingers." Neither was going to be an easy task for the two old ladies.

Comparisons of "Chedeng at Apple" with "Patay Na Si Hesus" are inevitable because its publicity would reminded us that both were written by the same writer. Despite the dark comedy approach employed in both films, the farce of "Patay" felt more carefree and relaxed, more good-natured. In "Chedeng," the comedy involved getting away with murder. Hence, there are deeper shades of dark here, for which humor may come across as forced or contrived. But thanks to the earnest performances of the lead cast, the whole project still comes across as generally perky and delightful.

Chedeng and Apple are both such offbeat roles for the two veteran leads actresses Ms. Gloria Diaz and Elizabeth Oropesa, respectively. I don't think I remember the always refined and elegant Ms. Diaz tackle such a role that would make her say such outrageous crass lines, such as that one about a certain type of hair on her body. La Oropesa got to do a lot of  wacky and disgusting physical comedy scenes. The comic timing of these two ladies were as on point as their undoubted dramatic prowess was in their serous scenes. 

Venerable stage actors Dido de la Paz (as Francisco) and Teroy Guzman (as Dori) were on screen for a very short time as the soon-dead husbands. Chedeng's three sons were played Ian Lomongo (as the lawyer Rannie), Mike Liwag (as the problematic Romy) and Anthony Falcon (as the gay Rico), but we knew little about their relationship with their mother. Playing a more prominent featured role was Jay Gonzaga, as Adam, a journalist the two ladies met in Cebu. The funny purpose of Tabada for calling this character Adam will be quite evident before he exits the scene. 

Sheenly Gener also only had a few scenes as Monique, the inhaler-sniffing, Louis Vuitton-loving daughter of Dori, but these were just so hilariously memorable because of her jaded line delivery and that bored deadpan expression she had on her face. That scene when she disgustedly pushed the plastic bag with a severed body appendage the policeman was holding near her face was so funny. Mae Paner also had a marked episode as a butch lesbian who called on our two ladies after Chedeng went on a public service radio show to announce that she was looking for Lydia.

There are certain story elements which were explained unsatisfactorily (like why Apple had to bring the head along, why the maid was not interrogated) or too conveniently easy (like how the head in the bag got through port security, how Chedeng hatched the plan to spring Apple out of captivity). The ending seemed rushed and uncertain in execution as well. But anyhow, the winning goodwill of Diaz and Oropesa as the senior-citizen Filipino version of "Thelma and Louise" carried the film through in a most entertaining fashion. 7/10. 

C1 ORIGINALS 2017: Review of PAKI: A Family in Flux

November 15, 2017

In 2014, Giancarlo Abrahan wrote and directed "Dagitab'"(MY REVIEW), a film about a middle-age couple and how their love had evolved over the years. This year, Abrahan continued on the same theme and took it a step further to tackle the relationship of a senior citizen couple whose marriage of 50 years teetered on the edge of ending. The simple Filipino one-word title "Paki" is translated in two ways, as "Please" and as "Care", that point alone already captured my attention. 

After 50 years of living together as a married couple, 69-year old Mrs. Alejandra Molina Sanchez suddenly decided that she had had enough of her husband Uro's incurable womanizing ways. She sought refuge with her daughters but everyone had their own issues about her. Eldest daughter Mercedes (Des) constantly hounded her about her health. Second daughter Marcella (Ella) followed her mother's footsteps in local politics, but could not stand her interference. Youngest daughter Miranda (Randy) broke her mother's heart when she revealed she was a lesbian. 

After all these years as a character actress in supporting roles, Dexter Doria finally steps up to the plate in a lead role as the disgruntled wife and mother, Alejandra. Doria played her role in an understated and quiet manner. The battles and demons Alejandra fought were internal, and Doria successfully expressed them eloquently with her face and body language only, no hysterics nor caterwauling. 

Even if he was supposed to be bad husband, Noel Trinidad played Uro so likably it was not too easy to side against him. It was actually his scenes singing karaoke during their beach reunion which got me misty-eyed. His scene with his great-grandchild Chester at the seashore where he left something behind in the sea after snorkling was the hands-down funniest one in the whole film.

