Friday, November 30, 2018

Review of CREED II: Faithful to the Formula

November 29, 2018

Adonis Creed had just won the WBC World Heavyweight Championship and proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Bianca Taylor. He received a challenge from a young Russian fighter, Viktor Drago, who just so happened to be the son of Ivan Drago, the former Soviet boxer who killed his father, Apollo Creed, in the ring thirty-three years ago. To Donnie's dismay, his coach Rocky Balboa did not think that it was a great idea to accept the fight. 

Like the first movie of this Rocky reboot (MY REVIEW), this sequel is also a very well-shot film. Because of his schedule conflicts with "Black Panther," Ryan Coogler turned over the directorial reins to Steven Caple, Jr., in only his second full-length film, his first for a major company. Coogler still stayed on board as executive producer of this film, even as Michael B. Jordan still stayed on as the lead actor in both projects. 

Technical-wise this was a solid film. The cinematography was artistically done, with some pretty dramatic camera angles (the pool training scene, the lying down on the floor scene, among others) and energetic film and sound editing of the boxing scenes (you can feel those rib-cracking punches yourself). The musical soundtrack also sounded so good, complementing the scenes they accompany very well. It was exhilarating and nostalgic to hear the original Rocky fanfare at one climactic moment. 

Michael B. Jordan played Donnie Creed with all his character's athleticism, determination, vindictiveness and helplessness. His scenes with little Amara were pretty touching as this young actor is really very good in drama. Sylvester Stallone continued to play Rocky Balboa with heart, wisdom and compassion. Tessa Thompson had strong screen presence as Donnie's beloved Bianca. Phylicia Rashad (as step-mom Mary Anne) and Wood Harris (as trainer Tony "Little Duke" Evers) gave understated supporting performances. 

On the Russian side, Dolph Lundgren maintains that cold menacing presence as Ivan Drago, the same character he played in 1985 in the film "Rocky IV." The huge and imposing Romanian boxer Florian Munteanu played the formidable challenger Viktor Drago, on whom Ivan channeled his desire for retribution. The icy, platinum blonde amazon Brigitte Nielsen reprised her role as Ludmilla, Ivan's ex-wife and Viktor's estranged mother in a couple of chilly scenes, but so heavy on the emotion. 

The only problem I felt while I was watching was the very predictable story. It was very obvious from the trailer alone. Well, sports movies usually follow the same formula -- a challenge is issued and accepted, hero loses the first match, hero trains to get back up, hero wins the final game. This one followed that formula to the letter, no surprises at all. Fortunately, the actors was able to infuse the necessary emotional heft to uplift it from being stale. I did like the little family drama about hearing impairment, which I thought was a unique touch. 7/10. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review of THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB: Losing Larsson's Lisbeth

November 27, 2018

The Millenium trilogy of crime novels was written by Steig Larrson, and posthumously published after his fatal heart attack in 2004 at age 50.  The series started with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2005), followed by "The Girl Who Played with Fire" (2006) and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" (2009). Despite the dark and violent subject matter, all three books were critically acclaimed and best sellers. 

Larsson's three books were made into a series of three films in Swedish language, all released in 2008. This starred Noomi Rapace as the vindictive hacker Lisbeth Salander and Michael Nyqvist as her supportive journalist friend, Mikael Blomkvist. (My review of the first book and first Swedish movie is posted HERE.) In 2011, an English language film was made out of the first book, directed by David Fincher and starring Roonie Mara as Salander and Daniel Craig as Blomkvist. (I was not able to watch this American version, where Mara was nominated for Best Actress in the Oscars.)

Wishing to milk the series further, the Swedish published commissioned journalist David Lagercrantz to write more adventures for flawed heroine Lisbeth Salander. Lagercrantz's first book is "The Girl in the Spider's Web," published in 2015, which was used as the basis for this second English language film of the franchise, directed by Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez. Lagercrantz has already published a second book entitled "The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye." published in 2017. 

From the first movie, we knew that Lisbeth Salander was a victim of sexual abuse since her childhood. Here, her history was expanded to include a blond twin sister Camilla who decided to stay with their pedophile father while Lisbeth decided to run away. Because of her bitter past, Lisbeth became a vigilante against men who abused women. However, this time, it was her talent as a computer hacker that got her involved with a powerful software called Firefall that controlled all the nuclear codes in the world, and the shady Spider Society who wanted to get their hands on it.

Claire Foy looked too demure and refined to be credible as action-star Lisbeth, especially with those superhuman stunts she had to pull. However, she did better in the dramatic scenes with her estranged sister Camilla (played by Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks with a perfect ice-queen vibe). Strangely, the character of Mikael Blomkvist (played by Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason) was relegated from vital co-lead status to an unnecessary side character in this film. 

American child actor Christopher Convery made a good impression as the child genius August, son of Frans Balder (played by British actor Stephen Merchant), the programmer who came up with the Firefall software. A couple of European actors who earned critical acclaim last year, Vicky Krieps (Luxembourgish actress of "Phantom Thread") and Claes Bang (Danish actor of "The Square") were unfortunately stuck in minor roles. 

When the filmmakers of this reboot/sequel decided to shift the main focus from Lisbeth's beef against abusive misogynists to a commonly-tackled story about computer software, the very spirit of vengeance and retribution that drove the Millennium series felt compromised. It became just another female vigilante crime-fighter action thriller, which on its own was not really that bad. But for loyal fans of the original books and films eagerly anticipating to see Lisbeth Salander back on the big screen again, it disappointingly did not pass muster. 6/10.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Review of RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: Online Odyssey

November 25, 2018

"Wreck-It-Ralph" (MY REVIEW) was a very pleasant surprise hit for me when I watched it six years ago. I liked how they created a world of video game characters behind what we can see in the arcade. While the friendship formed between the burly giant wrecker Ralph and the cute moppet racer Vanellope looked unwieldy and felt awkward at first, but it turned out that their friendly chemistry worked on both humorous and heart-warming levels.

This sequel is set six years after the events of the first film, and Mr. Litwak (Ed O'Neill) had just equipped his Family Fun Center with Wi-fi to keep up with the times. One day, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) was feeling bored with the predictability of her Sugar Rush racing game, so Ralph (John C. Reilley) took it upon himself to create a new track for her to drive on. However, a child playing the altered game caused irreparable damage to the steering wheel of the game machine, which led to the game being pulled out of the arcade.

