Friday, August 31, 2018

Review of GOYO: ANG BATANG HENERAL: Flirtations and Fortitude

August 30, 2018

Three years ago, we were all stunned by the hot-headed heroics of "Heneral Luna" (MY REVIEW). That historical film by Jerrold Tarog was a sleeper hit that woke up the nation's nationalistic passion during its long and successful commercial run in theaters. That was also the film the Philippines chose to send to the Oscars that season for consideration for Best Foreign Language Film. Its anti-American sentiments probably did not help its chances to make the nomination short list.

This year, its sequel (2nd of a trilogy) is finally released this year. In the months prior to showing, there had been trailers and short documentaries (about the meticulous process of making this film) which were released on social media to generate excitement about it. This is supposedly the most expensive Filipino movie ever made, which means it needs good box office to recoup its investments. 

The grand red carpet premiere tonight, August 30, 2018, was a grand affair which occupied Cinemas 7, 8 and 9 of the Megamall. Cinema 11 was reportedly added later to accommodate the whole cast from the stars to the extras, crew, staff, media and even guests from high society. 

Following the death of General Antonio Luna, the ragtag revolutionary army was divided into troops still loyal to Luna, and those loyal to President Aguinaldo. The "boy general" Gregorio del Pilar was fiercely loyal to Aguinaldo. Together with his trusted men sought to eliminate Aguinaldo's enemies (like the Bernal brothers). 

While in Dagupan, Pangasinan, like the other towns where Goyo stayed, the town's women all fell in love with the handsome and dashing young general. However, he fell for the beautiful but headstrong Remedios Nable Jose, who was very wary of Goyo's larger than life reputation both as a womanizer and a hero. 

However, the uneasy five-month period of peace would suddenly end when the Americans suddenly launched a simultaneous attack in several towns in Central Luzon. This forced Aguinaldo, del Pilar and their forces to go further north up to Ilocos Sur, where Goyo planned and executed a mighty defensive stand on the pass on Mt. Tirad. 

Goyo was already hailed as the Eagle, the big hero of Bulacan, when we first meet him here, a General at the age of 22. The first half of the film depicted two extremes of Goyo's personality. On the lighter side, we see Goyo's flirty ways with the ladies, who all melt with his penetrating gaze. On the darker side, we see Goyo's fragility caused by post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his near-death war experiences, particularly in the defense of Kakarong de Sili in Bulacan.

The second half of the film depicted the flight of Goyo and his troops (now including both his loyalists and Luna's loyalists) from Pangasinan to Ilocos Sur, building up to a detailed and heart-stopping recreation of the Battle of Tirad Pass. These immersive scenes brought us into the battle zone where we can feel the bullets whizzing around us, not knowing which of our men will get hit next. The barrage of American troops impressively looked endless, as if all Caucasian-looking actors in Manila were there.

Because of his movie star looks, Paulo Avelino did not exactly disappear into the role of Goyo. However, he imbued this character with a unique combination of charisma and contemplativeness. Of course, he has no problem charming the ladies. He wore the military gala uniform handsomely and looked elegant riding his horse. Like many of Avelino's past roles, Goyo was also a flawed insecure character battling his internal devils. He was portrayed to be a fervid loyalist of Aguinaldo, ready to do anything his President bid. Was he a heroic soldier or a blind servant? Was this his virtue or his fault? 

Mon Confiado reprised his role as President Emilio Aguinaldo, a celebrated personality who had been judged harshly by history. From his own mouth, Aguinaldo practically confessed to be behind the assassination of Antonio Luna. (I was expecting Andres Bonifacio to be mentioned as well, but he was not.) Aguinaldo said he will counter his critics when the right time came, so I guess we may hear his side in the next film. 

Epy Quizon again played Apolinario Mabini. In his writings, Mabini was very critical of Aguinaldo. Mabini straight out accused him of causing the defeat of the Philippine Revolution by rewarding people based on loyalty to him, instead of talent or patriotism.  One cannot help but transpose this same sentiment to the present day when political favors are being blatantly repaid left and right, even if these people were not fit for the job.

Arron Villena is back playing the 19-year old observer Joven Hernando, who wrote about these events. Fresh from playing a photographer in "Miss Granny," Jojit Lorenzo played Miguel Laureano, the photographer who took Goyo's classic portraits. Art Acuna returns in a chilling cameo as Maj. Manuel Bernal, whose question "Are you a soldier or are you a dog?" would haunt Goyo no end. Alvin Anson again played Gen. Jose Alejandrino, Miong's secretary of war. Ronnie Lazaro was again seen as Lt. Pantaleon Garcia, a soldier loyal to Luna. We see more of Benjamin Alves as Manuel L. Quezon, to prime us for the next film.

Carlo Aquino and Rafa Siguion-Reyna played Goyo's two closest comrades: Col. Vicente Enriquez and Col. Julian del Pilar (Goyo's elder brother). Matt Evans played Spanish-speaking Lt. Telesforo Carrasco. Roeder Camanag played the English-speaking Maj. Evaristo Ortiz. RK Bagatsing and Karl Medina had fleeting cameos as medical officers.

Gwen Zamora played Remedios, the noted beauty of Dagupan, daughter of Don Mariano Nable Jose (Robert Sena).  It was in a conversation with Remedios during a dance that del Pilar addressed the controversy about his nicknames Goyo vs. Goyong. Empress Schuck played Felicidad, Miong's sister who was a former girlfriend of Goyo, while Che Ramos Cosio played Miong's wife Hilaria and Perla Bautista was seen in one scene as Miong's mother Dona Trinidad. 

E.A. Rocha (one of the TBA executive producers) and Miguel Faustmann played American Generals Elwell Otis and Arthur MacArthur, as they also did in the first film. There were several recognizable faces noted among multitude of American soldiers attacking Tirad Pass, among them Hans Eckstein, Ethan Salvador and Bret Jackson. 

This film reportedly cost three times the P80M budget of "Heneral Luna." TBA Studios co-produced this film with Globe Studios. It was obvious where the money went. The script by Jerrold Tarog and Rody Vera took half a year to finish. The production design and costumes were meticulous and spectacular. The Dagupan set was built from scratch on a vacant lot in Tarlac. Shooting the Tirad Pass scenes alone took three months. Cinematography (by Pong Ignacio), film editing and musical score (which Tarog did himself for another half a year) were all top-notch.  The song "Bato sa Buhangin" at the end was a pleasant, albeit anachronistic, surprise. 