Shamaine Buencamino played eldest sister Des as the typical busybody fussbudget. Separated from her husband, she had a gay son Raymond (Miguel Valdes), who is living with a celebrity health nut Gab (Paolo Paraiso). Eula Valdez played Ella as a hard and unforgiving woman as only she can. It was good to see Ricky Davao play it subdued for a change as Ella's docile husband Delfin. They had a daughter Lara (Sari Estrada) who was an unwed mother to cute little boy Chester (Dravin Angeles). The attractive lesbian couple Randy and Leni were stylish beauties as played by Cielo Aquino and Ina Feleo. 

Overall though, this family drama is well-written and engaging, occasionally cluttered with extra detail. I wonder what point director Abrahan wished to push when he made Doria wear over-the-top ensemble with chunky jewelry and a feathered fascinator on her head on the day she left her house, because it did not ring true at all. The final scene with the flat tire was rather awkward in execution, and did not come across too naturally.  It was nevertheless very interesting to see Abrahan's portrait of an all-inclusive modern Filipino family in flux. 7/10. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Review of MAYHEM: Impunity of the Id

November 9, 2017

Being in the medical field, movies about viral infections really freak me out. There have been films about bugs which hew close to real-life viruses, like the Matoba virus in "Outbreak" (1995) inspired by Ebola Virus or the MEV-1 virus in "Contagion" (2011) inspired by the bird flu. But there had also been highly fictional viruses (we hope) like that in "Night of the Living Dead" (1968) that brings dead people back to life (giving birth to zombie films), or "28 Days Later" (2002) that turns infected people to become murderous creatures. Add "Mayhem" to the second kind.

This new virus is called ID-7, also called the Red Eye Virus. When a person gets infected, his id totally takes over his person, and he loses all moral control, causing him to do absolutely anything he wants to do -- however depraved or violent. The virus itself is not deadly, but the person infected is. A court had already decided to acquit a person of murder because he was under the influence of the virus, setting a dangerous legal precedent. 

An outbreak of ID-7 has taken over the building of Towne and Smythe Consulting turning everyone inside into lunatics indulging in unbridled sex and violence. CDC placed it under an 8-hour lockdown until an airborne disinfectant can take effect. Fired lawyer Derek Cho whipped up a plan, together with another disgruntled lawyer Melanie Cross, to take advantage of the killing wave in the building to fight their way up and barge into the penthouse board room in order to assert their rights to the unscrupulous big bosses John Towne and Irene Smythe, by fair means or foul.

I am not fond of gory films. I purposely missed watching "Jigsaw" (or any of the "Saw" films before it), but I end up watching this instead. When this movie eventually turned out to be a relentlessly gore-fest, I admit was not looking directly at the screen anymore whenever that hammer, or rotatory saw blade, or sharp scissors was about to graphically ram into and maim someone's body. As the film goes on, we will be treated to all sorts of gruesome fight scenes and death scenes. It was sickening for me, but I'm sure some people would find this sick in a cool sort of way.

By the over-the-top way all the actors were portraying their roles, you know the intention of director Joe Lynch for the film was comedy. Admittedly, some of the scenes and lines were pretty amusing (well, until the next bloody death came along). I never watched "Walking Dead," so it was my first time to see lead actor Steve Yeun,who played Derek Cho. Samara Weaving (yes, she is Hugo's niece) played Derek's pretty partner in crime Melanie. Steven Brand and Kerry Fox played the despicable bosses Townes and Smythe with a perpetual evil smirk. 

As Freud described it, the id has no morals. It only wants instant gratification. An integral part of the id is the aggressive instinct of destruction which only sought to destroy things that get in our way of getting what we want. This film's showcase for the human id could be fun in a dark morbid sort of way, but the insanely excessive gore in its murder and mutilation scenes were too much for me. Nevertheless, I did like the attempt at redemption at the end, leaving the audience with a positive message after all the mayhem. 4/10. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

My Review of 12: Submission for Security

November 8, 2017

Alessandra de Rossi's career is on a roll this year. Last July, she starred in the huge box-office indie smash hit "Kita Kita" (MY REVIEW), which earned a whopping P320M. As a follow-up, she stars in another project this month. But this time, she is working with a script she wrote herself. She also wrote and sang its theme song. With so much invested in this project, it is obviously going to be a labor of love for this 20-year film veteran, I thought it should be worth the watch.

Commercial director Anton Romualdez III and band musician Erika Valero had been best of friends for five years before they became live-in partners for the next seven years.  One night, Anton finally proposes marriage to Erika. Unexpectedly, it was then that their 12-year relationship began to unravel, threatening to pull them apart.

