Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Review of OUR HOUSE: Frustrating Frights

July 31, 2018

Ethan and his girlfriend Hannah are developing a project that would produce wireless electricity. However, once while he was at the lab, his parents figured in a fatal car accident. Because of this unfortunate tragedy, Ethan had to drop out of college and more responsible for the care of his younger siblings Matt and Becca, who were both devastated by their sudden orphanhood.

Ethan continued his experiments at home. It seemed that even if his machine is not generating electricity, it is generating some form of energy that seemed to be summoning the spirits of their parents back into their house. The younger kids are excited with the development, so Ethan sought ways of strengthening the signal as their "Mom" had suggested to Becca. Big mistake.

The special ghost effects consisted of blank inky shadows forming itself into a human form (as you see in the poster). These were not really scary. It is only because the spirit was targeting cute Becca which made the urgency more compelling. To make things more interesting, they made the signal of the machine reaches beyond Ethan's house. For convenience, there is another neighbor who just so happened to be an electrician, and another one could provide the history of the house. 

Thomas Mann did well as Ethan, with all the emotional baggage he carried. They made nerds like Ethan in audience happy by giving him an impossibly attractive girlfriend Hannah, played by Nicola Peltz (the girl who replaced Megan Fox in the "Transformers" films). The younger kids did even better. Percy Hynes White was the picture of repressed anguish as middle child Matt. Kate Moyer was delightful as little Becca, as the girl who first felt the presence of the spirits (so typical, I know.)

Writer Nathan Parker adapted the script on based on another film "Ghost from the Machine" (Matt Osterman 2010). As directed by Anthony Scott Burns, the film was actually more of a family drama for most part. There was a science fiction aspect with Ethan's invention, but the spinning machine looked very corny. The horror aspect started to creep in very gradually more than midway through the story already. By that time, some horror film fans may already have zoned out for lack of any action. Ethan frustratedly waiting for his bulb to light up is like the audience frustratedly waiting for this film to become more exciting. 4/10. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Review of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT: Incredible Impact

July 28, 2018

It is hard to believe that the "Mission: Impossible" film series starring Tom Cruise is now on its sixth film. Since I did not really like the first film back in 1996, and I only took interest on the fourth film "Ghost Protocol" (2011), with Cruise's spectacular stunts on the Burj Khalifa. The next film "Rogue Nation" (2015) had Cruise hanging on to dear life outside the door of a flying plane within the first scene. I cannot wait to see how they will up the excitement dial any more in this new one, which was also written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie like the last one.

"Fallout" is set a couple of years after "Rogue Nation." In his effort to rescue his colleague  from certain death, Ethan Hunt lost possession of three plutonium cores to terrorists. The new CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) assigned agent August Walker to watch over Hunt as he got them back. Upon instruction from a liaison code-named White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), Hunt needed to extricate Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the same man Hunt sent to prison in the last film, from a police convoy in Paris and surrender him to her in exchange for the plutonium. 

Tom Cruise is already 56 years old, more than 20 years after the first MI film, but he never lets up on his stunt work. For every M:I film, he challenges himself to top the danger level of what he had already done in the previous installment. He never used a stunt double before, and he is not about to do it now. This guy is a serious entertainer and would not dream of shortchanging his audience. Knowing he did all these fantastic practical stunts himself added to their impressive impact.

In "Fallout," Cruise had to do a high-altitude, low opening (HALO) skydive from an incredible 25,000 ft. He had to ride a motorcycle through the streets of Paris to escape chasing cops, at one point going against the flow of traffic around the Arc de Triomphe. He had to run and jump across rooftops in London to pursue his adversary, at one point even fracturing his ankle for real holding up the film shoot for four months. He had to climb up a rope to board a flying helicopter, then fly it himself around icy mountain ridges of Kashmir, at times even nosediving. These spectacularly-executed scenes were all incredibly breathtaking to behold on that big screen.  

"Superman" star Henry Cavill was along for the ride this time as rival agent August Walker. He had his share of stunts and fights as well. That three-way fistfight with Cruise, Cavill and Liang Yang set inside a brightly-lit spotlessly-white Paris restroom was so painfully and brutally realistic. Cavill also had to do a cliff-face rock climb, which we already knew Cruise can handily do back in "M:I 2" (2000). He did confess that he was not allowed to do the HALO jump himself for safety issues, even if he wanted to.

The rest of the supporting cast had been in previous M:I films. Ving Rhames is expert computer hacker Luther Stickell, a character who had been helping Hunt since the first M:I. Simon Pegg is technical field agent Benji Dunn (first introduced in "M:I 3"), a bit more serious this time than his usual funny. Alec Baldwin is former CIA chief, now IMF secretary Alan Hunley, an adversarial character when introduced in M:I 5 who had a change of heart. 