Compared to the fiery and bombastic "Heneral Luna," "Goyo" is a more subdued and reflective affair. The films reflect the personalities of their subject matter, hence audiences may find "Goyo" less exciting, less abrasive or less funny than "Luna". However, this relative restraint in treatment did not take away any power away from this film. Its political commentary is pointed and incisive, with lessons as timely now as they were back then. Like Goyo, we as a country need to be reminded to look back on who we are, so that we never lose sight of our greatness as a people. 9/10. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review of THE FIRST PURGE: Perverse Political Practice

August 28, 2018

"The Purge" (2013) (MY REVIEW) introduced an American society when the crime rate was practically zero because of the annual "Purge" which made all crimes legal for 12 hours each year. "The Purge 2: Anarchy" (2014) (MY REVIEW) brought us out into the streets during Purge Day. It went into the future for "The Purge 3: Election Year" (2016) (MY REVIEW) to a 2040 election to decide the fate of the Purge. Now, this fourth installment went back into the past -- to when the initial experiment for societal cleansing was done.

In 2014, because of massive civil unrest, a radical new political party called the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) gained political power in the US. NFFA Chief of Staff Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) had been assigned to monitor an experiment designed by Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei) that will allow citizens will be allowed to release their hate and commit any crime for 12 hours within the confines of the NYC borough of Staten Island. Those who agreed to participate and be monitored will be paid $5000.

The NFFA observed that the citizens were not really participating in the experiment. There was only one insane drug addict nicknamed Skeletor seriously out to kill. Most citizens though chose to stay out of harm's way and instead gathered in churches or held street parties. Sabian was alarmed of the possible failure of his experiment so he decided to intervene and send in his mercenary troops in masks and hoods to sow anarchy in the streets to initiate the full-scale purge killings.

The main characters in this installment were black drug pushers and addicts -- Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), Dmitri (Y'lan Noel), Capital A (Christian Robinson) and the youngster Isaiah (Joivan Wade). The women characters were led by Nya (Lex Scott Davis), an anti-Purge activist who also happened to be Isaiah's sister and Dmitri's girlfriend. She and her retinue of friends, Luisa (Lauren Velez), Selina (Kristen Solis) and the excitable comic relief Dolores (Mugga). These were all very stereotypes who were not particularly interesting nor worth empathizing with. They are nobodies -- precisely what the script intended them to be. 

There was only one actor whose name I knew and that was Marisa Tomei in the role of Dr. May Updale, the so-called "Architect" of the Purge.  With her blond hair, I did not recognize the actress at all when I first saw the character.  I was more interested in how she came up with this harebrained idea of the Purge as the solution to society's ills, but this type of scientific exposition never came. Her fate was the result of her political naivete.

The supposedly "shocking" revelation of what the NFFA official did to get the Purge going was not exactly shocking. It is sad to realize that we seem to have been so inured already to these underhanded tactics of dirty politicians do to get their way. (Remember, politicians are conveniently exempted from the Purge!) Extrapolating the scenario in the film into our real-life society, where impoverished drug addicts are found dead left and right, is not a far-fetched stretch. Reality is in fact far scarier than this film could ever be. 3/10. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Review of CRAZY RICH ASIANS: Kinetic, Kooky and .... Kris!

August 27, 2018

In April 2017, Filipino "Queen of All Media" Ms. Kris Aquino excitedly revealed that she had landed a role in a Hollywood film adaptation of Kevin Kwan's best-selling book "Crazy Rich Asians." That may have been the first time I heard about the novel, but this news excited me, as it did the whole country. When the first trailer of "Crazy Rich Asians" was released in April 2018, we did not see Kris at all, further whetting the mystery of her cameo in the film. To be completely honest, I wanted to watch this movie just to see Kris Aquino in it.

This was the first Hollywood movie with an all-Asian main cast since the film version of Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club." It seemed so opportune that the release of "Crazy Rich Asians" would happen on the 25th anniversary of the release of Wayne Wang's beloved film back in 1993. Timely yes, but also this also highlights the reality of how slow the progress of casting Asian actors in major Hollywood roles had been over the years.

Rachel Chu was brought up by her single mom Kerry who immigrated from China to the US for a better life after her husband died. Rachel is now an economics professor at New York University. Her boyfirend Nick Young invited her to go with him to Singapore, where he will be the best man at his friend Colin's wedding. When Nick booked the VIP section of a plane for them to fly home, that was the only time Rachel realized that Nick belonged to a very rich family. When in Singapore, her friend Peik Lin helped her prepare to meet Nick's family. Rachel's first encounter with Nick's mom Eleanor was very icy, as expected.

Constance Wu is 36 years old and already played the role of a mother of three boys in the TV sitcom "Fresh Off the Boat" yet here she is playing a 20-something ingenue (and pulled it off). Wu gave Rachel a palpable sort of maturity (to deal with all the indignities she was subjected to) and confidence (to confront the odds and hostility she faced). Rachel's final face off with Eleanor at the mah-jongg parlor (where the game paralleled her major real-life decision) was Wu's most memorable and impactful scene (especially for those who knows how to play mah-jongg, like most of us).

Henry Golding is a 31-year old British-Malaysian actor on his first major film role. He had an ethnically-indistinct look with a trace of Asian, but definitely not pure Chinese. Golding possessed all the qualities of a fantasy ideal husband for all the ladies in the audience. Handsome and well-built, he had Nick Young's billionaire aura around him the way he carried himself, but despite this, he also radiated kindness and humility. With Golding, the production showed the world that Asian men are credible as Hollywood leading men.

Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor was the perfect portrait of the proverbial fierce Asian tiger mom. She would go to lengths to protect the interests of her son (no matter how old he already was). Her resistance to Rachel was obvious from the moment they met. Her disapproval may have only been implied at first, but it would not take long for her emerald-studded claws to come out and go for the kill. And boy, was she relentless and vicious!

Lisa Lu played the supreme matriarch of the family, Nick's Amah or grandmother Shang Suyi. She is 91 years old this year with a silver crown of hair, and she can still own the screen whenever she is on. 25 years ago, Ms. Lu was in the cast of "The Joy Luck Club" as An-Mei Hsu, the mother of Rose Hsu Jordan (played by Rosalind Chao). 

There were a number of attractive actors of Asian descent who played Nick's relatives and friends. Chris Pang and Sonoya Mizuno played the groom and bride-to-be Colin Khoo and Araminta Lee. Gemma Chan and Pierre Png played Nick's ultra-glamorous cousin Astrid and her ex-military turned businessman Michael Teo. Remy Hii and Fiona Xie played Nick's movie producer cousin Alistair and his sexy social-climbing girlfriend Kitty. Jing Lusi played lawyer and Nick's ex-girlfriend Amanda. 