Alessandra de Rossi is such a natural in these quirky roles like Erika. She could do no wrong with her on-point portrayal of a broken woman who had sacrificed her own person to make her man happy. You can really feel her seething hurt and pain. You can feel her heart being torn between freedom and forgiveness. Her scene at the dinner table, when Anton was talking to his aunt on the phone, was wordless for de Rossi, but that did not stop that dramatic scene to be a truly heart-wrenching one. 

Newcomer Ivan Padilla played Anton as such a selfish cad. As Erika said, Anton is easily forgiven for his faults because he would effortlessly play the "guwapo" (good-looking) card. Same is true with the actor. Padilla can be awkward with his American-twanged Tagalog in those cringy happy flashback scenes. But those key dramatic scenes, he nailed. This guy can convincingly throw the wildest tantrums, saliva sputtering and all. This guy can also cry unabashedly as well, letting us in to feel his pain. I guess Anton was cast this way to sort of reassure us regular guys that these mestizo guys also do not have it all. 

This was basically an hour and a half movie with just two characters throughout the film -- practically a full-length two-hander film. (There was a surprise cameo guest which was more distracting than welcome.) Unlike most of the love story films that flood the local movie scene in recent years, this is not a romantic comedy at all. This whole film by director Dondon Santos is about an impending breakup of a long-term relationship so we will be listening to argumentative bickering and angry outbursts almost throughout its running time. 

For me, it was an impressive achievement of Alessandra de Rossi's script to keep us listening to these painful conversations to the very end. I actually felt like a marriage counselor with the troubled couple in front of me, both divulging their most private thoughts to each other and to me. These are highly sensitive matters couples usually keep between themselves, not easily shared with even their close family or friends. 

This is not exactly an easy film to watch because everything felt so intimately real, like Anton and Erika could be anyone we know, or even (gasp!) us. Every person watching who is in a relationship would recognize their own gripes and sentiments being expressed their by either character. Some may even wish they had the eloquence or boldness to say these lines to the ones they love for which they have some unspoken disappointment.

Perhaps because it was written in the woman's point of view, the man was shown to be immature, insecure, an alcoholic, wildly bipolar and given to fits of violence. Men brought by their wives or girlfriends to go watch this movie will learn a thing or two about the women they are with. Core values can clash. Best friends still need to adjust. Those petty faults do add up. Complacency can creep up when the mystery and challenge fade. 

If they have not done anything wrong yet, then they would know what to NOT to do so that they won't cause any heartaches at all. If they realize they maybe already doing something wrong, they should man up, apologize and make amends before anything worse happens. 8/10. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review of LOVING VINCENT: Poetic Paintings

November 7, 2017

Every frame of this animated film about the great artist Vincent van Gogh was an oil painting in his distinctive style that comes to vivid life. Seeing the beautiful trailer of this film alone gives enough reason to go watch this film on the big screen. This man, touted as the "Father of Modern Art" died violently at the young age of 37. This film will deal with that mentally-disturbed, turbulent part of his life. It was at his death that his artistic genius was launched into legendary status.

It has been one year after the death of the painter Vincent van Gogh. The Postmaster Roulin (Chris O'Dowd) requested his son Armand (Douglas Booth) to personally hand carry a letter sent by Van Gogh before his death to his brother Theo because the mail system could not deliver it. During this trip, Armand interacted with the people whom Vincent (Robert Gulaczyk) himself interacted with in his last six months before his death. 

In Auvers-sur-Oise, he got to interview the paint supplier Pere Tanguy (John Sessions), the friendly innkeeper's daughter Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), the Boatman (Aidan Turner) along the river, and his kindred spirit Dr. Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn), his lovely daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan) and their spiteful housekeeper Louise Chevalier. From their stories told from divergent perspectives, Armand put the pieces of the puzzle together when he finally reported back to his father.

Outdoor Cafe scene with Postmaster Roulin and son Armand
(Photo credit: Solar Entertainment publicity)

Even if this film was largely all talk (which may turn off some viewers), the story never became boring for me. I had always thought that his suicide was an uncontested fact, so I am not really sure how much of this tale was fact and fiction. I doubt if the characters in the film (real people who became subjects of various van Gogh paintings) really encountered each other in real life that way. But for me, the tale of mystery of van Gogh's fatal wound, along with significant details of his tormented life, were masterfully woven by co-writers- directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman into a cohesive and engaging tapestry.