The lovely Rebecca Ferguson (who recently played Jenny Lind in "The Greatest Showman") is Ilsa Faust, a most fascinating double agent character in M:I 5 who now crosses paths with Hunt again. Michelle Monaghan played Julia Meade, a nurse whom Hunt married in M:I 3 and lost in M:I 4. The reunion between Ethan and Julia here gave this film an emotional depth absent from the other films in the series. Ilsa and Julia shared a quick little whispering moment which looked very interesting as to its significance (if any).

If I was going to rank my top three favorites among the M:I films, I would still pick "Ghost Protocol" (MY REVIEW) as the best one for me. Because of its more personal dramatic aspects for Ethan Hunt's character, "Fallout" just narrowly nudges out over "Rouge Nation" (MY REVIEW). 9/10. 


Review of WILDLING: Child to Creature

July 19, 2018

Ever since she was a baby, Anna (Bel Powley) grew up in a dark room in an isolated house built in the middle of the woods. She was under the care of her old Daddy (Brad Dourif) who never allowed her to go outside or else she would be eaten by the deadly "Wildling." One day, Daddy brought a gun into the room apparently to shoot Anna. However, he could not bear to do it, so he shot himself instead. Anna would how have to discover her true nature and her origins on her own.

This was a quiet little indie coming of age film. The atmosphere was relentlessly dark, fitting for the genre. The initial scenes of Daddy taking care of the child Anna were very uncomfortable to watch. To make things even more squeamish, when she hit adolescence, Daddy would inject "medicine" into her abdomen daily to suppress her monthly "illness." These disgusting scenes gave me a sick feeling, like I was watching a pedophile in action. I almost wanted to walk out. 

When Anna was rescued after the shooting incident, the story took a turn from one bizarre topic into another. When she was discharged from the hospital, Anna lived with Sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler) and her teenage brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet). As she got initiated into being a regular teenager, she would realize that she cannot really fit in because of something within her. We will discover eventually how Daddy got to become her guardian as a child and the reason why he wanted to keep her from reaching adolescence. 

As Anna was discovering herself, there were some shocking scenes, especially that bloody one in the bathroom at the party and that one when one of the boys tried to get frisky with her. To fill in the blanks in Anna's history, the script conveniently had a character called the Wolf Man (James LeGros) who knew the secret backstory.

Bel Powley gave an empathetic performance as the confused Anna. Brad Dourif, once an Oscar acting nominee for film debut in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975), was uncomfortable to watch as Daddy. Seeing Liv Tyler play a sheriff will make you wonder whatever happened to her career. 

Writer-director Fritz Böhm had an interesting and disturbing story to tell. The start was very interesting, reminiscent of "Room" (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015). However, the style of story telling was too slow-paced for me, but the mystery of Anna's true nature still managed to hold my attention up to when it was revealed. After that climactic moment though, the sequences that followed were developed unsatisfactorily. 4/10. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Review of BUYBUST: Overwhelming Overnighter!

July 26, 2018

With acclaimed films like "On the Job" (2013) and "Honor Thy Father" (2015), director Erik Matti has already built his name up as a brand of quality filmmaking. When he releases a new film, it is something to look forward to for its excellence in craftsmanship, as well as its incisive social commentary. His latest work "BuyBust," with its topic centered about the current all-out war on drugs, already promises to deliver on both ends. 

Agent Nina Manigan has been taken in by drug enforcement officer Bernie Lacson under his team. They were assigned to join a buy-bust operation to apprehend big-time drug lord Biggie Chen. When the venue of the bust was suddenly moved to the slum area of Gracia ni Maria, Manigan, freshly scarred from a recent deadly botched operation, immediately knew something fishy was up. But getting her team out alive from that convoluted maze-like enclosure was not going to be easy. 

This was an all-out action film, but it played like a typical horror movie. A trapped group of six friends gets picked off one by one by a vicious killing horde, until only the strongest (or luckiest) ones remain. The massacre of the endless stream of attackers were done so quickly and brutally, such that those nameless men and women lost all sense of their humanity. These were human beings, but here they all looked like soulless zombies the way they were being demolished left and right by Manigan and company. Heaps of corpses are left in the wake of the war, but more of them addicts just keep on coming in, unmindful of certain death -- a sharp chilling metaphor for the seemingly fruitless drug war being waged in reality.

The cinematography by Neil Derrick Bion was very vibrant, lit imaginatively lit from various angles and lamps. This was impressive as the events of this film all happened within one overnight operation. There were several single-take tracking scenes involving what seemed to be hundreds of extras swarming and attacking the leads in either dead-end alleys or rooftops in the pouring rain, which were simply amazing to watch. One of these single-take scenes can surely take multiple days of repeated trials to capture perfectly.

The editing of the visuals (by Jay Halili) and the sound, was all very exciting and on point. (It was unfortunate that the muffled speaker of the theater denied us a full wall of crackling sound on the night I watched.) The eclectic musical score by Erwin Romulo and Malek Lopez was a perfect complement to the movement of images on the screen, either giving the fight scenes raucous crazy energy or ironic subdued contrast. 

