Monday, December 31, 2018

My Yearend Roundup: The BEST 25 FILIPINO FILMS of 2018 That I Have Seen

December 31, 2018

For the year 2018, I was able to watch 70 Filipino films (up from 54 in 2017).  Aside from mainstream commercial films and indie films from festivals throughout the year, there were now also Filipino films released in digital format online.   

I was able to catch 4/5 entries of the Sinag Manila Filmfest in March, 2/8 in the Cine Filipino in May;  5/10 in the Cinemalaya in early August; 8/8 in the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino in late August; 5/6 of the ToFarm in September; 6/9 in the CinemaOne Originals in early October;  3/5 in the QCinema in late October; and 3/8 entries in the MMFF in December. 

Because of limited schedules, I still missed a number of films that had good reviews or won awards such as "Eternity Between Seconds," "Distance," "Pan de Salawal," "Never Tear Us Apart" and "Hintayan sa Langit." 

Honorable Mentions:

25. Mamang (My Full Review) by Denise O'Hara
24. Rainbow Sunset (My Full Review) by Joel Lamangan
23. Never Not Love You (My Full Review) by Antoinette Jadaone
22. Aurora (My Full Review) by Yam Laranas
21. We Will Not Die Tonight (My Full Review) by Richard Somes

20. Trigonal (My Full Review) by Vincent Soberano
19. Bakwit Boys (My Full Review) by Jason Paul Laxamana 
18. Through Night and Day (My Full Review) by Veronica Velasco
17. ML (My Full Review) by Benedict Mique, Jr.
16. Meet Me in St. Gallen (My Full Review) by Irene Villamor

15. Para sa Broken Hearted (My Full Review) by Digo Ricio
14. Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus (My Full Review) by Dwein Baltazar
13. Exes Baggage (My Full Review) by Dan Villegas
12. Kung Paano Hinihintay ang Dapithapon (My Full Review) by Carlo Enciso Catu
11. Oda sa Wala (My Full Review) by Dwein Baltazar

Here are the 10 best Filipino films among those that I was able to see and write about this year:

10. KUNG PAANO SIYA NAWALA (My Full Review) by Joel Ruiz

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. 

9. LIWAY (My Full Review) by Kip Oebanda

The setting was in the mid-1980s in Camp Delgado, a prison for criminals and political prisoners alike during the Martial Law. Day and Ric were raising their 10-year old son Dakip and infant daughter Malaya while behind bars for rebellion charges. In her attempt to normalize Dakip's childhood (since he had lived his whole life in the Camp), Day told him fantastic stories about the powerful enchantress Liway of Mt. Kanlaon. Little did Dakip know that she was actually telling him her own life story.

8. PAGLISAN (My Full Review) by Carl Papa

Cris and Oreng are a middle-aged couple. Cris was stricken with early onset Alzheimer's disease which rendered him unable to function as he would normally. His fragile condition turned their home life upside down with his forgetfulness and unreliability, which led to him to withdraw from public interactions. One day, Cris was invited to perform in the anniversary of their theater group. Will he accept? 

7. MISS GRANNY (My Full Review) by Joyce E. Bernal

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.

6. CITIZEN JAKE (My Full Review) by Mike de Leon

Jake was a hard-hitting political blogger from Baguio who constantly lived under the shadow of his father Sen. Jacobo Herrera, a notoriously corrupt veteran politician and crony. Jake was investigating the rape and murder of a student in an apparent love nest. This led to an intricate whodunit, which involved virginal escorts, suave pimps, rotten cops, elegant socialites, lusty DOM judges, among a web of other shady personalities. 

5. SID & AYA (NOT A LOVE STORY) (My Full Review) by Irene Villamor

Sid is a hotshot and ruthless stock broker, who did not really care whose toes he stepped on to get ahead in his game, but this left him empty and sleepless. Aya is a broke young woman who had to juggle three jobs -- a part-time clerk at a laundry, a performer in an amusement park and a waitress in the 24-hour cafe. One day they meet and connect, at first purely on a business level. But will their relationship develop further more?

4. TANABATA'S WIFE (My Full Review) by Choy Pangilinan, Lito Casaje and Charlson Ong

Tanabata was a lonely Japanese farmer who immigrated from Okinawa to run his own farm in Trinidad Valley in the Mountain Province back in the 1920s. One day, he hired a young and pretty Bontoc tribeswoman Fas-ang to help him in his house and farm (cabbage and strawberries) for P4.00 and unlimited rice. Eventually, Tanabata and Fas-ang fell in love and lived together as husband and wife. Even if they soon have an infant son Kato, differences in their culture eventually crept its way into their relationship and threatened it.