Awkwafina played Rachel's kooky Singaporean friend Goh Peik Lin. The Goh family were "new rich" and they were comically portrayed here for their gaudy tastes and ostentatious show of wealth.  Ken Jeong and Koh Chieng Mun played Peik Lin's wacky parents, and Calvin Wong, as Peik Lin's creepy brother P.T. Other Asian comedians in the cast were: Ronny Chieng (as Nick's cousin Edison, a banker who was obsessed with social status), Jimmy O. Yang (as Nick's friend Bernard, who planned Colin's offshore elaborate bachelor party on a barge) and Fil-Am Nico Santos (as Nick's cousin Oliver, responsible for Rachel's glam makeover), 

Kris Aquino appeared only briefly during the wedding scene. Dressed in an elegant yellow gown, she played the mysterious Malaysian Princess Intan, who did not want anybody else to sit with her on her front-row pew. That she was actually able to engage the princess in a lively conversation about economics was Rachel's first major statement of confidence against Eleanor and the other snobs of the Young family seated behind her. It was a turning point, yes, but I was hoping Kris' Hollywood moment would last longer than that.

This movie was practically a 2-hour episode of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" in Singapore. Of course, there were super-opulent settings, like the bachelorette party on the island of Langkawi to the wedding ceremony at the CHJMES, the reception at the Supertree Grove at the Gardens by the Bay to the final party on the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands. The soundtrack of Chinese songs and US Top 40 songs translated into Chinese (like Madonna's "Material Girl" and Coldplay's "Yellow") was very interesting as well. Director Jon M. Cho brought in the kinetic style from films he had directed before like the "Step Up" sequels, "GI Joe: Retaliation" and "Now You See Me 2".

The conflicts about a poor girl marrying a rich guy had been the main topic in various film and TV melodramas probably since the beginning of the motion picture medium itself. People do not seem to tire of this cliched relationship conflict, as is just spun around in many different ways and genres (family or historical drama, animated, musical, telenovelas, etc...) to make it seem fresh. The interesting thing about the central conflict in this film is the additional ingredient of Asian culture and sensibilities that gives it its distinctive flavor that we in Asia will really appreciate, specifically the Chinese. 

Among the Chinese in the world, there are distinctions between native Chinese from mainland China with Chinese overseas. Within Chinese overseas, there are distinctions between Chinese in Asia and those from America. With a single line delivered in Hokkien, Eleanor subtly revealed the most probable reason why she was not the favored daughter-in-law in the Cantonese Young family. The depiction of these intra-cultural, intra-family politics made "Crazy Rich Asians" an incisive social commentary as well about the Chinese, which the whole world will find most fascinating. 8/10. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Review of MISS GRANNY: Rejuvenated and Retrofit

August 23, 2018

The constant loud nagging of Fely caused her daughter-in-law Angie to fall very ill. This forced her only son Ramon to request his mother to temporarily move into a senior's home while his wife recovered. One day, while waiting for the bus, the distraught Fely was drawn to enter the Forever Young photo studio because it displayed a photo of her favorite actress Audrey Hepburn in its window. Before he took her photo, the photographer promised Fely that he would make her look younger by 50 years. By some miracle, she literally did.

The full trailer practically tells us the whole story already. From cantankerous senior Fely Malabaño, she becomes lovely miss Odrey de Leon. In her rejuvenated form, Odrey possessed a passionate singing style which caught the attention of three men: her own grandson Jeboy (who wanted her to sing for his band), a TV producer Lorenz (who wanted her to be the next big TV star) and her friend and former ward Bert (who loved Fely and suspected Odrey's real identity).  

Because of a video compilation on YouTube that I accidentally clicked, I already knew beforehand that the story "Miss Granny" was first made into a film in Korea in 2014. It surprised me then that it had already been remade in China and Vietnam (2015), Japan and Thailand (2016, and Indonesia (2107). There are also plans to remake it for India, Germany and the US (in English and Spanish). That only means that the story has wide appeal and was already a sure-fire formula for a hit all over Asia and probably beyond. Proper casting could make or break this local remake. 

For the demanding role of Odrey, the actress cast should be able to have good comic timing, dramatic chops as well as a heavenly singing voice that could make everyone stop and listen. I thought Sarah Geronimo was the perfect choice to play Odrey. Odrey was supposed to have been 20 years old only, but even at 30 this year, Sarah had the verve and jauntiness of youth. Importantly, she was able to balance it with the maturity that she already had inside as Fely. It did not feel awkward for Sarah to act older than her age. 

All of Sarah's singing scenes in this film were showstoppers. The first three songs were covers of local hits from the early 1970s. The haunting "Rain" (by Boy Mondragon, 1970) which she sang at the senior home talent show certainly turned everyone's head to look and listen to her sing on that stage. The delightful "Kiss Me, Kiss Me" (by Efren Montes, 1971) accompanied a montage of scenes of Odrey joining Jeboy's band in various small gigs. 

The magnificent torch song "Forbidden" (by Norma Ledesma, 1969) made sure their TV debut was a big success, and served as the soundtrack of scenes showing Fely's travails as a young widow. The dramatic new original song "Isa Pang Araw" was sang at the Summer Festival under severe emotional duress, and the resulting rendition makes you want to rise from your seat and give her a standing ovation. 

For veteran actress Nova Villa, playing Fely was a tight balance between her character's ill-temper and argumentative nature (for which you want to avoid her), with her inner loneliness and depression (for which you want to comfort her). Nonie Buencamino's shining moment as Ramon came towards the end when he spoke with his mother heart to heart. Surely there would be no dry eye in the theater in that scene. 

James Reid generously downplayed his own matinee idol stardom to play the supportive guitarist Jeboy. Xian Lim's role as Lorenz was practically an extended guest spot, more memorable for his being attacked with raw fish than its dramatic moments. The casting of Boboy Garrovillo to play Bert was a very inspired choice. Garovillo was funny and charming as Fely's loyal secret admirer Bert.  

Bb. Joyce Bernal told her story at a fine pace, just right for the material. There were some plot holes (like how come Bert and Ramon never immediately recognized Odrey as the young Fely?), but these were already part of the original plot that was just adapted in our language and culture. Sarah's dresses (and umbrellas), retro hairstyles and makeup were all so winsome.  

Some quibbles may be about the ear-piercing loudness of the shouting scenes, particularly those of Nova Villa (Fely was really a crabby grouch), Angeli Bayani (as Olivia, whose mother had a bad experience with Fely) and Kim Molina (as Bert's possessive daughter Minnie). Of course, some medical details about cranial surgery and blood donation were glossed over, but this was understandable. Also, you also cannot buy Valium over the counter (yellow prescription is strictly required) at only P289 for the whole "banig" of 10.

Many films had been made about an older person becoming young again, like "Freaky Friday", "18 Again", "Big" or "Peggy Sue Got Married." "Miss Granny" adds Asian sensibilities and wonderful retro songs into the mix. It has all the proven ingredients for a hit film, which explains why it had been remade in many countries with success. With Sarah Geronimo making the Filipino version of Odrey so lovely and lovable, this film will surely warm and win your heart.  9/10.