The gunfights and shootouts were explosive, ranging from revolvers to automatic weapons. There were also homemade bombs in the mix to cause those loud fiery infernos that heat up the action even more. The hand-to-hand combat was raw, gritty and rough, aided with knives or whatever household items they can get their hands on. There were no long, elegantly choreographed martial arts here (unlike how it was in "The Raid", the 2011 Indonesian film to which "BuyBust" will inevitably be compared). 

Fresh from the box-office success of "Sid and Aya" (a love story whatever they say), Anne Curtis surprises this time with an against-type performance as PDEA agent Manigad. Her pretty face may distract your attention at first, but Curtis really went all out with her committed transformation into an action star here, convincing us not only with her fighting skills, but also her streetwise wits. Her best scene was saved until the very end -- a harrowing scene that packed a very strong final punch, as well as a potent message.

The scenes with the most audience impact in terms of spontaneous cheers and applause belonged to MMA champion Brandon Vera. With his imposing height and heft, it was fun to see Vera battling all sorts of attackers of different shapes and sizes. His wrestling moves, flips and throws were all so breathtaking to witness. Secured by his makeshift bottle-cap amulet, his character Rico Yatco was a never-say-die type of guy, and nothing (from bullets to darts to electric current) seemed to faze him at all. You'll never look at garden shears or motorcycles the same way again after you see what Vera does with them here.

Playing the other members of the team were Victor Neri (amazingly, a PDEA explosives expert in real life), Sheenly Gener, Mara Lopez, Tarek el Tayech and AJ Muhlach. Playing the cops were Nonie Buencamino and Lao Rodriguez. Playing the drug pushers were the hilarious Alex Calleja (as the police asset Teban), Joross Gamboa (as insane addict Manok), Levi Ignacio (as the ruthless lieutenant Chongki) and Arjo Atayde (as big boss Biggie Chen). Atayde's effective acting skills were very apparent despite his short 10-minute screen time and the ratty bathrobe costume and uglifying make-up he had on. 

Because of the crooked cops angle, we get a whiff of "On the Job" right off the bat. However, as the film progressed, we see a different Erik Matti at work. It was a Matti possessed by the spirit of films like "Kill Bill," "Machete," "World War Z" or "Train to Busan" for their outrageous bloodbaths and escalating body counts. This film is very badass, very hardcore, yet so engrossing and entertaining. It was truly an exhilarating adrenaline-infused big screen experience, definitely not for the faint of heart. 9/10.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review of BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB: Convoluted Corruption

July 24, 2018

In July of 1983, sweet-talking smart guys Joe Hunt and Dean Karny convinced their wealthy friends In Los Angeles to put their money into the BBC, their investment / social club where you can supposedly earn 50% in three quick weeks. With the backing of their financier, Ron Levin, the boys steadily built up their monetary portfolio, as well as their lifestyle. However, time came when tables eventually turned against Hunt and Karny in deadly ways.

This film is based on true-to-life events that happened in Southern California in 1983. We have all heard of these get-rich-quick schemes, a modus of crime which proliferates up to the present day. We know that any investment scheme which sounds to good to be true is most probably a scam. In this film, the shady nature of the BBC business was apparent from the get-go, so we know it was not going to last. 

However the consequences of their greed and corruption were so convoluted, such that it was proof that truth was indeed stranger than fiction. The unexpectedly violent twists of fate that happened to Hunt and Karny prior to the conclusion was so far out of this world, it was actually so hard to believe that those additional crimes actually happened in real life. It felt like bad writing while I was watching it, only to find out when researching about the events afterwards that I found out these actually did happen for real.

This film starred two of the up and coming young leading men in Hollywood today -- "Baby Driver" Ansel Elgort (as smart naive Joe Hunt) and "Kingsman" Taron Egerton (as slick and slimy Dean Karny). Oddly though, even with presence of these two actors in there, the whole movie never really took off. Everything felt so flat. There was no sense of exhilarating excitement in the first part as they were building up their business. This was certainly no "Wolf of Wall Street." 

The controversial Kevin Spacey is back on the screen on this one. The producers were bold enough to leave his scenes in and proceed to release their film (unlike those of "All the Money in the World"). Of course, Spacey can really play this flamboyant character Ron Levin like the back of his hand. Knowing his alleged crimes of indiscretion in real life gave his sleazy portrayal of Levin an additional layer of discomfort to watch. He felt like he could be playing himself. 

The interesting story was there. The right actors were there. (Even 80's actor Judd Nelson was in the cast, unrecognizable as Joe's father. Nelson played Joe Hunt in a 1987 TV mini-series about the BBC.) However, writer-director James Cox fell short of creating the right atmosphere and pacing for the film to work. He failed to capitalize on his aces and instead came up with something just okay, not too engaging nor memorable. 5/10. 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review of JACQUELINE COMES HOME: Puzzling Purpose

July 21, 2018

In July 1997, the nation was shocked by the brutal abduction, rape and murder of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in Cebu City. The sensational case would find its closure in 2004, when Paco Larrañaga and six other men were found guilty of these heinous crimes and sentenced to death by lethal injection. They are still serving life sentences up to now since death penalty had been suspended since 2006. 