3. BUYBUST (My Full Review) by Erik Matti

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

2. GOYO: ANG BATANG HENERAL (My Full Review) by Jerrold Tarog

The "boy general" Gregorio del Pilar was fiercely loyal to Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo. Together with his trusted men, Goyo sought to eliminate Aguinaldo's enemies (like the Bernal brothers), making him known as a gallant hero. His good looks also earned him a reputation as a ladies' man whereever he went. However, when the Americans suddenly launched simultaneous attacks in several towns in Central Luzon. Goyo had to plan and execute a mighty defensive stand on the mountain pass on Mt. Tirad. 

And my Number 1 Filipino movie for 2018 is ...

1. SIGNAL ROCK (My Full Review) by Chito Rono

Intoy Abakan regularly climbed the rocks so he can use his trusty Nokia 6110 to keep in touch with his sister Vicky, who now lived in Finland. One day, Intoy received an alarming call from Vicky that she was now battling for custody of their daughter Sarah and needed his help to get documents to help her prove that she can support her child on her own.

Christian Bables gave a brave and dedicated performance which led the outstanding ensemble in fleshing out the relationships of the people in this village. Among all the supporting actors, the most memorable were Nanding Josef and Daria Ramirez as Intoy's parents. Their unusual relationship and living conditions lent itself as diverting and interesting comic relief. Their scenes in the pump boat during the harrowing storm and that one where they appealed on behalf of their daughter were simply so moving and poignant. 

MMFF 2018: Review of RAINBOW'S SUNSET: Between Bosom Buddies

December 30, 2018

Former senator Ramon Estrella is now 84 years old. One day, he surprised his family that he was temporarily leaving their home in order to care for his closest friend, Alfredo Veneracion, who was about to die from cancer. While his dear wife Sylvia condoned her husband's move, his three feisty adult children (government employee Emman, town mayor Georgina and NGO worker Marife) resisted it as they fear it would trigger scandalous rumors of homosexuality and ruin their family's good name.

The senior cast was powerhouse and is no doubt the main draw of this family drama. In this age of teen romance movies, how often could you get a project featuring two of the most durable stars of Philippine show business, Eddie Garcia and Gloria Romero, plus theater legend Tony Mabesa, all in their 80s, in the lead roles? Everybody was expecting them to sweep the acting trophies during the awards night. 

However, that was not to be. This year was a banner year for Eddie Garcia. AT the ripe old age of 89, he had three projects where he was the lead actor, and in all three he was nominated for Best Actor. He had already won for "ML" in the Cinemalaya and "Hintayan sa Langit" in QCinema. Garcia missed the triple crown when the Best Actor award went to Dennis Trillo instead for this MMFF. (He did get a Jury Prize as a consolation prize.)

I sort of understand why that could have happened. The way the script was written, his character Ramon did not exactly get a lot of major dramatic moments for Garcia to flex his acting muscles. Ramon's decision to movie in with Fredo was the event that triggered the melodramatic series of events in his family. But as for Ramon himself, he was chill and unperturbed about it, calmly taking care of his best friend and other life partner. In his usual laidback relaxed style, Garcia made the most of his scenes, but unfortunately, the board of judges were looking for something else (more tears perhaps, as Trillo had?) 

On the other hand, Ms. Gloria Romero was an effortlessly luminous leading actress even at age 85. I cannot believe that "Tanging Yaman" was 18 years ago, when Ms. Romero played the matriarch of a family in crisis and won Best Actress awards for it. It was not that her role as Sylvia was realy better written, but Romero had such a powerful screen presence that a mere sad look or crack in her voice could already make tears well in my eyes. While they were competent in their respective films, Anne Curtis and Kim Chiu still have miles to go to even hope to reach Romero's level of acting for the big screen. 

After watching the film I thought the third member of their troika, UP Theater Arts Professor Emeritus Tony Mabesa, 83, should have been co-nominated for Best Actor, instead of Supporting (which he won). Garcia's best scenes were those he had with Mabesa. My favorite was that when Ramon and Fredo were sitting in the front yard, laughing without a care in the world. Romero's best scenes were those she had with Mabesa. EVERY scene Sylvia and Fredo shared together was a tearjerker, and that is not an exaggeration.

There was a lot of time invested on the annoyingly commonplace, noisy bickering among the Estrella siblings, which for me detracted from the charm of the film. Tirso Cruz III was over-the-top as the eldest sibling Emman who had to deal with a viral video scandal. An issue about an under-the-table deal he had as an assessor was left hanging. Aiko Melendez was in her typical haughty rich matron mode again as the mayor -- shades of Emilia Ardiente all over again. Sunshine Cruz role tended to be too preachy, no wonder her siblings hated her for it. There was that side issue about a boyfriend 20 years her junior, which was not really necessary. Theirs were simply not the story I came to see, sorry. 