UPDATE August 27, 2018

During the National Heroes Day break, I was able to check out the Korean original "Miss Granny" (a.k.a. "Suspicious Girl") (Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2014), as well as the Chinese remake "20 Once Again" (Leste Chen, 2015). How were these two previous versions different from the Filipino version "Miss Granny" (Joyce Bernal, 2018)?

The Chinese version followed the main story, but played more as a serious drama, with hardly any of the humorous scenes in the Korean version left. It also chose to eliminate that scene where the grandmother was attacked by a disgruntled woman from her past. I personally thought that was an unnecessary scene.

The Filipino version is almost a scene for scene, line for line remake of the Korean with both comedy and drama elements intact, only with some appropriate adjustments to make it more Filipino.

In both the Korean and Filipino version, Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn was the celebrity idolized by the senior lead character, and the name she took when she became young: Oh Doo-ri in the Korean, Odrey in the Filipino.  In the Chinese version, the lead character idolized Chinese singer Deng Lijun (Teresa Teng), and she called herself Meng Lijun when she turned young. 

The recipe that caused arguments between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in the Korean version was that the radishes need to be placed on top of the fish  when cooking soup. In the Chinese version, it was that the fish had to be friend on both sides before being used to make soup. In the Filipino version, it was that fresh tamarind need to be used to make sour soup (sinigang) instead of a flavoring mix (the lazy way). 

The fruit that caused Mr. Park allergies in the Korean version was peaches, as it was the same for Li Dahai in the Chinese version. For the Filipino version, it was chico, which was interestingly translated in the subtitles as naseberry (I never knew that before). 

The incident that caused Oh Doo-ri to have a bleeding wound on her foot was an accident in a wave pool in a water park. In the Chinese version, it was a commotion inside a dance hall where a drunk dancer who broke glass, a shard of which hit Meng Li Jun's foot. In the Filipino version, it was an accident during an outdoor photo shoot when Odrey bumped her foot on a glass lamp decorating the stairs.

In both the Korean and the Chinese version, the relationship of younger lead character with the TV producer was more well-defined. There was a scene in both these versions where Oh Doo-ri/ Meng Lijun actually confessed to Mr. Park/Mr. Li that she had feelings for Han Seung-woo/ Tan Zhi Ming. In the Filipino version, Odrey's feelings for Lorenz was not that clear, such that his character felt like more minor that it was before.

The character of the grandson was played by a charismatic teen heartthrob in all three versions. In the Korean version, Ban Ji-ha was played by Jung Jin-young, K-pop singer and member of boy band B1A4. In the Chinese version, Xiang Qian Jin was played by Lu Han, Chinese singer and former member of boy band EXO. In the Filipino version, Jeboy was played by James Reid.

Both Shim Eun-kyung and Yang Zishan had already won Best Actress awards in their own countries for their portrayal of Oh Doo-ri and Meng Lijun respectively. I personally thought Sarah Geronimo exhibited more liveliness in her comic acting and more depth in her dramatic moments. Most importantly, I felt Sarah had been the most winsome and magnetic of them all as an interpreter of songs. It was Sarah Geronimo's total performance that made the Filipino version of "Miss Granny" the best version among the three.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


August 22, 2018

Dracula's daughter Mavis booked a cruise on a ship Legacy so their family can have more bonding time without the stress of hotel work. After more than a century of being a widower, Drac fell in love at first sight (or "zinged" in his words) when he met the ship captain Ericka, despite the fact that she was a human. Drac would soon discover that Ericka came from a family whose name he knew only too well.

The Hotel Transylvania animated franchise spoofs of the legendary characters of horror films, like Dracula, Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Werewolf, the Blob, etc... However, under all those silly gags and jokes lay a central theme of family relationships. So after all the easy laughs throughout the films, there would always be moments of sentimental drama that could bring a tear or two to your eyes. 

The same gang of actors from the two previous Hotel Transylvania films voice the characters in this one. Adam Sandler (as Dracula), Selena Gomez (as Mavis), Andy Sandberg (as Jonathan), and Mel Brooks (as Grandpa Vlad). Sandler's usual gang of actor-friends were also there playing the other monsters: Kevin James (as Frankenstein), Steve Buscemi (as Wayne the Werewolf) and David Spade (as Griffith the Invisible Man). New members of the voice cast were Kathryn Hahn (as Capt. Ericka) and Jim Gaffigan (as Prof. Van Helsing).  Joe Jonas has a voice cameo as the Kraken, sea monster of Atlantis.

Dracula broke some unspoken rule in the Monster world in this film when he "zinged" for a second time when he met Ericka. Supposedly, one only "zinged" once when you met the soulmate you were meant to spend forever with. However, as Drac related to son-in-law-to-be Jonathan in the first film (2012), Dracula's wife Martha met her tragic death at the hands of a human mob. I guess, after more than a hundred years of loneliness, Dracula deserved a second chance at love and happiness, but he needed to give a good fight to earn it.

This installment introduced the character of Dracula's archenemy in Bram Stoker's novel, Abraham van Helsing. The nutty professor changed his diet and mechanized parts of his body to become immortal himself. This time van Helsing schemed to obtain an mythical device from the lost continent of Atlantis which was capable of destroying a whole civilization of monsters. Conveniently of course, the cruise ship Legacy had a scheduled docking at Atlantis. 

You know already how these elaborately evil plots prosper in children's films, but it was certainly fun getting there. You will not expect what the magical antidote song would be to counteract the device's deadly powers. That gave me a good laugh! However, I felt that having a third episode was already stretching the limits of the franchise. Anyhow, little kids will still enjoy the bright colors and mindless slapstick a lot, but accompanying adults may just smile (or groan) in mild amusement. 6/10. 

Review of THE WIFE: Captivating Close

August 22, 2018

Joseph Castleman just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He and his wife Joan go to Stockholm to receive the coveted prize. There, as Joseph's body of literary work was being extolled and recognized, Joan looked back on her own life and realized just how much of her talent, ambition and dignity she had sacrificed in order for the man she loved to reach this shining moment. 

This film was a comeback showcase of sorts for Ms. Glenn Close whose uniquely excellent acting style had been sorely missed on the big screen. She did have a number film roles since her last Oscar Best Actress nomination in 2012, but none of these were as majorly vital a showcase for her talent as this one as Joan Castleman in "The Wife." In fact, this performance may just earn her another Oscar nomination, if not the big prize itself, finally. As shown in her previously nominated roles in "Dangerous Liaisons" (1987) and "Albert Nobbs" (2011), Ms. Close is truly a master of restrained acting. 

Jonathan Pryce matched Close closely in the acting department. Their screen partnership was very tight, but he knew well not to steal her thunder. He did very well in slowly revealing his character's inner flaws. His acting was also very subtle and this made matters feel more insidious. It is obvious he loved his wife very much, but you sort of felt there was something wrong and you just cannot put your finger exactly on what it was. 