In 2011, a documentary film came out entitled "Give Up Tomorrow." It methodically laid down evidence in defense of Paco Larrañaga, how apparently he got the short end of the judicial stick. The case presented by American filmmaker Michael Collins were very convincing, with both documents and eye-witness accounts supporting his bold premise.  This documentary went on to gain critical acclaim and winning awards and citations all over the world. My own review of this documentary is posted HERE.

Recently, "Give Up Tomorrow" is again gaining viral attention on social media. This renewed interest in this documentary was sparked by the curious release of this new film "Jacqueline Comes Home" by newbie director Ysabelle Peach, daughter of Carlo J. Caparas.  Why was this film about the Chiong sisters made at all now, more than 20 years after the crime? Did the Chiong family have something new to reveal to refute the counter-arguments of Collins?

The movie played out pretty much like one of those films made by Caparas père in the 1990s about other sensational crimes like the Vizconde Massacre or the Maggie dela Riva case. The Chiongs were called by their real names, as would be expected in a film based on a true-to-life event. It was remarkable, however, that the rapists were given generic nicknames like Sonny or Jeff, even if they were clearly referring to Paco Larrañaga and his group. The star witness was only called "Nervous One" in the credits.

I think this film did not really aim to be about the sisters case only. The last third of the film actually did not focus on the case anymore. Instead we get a blow-by-blow account of the travails of the mother Mrs. Thelma Chiong unable to move on after the tragedy that befell her family. To deal with her depressive grief, she either prayed all day in church or consulted Spirit Questors; neglecting her duties as a wife and mother along the way. 

Meg Imperial (as Jacqueline) and Donnalyn Bartolome (as Marijoy) were not given better acting opportunities with the shallow way the lines of the sisters were written. Alma Moreno's portrayal of the self-sacrificial mater dolorosa Mrs. Thelma Chiong starkly contrasted with the unsympathetic way Mrs. Chiong was portrayed in "Give Up Tomorrow." Joel Torre had some embarrassing scenes as Mr. Dionisio Chiong, delivering cringy dialog beneath his reputation. Ryan Eigenmann and CJ Caparas' gave one-dimensionally evil performances as gang leaders Sonny and Jeff. AJ Muhlach's portrayal of "Nervous One" was over-the-top hammy. 

Director Ms. Caparas went forward and back in time to tell her story, sometimes making the flow confusing. Her scenes depicting supernatural matters like ghosts, seances and the voice of God (!) do not really inspire compassion towards Mrs. Chiong. The film ended with a contrived conversation of the Chiong couple with their youngest daughter Debbie, whom Mrs. Chiong called as Jacqueline. (Was that scene supposed to explain the title?) The opportunity for the Chiongs to offer cold hard evidence (if any) against their perpetrators was wasted, instead they decided to engage in a fallacious appeal to emotions.  2/10. 

Review of MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN: Emotionally Engaging

July 21, 2018

I enjoyed the first "Mamma Mia" (2008) a lot for the way it fit those vintage ABBA songs so neatly into the story of bride-to-be Sophie trying to figure out who her dad was among three men her mom Donna had relationships with 20 years ago. (My review of the first Mamma Mia film is posted HERE.) When I first heard about this prequel/sequel, I was skeptical yet still looked forward to see where they were going to take the story.

It is five years after Sophie's wedding to Sky. Sophie had spruced up Donna's villa and had turned it into a charming hotel. For the grand inauguration of Hotel Bella Donna, Sophie had invited her mother's best friends Tanya and Rosie, as well as her three dads Sam, Harry and Bill, over to the island for a reunion. As a tribute to her, scenes from Donna's carefree and passionate youth were interwoven into the present story.

Since most of ABBA's biggest hits were already used in the first film, many of the songs used in this sequel were not too familiar with me (so it was not easy to sing along). However, melodious ballads like "I Wonder (Departure)," "One of Us," "I've Been Waiting for You" and specially the sublime "My Love, My Life" made an impact even if I had only heard them for the first time. Of the famous ABBA songs not used in the first film, we now get to hear big hits like "Waterloo," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Fernando" and "Super Trooper" in this second film. Some songs were re-used, like the title song, "I Had a Dream" and "Dancing Queen". My personal favorite "The Name of the Game" was sung out in full. 

The cast we knew from the first film played their characters as we knew them. It was hard to believe it had already been 10 years since we first knew them. Amanda Seyfried as Sophie still as fussy, worried and excited. Christine Baransky and Julie Walters were still a riot as the tandem of Tanya and Rosie. Pierce Brosnan was supportive dad Sam, with his gruff singing still as awkward-sounding as before. Colin Firth (as Harry) and Stellan Skarsgaard (as Bill) were still their funny selves.