Feeling responsible for the unfortunate event, Ralph and Vanellope went into the Internet via Wi-fi router to EBay to bid on a new steering wheel, but they did not have actual cash to buy it. So, in search of the money they need, they were led on a big online adventure to various websites like the anarchic Slaughter Race (where they meet the cool racer chick Shank, voiced by Gal Gadot) and the viral video site Buzzztube (where they meet Yesss, the always-trendy algorithm who paid cash for likes, voiced by Taraji P. Henson). 

There is no argument that the colorful visuals and nostalgic humor of the first film are all still there intact. It was fun picking out the little cameos of classic characters from not only the video game world, but now plus the treasure trove of Disney franchises. So now aside from  Q*Bert, Pac-Man, the Street Fighters, Chef Peter Pepper (from "Burger Time") and Sonic the Hedgehog, we can also spot Dumbo, Eeyore, Buzz Lightyear, Nick Wilde (of "Zootopia"), C3PO, R2D2 and Stormtroopers. Baymax, Iron Man and the cameo king himself, the late Stan Lee. 

For me, the best part of the film was Vanellope's scene with all the Disney Princesses (which would have been better had it not been "spoiled" by the trailers). It was great to see from the credits that they were still voiced by the original actors: like Jodi Benson (as Ariel), Paige O'Hara (as Belle), Linda Larkin (as Jasmine), Irene Bedard (as Pocahontas), Ming-Na Wen (as Mulan), Anika Noni Rose (as Tiana), Mandy Moore (as Rapunzel), Kelly Macdonald (as Merida), Auliʻi Cravalho (as Moana), Kristen Bell (as Anna), and Idina Menzel (as Elsa).

The story about the the values of friendship (cooperation, encouragement, sacrifice) and the dangers of the internet (pop-up ads, the dark web, viruses) will resonate with all audiences. Female empowerment also gets a foot into the story, with Shank and the Princesses motivating Vanellope to follow her dreams. It was generally Ralph's naivete and clinginess and Vanellope's reckless imprudence which led to their foolish misadventures, so that some messy plot developments came across as more annoying than funny. 

There were two extra scenes in the closing credits (one midway, and one at the very end) to watch out for and be amused by. All in all, this sequel was fine and fun, but the first one was still much better and had more heart. 7/10. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Review of ROBIN HOOD (2018): Origin of an Outlaw

November 23, 2018

Robin Hood, the legendary outlaw of English folklore, had been a favorite character in films and TV in every decade for more than a century. He was the subject of a 1908 silent film ("Robin Hood and his Merry Men"), a 1922 Douglas Fairbanks silent swashbuckler ("Robin Hood"), a 1938 Errol Flynn action classic ("The Adventures of Robin Hood"), a 1973 animated film with anthropomorphic animal characters ("Walt Disney's Robin Hood"), a 1991 Kevin Costner version ("Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves") and its 1993 spoof by Mel Brooks ("Robin Hood: Men in Tights"), a 2010 Russell Crowe version ("Robin Hood"), among the more notable examples.

This reboot of the Robin Hood legend had Robin of Loxley as a Lord drafted into military service and sent to fight in the Middle East as a Crusader. When he came back, everyone thought he was dead, his estate had been foreclosed, his love Maid Marian was betrothed to someone else, and the Sheriff of Nottingham lorded over everyone like a monarch. This new Robin, with his foreigner friend John and friar friend Tuck, took his iconic "stealing from the rich, giving to the poor" routine to a whole new revolutionary level.

Taron Egerton played a young, very clean cut and debonair Robin of Loxley, unlike the more mature Robins of movies past. Like Bruce Wayne, he never distanced himself from the aristocracy to keep his enemies close.  Whenever he wanted to do his heroic duty, he would don a hoodie and a mask to conceal his identity and embody a vigilante dubbed "The Hood" by the people. Because of his cool and charming rascally demeanor, Egerton's Robin was like the personification of Disney's animated fox Robin Hood. 

All the other Merry Men were also in the story but portrayed differently from how we knew them in the past. Jamie Foxx was John, an enemy Arab warrior who later became Robin's friend and adviser. Tim Minchin was Friar Tuck, a monk who worked closely with the poor despite being ridiculed by the rich. Jamie Dornan was Will Scarlet, whose original role in the traditional ballads was totally rewritten in this version. Eve Hewson's Maid Marian was proactive and resourceful. She knew what she wanted and fought for it, definitely not a mere damsel in distress. 

Ben Mendelsohn's Sheriff of Nottingham was a cartoonishly lame villain, almost a caricature of witless evil.  His final scene verged on the absurd, with an emphatic announcement so embarrassing I don't know how they could have shot the scene without laughing. This sheriff blamed his cruel ways on abuse he suffered as a child at the hand of clergy. This was in consonance with F. Murray Abraham's slimy portrayal of the Cardinal, who, as the writers' version of Crusades history, represented everything that was wrong about the Catholic Church at that time. 

Director Otto Bathurst derived inspiration from several other movies and managed to squeeze them here, anachronistic as they may be. From all those Desert Storm movies, we get that shoot-out sequence only with bows and arrows instead of machine guns. There was a scene of lavish orgiastic gambling party of the rich and famous that could have been from "The Wolf of Wall Street." There was a frenetic chase scene between a couple of horse-drawn carriages that was reminiscent of the chariot races in "Ben Hur," complete with the collisions and tipping over. 

Despite the likability of Taron Egerton as Robin, this film never felt right from the beginning. It was entertaining at parts, but lagged in parts. It was not completely engaging, and it never really reached a peak. 5/10. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

iWant: Review of MA: Killing for Kin

November 20, 2018

This horror film by Kenneth Dagatan gained a lot of critical acclaim and positive buzz when it was first shown as a one-off special screening at the last CinemaOne Originals 2018 filmfest. I was not able to watch it back then. Good thing, I did not have to wait too long to see it since it is now being shown as one of the initial original feature films offered free and on-demand on the iWant app. 