I really would have liked it better if the writer Eric Ramos and director Joel Lamangan would have just showed us more about the equilaterally triangular relationship among the seniors. This was the interesting aspect of the plot that made this project unique. They already had flashback scenes featuring Shido Roxas, Max Collins and Ross Pesigan as the young Ramon, Sylvia and Fredo,. They should have added more. A lot of events that transpired in their younger days were merely narrated in the dialogue, instead of being shown onscreen, which I thought was a wasted opportunity. 7/10.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

MMFF 2018: Review of AURORA: Spirits from a Shipwreck

December 30. 2018

The passenger ship Aurora crashed into some rocks and got wrecked just off the shore of an island, causing countless deaths. Leana's Sea Side Inn, located on the nearest beach, was used as headquarters for rescue operations. When the Coast Guard announced that they are concluding their search for missing passengers, relatives requested Leana to search for dead bodies that wash to shore, and they would pay her a hefty amount for each one she found. Out of financial desperation, Leana accepted the grisly task. 

2018 is a banner year for Anne Curtis as she had three major film projects which were able to showcase the diverse range of her acting talents, so much more than she had in her whole career it seems. Her roll began in May with the quirky romance in "Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)" and continued in August with the high-octane action of "Buybust." She concludes her year by dabbling in the horror genre in "Aurora."

As Leana, Curtis played a woman caught up in a maelstrom of conflicting personal issues. She struggled to keep their humble business afloat while taking care of the well-being of her younger sister Rita, and the unfortunate situation with the shipwreck made these matters even worse. She was guilt-ridden about the death of her father, as she was conscience-stricken about making money off selling the cargo salvaged from the ship. Curtis had to carry the weight of Leana's baggage and make us in the audience care for this flawed heroine, even if there were some problems about how the character was written by screenwriter Gin de Mesa.

Phoebe Villamor played Rita, a physically and emotionally exhausting role especially for a child actress. Veteran actors Allan Paule and Arnold Reyes do well in their roles as Eddie, (Leana's enterprising boatman) and Phillip (traumatized Aurora survivor). Marco Gumabao was limited by a poorly-written role as Ricky, Leana's (former?) boyfriend. Ricardo Cepeda could have been better in his scenes as the Coast Guard officer in-charge. 7'3" tall actor Raul Dillo played a key role as the giant Benjamin David who was also on the Aurora.

Filmed in the rocky Pacific coast of Batanes, director Yam Laranas successfully created a brooding creepy atmosphere in and around the desolate Sea Side Inn which was as much a character in the film as Leana and Rita. With his bluish-tinged cinematography and Oscar Fogelström's weighty musical score, Laranas was able to sustain the suspense throughout the film, despite some iffy visual effects and production details. 

In the final act, there were confusing developments that sort of threw off some of the fluidity in the storytelling. Anyhow, it is a ghost story, so it does not really need to be completely logical, as long as it can disturb your peace. And for me, it did. 7/10.

My Yearend Roundup: The BEST 25 FOREIGN FILMS of 2018 That I Have Seen

December 29, 2018

According to my record, I had written 180 movie reviews this year (up from 147 last year). 70 of these are Filipino films, the rest are foreign films. 

Potential Oscar-winning films of the year 2018 which will only be shown locally 2019 are also not included here. There had been filmfest screenings for films like "Burning" (from Korea) and "Cold War" (from Poland) but I was not able to see them. It was fortunate that foreign language film frontrunner "Roma" was made available on Netflix. 

Honorable Mentions:

25. Overlord (My Full Review) by Julius Avery
24. Unsane (My Full Review) by Steven Soderbergh
23. Rampant (My Full Review) by Kim Sung-hoon
22. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (My Full Review) by Aaron Horvath, Peter Rida Michail
21. Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (My Full Review) by Yong-hwa Kim

20. Christopher Robin (My Full Review) by Marc Forster
19. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! (My Full Review) by Ol Parker
18. Crazy Rich Asians (My Full Review) by Jon M. Chu
17. Shoplifters (My Full Review) by Hirokazu Kore-eda
16. A Star is Born (My Full Review) by Bradley Cooper

15. A Quiet Place (My Full Review) by John Krasinski
14. Incredibles 2 (My Full Review) by Brad Bird
13. Deadpool 2 (My Full Review) by David Leitch
12. Searching (My Full Review) by Aneesh Chaganty
11. Roma (My Full Review) by Alfonso Cuaron

The Top 10 Best Foreign Films I had seen and written about in 2018 are:

10. Isle of Dogs (My Full Review) by Wes Anderson

One day several months later, a little pilot landed on barren Trash Island (where the Mayor of Megasaki City exiled all dogs) on a plane he had hijacked. He was Atari Kobayashi, the mayor's 12 year old nephew, who had come in search of his bodyguard dog Spots.  A pack of alpha-dogs (King, Rex, Boss, Duke and their tough, macho black-haired leader Chief) decided to help the boy with his mission, and embarked on a danger-filled quest for Spots all over Trash Island.