Christian Slater played Nathan Bone, an author who wanted to write Castleman's biography but had been outright rejected several times. He persisted in his insistence and stirred the hornet's nest instead. Max Irons played David Castleman, Joseph and Joan's son who was also a writer. He longed for his father's approval in his craft but felt that he was never getiing any. Elizabeth McGovern played Elaine Mozell, a poet whose confession about her experience as a female writer in a man's world marked a turning point in Joan's life.

At first glance, it would seem that it would just be another one of those films about an ignored or unappreciated wife. But Joan Castleman's sense of frustration and repressed despair came from a much deeper place. This wife completely subsumed her own potentials and instead diverted them to support her husband -- a lifelong sacrifice more than what an ordinary wife could give. Close captured all of Joan's internal turmoil and projected it powerfully on the big screen with remarkably minimal acting effort. 8/10. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Review of CHRISTOPHER ROBIN: Fuzzy Fireside Feelings

August 21, 2018

Christopher Robin is now all grown up and married. He was overworked at a thankless job at stuffy old Winslow Luggages. Because of an emergency meeting scheduled on the weekend, he had to stay in London to work, while his disappointed wife Evelyn and daughter Madeline went on their long-planned vacation to their family cottage in Sussex. 

Meanwhile, Winnie-the-Pooh can't find any of his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, so he wandered into Christopher Robin's tree trunk door, climbed out and found himself in the heart of London. Right when Pooh sat on a park bench to rest, who would he see sitting on the bench behind him but his old friend Christopher Robin himself. 

Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends have been well-known to generations of kids since the first book A.A. Milne wrote about them was first published in 1926.  The images of Winnie-the-Pooh we are most familiar with are those done by Disney in 1966 for the animated featurette "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree." Since then, Winnie-the-Pooh with his amber fur, his red midriff shirt and jar of honey had been a popularly beloved character. 

The main attraction of this new live action film "Christopher Robin" is for fans to see how Pooh and his whole gang will be brought to full-bodied furry life. I remember when I first saw the full trailer that showed how they rendered Pooh and his friends, especially my favorite Piglet, in CGI for this film -- I was overcome with heartwarming nostalgia. I almost wished they held off showing them fully in the trailers at all and just surprised us.

Seeing the adorable Pooh, endearing little Piglet, sprightly Tigger, doleful Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, Rabbit and Owl moving and talking in this film was simply so overwhelmingly delightful. The cuteness, charm and warmth of these dear characters radiated out of the big screen into our hearts. We would all like to reach into that screen and embrace these fluffy little creatures with our own arms. The voice work by Jim Cummings (Pooh and Tigger), Brad Garett (Eeyore), Nick Mohammed (Piglet), Sophie Okenedo and Sara Sheen (Kanga and Roo) gave us all warm fuzzy feelings.

Unlike the bright, comedic and modern "Paddington Bear" films, "Christopher Robin" went for a throwback old world nostalgia. Everyone was prim and proper in neat formal-looking clothes and speaking with crisp proper Queen's English accents. It was an age of innocence like this when it could still happen that a grown man can reconnect with his childhood toy friends. This genteel setting and dreamy atmosphere may come across as too slow for very young viewers.

Ewan McGregor was a very good choice to be the grown up Christopher Robin. He has the correct manner and the correct personality for the character, as a father, as a friend, as a child still trapped within the body of a stressed-out adult. I know Pooh was just a CG character, but McGregor actually had chemistry with it. Child actress Bronte Montgomery was remarkable as the daughter Madeline because she handled the role with maturity. Christopher's wife Evelyn was played by Haley Atwell. 

This film by Marc Forster will make us rethink our priorities in life as we grow older and get too engrossed in our jobs. It reminds us to pay more attention to the more important things in life we may have been ignoring -- our family, our children. Like Christopher Robin, we are all brought back to our own childhood as if they were all our own toys, especially since we really did grow up with them in some of the first books we read and animated films we watched as kids. 8/10. 

** Postscript: 

If you liked this film, I am also recommending you to also check out "Goodbye Christopher Robin" (Simon Curtis, 2017). This non-fiction film told about how author A.A. Milne (played by Domnhall Gleeson) was inspired to write "Winnie-the-Pooh" and how its phenomenal success affected the childhood of his son Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston as a child, and Alex Lawther as a young man). Margot Robbie also stars as Daphne Milne, Christopher's insensitive mother and Kelly MacDonald as Olive / Nou, Christopher's loving nanny. 7/10. 

Review of THE MEG: Jurassic Jaws

August 19, 2018

Thanks to "Jaws" (Steven Spielberg, 1975), the great white shark has become a man-eating monster, and movies about it have become a genre of its own. Off hand, we recall "Deep Blue Sea" (1999), "Open Water" (2003) and the best of the recent ones "The Shallows" (2016) (MY REVIEW). I guess there will always be an ongoing fascination about this giant fish with sharp teeth which humans fear with a passion, even if their reputation as killers is not exactly deserved.

The Meg is a megalodon, a prehistoric giant shark previously believed to be extinct until it attacked an underwater research facility led by Chinese scientists Dr. Minway Zhang and his daughter Suyin. They call on Jonas Taylor for his expertise in responding to deep-water diving emergencies as a rescuer. The humans are determined to kill the monster that caused the death of many of their friends. 

This man vs. nature adventure contained a lot of familiar stock characters used in such films. There has to be one alpha male fearless guy who had limitless skills to do absolutely anything. There is one brave and dedicated female scientist, which may later be romantically linked with the hero. There is one annoying billionaire financier who only sees the inflow of cash in his investments. 

Jason Statham is his usual action hero self in his other films. He was given a sense of humor here, sort of like a younger leaner Bruce Willis. He was not afraid to make difficult, potentially unpopular decisions, always with the greater good in mind. Despite his brusque exterior, he seemed to be good with kids, because cute little Meiying was actually encouraging him to take romantic interest in her mother Suyin. 

Because of the big market for adventure films in China, we had been seeing a lot of Chinese actors and characters in these types of films. Usually these are minor supporting characters on the side that barely influence the outcome of the film. However, that norm changes with a remarkably high Chinese presence here in "The Meg".

Chinese actress Li Bingbing was actually in the lead role opposite action star Jason Statham. As oceanographer Suyin Zhan, Li was front and center of all the action, and not just as a damsel in distress (although Statham did have to save her life more than once). She even had scenes with her father Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) and little daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai) where they spoke in Mandarin (with subtitles). 

The crowded beach resort which the Meg attacked just so happened to be Sanya Bay, located in Hainan island in China. So throughout this major scene, we hear Mandarin spoken by the millennial beach-goers, with their colorful inner-tubes, rafts, Zorb-balls, banana-boats, jetskis, what have you. There was even a wedding party onboard a yacht from the bride's pampered puppy jumped into the water to test the Meg. 