Siblings Samuel, Lucy and Daniel just lost their sickly widowed mother Lina to an unusual illness. A pregnant school teacher Cecil just lost her husband Vince to a similar mysterious illness. An enchanted bush found inside a cave in the forest had a legendary reputation that it can fulfill any wish. Of course, a bloody price will have to be paid in order for the impossible requests to come to pass. 

Anna Luna is really at home with these indie movies and the unusual situations her characters get themselves into. As the very pregnant Cecil, she was subjected to some pretty harrowing moments both physically and psychologically. Rafael Siguion Reyna played her ill-fated husband Vince. Susan Africa played Cecile's strict mother. Ian Curtis played Cecile's stepfather, with whom she had some unresolved issues. Kate Alejandrino played her loyal friend Gelyn, who had some past experience in the cave.

Glydel Mercado was unrecognizable as the gaunt and infirm Lina. Kyle Espiritu, Alessandra Malonzo and Enzo Osorio played her three young children. I certainly hope these children were subjected to psychological guidance and debriefing during and after the shooting of this movie, given the very scary things they had to see and actually had to do. As Samuel, Espiritu was made to hold knives and act like he was handling bloody internal organs in very graphic scenes. These were disturbing to watch given the age of the actor, and to do these acts in front of two even younger children made them even more so.

This horror film was more about the creepy atmosphere than the outright scares. From beginning to end, a veil of dread would shroud the entire proceedings, gripping the viewer in its spell. The crisp images were of cinematic beauty, taken from unconventional points of view, with a gloomy color palette plus a generous splash of bloody red.  The eerie sound effects and musical score served to augment the sense of death and evil throughout. 

The effusive practically perfect reviews this movie received from its premiere gave me very high expectations. Too high perhaps so that I cannot completely say that I was totally sold. Technical aspects were very well-done for sure, especially the mesmerizing visuals. However, the plot had so many unanswered questions that bothered me. While admittedly motion picture is a visual art, many viewers like me still expect it to tell a solid story.

What were those illnesses that claimed the lives of Lina and Vince? They both manifested with a lot of coughing, retching and vomiting, ultimately with fatal blood loss. Did they both have the same illness? Did they catch their illnesses the same way? Was the entity in the cave somehow responsible for it because of something they did in the past? Was the same entity responsible for Cecil's ghastly nightmares? No explanation at all was given to this aspect of the story which I thought was important. 7/10. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


November 19, 2018

The main story of this sequel concerned a search for a disturbed individual named Credence Barebone, who had once caused massive damage to New York City with his inner Obscurus. Despite his travel restrictions, Newt Scamander had been requested both the Ministry of Magic and no less than Albus Dumbledore himself to go look for Credence. Also hot on the search was notorious dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, who believed that Credence possessed the ability to kill his most powerful nemesis. 

The huge ensemble cast can really be quite a formidable task to familiarize with, especially those who are not exactly Potterheads. Eddie Redmayne was consistently likable as the shy and earnest fantastic beast trainer Newt Salamander. Katherine Waterston played the brave but mousy Tina Goldstein who was now an Auror based in Paris. Alison Sudol and Dan Folger played Tina's flighty sister Queenie and her No-Maj partner Jacob Kowalski, who were in love despite this being forbidden by wizarding laws. 

Zoe Kravitz (as the exotic mysterious Leta Lestrange), Ezra Miller (as the devastatingly powerful Credence Barebone) and Johnny Depp (as the heterocrhomic evil warlock Gellert Grindelwald) were all likewise introduced in the first film. In this sequel, they play much bigger roles, roles even more critical than Newt was to the whole story being built up. In this installment, Newt practically became a side character in his own franchise, for now at least. 

Jude Law was a fantastic choice to be the young Albus Dumbledore . His scenes were the best parts of the film, especially those which brought us back inside the hallowed walls of Hogwarts when Dumbledore was still a Professor of the Dark Arts. It was nostalgic to watch another lesson about the Ridikulus spell or see that Quidditch ptich in the background. It was also delightful to see a young Minerva McGonagall (Fiona Glascott). We all certainly missed the beloved musical score in the cinema and it was great to hear again. 

As the title promised, there were computer-generated visual spectacles of action involving fantastic beasts. The most memorable ones should be Grindelwald's escape from his prison coach drawn by Thestrals (winged skeletal horses) and the freaky transformations of Nagini (Claudia Kim). There were comic sequences featuring adorable baby Nifflers and Newt's pet Bowtruckle (that cute green stick creature). Later, we see a Kelpie (a seaweed water horse-like creature), Matagots (scary black cat-like creatures with huge blue eyes) and a Zouwu (a bright-colored Chinese dragon-like creature). Of course, our favorite Niffler will make itself significant at the end when it pilfers a vital artifact.

I was not able to immediately get into the story for the first hour, especially with the numerous new characters being introduced. (We even met the immortal alchemist Nicolas Framel, the inventor of the Sorcerer's Stone!)  It was only during those revelations in the French Ministry of Magic that the whole story began to come together and make sense for me. That even more surprising revelation in the final scene in Castle Nurmengard in Austria was the clincher that makes the next episode a must-not-miss. 

Don't forget that this is only the second episode of a planned five-part series, so it was very busy. Director David Yates was mainly concerned in setting up more layers in the complex franchise foundation from which the future episodes will arise. 7/10. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

iWant: Review of GLORIOUS: Carnal Catharsis

November 18, 2018

iWant is a streaming application type of content platform exclusively available in the Philippines that is owned and operated by ABS-CBN. It offers TV, Movie, Audio, and Live content for registered viewers that they can stream anytime and anywhere on demand on any gadget. It used to be known as iWanTV when this service was first launched in 2010.

The film chosen for iWant's maiden salvo is one that immediately grabbed social media attention for the first time its provocative trailer was released on November 4, 2018. Views of the trailer alone approached the 20 M mark or probably more by now. The controversial subject matter of this Dreamscape Digital production had obviously sparked the interest across a broad segment of Filipino society.

Glory is a 50-year old former bank manager, who is beginning a pottery business. She has three adult children and an abusive husband (Allan Paule), with whom she is now estranged. One day, when shopping for a lamp, Glory met Niko, a driven, confident and persistent 22-year old salesman in that home decor store. From that day on, the lonely life of Glory was about to take off into whole new level of glorious she had never felt before.