9. Black Panther (My Full Review) by Ryan Coogler

Following the assassination of his father T'Chaka, T'Challa returned to his home in Wakanda to be crowned king in the presence of his family, significant other Nakia and the rest of his country. However, when a serious threat to the throne was posed by Eric "Killmonger" Stevens, a cocky American challenger with royal Wakandan blood in his veins, a long-kept secret about the former king is revealed, and the call for sharing Wakanda's secret wealth and technology with the world is renewed.

8. Ant-Man and the Wasp (My Full Review) by Peyton Reed

Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne (now already The Wasp) sought Scott's help to re-enter the subatomic quantum realm to search for long-lost Janet van Dyne, who was Hank's wife, Hope's mother and the original Wasp. Meanwhile, the Ghost wanted to hijack Pym's quantum technology to cure her of her ability to phase through objects, an affliction she accidentally gained as a child.  Bill Foster, Hank Pym's former assistant, wanted revenge. Gangster Sonny Burch was also after this quantum tech for its potential for big bucks in the black market. Federal agent Jimmy Woo wanted to make sure Scott remained strictly under house arrest.

7. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (My Full Review) by Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr., Rodney Rothman

Miles Morales), another high-school kid, of mixed African-American and Puerto Rican parentage, got bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly acquired spider powers he cannot control at all -- the typical story we know. Soon after, Miles encountered the real Spider-Man, Peter Parker, while he was fighting the humongous villain Kingpin and his nefarious plot to open up the space-time continuum with a nuclear collider. It was this collider that allowed Spider-folk from various other dimensions to crash into Miles' dimension to join Miles in his adventure and help him in his mission.

6. Aquaman (My Full Review) by James Wan

King Orm of Atlantis was plotting with fellow royal King Nereus about uniting the seven undersea kingdoms and declaring war on the surface. Meanwhile, Mera, a spirited red-haired Atlantean princess, went on the surface to find Arthur, son of Queen Atlanna and human lighthouse keeper Tom Curry, to tell him about this threat and to help him to claim his rightful birthright as King of Atlantis. King Orm hired human pirate David Kane and supplied him with Atlantean weapons to carry out his power scheme.

5. Mission Impossible: Fallout (My Full Review) by Christopher McQuarrie

In his effort to rescue his colleague  from certain death, Ethan Hunt lost possession of three plutonium cores to terrorists. The new CIA director Erica Sloane assigned agent August Walker to watch over Hunt as he got them back. Upon instruction from a liaison code-named White Widow, Hunt needed to extricate Solomon Lane, the same man Hunt sent to prison in the last film, from a police convoy in Paris and surrender him to her in exchange for the plutonium. 

4. Bohemian Rhapsody (My Full Review) by Bryan Singer

In 1970, lead guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor 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. 

3. The Greatest Showman (My Full Review) by Michael Gracey

Phineas Barnum was a very poor boy growing up. Despite all odds, he was able to marry Charity Hallett, the daughter of one of his tailor father's rich clients. Even if his wife and two daughters seemed to be contented with the modest life they had, Phineas himself was obsessed with his dream of transcending his station in life. Phineas began with a wax museum of the strange and the macabre, but his idea really hit its stride when he developed a show that featured "freaks" as the main stars. But even then, Phineas wanted much more, and that was when success began to unravel.

2. Ready Player One (My Full Review) by Steven Spielberg

It is 2045. Wade Watt was an orphaned young man who lived in the "Stacks," a dystopian slum neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio. Like everyone else at that time, Wade spent his days going inside the OASIS, a virtual world where people can do anything they desire. As his avatar Parzival, Wade wanted to win the game challenge left by the late OASIS inventor James Halliday -- where anyone who can win three keys leading to an Easter Egg hidden somewhere in the OASIS will inherit full ownership of the Halliday's invention. 

And my #1 movie of 2018 is ...