You know how films like this go. Director Jon Turteltaub ("Cool Runnings," "While You Were Sleeping," "National Treasure") followed the giant monster movie formula to the letter. A group of humans interferes with the limits of nature and releases a new monster. Monster kills off crew members one by one and also threatens the general public, until the heroes figure out how to beat it, and you know they will eventually. That was how it was in "King Kong," "Godzilla," "Jurassic Park," "Pacific Rim," "Rampage" and that is still how it is now in "The Meg." 6/10. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

PPP 2018: Review of UNLI LIFE: History-Hopping Histrionics

August 19, 2018

Benedict had a successful podcasting career as "Papatak," dishing out witty and sassy advice to broken-hearted people who called in. Despite his perky online persona though, in reality he was strict and critical with people around him. On the very day he planned to propose marriage to his lady love Victoria, she also decided to break up with him because she felt suffocated by his controlling nature.  

As he walked the street despondent after the abrupt rejection, a bar called "Turning Point" suddenly appeared (complete with a disembodied Joey Marquez voice-over announcing its name) and he was compelled to enter. The bartender Saro offered him to drink Wishkey -- a potion which could take him back in time to learn lessons and make better decisions to correct his present situation.

The Wishkey brought Benedict into various historical places and events, like the Garden of Eden, the Stone Age, the Battle of Mactan, the Cry of Balintawak with Andres Bonifacio (Jhong Hilario), the Vaudeville era with Dolphy (a luminescent Epy Quizon), and the Japanese occupation. In all of these episodes, he would see himself, Victoria, his rival Humberto, as well as his podcast co-host Hugot Tina, and production crew Jon, Von and Joey playing various wacky characters. 

Vhong Navarro was trying too hard to be funny as Benedict. He resorted to spoof comedy, caveman "barok" comedy, toilet humor, slapstick humor, shock comedy, or black comedy, but the humor felt forced and flat that you do not hear much laughs in the movie house. My only favorite scene of his was not even a comedy scene. It was that colorful dance routine Benedict did with Victoria with all the old-fashioned stage props, sort of inspired by a similar scene in "La La Land."

Most of the easier laughs were care of Donna Cariaga (as Hugot Tina). Whenever she showed up on screen or delivered a "hugot" line, it was funny. The one that made me LOL was that scene was during the Katipunero era, when Donna was trying to seduce "Spaniards" with her bared legs, and the guys took a look, turned away saying "Que barbaridad!" Of course, she was always making fun of how she looked, and that was not exactly good news as well.  

Aside from Victoria, beauty queen Wynwyn Marquez was made to play several different characters and I thought she pulled them off, especially as Maria (Katipunan era) and Victorina (Japanese era). Joey Marquez (Saro) was basically being himself. Ejay Falcon (Humberto and his various incarnations throughout history) was basically an extended cameo. The trio of Alex Calleja (Jon), Jon Lucas (Von) and Red Ollero (Joey) could have been put to better use. Dimples Romana played Benedict's late mother Virginia in a scene obviously inspired by "Back to the Future."

The plot was actually quite paper-thin: Benedict lost Victoria, and wanted her back. All those time-travelling scenes to various eras were not necessary at all for Benedict to figure out what to do. These were mostly just for a revue of various comedy genres which could not be sustained for a full-length film. They in fact felt like outtakes of various uncompleted comedy shorts edited together. Victoria was always there, yes, but it certainly did not look like Benedict got any insight on how can he get her back.

What those travels to the past did was to teach the selfish, self-centered Benedict how to loosen up and be sensitive to other people around him, that the world is not all about him. I think he could have learned that lesson even without all those elaborate history-hopping (and saved us around an hour and a half worth of time), but then, there would not have been much of a movie left to watch. 4/10. 

PPP 2018: Review of PINAY BEAUTY: Satisfaction in One's Skin

August 18, 2018

It had been Annie's long-time dream to play the role of Snow White in Hong Kong Disneyland. However, she totally did not look right for the part. Her boyfriend Migs stole P180,000 from his boss Tito Val to pay for her plastic surgery expenses. Upon discovery of the crime, Tito Val had Migs beat up and gave him an ultimatum: pay back the money in full, or get him a date with famous model Lovely G. If Migs cannot fulfill any of these conditions in four days, he will be killed. 

"Pinay Beauty" tackled the obsession of many Filipina ladies to become whiter of skin and look Caucasian. It also followed the adventures and misadventures of Migs and his motley gang in trying various means (fair or foul) to get the P180K together or trying to get a chance to talk to Lovely G, knowing that failure to do meant certain death for him. 

Black comedy is a tricky genre that needs a precise directorial touch to get it right. This one had the right ideas, but the comic situations would often come across as forced and fall flat. Absurd is okay as long as it was done right. Unfortunately many gags were not done right.

A major problem of this film for me was the premise that Annie (Chai Fonacier) could not get the P180K back from the dermatological center where she was going to have her plastic surgery. I was not aware that such centers would have such a strict and non-negotiable policy about paying the full amount of the fee upfront a week before the scheduled procedure. As far as I know, a patient could always change her mind, back out and withdraw her consent (and her money) anytime before surgery. 

The harebrained schemes of Migs and his gang to earn money should have been very funny because of the full commitment of the actors to the physical comedy. They had all the wacky personalities covered. Isabel (Mariko Ledesma) was a loud-mouth transgender. Japo (Hannah Ledesma) was a pretty lesbian. Bas (Nico Antonio) was a pompous jock. Nino (Janus del Prado) was a timid nerd. Migs (Edgar Allan Guzman) was the "normal" one. However, the execution of their capers seemed rushed and not thought out properly.

To raise the P180K, they first resorted to selling their second-hand things on the internet. It was not too clear how the choices of things to sell were supposed to be funny. To explore a little sex comedy, they also sold their own bodies. The bit with Nino at the bridal shower was cute, but the one with Isabel in the car was not funny at all. They also tried breaking into the house of Migs' father (Allan Paule), a driver who married his rich boss, but that did not really go anywhere as well.

To tried to get Lovely G (Maxine Medina) to talk to them, they first tried to visit the friends of Lovely G's superstar father Da King, Mang Max (Lou Veloso) and Mang Carding (Joel Saracho). The two turned out to be crazy as bats, but this episode felt totally unnecessary. They went to Lovely G's fan meet-and-greet, which failed despite Migs' clever sign saying "I will die in three days". They even gained access inside Lovely G's studio but the comic situations in there (like the coffee making or the styro props) were too stupid and lame. 

Chai Fonacier is a very good actress, starring in three acclaimed films in the last two years: "Patay na si Hesus" (Victor Villanueva, 2016), "Pauwi Na" (Paolo Villaluna, 2016), and "Respeto" (Treb Monteras II, 2017). She finally gets her chance for a lead role in this film, but unfortunately, her character had been limited by her unrealistic expectations, nothing much any actress could've done about it. Fonacier did her best to give Annie a perky joy for life, but I did not really like the way her story turned out at the end.