We have seen May-December love affairs where the female was much older than the male portrayed on film before, but usually from Hollywood, in films like "Notes on a Scandal" (2006) and "The Reader" (2008). Among local films, there may not have been a lot. Only "Love Me Tomorrow" (2016) which starred Dawn Zulueta and Piolo Pascual comes to mind. That is why when the trailer of "Glorious" came out showing Angel Aquino engaged in very torrid kissing scenes with Tony Labrusca, the internet went crazy.

Angel Aquino is an ageless goddess. With an extraordinarily attractive face and figure like hers, she could drive any warm-blooded male (or maybe even female) wild with passion. Her character was written to be depressive and submissive to men, which made her seem very weak and vulnerable. I felt she could have delivered more acting-wise in separate confrontations with her daughter (Elora Espano) and Niko's grandmother (Erlinda Villalobos) but the dialogue in these scenes were not developed in Glory's favor. There could have been more challenging ways these conflicts could have gone which Angel could've met head on. 

Tony Labrusca continues his daring streak of unconventional and controversial movies this, his debut year in feature films. He began with "ML" (about Martial Law), and followed it up with "Double Twisting Double Back" (about sex addiction). As Niko, he had to be convincing with his charismatic gift of gab and prodigious bedroom skills to complete the irresistible Adonis that swept Glory off her feet. While Labrusca had the physical requirements of the role down pat, he still felt rather wet behind the ears in his dramatic scenes with Angel. However, his promise as an actor and leading man is definitely on track.

Writer-director Connie Macatuno gave the film a feministic feel, to empower abused and neglected women to up and find their own happiness. The story by itself was a simple MMK-type personal drama, but ostensibly the steamy sex scenes were the biggest selling point of this film, comprising a significant percentage of its 1 hr 47 minute running time. These scenes were executed with slick camera work and editing for erotic effect, albeit sanitized for mainstream viewing. The ending though will surely provoke as much discussion as the trailers did. 6/10. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Review of KUNG PAANO SIYA NAWALA: Forgetting a Face

November 16, 2018

There was an interesting medical condition that underlay this film, a condition I never knew existed before -- face blindness. This was defined as a brain disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces, unrelated to vision, memory or learning dysfunctions. The proper medical term of this condition is "prosopagnosia." I am not sure if they had an actual patient on which to base an accurate portrayal of the symptomatology on, but I trust their research had solid basis as this film certainly made sure we felt the confusion the protagonist felt. 

One day, while call center agent Lio was taking a breather outside a bar, an attractive girl Shana casually sat beside him and asked if he wanted to make out with her, and they did. However, the next time Lio met Shana in the coffee shop where she worked and then again on the street, he always failed to recognize her, much to Shana's annoyance. Lio confessed he had face blindness, which made him unable to recognize new faces. 

JM de Guzman consistently gives his characters a depth that few others in his generation could. As Lio, he was an introvert and a cynic, characteristics his condition gave him since he developed it as a child. He lived with his flighty mother Elly (Agot Isidro) and younger sister Lexy (Barbara Ruaro), and lately, his long-estranged father (Teroy Guzman) is trying reach out to him to reconnect. As with his previous roles, de Guzman had mastered how to play these stoic, secretive guys who said little and struggled to keep their emotions in. 

I knew Rhian Ramos but I have not really seen her in a lead role until this one. She was in "Saving Sally," but I only heard her voice there, and in "Trigonal," her role was very short. Her Shana was a quirky joker, a girl living the consequences of a shady checkered past. She was a complex, contradictory character, a challenging handful even for regular boyfriend. Ramos embraced all these flaws and imbued her Shana with an irresistible charm and natural warmth to make up for them.

The title alone already hinted at how the love story of Lio and Shana would most likely go. However, director Joel Ruiz presented his story with Ike Javellana's beautiful images which somehow softened and even uplifted the downbeat mood. He took full advantage of his stars' effortlessly photogenic chemistry to create some memorable moments. Apologies had rarely been so deeply expressed than with that giant teddy bear scene. Forgetting had rarely been so eloquently represented than with that climactic montage. The nebulous ending will make you gasp and sigh. 8/10. 

* My only issue with this is the MTRCB rating of PG for a film that had scenes of very casual premarital sex among strangers and co-workers.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review of THROUGH NIGHT AND DAY: Imbroglio in Iceland

November 15, 2018

Ben and Jen had been sweethearts since they were in fourth grade in their common hometown of Baguio City. They were sure they wanted to marry each other. After he proposed marriage and she accepted, Ben took Jen on a pre-nuptial trip to the ultimate travel destination of her bucket list -- Iceland. The two rented a camping van and drove around to all Jen's dream tourist spots all around the country. Facets of each other's personality they had never seen before are revealed as they get on each other's nerves during two-week long road trip. 

Alessandra de Rossi is already well-known in coming up with excellent performances in quirky romances such as this one. Even more than "Kita Kita" and "12" before this, the Alessandra we see in this film was so carefree and natural as the sentimental and fickle Jen, it was as if this was her own personal story. This is why when the twist came, the audience too never saw it coming.

Paolo Contis' performance here as as Jen's loyal and loving boyfriend Ben was a showcase of his range as an actor now. Ben was the character that faced the testy situations and made vital decisions during their fateful trip to Iceland, while it seemed that Jen was just being herself. The audience was seeing the story develop through Ben's eyes, and Contis pulled off this responsibility very well with his spot-on emotional responses.

Traveling companions, even if they are husband and wife, face the tendency to bicker during long trips because of differences in interests to pursue, choices of places to visit, tastes in food, stamina for walking, among many other conflicts, big or small. They need to learn how to compromise in order to maintain harmony in their trip and in their relationship. De Rossi and Contis' chemistry worked wonders in this part of the film. 

However, this story was more than just about their traveling woes as Ben and Jen whisk us along to magnificent Icelandic landscape and the northern lights. There was still an Act 3 which will make us reflect on and even question our own ideas and impressions of what happened during their trip. Again, de Rossi and Contis both rose to the acting challenge posed by their respective characters and the issues they faced three years after Iceland. 