1. Avengers: Infinity War (My Full Review) by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Thanos is a megalomaniac tyrant from the extinct planet of Titan, who thought that intergalactic genocide is the only way to go in order for the whole universe to survive. He firmly believed that his act of mass extermination was actually an act of mercy. He was intent on collecting the six "infinity stones" (power, space, reality, soul, time and mind) on his gauntlet to give him all the fantastic abilities he needed to achieve his supposedly magnanimous goal. The divided Avengers, along with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Strange, have to band themselves together to beat Thanos' massive threat. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Review of SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE: Accelerating Action Animation!

December 13, 2018

A movie about Spider-Man would ordinarily get a huge publicity boost by the media and get a lion's share of the movie theaters on its release. However, for this one. it faced a DC behemoth event called "Aquaman" that generated so much more buzz and anticipation, so this Spidey pic would most likely be second priority on almost everyone's list. Being an animated film (instead of live action) about a new Spider-Man (who was not Peter Parker) could also be contributing reasons to its lesser popularity. 

The new Spider-Man in this origin film is Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), another high-school kid, of mixed African-American and Puerto Rican parentage. He got bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly acquired spider powers he cannot control at all -- the typical story we know. Soon after, Miles encountered the real Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Chris Pine), while he was fighting the humongous villain Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) and his nefarious plot to open up the space-time continuum with a nuclear collider. 

It was this collider that allowed Spider-folk from various other dimensions to crash into Miles' dimension to join Miles in his adventure and help him in his mission. They were: an older, paunchier Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), the cool Gwen Stacy / Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), the cartoonish funny Peter Porker / Spider Ham (John Mulaney), the futuristic anime girl Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her robot spider, and the grey fedora-wearing Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage).  

Fans of the original Spider-Man movies will also see updated versions of Peter's loved ones, like Mary Jane (Zoe Kravitz) and Aunt May (Lily Tomlin); and enemies, Green Goblin and Doc Ock. There is of course an extended cameo of the recently departed Stan Lee, in his first posthumous onscreen appearance. This became a sobering moment of bittersweet remembrance for the creator of Spider-Man. We will also meet Miles' family, namely police officer father Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), nurse mother Rio (Luna Lauren Velez) and the beloved uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). 

However, I am sure hardcore fans of the Spider-Man comics and videos will know so much more about the various little references made about the other Spider-Men from other dimensions than casual fans who only heard about them now.  I won't be surprised if the complex artwork of this film contained so many hidden Easter eggs which will only make sense to serious fans and make them very excited, including that after-credits extra scene. 

The story and script was by Phil Lord, the same witty writing genius behind "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" (2009) and "The LEGO Movie" (2014). For me, it was a bit slow in the beginning set-up, introducing Miles and his family dynamics. However, after Miles got bitten by the radioactive spider, the whole film accelerated into high gear that never let up in terms of humor and excitement, with nostalgia thrown in for good measure. 

The eclectic styles of the artwork blazed into life during the fast and frenetic action scenes, merging the hand-drawn comic book images (with thought bubbles, spider sense tingles, spelled out sounds) with very dynamic. occasionally psychedelic, computerized wizardry. The editing of the imagery with sound effects and energetic music soundtrack was flawlessly done. The voice work was also topnotch, especially upon finding out who was voicing who. This is definitely in serious contention of being the Best Animated Feature Film of the year come Oscar time. 9/10. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Review of AQUAMAN: Awesome Atlantean Adventure

December 12, 2018

People who grew up knowing Aquaman as the hero with the orange scaly shirt, green tights and talked to fish on the "Superfriends" TV cartoon would never dream that the role would go to an actor who looked like Jason Momoa at all. However, if you had seen the Aquaman in "Justice League Unlimited," he had long blond hair and had kingly costume, sporting his trident and bare torso. Momoa's casting was probably based on that more serious version of Aquaman.

Jason Momoa's Arthur Curry was a big brawny guy, but fun-loving and happy-go-lucky. a guy much like the actor himself, it seems. He was aware that he has powers underwater and he used these powers for good. He had a great sense of humor and had a knack for witty repartee and wacky improvisation. He gave Aquaman a likable personality that lifted the King of Atlantis out of any stuffy reputation it had from the past. We only got a hint of Momoa as Aquaman in "Justice League" but now we get his full back story.

We first meet lighthouse keeper Tom (New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison) and Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis (an always regal Nicole Kidman) -- how they met in 1985 and how they were parted three years later, but not before having a son together whom they named Arthur -- proof that the worlds above and underwater can indeed co-exist. 

We see Arthur growing up from infancy, to a 9-year old (Kaan Guldur), 13-year old (Otis Dhanji), 16-year old (Kekoa Kekuman), slowly learning his true nature and abilities, until adulthood (Jason Momoa), who was getting media attention as the anti-piracy vigilante of the high seas "Aquaman". In one of these rescue missions, Arthur encountered and made enemies with submarine pirate David Kane (Yahya Abdul Mateen II), who one day would become Aquaman's arch nemesis Black Manta. 