From the hand-lettered opening credits to the creatively informative closing credits, I sat mesmerized for an hour and a half by this beautifully and delicately crafted film whose painstakingly-detailed oil-paintings in van Gogh style is unprecedented. The images we see on the screen (people, rainfall, fire, smoke, depth, etc) were never static, the brushstrokes in each frame were constantly moving, giving a unique dynamism I've never seen before. This sense of shimmering motion may cause some difficulty for some people to watch, but for me it was absolutely magical -- a true wonder of cinematic art.  

Portrait of Marguerite Gachet at her piano
(Photo credit: Solar Entertainment publicity)

As you recognize each familiar painting come to life, you will feel a thrill. You may not know the names of these paintings but you definitely have seen them or part of them before. AThe film ends with the camera panning upwards to show his most famous painting "The Starry Night," which in itself was enough for me to burst into applause. Then as an additional final bonus, it sends us off with a sense of aching nostalgia by giving us an exquisite version of Don McLean's "Vincent" by Lianne La Havas over the closing credits. Beauty truly permeated this visually (and musically) poetic film from beginning to end. 9/10. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Review of SPIRIT OF THE GLASS 2: THE HAUNTED: Vengeance for Victims

November 3, 2017

The Ouija Board has a subgenre of its own under the category of horror films. So many films had used a ouija board to summon spirits of the dead, eventually causing horrific consequences for the people playing it. I am not sure why people do not tire of whipping up films about another group of reckless youths playing yet another cursed ouija board, and audiences do not seem to tire of watching them. 

The first "Spirit of the Glass" film was written and directed by Jose Javier Reyes, and released in 2004. All the young actors in the cast eventually became known names in local showbusiness, namely Rica Peralejo, Dingdong Dantes, Alessandra de Rossi, Ciara Sotto, Drew Arellano, Paolo Contis, Jay Aquitania and Jake Cuenca. This year, 13 years later, Reyes comes up with a second film about another group of young people playing the same dangerous game. 

Girlfriends Bea (Cristine Reyes), Chelsea (Ashley Ortega) and Lisette (Maxine Medina in her film debut), along with their respective beaus Enzo (Daniel Matsunaga), Andrei (Enrico Cuenca) and Jag (Benjamin Alves), headed over to an old house in Batangas to pick up some items left behind and bequeathed by Bea's recently departed grand-aunt Milagring. One of the boxes contained a huge wooden ouija board with carved inscriptions. 

Out of playful curiosity, the friends summoned a spirit via the ouija board, and the spirit of a woman named Sabrina Villafuerte (Janine Gutierrez) responded to their call, begging them to help her. From then on, the friends were haunted by various ghostly beings wherever they go, including a woman in a white wedding gown, a little girl with a bloody forehead, a man with a gunshot wound on his face, and three old witches, among others. They needed to figure out what kind of help Sabrina needed in order to stop the haunting.

The main highlight scare was that scene of their first ouija board session, which drew out all the ghosts at the same time for the first time. I thought that scene, along with a few more horror scenes, were very well-executed.  However, the bulk of the film felt more like a detective movie than horror, where the friends went around conducting interviews with surviving people who knew who Sabrina was to find out what happened to the unfortunate girl fifty years ago. 

The revenge story was well-written and interesting, familiar but with just enough twists and detail (about local society, politics and showbiz in the 1960s) to set it apart. I felt that there was a bit of a jump in logic with that parallel subplot about a blind girl named Anita (Teri Malvar). How and why can Anita (in Manila) feel a long-distance connection with this particular group of spirits even when the ouija board was still in Batangas? This puzzling point was not convincingly explained, and was just expected to be accepted at face value.

The acting of the six main friends ranged from alright (Reyes and Alves), to hammy (Ortega and Cuenca) to flat (Medina and Matsunaga) -- nothing spectacular. It was Janine Gutierrez's performance as the angry tormented ghost Sabrina and Teri Malvar's performance as the powerful medium Anita that take the top marks among the cast. The other supporting cast (like Pinky Amador, Lollie Mara, Angel Jacob) were mainly there for exposition, to provide clues to slowly reveal the mystery of Sabrina's quest for justice. 