Director Veronica B. Velasco lovingly and engagingly told the love story of Ben and Jen. The audience cared about these two and was positively reacting to their dialogue, written by Noreen Capili. The pace slowed down in Act 3, which included a scene where the theme song "I Will Be Here" (by American Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman) was sung in full, so the prolonged ending may make some viewers impatient. However by that time, we are all so invested in the two of them, no one rose to leave until the final fade out. 8/10. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


November 13, 2018


Phil Lodge was a widower and single father of two young girls, a rebellious 14-year old Violet and a sweet 7-year old Rose. He was accepted to be a supervisor of an apartment building in New York City. He would soon discover that various tenants of the building were disappearing from the building in mysterious circumstances. When his daughter Rose seemed to be being stalked by a suspicious-looking man, Walter, Phil needed to get to the bottom of things.

Val Kilmer was the only well-known actor in the cast and he was practically unrecognizable playing the eccentric guy Walter, who alarmed Phil and the girls. This was another one of those roles given to senior stars whose career prime had past but he still had a name, and Kilmer played him bizarrely over-the-top. Patrick John Flueger played the confused and disoriented father Phil. The cute child actress Mattea Conforti played the role of Rose very well, catching attention whenever she was on screen.

This Stephan Rick film started off with a gory double murder by a mysterious unseen entity. The subsequent kills were not able to match the brutality of the first one anymore. I am no fan of gore anyhow. However, I thought the script by John J. McLaughlin was clever and carefully plotted. It unraveled with a totally unexpected revelation that caught me off-guard and had me fascinated. 6/10. 



Stillman was a genius nerd in physics who was head over heels in love with his beautiful girlfriend Debbie. However, one day, Debbie decided to dump him, which stressed Stillman up no end. Stillman wanted to get Debbie back so much that he invented a time machine to go back in time to fix all their problems, with his best friend Evan coming along for the ride. 

The time travel theme had already been overdone in various romance films to get the girl. As a change, writer-director Andrew Bowler extended the use of the time machine to keep the relationship smooth and perfect, which of course, also had its consequences. He actually extended his own 2011 short film, which had been nominated for the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. 

I thought the casting was off. Asa Butterfield and Sophie Turner as Stillman and Debbie did not have any chemistry together at all. Furthermore the personality of Stillman was such an obsessive, selfish and controlling perfectionist, he was irritating to watch. Skyler Gisondo fared better as Evan, who was quite likable despite supposedly being cast as Stillman's annoying sidekick and partner-in-crime. 4/10. 



It was World War II on the night before D-Day. A team of American paratroopers were being sent into France to destroy an old church where the Nazis put up radio jamming tower before 0600H in order the clear the way for vital Allied communications in the big military operations to come. Their plane was shot down, so that left Corporal Ford and Privates Boyce, Tibbett and Chase to complete the dangerous mission. Receiving assistance from a village lass Chloe, the soldiers discovered that diabolical Nazi science experiments were also being conducted inside the target church.

I did not know any of the actors but they all did very well in their roles. Jovan Adepo was Pvt. Ed Boyce, a naive soldier who experienced a rude awakening in battle which brought out the hero in him. Wyatt Russell was Cpl. Ford who maintained valiant focus on their mission. John Magaro was the noisy, chatty, annoying sniper Pvt. Tibbet. Mathilde Ollivier was Chloe, bold and brave beneath her beauty. Child actor Gianny Taufer was delightful as Chloe’s younger brother Paul. Pilou Asbæk was the sinister Cpt. Wafner, the Nazi officer who cherished the monster within him.

This Julius Avery film (produced by J.J. Abrams) mixed several genres into one crazy but engrossing mix. It was foremost a war movie, with all the violent action and ethical drama that entailed. That opening act with the attack on their plane was executed with such immersive graphics, it would set the exciting pace for the rest of the film. Later on, it would evolve into a gory horror sci-fi zombie thriller that did not let up until the bloody, fiery Grand Guignol finale. 8/10. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Review of ML: Research in Ruthlessness

November 11, 2018

"ML" was one of the most controversial and talked-about films from the Cinemalaya 2018 filmfest held last August. It won a couple of awards back then, one for editing and another for Best Actor for veteran actor Eddie Garcia. I was disappointed not to have been able to watch it back then, so I was thankful that it had its commercial release this week, just three months after Cinemalaya. 

Carlo was given a research assignment by his professor to interview a first-hand source about Pres. Ferdinand Marcos's infamous martial law rule. He decided to visit the Colonel, an elderly retired ex-Metrocom officer in their village to get his thoughts about the subject matter. However, Carlo would never have even imagine the gory nightmare was going to happen to him right after he asked the Colonel his very first question about martial law.

Because this film had a lot of media exposure, I already expected that this film would be about the violent torture that reportedly happened during the martial law years. Even with that knowledge, it did not prepare me for the intense level of vicarious pain those torture scenes will inflict on me as a viewer. This harrowing and shocking film, with its eerie musical score (Pearlsha Abubakar-Quebral) and skillful editing (Mikael Pestano), was tough to watch without flinching. 

A major part of the effectivity of this film's horror is the performance of Eddie Garcia as the Colonel. He did not even need to talk to be scary. Even his glowering stare alone already conveyed that demented sense of cruelty to make our hearts palpitate out of fear. When he did speak, his calm voice ironically dripped with sinister intentions. Repulsive and fearsome as his role was, Garcia completely dominated this film with his screen magnetism, which had not diminished even at his present age of 89. 

Tony Labrusca played Carlo. Tall and athletic, he registered well on the big screen. He spent a good part of the film unable to talk, and therefore had to only rely on his eyes and body language to convey his pain at the terrible things happening to him, and the terror of watching his friends suffering because of their association with him. However, he has a rather distracting American accent he still needs to work on. 

Labrusca is the current it-boy in local showbiz this year. 2018 was his big breakout year, with three lead roles. "ML" was his first full feature film role and it was immediately a lead -- and a serious one at that, not a run-of-the-mill teenage rom-com. He would follow "ML" up with another dark mind-bending film "Double Twisting Double Back" (MY REVIEW) for the Cinema1 Originals filmfest, and now, he is promoting a third one "Glorious," an unconventional love story co-starring Angel Aquino. 