Meanwhile in Atlantis, we meet King Orm, younger half-brother of Arthur (but actor Patrick Wilson is actually 6 years older than Momoa), who was conferring with his vizier Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe) and fellow royal King Nereus (Delph Lundgren) about uniting the seven undersea kingdoms and declaring war on the surface. Nereus's daughter Mera (Amber Heard), a spirited red-haired Atlantean princess, went to find Arthur to tell him about this threat and to help the first-born of Atlanna, half-breed as he was, to claim his rightful birthright as King of Atlantis.

As the origins movie for this superhero, there were several threads going on and many characters being introduced, hence the lengthy fully-stuffed 143-minute running time. However, director James Wan gave us a rich cinematic visual spectacle to make every minute worth our while, something clear from the trailers alone. Arthur and Mera have superpowers both above and below water, so their adventures will take them (and us) from the icy depths of the oceans (where we will be introduced to other Atlantean races) to the scorching heart of the Sahara Desert. The thrilling fight scenes, both on land and underwater, were also very well-choreographed with all the special creature effects.

The story was complex but solid, and well-executed by Wan and his crew, especially his team of computer-generated artists who created the fantastical world of Atlantis. It was great to see some aspects of the Aquaman we knew from the early cartoons, like how he rode on the back of a giant seahorse, or how he communicated with the fish with visible "ripples". Wan also slyly included a few Easter eggs from his horror franchises for sharp fans to catch, like Annabelle and Leigh Whannell. An underlying message about how the surface dweller have been polluting the oceans all these years was also delivered loud and clear.

There were some pretty campy and cheesy moments for sure (especially towards the ending), but Momoa and Heard managed to pull these scenes off with their effusive charm and chemistry, to give us a thoroughly entertaining action-adventure film to cheer about. This DC fan is very happy about it. The extra scene in the middle of the closing credits promises a sequel I am definitely looking forward to. 9/10. 


I watched this movie on its Philippine premiere in the IMAX theater of SM Mall of Asia. What made this premiere even more special and memorable was the personal appearance of stars Jason Momoa and Amber Heard and director James Wan! They generously worked the huge crowd gathered in the fan greet event in the mall grounds, signing autographs and taking selfies with all their excited fans. Before the movie started, the three celebrities came in to greet us fans gathered inside the theater. I felt incredibly lucky and thankful that I was there.

Jason Momoa

Amber Heard

James Wan with the crowd

Group Shot of the Triumphant Trio

Heard and Momoa talk to us in the IMAX theater!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Review of WIDOWS: Larceny by Ladies

December 9, 2018

Harry Rawlings and his partners-in-crime Carlos, Florek, and Jimmy were killed when their getaway van exploded in a police shootout. Crime boss (and fledgling politician) Jamal Manning coerced Harry's widow Veronica to give him back the money her husband stole from him or else suffer consequences. Veronica invited Linda and Alice (widows of Carlos and Florek respectively) to execute Harry's next robbery plan in order to pay back their husbands' debts and lift the threat to their lives. 

Viola Davis' acting was as intense as ever even if this role as Veronica was a rather more popcorn outing compared to her more serious roles. With her intimidating physical features, Davis is really made to play these strong female characters, but she might have overdone it a bit in this one. Michelle Rodriguez got a break from her usual action heroine roles for more down-and-out dramatic moments as Linda. 

Elizabeth Debicki is a tall striking beauty who fit in just right as an abused wife and daughter Alice. Cynthia Erivo, with that signature close-cropped blond hairstyle of hers, first gained attention in the 2015 revival of "The Color Purple" which won her a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. As the designated driver Belle, she also got to show off her physicality. 

Liam Neeson was in a role on the other side of the law as Harry, but his acting style was as would be expected. Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall played the Mulligans, a family of corrupt politicians. While Farrell does well in his role of Jack, the son who wanted to dissociate himself from his father's style of politics, but in the final analysis his role was not really necessary. Lukas Haas (whose name I still remember as the 8-year old Amish boy in 1985's "Witness") played David, a real estate agent who got involved in the widow's plot.

Bryan Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya played ruthless brother mobsters, the Mannings. Henry's Jamal is the more quietly imposing one, while Kaluuya's Jatemme is the more psychotically violent one. Kaluuya's big round eyes, who made such a major impact in his breakthrough (and Oscar-nominated) role in "Get Out," were again in full play as they burned through the screen with unsettling madness. 