A big reason why the flashbacks part of this film worked wonders was the pitch-perfect portrayal of Young Donna by Lily James. James was able to capture Donna's young blithe spirit, which would eventually evolve into the persona that Meryl Streep was in the first film. That joyous scene alone where the luminous James was frolicking among the orange trees doing cartwheels gave me goosebumps that this beautiful girl was indeed the Donna we knew, and there was no way we could judge her for what she has done.

Among the young actors playing the young dads as lads, Hugh Skinner (as Young Harry) and Josh Dylan as Young Bill were still very rough around the edges. Jeremy Irvine fared the best among the three in his portrayal as Young Sam. The girls Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies both convinced us well that they will eventually mature into the Tanya and Rosie (respectively) that we know. 

Much ado had been made about Cher's participation as Sophie's grandmother Ruby. Cher was basically just playing her glamorous self here. With her couture fashion, platinum wig and incredibly smooth facial skin, Ruby even looked younger than her long-estranged daughter Donna. It was great to see Cher back on the big screen. After her Best Actress for "Moonstruck" (1988), her movie appearances had been rarer. After "Tea With Moussolini" in 1999, she only had "Burlesque" in 2010, and then this one.

Ol Parker's script only had basic rom-com elements, but as previously, the magic lay in the right ABBA song for the right scene.  I thought that for the most part, the song choices were very apt and emotionally engaging. Parker did a commendable job as director as well. His scenes shifting from past to present with such perfect timing that the film packed a potent punch of poignancy and nostalgia. Since you've seen where they came from, you will love the characters more after watching this. 8/10. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Review of KICKBOXER: RETALIATION: Forced to Fight

July 15, 2018

Jean Claude Van Damme broke through as a martial arts star in "Bloodsport" (1988). His successful follow-up film was "Kickboxer" (1989), which spawned a franchise that is now on its seventh film. The original series lasted until "Redemption: Kickboxer 5" (1995). Van Damme only played lead character Kurt Sloane in the first and the fourth installment. 

When the series was rebooted last 2016 with "Kickboxer: Vengeance", black-belter martial artist and stuntman Alain Moussi had taken over the role of Kurt Sloane, with Van Damme playing his elderly trainer Master Durand. This present film "Kickboxer: Retaliation" is a sequel that picked up about a year and a half after the events of the previous film. 

Kurt Sloane was kidnapped and incarcerated in Thailand by Thomas Tang Moore, a promoter of illegal fight tournaments. Moore wanted him to fight the gigantic bioengineered champion Mongkut for a purse of $1M. Kurt refused to fight, so Moore had Kurt's wife Liu (Sara Malakul) kidnapped as well to force him to fight. Kurt did not have a choice.

The skeletal plot is just a flimsy excuse to showcase scene after scene of fighting in different martial arts styles. Most of them had the bone-crunching violence fans of fight films look for. The acting of all the actors, even the leads and the veterans, were either hammy or wretched. The cinematography and effects used in certain fight scenes looked cheap and bad, especially that one set on the roof of a speeding train when the fighters had to fall off, or that hall of mirrors scene with the two bikini-clad lady fighters with tattoos that glowed in the dark. 

One big drawback here was that, unlike the charismatic Van Damme, the current lead actor Alain Moussi was not exactly graceful-looking fighter on the big screen. His moves (except maybe his kick and flip jumps in the final fight) looked awkward and tentative, so that it was not convincing even when he had the upper hand in his matches. His opponents, which include Mike Tyson (as scrapper Briggs) and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (as man-mountain Mongkut), looked more formidable in their fights. Dour and humorless, Moussi does not exactly make you want to root for him. 

If the names of 80s stars Jean Claude Van Damme and Christopher Lambert drew you in to watch the film, you'd be disappointed because they had very little screen time. The character of Van Damme was even blinded here, so he did not have a fight scene of significant length at all. 60-year old Lambert played Moore. Perhaps to remind us of his biggest role as Connor McLeod in "Highlander" (1986), Lambert had a brief sword fight scene with Van Damme. 

Despite these bad points, we should recognize that this film was only made for fight fans to whet their adrenaline rush, and nothing much more. For that, it was not a total loss. But honestly, those fights could have been choreographed and executed better. 3/10.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Review of SKYSCRAPER: Action for Acrophobics

July 14, 2018

Dwayne Johnson had consistently been in an action movie every single year since his big screen debut in "The Mummy Returns" (2001). Since "Baywatch" last year, he added executive producer to his credits. This year alone, there had already been two Johnson films in local cinemas: "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" in January, and "Rampage" in April. This month, he has another one -- "Skyscraper." 

Chinese tycoon Zhou Long Ji has built an imposing building "The Pearl" on the banks of Hong Kong harbor. As far as skyscrapers go, it is considered the tallest (at 240 floors, 87 floors higher that the Burj Khalifa), the greenest (energy generated by its own wind turbine at the 200-230th floor + a 30-storey garden from the 100th floor going up), and the safest (top-of-the-line advanced security features with remote access). 