Edgar Allan Guzman is also a very good actor as proven in films like "Ligo na Ü, Lapit na Me" (Erick Salud, 2011) and "Deadma Walking" (Julius Alfonso, 2017). Here Migs played mainly the straight man among his gang of crazy friends and as blindly loyal boyfriend to his girlfriend Annie. The script did not really give much opportunity to shine, but when it did in that scene when he was face to face with Lovely G, Migs' lines were terribly written, so even poor Guzman could not have done any better. 

The role of Lovely G seemed to be written with Lovi Poe in mind with all the references to her being the daughter of Da King. Unfortunately, Maxine Medina was as bland and boring as Lovely G was supposed to be bland and boring as an actress in the film. That might have been a great idea to be "meta," but this particular casting decision did not work. 

Unexpectedly the best acting work in the film was turned in by Tikoy Aguiluz. He was best known for his work as director and writer in films like "Boatman" (1985) and "Segurista" (1996). Here in the role of the ruthless Tito Val, he was cool, dapper, with that perfect threatening crime boss and dirty old man vibe that gave everyone around him the chills. 

I had only seen one other film directed by Jay Abello, which was "Red" (2014) (MY REVIEW), which was good. From writer Alpha Habon, I had seen three that he had also written: "Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin" (2013) (MY REVIEW), "Buy Now Die Later" (2016) (MY REVIEW) and "Star Na Si Van Damme Stallone" (2016) (MY REVIEW), which were all quite well-written. 'Pinay Beauty" may have had a good story idea and a good cast, but could've been improved with better thought-out and executed jokes. 4/10. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

PPP 2018: Review of MADILIM ANG GABI: Payback for Pull-out

August 17, 2018

Sara and her husband Lando had been loyal operatives for various illegal activities of local crime boss Kidlat, including, but not only, drugs. When the new president of the country began to clamp down on drug pushers and addicts, they decided to cut clean from the syndicate they served. One day, their son Alan suddenly went missing. Sara and Lando scour the streets, slums and underbelly of Manila in search for him. 

Last year, Gina Alajar and Phillip Salvador played husband and wife in "Pastor" (MY REVIEW) directed by Adolfo Alix, Jr., also their director in this new film. If their characters lived in opulence as Christian ministers in that previous film, their characters now lived in a Tondo slums as petty criminals. In the previous film, the devil took the form of a boy who swept their daughter off her feet. In this new film, it was a voice on the radio calling for the killing of everyone involved in illegal drugs.

Gina Alajar owned this movie. She (under)played Sara to seem like a meek victim of her circumstances. However, throughout the film, we also got a sense of how influential she really was in the crime network of her area. We sympathized with her effort to clean up her life yet punished by having her only son Alan (Felix Roco) disappear. At the same time, we also feared her. 

Phillip Salvador played her loyal and protective husband Lando, but even he seemed to be second-in-command in their household. Salvador came across as sincere in this performance more than his other recent films, maybe because he was able to minimize his distracting acting tics here.

In the process of their quest, Sara and Lando meet a number of people from their past and present. These minor characters were portrayed by big-name movie stars in cameo roles. Part of the "fun" (actually more a distraction) in watching this movie was spotting and identifying these familiar faces playing their family, neighbors, policemen, drug pushers, henchmen, mourning relatives of victims, and reporters. 

Some of those supporting actors in "Pastor" were again here in "Madilim" like Jason Abalos, Rosanna Roces and Angelina Kanapi. In addition, we also see Elizabeth Oropesa, Alessandra de Rossi, Anita Linda, Perla Bautista, Bembol Roco, Angel Aquino, Julio Diaz, Jesse Mendoza, Zanjoe Marudo, Allan Paule, Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani, Iza Calzado, Kenken Nuyad, Erlinda Villalobos, Flora Gasser, Cherie Pie Picache and Cris Villonco.  Cherie Gil, and Laurice Guillen played the most unexpected roles. 

With these multiple guest stars, you can already imagine how episodic this movie was. It is just one scene of Sara and/or Lando meeting one person after the other as they did their inquiries about their missing son. This treatment reminded me of "Manila by Night" (Ishmael Bernal, 1980). However here, the sequencing felt very random and did not seem related to each other, just a series of red herrings. Further complicating matters was this other mysterious "Boss" from whom Sara took orders, who was never revealed.

Writer-director Adolfo Alix, Jr. attempted to do another "Ma'Rosa" (Brillante Mendoza, 2016) here but rather fell short. The sense of tension and dread was there, but never really reached a compelling peak.  Alajar had a scene buying and eating kwek-kwek on the sidewalk, which recalled the famous fishball eating scene of Jaclyn Jose in "Ma'Rosa."  Alix made a a powerful unspoken message in that scene where Sara removed her favorite wrist accessory -- a baller bracelet for the winning president. However, we see that baller on her wrist again in later scenes (on purpose or not?), wasting her big turnaround moment.  

The voice and words of the president against drugs played a very important role in this film. While some people give up the drug lifestyle, the drug crimes persist on a big scale, stronger and as stable as ever. The president can issue deadly threats ("I will kill you!") every day, but we see that these drug personalities have really become brazen and fearless as they go on with their crime. We hear his voice going on and on even well after the closing credits, as if they were mere empty words falling on deaf ears. Here we see just how deeply rooted the problem is and why.  6/10. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

PPP 2018: Review of THE DAY AFTER VALENTINE'S: Forgiveness is Freedom

August 16, 2018

Lani Murphy (Bela Padilla) was a sales clerk of Tess' (Regine Tolentino) clothing store. One night, Kai Ramos (JC Santos) walked in to buy arm socks. Lani caught Kai wounding himself in the arm and befriended him. She later discovered that he was having difficulty moving on from a recent failed relationship with a girl named Anne. Lani went out of her way to help him recover. When Kai needed to back to his home in Hawaii, he invited Lani to come along, and she agreed. Is this the beginning of their forever?

Bela Padilla and JC Santos already proved their box-office appeal as a pair last year in the film "100 Tula Para Kay Stella" with the same director Jason Paul Laxamana. The three of them reunite for another project this year that brought them from Arayat, Pampanga before all the way to the beautiful island of Lanai in the US state of Hawaii this time. It is not surprising that this film is leading all others in the 2nd Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino this year, just like "100 Tula" did in the 1st PPP last year. 

In "100 Tula" we saw JC's character already in love with Bela's character from the very first scene when they met as college freshmen. This time, the first instance when JC's character seemed to be falling for Bela's character only happened only within the second hour of the film. It happened only on their last day that they were together in Lanai when JC first put his arms around Bela's waist, which caused the girls in the movie theater to finally scream in delight. Yes, "Valentine's" was a very slow burn. This could prove to be frustrating for those expecting instant romantic thrill between the two stars.