Heinz Villaraiz was the carefree party boy Jaze. His initial conversation with the Colonel about Valkyrie may have been rather funny, but what happened to him next certainly was not. Liane Valentino was Carlo's girlfriend Pat. Her sweet and innocent face made her fate at Colonel's hands even more traumatic to watch. We may have heard about these various torture techniques before, but to actually see them being performed on these unsuspecting young people on the big screen magnified their savagery twice-fold or more. 

Writer-director Benedict Mique was able to think up and execute a film that gave a novel approach to show the horrors of Martial Law. There was no need for preachy politics here to promote #NeverForget, just in-your-face brutality to get his point across. He was aiming for clueless young people who have been currently bombarded with various forms of historical revisionism on social media about these dark years and  who may now actually believe that these horrors never existed at all.  8/10. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Review of CLASS OF 2018: Teenage Thrills

November 8, 2018

In the graduating class of 2018 of Del Pilar National High School, there was one section where the school dumped all those students who were not likely to succeed in the future. There were those with anti-social behavior, bullies, troublemakers, geeks and the like. Even among themselves, they were at odds with each other, especially a secret blog exposing the dirty truth about each classmate was hacked and leaked 

One day, their science teacher brought them to Mt. Bantayog to study its uniquely changing endemic plant life. However, when one of the students sustained a wound and washed off in a nearby river, he later transformed into a violent killing monster. Later when the students were all gathered and trapped in a warehouse, other students also began transforming into undead killers, placing the class in mortal danger where only the lucky could survive.

This was a typical zombie flick where the big cast of characters at the beginning of the film gets picked off and killed one by one, in the most bizarrely violent means, until only a few stronger or luckier ones remain at the end. Only, for this one, some of the characters were not only killed off by the zombies or soldiers, but also by their own classmates. This was a strange twist to have the students be so seriously at odds or paranoid at each other to create a sort-of "Hunger Games" scenario.

To its credit, this had an interesting and ambitious science fiction theme -- a scientific experiment first launched in the 1980s that got rebooted six years ago. However, it also shared the same problem with previous local attempts at sci-fi  -- the production design. The whole set-up of the supposedly well-funded experiment being conducted was rather too crude-looking to be believable as scientific. The transmission mode of the zombie virus was also too random to be truly scientifically-controlled.

There were more than 20 members of Section Z, so each of the young actors had to try their best to make their roles stand-out. 

Of course the more well-known actors had more pronounced roles. Sharlene San Pedro was Ada, the angry ostracized daddy's girl. Nash Aguas was RJ, the tame apologetic jock. The ever-scene-stealing Kiray Celis was Venus, the mean girl queen-bee, as always. Kristel Fulgar was the noisy, perennial late-comer Princess. Ethan Salvador was a alpha-male brute. Michelle Vito was the clueless beauty who said "irregardless" regardless of the situation. 

Eisen Lim and Kaiser Boado playfully rapped as rhyming comic duo B1 and B2. Jude Sevilla was the slimy pervert Wacky, while John Vic de Guzman played his all-brawn, no-brain pal Jamir. Shaira Dizon's Misha was a selfie-addict up to her gory end. Aga Arceo was shy "torpe" guy Ericson. Lara Fortuna displayed remarkable action-princess form as the silent loner Jonalyn.

For the faculty, Luis Alandy played their earnest teacher Sir Patrick, while Lotlot də Leon (whom i didn't immediately recognize) played his strict superior Ms. Carolyn. Alex Medina played bus driver Junix. For the ruthless experimenters, Dido Dela Paz played the old General and Sherry Lara played the deceptively soft-spoken Hera. Yayo Aguila played Ada's mother Selina, negligent in more ways than one. 

Writer-director Charliebebs Gohetia tried to create his own unique type of zombie, unlike the typical film zombies we've seen before. These new zombies would be exhibiting exaggerated displays of the individual quirks and hobbies of the students.  So in this case, there would be a zombie drummer (Noubikko Ray), zombie rockers (Mark Oblea and Nikki Gonzales), zombie Anime cosplay ears (Jerom Canlas and Yvette Sanchez), a zombie video gamer (Justin de Guzman), etc.

The premise was innovative and ambitious, but the execution could not keep up and was thus inconsistent. There were so many characters to kill off so that the whole story became over-extended, repetitive and even corny for certain kills. Anyhow, funny more than terrifying, it was still entertaining, especially for its target teenage / millennial demographic. 6/10. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Review of MY HERO ACADEMIA: TWO HEROES: The Quick and the Quirky

November 2, 2018

I had no idea what this anime was all about when my son was clamoring for us to go watch it. The anime art work of the characters I saw on the poster did not exactly appeal to me. Anyhow, my son's choice prevailed because it was the only one that could fit our schedule, so I kept my fingers crossed that I somehow get to understand and like this one as well.

All-Might is the most powerful superhero in the world. He was invited by his old friend Dr. David Shield to visit I-island, a place where scientists like David study Quirks (a term used to call powers possessed by people). He brought along his young apprentice Izuku Midoriya (hero name: Deku), with whom he had shared his Quirk called One for All. This generous gift has somehow caused All-Might to feel weak and sluggish.

While there, while All-Might was being examined by David, Deku gets shown around by David's daughter and budding scientist Melissa. They meet a number of their hero classmates who were also visiting or working on the island. Meanwhile, a super-villain Wolfram and his minions take over the island's security system to hold all the professional heroes hostage. It was up to the young heroes-in-training to save the day. 

It took time for me to catch on to the story and the myriad of characters, frequently needing to ask clarificatory questions from my son, who was a fan of the anime series. Fans all around us were enjoying the moments when a new character would show up on screen and display the Quirk and personality they were known for. There were some characters who seemed to be more popular with the girls than others.

Once I got the drift of the plot, this was quite an exciting superhero film to watch. The superpowers of the young heroes were quite interesting, and had limitations. Ash-blond Katsuki Bakugo had his sweat of nitroglycerin. White and crimson-haired Shoto Todoroki had half-fire, half-ice powers in his hands. Bespectacled Tenya Iida had jet-engine legs, Sweet Ochako Uraraka can make things float. Momo Yaoyorozu can create weapons from her body. Red-haired Eijiro Kirishima can harden his body for invincibility. Funny little Minoru Mineta had his adhesive balls.