One day, extortionist Kores Botha led his army of terrorists in a massive effort to set the Pearl on fire in order to gain possession of Zhou's computer hard drive. Chief of security Will Sawyer was put in a sore spot because he had exclusive possession of the tablet which can remotely control the security and safety systems of the building. Sawyers wife and fraternal twin kids (one of whom has asthma) just so happened to be trapped on the 204th floor, so he had to go back into the burning building to get them out.

The title and the poster already suggests a mix of "Die Hard" and "The Towering Inferno" with thrilling but impossible action stunts. If you expected that, like me, you won't be mistaken nor disappointed.  With his artificial left leg (result of a botched mission ten years back) and all, Sawyer had to gain access into the Pearl above the fire line on the 96th floor by sheer brute jumping power and adrenaline alone. That scene alone told us that all logic would have to checked at the door, and just sit back and let The Rock regale us with his incredible physical prowess and duct-tape aided survival skills.

Dwayne Johnson played a tough, macho, no-nonsense guy who was driven to go beyond impossible physical limits because of his deep devotion to his family. It was basically a reboot of his characters in "San Andreas" (2015) rescuing his daughter trapped in San Francisco, or even "Rampage" (2018), rescuing his "son," the albino ape, who ran amuck in San Diego. Sawyer's artificial leg situation was an interesting detail, and the prosthesis itself would play a vital role in one of the action scenes. 

I was surprised to see Neve Campbell playing Sawyer's wife army surgeon Sarah. I have not seen Campbell in a movie since her heyday in the late 1990s in "Scream" (1996) and "Wild Things" (1998). She still looks great onscreen now despite the the 20 years that passed since those films. She gets to figure in a few action scenes of her own here (which were kickass) and would play a big role in the film's resolution (uttering a groan-inducing corny line, that referenced her cellphone problem at the start of the film). 

Singaporean actor Chin Han played Zhou had a very dry performance, with no charisma at all. Danish actor Roland Møller played Kores Botha, who was so obviously a bad guy from his very first scene pretending to be a security maintenance guy. Actually the bad guys (played by Pablo Schrieber and Noah Taylor) were all so obvious from the first scene they were introduced, so there were no real surprises when they revealed their real loyalties. Like many current Hollywood films nowadays, the presence of Chinese actors (Byron Mann, Karen Quinlivan) in key support roles was very evident.

The predictable story and cheesy script definitely take a back seat to CG-enhanced (of varying quality) action sequences here. From the introductory scenes at the start, you can clearly see what is in store ahead. Anyhow, I had fun watching the efforts of writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber bringing us through one unbelievable, breathtaking, death-defying scene after the other, with all the intense acrophobic, pyromanic, hall of mirrors thrills he can deliver. 6/10. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Review of I LOVE YOU, HATER: Honesty and Humility

July 12, 2018

For the second film in a row, Julia Barretto and Joshua Garcia star in a film that starts with the words "I Love You". This new one is a rom-com too like "To the Stars and Back", and I was curious to see if their performance as a love team here could match that of the first one. I think I had only seen Kris Aquino in her horror films (like "Feng Shui," "Sukob" and "Segunda Mano." I thought it was about time I should see her in something else.

Flamboyant celebrity Youtuber Sasha Imperial launched a big search for a new personal assistant. Big fan Zoey Rivera immediately jumped at the chance to apply for her dream job. Unlucky Joko Macaraeg incidentally got roped into contention for the post as well. Joko fell in love at first sight with the pretty Zoey, but he had to pretend to be gay in order to stay in contention for the very well-paying job which he badly needed to support his financially-strapped family. Sasha will make her final choice in three months. Who will get the job?

The JoshLia love team does it again to successfully stoke romantic thrill and tug at heartstrings. Their chemistry together is no fluke and is a big factor why this film worked. That sentimental sequence of scenes set in Joko's family residence in Paete that featured the local folk art of making taka (paper mache figurines) were sweet proof of that chemistry, cheesy as they may be for others.   

Zoey was so unlikable at the beginning, but my opinion of her steadily changed for the better as the film progressed. This was mainly due to Julia Barretto's effective delineation of her character's arc.  Joshua Garcia was convincing in pretending to be a fabulous gay guy, yet harboring a serious crush on his competitor. He can really work those puppy dog eyes of his to make you root for him, even if he was doing something wrong.

Kris Aquino plays the irrepressible Sasha with her own signature panache. It was as if Kris was just playing herself and her present career as an internet influencer via her magazine videos. Kris was fun as Sasha, what you see is what you get, and so basically we still see Kris Aquino as we know her. However, Sasha was given a home situation which made Kris flex her skills at drama, and she proves that can still deliver well in that aspect.