This could have been made to fit right in for the #MeToo trend in movies this year. However, while the proper motivations may have been there, but it was really too far-fetched that these women who never did any crime before would even consider doing such a dangerous undertaking, especially knowing that they were up against major criminal organizations. Granted that these ladies were desperate, but it is no joke to undertake a major crime, complete with buying guns and a getaway car with a driver.  

That said, the script certainly gave them a lot of lucky breaks to give the caper a semblance of credibility. There was an unusual decision by director Steve McQueen (and co-writer Gillian Flynn) to inexplicably spoil a critical twist earlier than it should have. Because of this, the climax did not have the shattering impact it could have had. 5/10. 

Review of MORTAL ENGINES: Steampunk Spectacle

December 9, 2018

In the distant post-apocalyptic future, the city of London was already housed in moving gigantic machines that roamed the arid wasteland outside. Admired by many, Thaddeus Valentine of the Guild of Historians was the most powerful man in London. However, one day, Hester Shaw, a girl with a disfiguring scar on her face, tried to assassinate Valentine, but this attempt was thwarted by young apprentice historian, Tom Natsworthy. The adventures of Hester and Tom had just begun.

The most remarkable aspects of this Christian Rivers film (produced by Peter Jackson) are its visuals. Everything was grand to behold -- the vivid colors and cinematography, the spectacular computer-generated effects, futuristic period costumes, ornate production design. For these visuals alone, I thought this film was already worth watching on the big screen. The sound mixing and the editing work were also excellent on the technical front, and this was clearly evident from the very first action sequence. 

However, beyond the visuals, the other aspects of this movie were rather disappointing. The plot themes have already been done before in many other futuristic sci-fi films before. In Act 2, I got a lot of "Mad Max Fury Road" vibes with the scenes of dystopian anarchy and poverty. In Act 3, it was "Star Wars" all the way, complete with analogies to the Death Star, X-Wing fighter jets, and the Millennium Falcon. Even the characters have parallels in "Star Wars" saga to the point that I practically expected a paternal revelation in one key scene.

There was only one actor known to me in the cast, Hugo Weaving, who played the megalomaniac Thaddeus Valentine, which he was . The rest of the cast were promising newcomers. Playing the lead role of Hester is Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar, who had a strong screen presence despite her marred face. Playing the naive Tom is Irish actor Robert Sheehan, who had that boy-next-door, unlikely hero charm about him. 

Katherine, who discovered many new things about her father Thaddeus following the attack on his life, was played by Leila George. Bevis Pod, Tom's friend who was an apprentice engineer, was played by Ronan Rafferty. Standing out among the good guys is the fearless and skillful resistance leader Anna Fang, played by Korean actress Jihei, who certainly cut a dashing action figure playing this character. 

Overall, despite the predictable limitations of the story, this film was still worth watching because of its fascinating concept of the future, describing a rough and tumble world where giant cities on wheels literally devour smaller ones. There was actually one character Shrike (played by Stephen Lang), an undead soldier reanimated by machine parts, which was a very interesting and unique element in the story. 

The original 2001 book "Mortal Engines" by Philip Reeve had three sequels. To be honest, I would not mind seeing a sequel to this film to see what lay ahead for Hester and Tom, and the world where they lived. 6/10. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Review of THREE WORDS TO FOREVER: A Break or a Breakup?

December 4, 2018

There was a lot of hype about this film being the comeback movie of the Sharon Cuneta - Richard Gomez love team with five hit movies from “Kahit Wala Ka Na” (1989) to “Walang Kapalit” (2003). It was also one of those rare times that Kathryn Bernardo will be in a movie without her love teammate Daniel Padilla to be paired up with another young actor. The title was forgettable and trailers were not really encouraging, but I was still curious to see what more it can give. 

The family of Cito (Freddie Webb) and Tinay (Liza Lorena) get together in their hometown of Ormoc City to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary. Their daughter Cristy (Sharon Cuneta) and her husband Rick (Richard Gomez) are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, but their relationship was already very strained with frustrating lack of communication. Their daughter Tin came home from New York City to join the celebration, and on the spur of an excited moment, suddenly announced her own wedding to her boyfriend Kyle (Tommy Esguerra).

The whole movie was just light-hearted family comedy-drama about trying to keep up good impressions for the benefit of others, despite destructive secrets. This pretense was perpetrated with no apparent due regard to the other parties involved. Cuneta and Gomez really looked ill at ease with each other, but of course that was how Cristy and Rick felt about each other. Bernardo's immature Tin was hyper and bipolar, in contrast with Esguerra's obsessive-compulsive perfectionist Kyle. Lorena was an over-indulgent nagger Tinay to Webb's reluctant post-heart attack patient Cito. Joross Gamboa played happy-go-lucky Paeng, out-of-place character who just so happened to know all the hidden secrets. 