Technically, the cinematography, editing, sound effects and musical score were above average as far as local horror films go. With his organized story-telling style, director Joey Javier Reyes was able to neatly wrap up all the multiple threads at the end, despite having so many characters both in present day and back in time 50 years ago, and still make the film effective as both a mystery (more so) and a horror (less so). 6/10. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Review of THE GHOST BRIDE: A Chinoy Cultural Curiosity

November 1, 2017

When it was announced that "Ghost Bride" will open on November 1, I knew I will watch it on Day 1. I have a fascination for Filipino horror films, and the Chinese theme of this one makes it an automatic must-watch for me. I admit that I was not familiar with the titular tradition, so curiosity about this ancient practice was another reason for me to go see it. Apparently, many people had the same idea as me. I got the one last available ticket of that particular afternoon screening I caught. 

Mayen (Kim Chiu) was the dutiful daughter of a cash-strapped couple Manuel (Robert Sena) and Dolores (Ina Raymundo) Lim. They made ends meet by running a mahjong joint in their house and putting on cultural shows at the temple. They lived with a couple of aunts, the eccentric Akoh (Beverly Salviejo) and the comical Jana (Cacai Bautista). Mayen was currently the girlfriend of Clinton (Matteo Guidicelli), an architect from a well-to-do traditional Chinese family. She was also being pursued by Robert (Mon Confiado), a rich but boorish business partner of her dad. 

One day, Mayen was approached by the mysterious Ms. Angie Lao (Alice Dixson), an impeccably-dressed matchmaker. She offered Mayen the opportunity of becoming a ghost bride, a woman who agrees to marry a dead bachelor for a fee from his family to assure that someone will keep his memory alive during important occasions in the future. Initially reluctant, Mayen was eventually pressured by a series of familial misfortunes requiring a considerable amount of money to accept Ms. Lao's creepy but financially-rewarding offer.

For me, the horror aspect was not really too scary as it relied mainly on jump scares with sudden loud sounds (from falling objects or thunder) or sudden flashes of ghoulish faces. Familiar scare tactics from previous films persist here with characters doing foolish things like not following strict warning instructions, not turning on the lights at night, not closing the doors behind them, going up a dark attic cluttered with old costumes alone. Kim Chiu played the role of the tormented Mayen with a convincing weak melancholic screen persona, which made her an easy target for evil forces.

Director Chito Rono previously tackled Chinese superstitions in his "Feng Shui" films in 2004 and 2014 (MY REVIEW). In this one, he frequently intercut scenes from two parallel events to heighten the suspense factor. Best sequence of this style was that one where the priestess Suan Ming (a bald Isay Alvarez) was praying over a sinister bracelet in a bowl, while Mayen's brother Victor (Victor Silayan) was going up an elevator with mortal danger impending. There were about four gory death scenes for those who like that kind of horror. However, the bloody style of death is similar for three of them, so the shock value diminishes with each repetition. We were not given any back story about our ghost bridegroom to tell us why this was his preferred way of murder.

In the final act of the film when the main action shifted to a Buddhist temple in Nepal felt long and dragged out. Lucky for Mayen, her old friend David Chou (Christian Bables) conveniently knew how to translate the Nepalese instructions of the exorcism rite to her. The film also took on an action film vibe when Mayen suddenly develops sword-fighting skills to fight the ghostly bodyguards of the boss ghost. Too bad the lighting of that scene was too dark for us to fully appreciate the spectacle of Kim Chiu fighting with the CGI warriors. 

The whole movie felt like a horror episode of the "Mano Po" film series, since it also dealt with Chinoy family dynamics. It also had Filipino actors delivering lines in thick Chinese accents or actually trying their best to say some lines in Mandarin, or the occasional Fookienese curse words, with various levels of success. The award for best affected Chinese accent would have to go to Ms. Alice Dixson for her elegant-sounding intonation for the character of Angie Lao. She also had the most number of difficult Mandarin lines, for which she deserves props for a valiant effort. Ironically, it was lead actress Kim Chiu, a real Chinese, whom I did not hear say anything in Chinese at all. 

Overall, I still appreciated the film because of its meticulous details of Chinoy culture. When "Mano Po" seemed to focus on the rich taipan families, "Ghost Bride" takes a look at the less-fortunate Chinoys in Chinatown living in desperate financial straits. Aside from the ghost bride practice, this film also showcased productions of the Kao-Ka (or Chinese opera) with its distinctive costumes, props, makeup and sound. It correctly observes that this was an old tradition which is sadly on the decline. I do wish more local actors of Chinese descent were cast in ethnically-specific films like this for a more authentic feel. 5/10.