From the get-go, I got the vibe of "The Devil Wears Prada" with the newly-hired assistants competing with each other, both trying to keep at pace with their temperamental and demanding boss. Also, the familiar trope of a straight guy pretending to be gay to get close to the girl d has also been used in many films before. However the dramatic twists in the story about honesty, the charismatic pair of Joshua and Julia, and the magnetic larger-than life presence of Kris Aquino -- all set this particular film directed by Gisele Andres apart from other derivative rom-coms. 7/10. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review of PAPER YEAR: Muddled Marriage

July 10, 2018

A giddy young couple Dan Delaney and Franny Winters got married in court on a whim. Dan was an actor but had no gigs, so he accepted a job taking care of an actress's swanky LA hills mansion and her two dogs while she was working abroad. Franny got luckier landing a job writing for a TV game show called "Goosed." With their iffy financial situation, reality soon set in as Dan and Franny began to note seemingly irreconcilable differences cropping up between them.

Paper is the traditional gift theme for the first wedding anniversary, hence I believe the title "Paper Year" refers to the first year of marriage. The film wasted no time on introductions. Dan and Franny get married on the the very first scene. The film then spent the next hour and half documenting their first year as husband and wife, in good times and in bad. Unlike most films which show that the happiest year for a married couple is their first year together, this film shows that it may not always necessarily be the case. 

The attractive lead actors, Eve Hewson (as Franny) and Avan Jogia (as Dan), are largely unknown, so they can blend in like any regular folk, making the characters more accessible to the audience. The only name I know from the cast was 90s muse Andie MacDowell who played Franny's mom Joanne. She was only in a few small scenes, and only the one at the end was of any significance. Even if it was good to see MacDowell on the big screen again, Joanne could frankly have been played by any other middle actress.

Writer-director Rebecca Addelman presented the story more in Franny's point of view. We see the vacillations that go on inside Franny's head as she was the one who gets confronted with more dangerous temptations than Dan (whose only dalliance was with pornography and video games). After seeing what may be going on inside a woman's head, men who are insecure with their relationships will cringe watching a film like this. Older viewers may also frown on the seemingly shallow treatment of matrimony.  5/10.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Review of UNCLE DREW: Gaining from the Game

July 7, 2018

Last week, a small comedy film about basketball opened in local cinemas. I probably would have given it a miss, but my son, who is a bigger NBA fan than I am, really wanted to watch it. We were not able to catch it right away, so it was a good thing that it survived the box office competition to run for a second week. This should probably not be a surprise in this basketball-crazy country of ours.

Coach Dax invested his whole life savings on a team to join the Ruckers 50, an annual classic street basketball event held in Harlem that now carried a  hefty $100K first prize. At the last moment, his long-time nemesis Mookie weaseled Dax's whole team, along his loud shopping-crazy girlfriend Jess, out from under him. 

A depressed Dax met Uncle Drew, a legendary ball player back in the 1960s, and convinced him to play for him. Uncle Drew agreed, but only if he could gather his old teammates back together.  Preacher was now a church minister. Lights was legally blind. Boots was confined to a wheelchair for several years. Big Fella was now a karate teacher for little kids. Desperate, Dax had no choice but to put his trust into these old guys. 

The character Uncle Drew originated as a Pepsi commercial back in 2012, when Kyrie Irving was just 19 years old. Now only 26, Irving is still the youngest among the NBA players in the cast. Nate Robinson (Boots) is 33, Chris Webber (Preacher) is 44, Shaquille O'Neal (Big Fella) is 45, and Reggie Miller (Lights) is 51. WNBA star Lisa Leslie (Betty Lou) is also 44. Uncle Drew kept calling Dax "youngblood" but actor Lil' Rey Bowery is actually already 38.

The comedy is typical African-American style humor, generally wholesome probably since this film is aimed for the younger generation. As expected, many jokes centered around the geriatric habits and infirmities, some of which were rehashed. The old age make-up was fine, but those ugly white wigs were pretty funny. There were references only true-blue US basketball fans would get, like why Webber was told "no more timeouts".

Irving's performance was laidback and cool as Uncle Drew. Webber and Leslie (who played husband and wife here) were over-the-top amusing, while Nick Kroll (as Mookie) and Tiffany Haddish (as Jess) were over-the top annoying. Shaq's "acting" was as awkward as ever, which was funny in itself, even if he was just standing still. Bowery's sneaky mention of the film "Get Out" (in which he was also part of the cast) got an LOL out of me.

This film by Charles Stone III followed the template of most underdog sports movies in the past, so you can see how it will end a mile away. However, this film was more about Uncle Drew's philosophy in life and basketball -- trusting your abilities, respecting your teammates and playing for the love the game (not the money). These lessons were delivered loud and clear, while also giving the audience a good fun time. 6/10. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Review of THE MAID IN LONDON: Travails of a "TNT"

July 6, 2018

There was not really much hype or promotion about this film before it was released this week. The title made me recall the Jennifer Lopez movie "Maid in Manhattan" (2002), and thought probably this could be a long-delayed Filipino adaptation. Just my luck that this was the only film starting on the time I arrived at the mall, so I decided to give it a try despite my better judgement. The girl at the ticket booth warned me that I was the only one in the theater for that screening. Should I take that as a warning?