The main dramatic highlight only came in the last thirty minutes of the film when a distraught Tin finally opened up to her parents Cristy and Rick. This was the only moment in the film that Sharon Cuneta and Kathryn Bernardo came across as a real people as they confronted each other with sincerity and frankness. This should have been Richard Gomez's big moment since mainly his issues were tackled, but the director Cathy Garcia Molina's blocking of this key scene made him look awkward, denying him the chance to also shine. 

The script tackled problems experienced by husbands dominated by their "always-right" wives, and kids with overbearing mothers. Husbands (and kids) will hope that this movie can somehow "tell" their wives (and mothers) to lay off a bit and allow them to become who they aspire to be, and who the wives (or mothers) want them to be. While these husbands may nod in identification with Rick's plight (or kids with Tin), they also hope their wives (or mother) will also get a Cristy-like epiphany and realize that she may have been too hard on them and apologize for being difficult to please. But then again, this is still just a movie, so it may never really happen in real life.

Liking this movie will depend on how much you identify with the sentiments being expressed by the characters. Here it was the husband who told the wife that as partners, they should be equals. I thought that this message in favor of men was quite a change from the usual flow of dialogue of Filipino dramas that usually side with the women. (I confess though I never really watched a lot of these types of films before.)  I liked the interviews with real-life couples talking about their relationships interspersed in the film. They conveyed more relatable insights and genuine emotion than those of the main story itself. 5/10.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Review of THE GRINCH (2018): Fresher Festive Fable

December 4, 2018

I have long heard about this character Grinch and how he hated Christmas Day. Maybe it was because it gave a negative vibe about the beloved holiday, most likely brought about by that dark live action film in year 2000 starring a grotesque green Jim Carrey, that I did not feel the need to go watch the films about it or read the original book by Dr. Seuss. This year, Illumination released a 3-D animation version of the same story again, so I relented and finally got to see what the Grinch was really all about.

The Grinch was a grouchy green creature with a heart two sizes too small who hated Christmas with a passion. One Christmas Eve, he whipped up an elaborate plan to steal the Christmas away from the jolly Whos of the town of Whoville just south of his house on Mt. Crumpit. However, that particular night, little Cindy Lou Who set up a trap for Santa Claus so that she could ask him for a special gift for her hard-working mother Donna Lou.

Thanks to the internet, I was able to review the evolution of the Grinch before writing this review. I read the children's book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss on this LINK, and watched the first animated short that aired in 1966 as a holiday TV special, featuring the voice of Boris Karloff on YouTube (LINK). The book had black and white illustrations, with only red as its color accent. It was the 1966 cartoon that made the Grinch green, while it was the 2000 film that expanded the role of Cindy Lou into a major character. 

It was really the colorful artwork of this latest Illumination film that gave it a more pleasing and delightful feeling than any of the previous incarnations. The Grinch was actually cute and not at all scary to look at. The snowbound Who-ville was aglow with bright rainbow Christmas trees, lights, gifts and decorations. You can really feel the holiday cheer and excitement emanate from the screen. The Grinch's house was one nifty workshop where he created some interesting contraptions and impractical inventions. The animal characters of Max (the dog) and Fred (the fat reindeer) were likewise adorably rendered. 

The voice work of the lead cast was very affecting. The voice of Benedict Cumberbatch had a depth that gave his Grinch a less villainous characterization. We saw Cameron Seely as one of P.T. Barnum's daughters in "The Greatest Showman" and now we hear her as the spirited but kind Cindy Lou Who. Rashida Jones (of "Parks and Recreation") voiced her harassed yet efficient mother Donna Lou. The legendary voice of Angela Lansbury was heard from the Mayor's lips. The narration of Pharell Williams gave a  gentle and moving lilt to Dr. Seuss's rhymes. 

The Christmas songs chosen were also very festive, and gave the whole film a warm spirit of nostalgia. We hear classics like "Deck the Halls" by Jackie Cooper, "My Favorite Things" by the Supremes, "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole , as well as more modern holiday tunes by Run DMC, the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Buster Poindexter. A most memorable scene was that where the Grinch was trying to get away from carolers singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" as sung by Pentatonix. The original song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was the only song heard in all three film versions. 

Overall, I enjoyed this new interpretation of the Grinch story  a lot maybe since it was the first time I actually saw the story told in full. I found this one to be the most kid-friendly and visually stimulating of all the other versions. Of course, those who grew up with the Dr. Seuss book or the 1966 TV cartoon, or even the 2000 Jim Carrey film, are sure to have their own sentimental favorites. 8/10.