In the first hour, the flavor was provided by Lani's interest in "baybabin" or the pre-historic writing of ancestral Filipino natives. She would teach Kai how to read and write it. This was all very interesting. However, it could prove to be difficult for audiences who do not know how to read those characters. Not all the baybayin Lani or Kai wrote were interpreted in the subtitles, only those already spoken out loud by the characters.  

In the second hour, we were brought on a virtual tour of Lanai island. Via the character of Kai's older brother Keanu (Hawaiian actor and emcee Rayton Lamay), we get a brief overview of Hawaiian culture and legends. We saw them tour Sweetheart Rock, Shipwreck Beach, the unique red boulders of Keahiakawelo and other sights in Lanai, which seemed very cold and windy when they did their shoot there.

Bela Padilla is really a very likable actress in any role she does, no matter how quirky. Lani was a very independent woman who lived alone. Aside from her work in the clothing store, she also accepted doing homework for lazy students to earn extra cash. The way Bela played her, I did not doubt that Lani could fix Kai. That scene when Lani bared her soul to Kai in the car was heartbreaking. 

The script never really talked about Lani's past until the final 30 minutes of the film. She had a brief scene with her Tita Vickie (Hermie Go) whose son was recovering from a fall in the sewer, which was basically for comedy purposes, only a reference to the popular meme. Otherwise, her history was a big mystery until that scene when she met her brother George (Jordan Castillo) on the street. That scene was also the turning point for Lani to reveal the broken part of her persona and Bela's prowess in drama.

Since Kai was a guy with Hawaiian blood, they made JC Santos wear a mane of very thick long hair and a mustache. This beach hippie look did not always become JC, at times making him look too mature for Bela, especially in certain scenes in shot in the very bright Hawaiian sunlight. JC's Kai was the perfect gentleman to Lani, but he was also too obtuse or too distracted not to get the (not so) subtle hints she was dropping for him.

Despite his psychological insecurities and masochistic tendencies, we still wanted them to end up together. The chemistry between the two actors is strong, even if they were not "officially" in love for majority of the film. They can certainly bring on the "feels" as they exchange pithy lines of romance that their millennial fans will surely find quotable for their own love affairs.

In local romance films, anything can happen to the couple, we need to be ready for anything. The title of this film is "The Day After Valentine's" but this film actually was set on the night before Valentine's. We do not even get to see what happens the day after Valentine's. With all the angst and scars Kai and Lani needed to fix in each other, I think the subtitle "Not a Love Story" was actually better fit for this film than for "Sid & Aya". 7/10.   

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

PPP 2018: Review of WE WILL NOT DIE TONIGHT: Cacophonous Chaos

August 15, 2018

Kray (Erich Gonzales) was the daughter of a retired stuntman (the later Baldo Marro), who now worked as a stuntwoman herself for a living. One day, Kray, together with her old friends Jonesky (Thou Reyes), Cheche (Max Eigenmann) and Reneboy (Nico Dans) were gathered up together again by their ring leader Ramil (Alex Medina) for a new money-making project. Little did they know that their new job with boss Bangkil (Paolo Paraiso) got them involved in a grisly organ-harvesting gig from which they could not quit.

If I could be completely honest, comparisons with Erik Matti's "BuyBust" (BB) would not be too far-fetched. Both films were about a team of friends whose planned operation went wrong and so they had to fight themselves out of the tight spot they were trapped in within one night.  In BB, it was in a maze-like slum in Tondo. Here it was an abandoned warehouse at the ports, also in Tondo. 

The teams in both films had females who can fight as skillfully as the men, one of whom was the lead character. Both had a male team leader who was injured early on in the film, and had to fight injured (Bernie in BB, Ramil here). Both had a member who was a gentle giant of a man (Rico in BB, Reneboy here). The fight scenes in both films were brutal and graphic, shot with artistic flourish of light and shadow, accompanied by a rock music.

Nevertheless, despite these parallels, "We Will Not Die Tonight" was a awesome film on its own. Thanks to box-office success of BB, the interest of the public for action films had just been freshly whet, so with the immediate release of this film right after BB, the iron was struck while it was hot. 

Erich Gonzales did very well in the lead role playing an action heroine, a role that was a major departure from the roles she did in her previous TV or film work. Her Kray was tough, no-nonsense, and did not back down from a fight. Right off the bat she was shown running down the street being chased by motorcycles. She chinned a bar, shimmied down an elevator cable, fought solo against a number of men (mano-a-mano, with various bladed weapons, breaking necks, asphyxiating by rope) all while keeping little girl Isabel (Ayesha Arreza) safe, among other athletic feats. Impressive.

Alex Medina seems to be getting typecast in these rascal roles. When he does a role, you do not really trust the character anymore, like Ramil here. I had seen Thou Reyes as a swishy transgender before on stage and TV, so I was surprised to see him take on the role of the macho boxer Jonesky. I had seen Max Eigenmann in a number of quirky drama indie films before, but nothing like the amazon fighter Cheche was here. She was so cool that she even lit a cigarette in the face of sure death. Nico Dans's hefty Reneboy always picked up the rear during the running scenes. His memorable scene was that one where he was left injured, alone and wandering aimlessly, like a goat served on a platter for the wolves.

All the actors playing the villains played their roles with over-the-top evil. Paolo Paraiso was fearsome as the heartless Bangkil. Sarah Jane Abad played Bangkil's girlfriend Tanya like a witch with her shrill cackling voice. Jeffrey Tam did a total transformation from the silly comedian he is known for into the vicious shotgun-slinging Kirat. Indie staple Jess Mendoza also joined in the fray as creepy gang member Aswang.

I thought the film editing by Jaymie Dumancas deserved an award for its rapid yet clean splicing of scenes to create that frenetic atmosphere. Another technical detail that deserved recognition is the awesome sound and the seamless editing together of those multiple simultaneous sound effects (bone crushing punches, slashing knives, crying kid, groaning injured guy, etc) heard at the same time to create the cacophonous chaos of this film. Kudos to the costume department for giving Kray that badass black sleeveless Metallica t-shirt!

Overall, this was one very exciting action film shot with modern sensibilities and style by writer / director Richard Somes, with cinematographer Alex Esperto. The fights, as choreographed by Jake and Jhappy Bahian, were purposely unpolished brawls -- so well-suited to the film's dingy, rough-hewn vibe. Most appropriately, this action film was dedicated to all stuntmen and stuntwomen in the local film industry and to the memory of the most famous one of them all, Baldo Marro. 

It is said that Somes shot this film in only eight days, so to come up with something this vibrant, thrilling, scary and energetic (without resorting to curse words) is truly a remarkable achievement. 8/10.