Ambitious market vendor Margo (Andi Eigenmann) had to put her big plans on hold when she was forced to marry tricycle driver Ben (Matt Evans). Fast forward to 10 years and two kids later, her family went through one misfortune after the other -- deep debt, illegal recruitment, heart attack, murder, incarceration, and the like. This drove Margo to abject desperation on how to make ends meet for their daily needs, especially with her sickly daughter and invalid father. 

Margo swallowed her pride and fidelity by borrowing a big amount of money from Jayson (Polo Ravales), a wealthy former suitor now also married. This was so that she, along with her friend Faye (Alexis Navarro) can go to London to work as a chambermaid in London, albeit illegally as a tourist without a work permit. However, a sudden confession from her mother Melissa (Rina Reyes) on one of their long-distance phone conversations would turn Margo's tide of fortune in a major way.

Andi Eigenmann tried her best to portray Margo well, but she was limited by the pitiful characterization of her role by the script. Matt Evans was even more unfortunate with all the illogical and stupid things Ben had to do. Polo Ravales was made to dress and act like a young DOM. Rina Reyes was wasted in the way Melissa's most vital scene reduced to a mere voice on the phone! The amateurish acting of the largely unknown supporting actors did not help at all. Very self-conscious, they seem like they were still in need of more acting workshops.

The Maid was not in London until probably an hour and a half after the movie began. Until then, we had to wallow in the detailed depiction of Margo's miserably melodramatic life in Manila as she suffered practically all the typical misfortunes we see in Pinoy films heaped upon her and her family. This part of the film felt tiresome because of its cliched familiarity, and at times even amusing because of its predictability. 

When in London, things became more interesting as we were shown the difficult situation of illegal Filipino workers there. We see how they survive mainly through the kindness and support of fellow Filipinos who were willing to hire them despite having no papers. They simply disappear under the radar, lest they attract the attention of immigration officers and be deported. One really gets the sense of danger they lived every single day.

The quality of the camera work was unrefined in those Manila scenes, as if this was shot back in the 1990s. Even if they were in London, it was odd how the camera work was still looking so shoddy such that the Thames looked as plain as Pasig River. This was so unlike recent films shot abroad like "Meet Me in St. Galen" and "Sid & Aya," and "Never Not Love You" (which was also shot in London), where the foreign cities looked so glamorous.

Despite this being rated PG by the MTRCB, it contained two scenes of sexual assault and one scene of bludgeoning to death with a hammer. I think an R-13 would still be generous.

The extremely maudlin melodrama of the Manila scenes notwithstanding, I thought those eye-opening scenes of TNT (meaning "Tago Nang Tago" or "always hiding", a euphemism for illegal aliens) Filipino OFW's in London saved the film overall. The 11th hour twist in the story, even though how from out-of-the-blue it was, at least gave this nearly 2-1/2 hour film (with story and direction by BL Panganiban) an exciting emotional spark at its climax. 4/10. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Review of THE WRITE MOMENT: Fated Feelings

July 3, 2018

"The Write Moment" was first shown in cinemas as an entry to QCinema International Film Festival October of last year. It did not win any awards at the festival, but here it is the first film among the eight entries to be released in a commercial run. Its two stars are both supporting players who never had a lead role ever before this one. So there must be something special in this film for it to be picked up by a distributor.

Dave is an average joe who worked as a scriptwriter and photographer for weddings. One day, he was suddenly dumped by his pretty girlfriend Joyce, for no apparent reason. The poor guy could not move on from his miserable abandonment, so he wrote a full screenplay where he and Joyce wind up happily ever after. After the script was written though, it magically took over from reality and had to be strictly followed to the letter by all involved until its predetermined conclusion.

I first knew of Jerald Napoles as Tolits in PETA's "Rak of Aegis" in its first incarnation before he made a bigger name for himself on TV and film. As Dave, he played basically a similar character -- a guy who may be plain in the looks department, but had a knack for chessy "hugot" (or romantic) lines which girls find irresistible. He was the life of this film and the main reason why it worked.

Valeen Montenegro is a beauty, but  the script did not really allow her to do too much for her character Joyce. After the initial dumping scene, for the rest of the film Joyce was basically acting what Dave had wanted her to do in his script. So it was understandable that she was rather mechanical and lifeless in her portrayal (as you see in the poster), because that is not her will that was being done. 

The idea of its young writer-director Dominic Lim is quite interesting and thought-provoking. Would you like to write the script for your life that was sure to be fulfilled? In case you divert, you'll relive the same moment over and over until the pre-written, predestined event comes to pass. The film actually goes into the darker, twisted (like the Dali-inspired clock used as prop) side of love, but kept it light with witty lines. The promise is there, but you feel something more could have been done. It was fine, but I felt that it did not really gain too much momentum from its potential. 5/10.