It may not be advisable to watch this film without any knowledge about the manga or anime series, or at least have someone with you who can answer your questions. More particularly, the story of Deku (formerly one of the only 20% of humanity without a Quirk), and the power he received from All-Might is the prerequisite backstory needed to fully appreciate the story. For an old-timer like me: 7/10.. For fanboys like my son: 10/10 . 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Review of SUSPIRIA (2018): Grotesque Grace

November 2, 2018

Following "Death Wish," "Papillon" and "A Star is Born," yet another film from the 1970s gets remade this year. This time, it is Italian director Dario Argento's 1977 horror film "Suspiria," starring Jessica Harper and Joan Bennett among a predominantly European cast. This was Argento's biggest box office hit in the USA and the best reviewed film of his career. I had seen the original "Suspiria" and was actually surprised with its popularity. While I can see why it became a cult classic, critical acclaim I did not exactly expect. 

American ballet Suzy Bannion went to Freiburg, Germany to train under the Tanz Dance Academy. Ever since her arrival, Suzy began to observe strange goings-on in the school, starting from the elegant headmistress Madame Blanc and the brusque instructor Ms. Tanner to her fellow students, Patricia (who ran away from school the day Suzy arrived) and Sara (who seemed to be a paranoid wreck about everything). 

To be honest, the acting and the story were not exactly remarkable. However, this film was memorable because of two things. First is its very glossy, brightly-colored visuals care of cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and opulent production design care of Giuseppe Bassan. Second is its eerily syncopated rock musical score care of Italian band Goblin. I remember maybe two of its most disturbing scenes, both involving things falling out of a ceiling -- one was the dead body of a girl, the next was a major maggot infestation. 

This so-called remake this year by director Luca Guadagnino was actually not a remake. It had the same initial premise of an American girl Susie Bannion wanting to train in contemporary dance under her idol Madame Blanc in the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin. However, Guadagnino's more ambitious script and more grandiloquent direction took the story to a totally different place, way way beyond Argento's much simpler tale. 

This new update involved the character of psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer and his interest in the secrets of the matrons in the dance academy when his patient Patricia disappeared. Much later, he would also be obsessed in finding out what happened to his wife Anke Meier, a subplot of a subplot that seemed to be totally off the topic of the dance academy, and yet still it was given so much screen time. 

Guadagnino's storytelling swelled up Argento's mere 98-minute compact running time to an unexpectedly protracted 158 minutes -- with six acts and an epilogue. For me, I felt every minute of that full hour of extra time. It came to a point when the proceedings were already felt interminable. Those recurrent television reports about a hijacking of a plane by terrorists felt pointless. In contrast with Argento's loud and vivid vision, Guadagnino opted for a more subdued score (by Thom Yorke) and color palette (by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom). 

Three major scenes stood out in this new version, and they all involved dancing. Oddly, there was hardly any dancing at all in the first movie, but it was front-and-center in this new one. The first one is the best, and probably the scene for which this film will be remembered for-- the scene where Susie's strong emphatic dance moves was inadvertently killing another girl trapped in a locked room of mirrors. The pretzel-like aftermath was a hauntingly grotesque image hard to unsee.

The second dance number was the actual public performance of Blanc's dance masterpiece "Volk" in front of a paying audience. The red ribbons - white panties ensemble was not exactly sexy, however the execution of the powerful dance moves and the way it was caught on camera was electric. The climactic final dance number involved naked dancers wildly writhing and whipping their hair around in a disconcerting ceremonial ritual. Together with the editing and the music, these dances left an unsettling impression on the audience.

Dakota Johnson stepped out of her nubile "50 Shades" character into another one here. Compared to Harper's weak submissive Suzy, Johnson's Susie was more aggressive and fearless, driven by a strong desire to dominate. Information about Susie being brought up by a strict conservative Mennonite mother may have added dimension to her personality development, but these details also added to the confusing excess of the film.

Tilda Swinton can fill up a screen by just standing there. Tall and masterful, her Madame Blanc was an intimidating force to reckon with. Reading up about the film after watching, I was surprised to learn that Swinton also played two more important characters in the film, albeit totally unrecognizable under layers of prosthetics. I guess Guadagnino did not want any male actor in the main cast at all to make a point. Otherwise, I thought it was a self-indulgent casting decision.

Chloe Grace Moretz played Patricia Hingle. We see her unhinged in Dr. Klemperer's room in the first act, but too bad that was also that last time we see her face. Mia Goth played Sara, who was more proactive here than in the original, as she dared to investigate rather than just be paranoid. Angela Winkler, Renee Soutendijk and Alek Wek played sinister dance matrons. A nice tribute to the first film was the cameo of the original Suzy, Jessica Harper, in a touching reunion scene in Act 6.

Guadagnino's "Suspiria" is a polarizing pretentious work of art. It is both beautiful and ugly. It is both profound and meaningless. There was so much room to improve on Argento's original, but Guadagnino aimed for too high and overshot way beyond where it was supposed to land. He did not seem to know how to wrap his magnum monster all up at the end, and gave us a head-scratcher of an epilogue to dash all our interpretations prior to it. This is strictly for the art house crowd, but I suspect even the most high brow of them will not know what to make of this messy melange. 

Dario Argento's "Suspiria" 6/10. Luca Guadagnino's "Suspiria": 5/10. 

Review of RAMPANT: Undead Uprising

November 2, 2018

Very prominently placed in the poster is that this new Korean film out in cinemas now came from the makers of "Train to Busan" (2016, MY REVIEW). As unclear a reference as that was, I admit I probably would not have gone out of my way to watch this film if it were not for that association. The combination of Korean imperial history and zombies was too interesting and irresistible to ignore. 

Trouble was brewing in the Joseon court as King Lee Jo was being manipulated by his Minister of War, Kim Ja-joon, which led to the death of Crown Prince Lee Young. However, the spoiled, womanizing younger prince Lee Chung came back to court from his self-exile in Qing to fulfill the wishes of his departed brother. However, on his return, the countryside was terrorized with "night demons," zombies hungry for meat and blood, who continue to multiply in number with no end in sight.

Director Kim Sung-hoon cast Hyun Bin, the same young action star from his previous hit film "Confidential Assignment" (2017, MY REVIEW), as the reluctant hero Prince Lee Chung. This actor had a certain rascally bad-boy charm about him, just right for his hot-headed, arrogant character. Outstandingly resplendent in his white ceremonial robes, he cut a dashing swashbuckling figure in those breathtaking sword fights that he had against the zombies and other enemies. 

Jang Dong-gun played the sinister minister Kim Ja-joon in a slow burn manner, starting out as a nondescript bureaucrat later escalating into a full-blown monster. Kim Eui-sung (also in "Train to Busan") played the befuddled and deluded King Lee Jo. Jo Woo-jin played the most noble character of the film, Park Eul-ryoung, who displayed unwavering loyalty even in the face of death. The beautiful Lee Sun-bin also struck a heroic figure as the skilled archer and Park's sister, Deok-hee. Jeong Man-sik served as comic relief in his role of Lee Chung's effeminate valet Hak-soo

The telling of the political intrigue took a bit too slow to develop. It can sometimes be confusing at the start because of the unfamiliar names and faces. The zombies had an unclear and random origin, and shared the quality of being afraid of sunlight, once only a quality of vampires. The plot was all cleared up by the time the zombie horde overran the palace during an extravagant cultural show. From that part onwards, I was simply riveting all the way until that emotional patriotic ending (as any good Korean film).

As expected the whole film was a visual spectacle, with special effects by Yoo Daewon working so well with the cinematography of Lee Sung-je, the ornate production design of Chae Kyoung-sun and contrasting colorful costumes by Cho Sang-kyung. Kim Taekang’s action choreography really kept the momentum going with Kim Sang-bum's editing and Park Inyoung's musical score. 8/10. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Review of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY: Mercurial Malek

November 1, 2018

I discovered rock band Queen in 1980, when their songs "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust" became big radio hits. Since then, I became a fan of their music both before and after that point. Their front man Freddie Mercury is well-known for his flamboyant stage performances, and for his premature demise to complications from AIDS at a young age of 45 in 1991. However, beyond that I knew very little about the real story of Queen and Freddie Mercury beyond what I saw on MTV. 

Filming this film was started by Bryan Singer and completed by Dexter Fletcher (after Singer was fired from the project with one month to go). Intense anticipation for the film was heightened by the release of its exciting trailers. However, before the film was publicly released, the initial reviews that came out had been harsh. Anyhow despite all that, I still wanted to watch this biopic, with expectations significantly tempered of course.

In 1970, lead guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, formerly of the band Smile, accepted Farrokh Bulsara as their new vocalist and John Deacon as new bassist to form the band Queen. Farrokh eventually changed his name to Freddie Mercury. The band was then signed by EMI Records and toured the US and later the world. 

Meanwhile, trouble brewed behind the scenes for Freddie as he faced various issues about his girlfriend Mary Austin, his career managers, his creative freedom, and his relationship with the band. Freddie's series of bad decisions, both personal and professional, as well as his overlapping vices eventually take their toll on him and on the band. 

The impersonation of Freddie Mercury by actor Rami Malek already caught our attention when the trailers first came out. Seeing his full performance confirmed that Malek should really figure prominently for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role come awards season. OK, Malek's overdone prosthetic denture to simulate the real Freddie's overbite could be a bit distracting, but that aside, his portrayal of the iconic singer is meticulously spot on from the bombastic to the vulnerable.

Malek probably did not do his own vocals for the singing scenes, but he certainly acted realistically as if he was singing those songs himself. In the final 20 minutes devoted to Queen's bravura set in the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley Arena, Malek's performance was almost a perfect copy of Mercury's -- every arm gesture, hip gyration, prideful strut and vocal adlib. More importantly, the passionate emotional impact of what was considered as the greatest live concert performance of all time was also captured and delivered intact.

The actors who played the other three members of Queen all did well in their roles. Gwilym Lee looked and acted like Brian May did, as with Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon. They looked as if they were masters of their respective musical instruments, and had chemistry as close friends in scenes depicting their creative process.

Lucy Boynton played a gentle and loyal Mary Austin, a love affair I never knew about. We seethed at the Allen Leech's treacherous portrayal of manager Paul Prenter, and laughed at Mike Myers' humorous roasting of EMI executive Ray Forster. Aiden Gillen and Tom Hollander played two other managers. 

Meneka Das and Ace Bhatti played Freddie's conservative Parsi parents. Aaron McCusker played Jim Hutton, Freddie's last boyfriend. (The directorial decision to have Freddie find Jim and introduce him to his parents right on the day of Live Aid concert before going to Wembley felt contrived.) 

I actually do not see anything wrong about this biopic at all that those first movie critics were complaining about. Granting creative license for better dramatic progression, I thought this was a very well-told biography about Freddie Mercury and Queen. Despite the formidable running time of 134 minutes (2 hours and 14 minutes), our attention was grabbed from the get-go and never let go up to the very end. 

Technical aspects of cinematography, editing, production design, costumes, and of course the musical score were all top notch. The song choices in the soundtrack were all extraordinary, especially "Love of My Life," "We Will Rock You," "Radio Gaga", "We Are the Champions" and of course, the title song. 

The sensitive angle about Freddie's sexuality and disease was expected and I thought it was handled with care, and was not exploited for its lurid details. To have his AIDS diagnosed before Live Aid, at least two years prior to when it actually was, was done for dramatic purposes (it is not a documentary, after all). Anyhow, the treatment of the material was respectful and non-controversial. While this approach may prove too safe or too simplistic for some critics, it made the film more easily accessible and entertaining for mainstream viewers. 

I watched this with my two teenage sons. I was worried that they might find it boring since they were unfamiliar with most of the songs. However, they both liked the film a lot and were excitedly looking up videos of Queen songs and concerts on the way home. I believe this film will actually gain Queen and Mercury more fans from the next generation. The critics slayed "Bohemian Rhapsody" the song when it first came out, but it went on to become a classic. I believe that same fate awaits "Bohemian Rhapsody" the movie as well. 9/10.