Thursday, January 31, 2019

Review of SECOND ACT: Resume Racket

January 30. 2019

Street-smart Maya Vargas wanted to be the manager of a supermarket in which she had dedicated 15 years of her life to, only to be passed over by a younger, stuck-up MBA graduate. An embellished online resume misled a family-owned beauty industry firm into believing that she is a consultant with remarkable achievements, and hires her. However, it would take her time to realize that anything based on a lie cannot lead to any good, not only in her career, but also in her personal life.

The first part of the movie had a strong feministic tone, with Maya fighting for what she wanted, both professionally and personally. Later, the movie became a reworking of an older JLo film "Maid in Manhattan" when her "Jenny from the Block" character was thrust into the circles of the rich and famous. When she accepted her new higher echelon job based on fraud, you sort of knew how the whole story would run already, as this type of story had been retold quite often. 

However in the second act, the film hits us with an unexpected curve ball when suddenly a most incredible twist that connected Maya's troubled past as a teenager, with her present situation now working in the big firm working with Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), the competitive daughter of the big boss, Mr. Anderson Clarke ( a jolly Treat Williams). The odds of this chance coincidence happening was too impossible to be true, but this is a New York City fairy tale after all. 

In between these scenes were largely comic montages of Maya and Zoe going up against each other in trying to develop a more "organic" product line which could further boost the business of their firm. Maya's teammates Ariana (Charlyne Yi) and Chase (Alan Aisenberg) had their own little side story. On the personal side, Maya had her drama with an ex Trey (Milo Ventimiglia), but her BFF Joan (a scene-stealing Leah Remini) was always a loyal shoulder to cry on. 

The last time I saw Jennifer Lopez on the big screen was four years ago in a forgettable sexy thriller called "The Boy Next Door" (MY REVIEW). In her new film, she was not acting sexy, but she was still effortlessly so, even if she was supposed to be playing a "plain" forty year-old supermarket employee. She looked extraordinary, a goddess way above everyone around her. "Simple" clothes become high fashion when she wore them. Her star quality alone was the factor that really kept this film together. 5/10. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Review of THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING: Knighthood for the Kids

January 29, 2019

Alex Elliot and his friend Bedders were just regular schoolboys in Cornwall. Everyday they have to contend with bullies like Lance and his partner Kaye. One day, Alex encountered a sword stuck in a stone when he fell into a pit. He was able to pull the sword out, and realized he actually had the legendary Excalibur in his hands. 

The fabled wizard Merlin appeared to Alex in the form of an awkward nerd to warn him that the evil sorceress Morgana had been revived and she was going to take over the whole world with her army of undead soldiers. It is up to Alex (the one destined to be the new Arthur) and his schoolmates (his own Knights of the Round Table) to save the world. 

I liked the spunk of Louis Ashbourne Serkis (14 year old son of Andy Serkis)  in the lead role of Alex, and Dean Chaumoo who was delightful in the role of Bedders. The two older teen actors -- Tom Taylor (whom we first met as Jake Chambers in "The Dark Tower" last 2017 with Idris Elba and Matthew McConnaughey) and Rhianna Doris -- had their moments in their roles as bullies who tormented Alex. Angus Imrie will polarize audiences in his dorky portrayal of the young Merlin. 

The performances of the adult actors were even more kiddie than the kids, fully intentional I guess. I only knew two of the actors by name, and these were Patrick Stewart (who played the senior version of whimsical Merlin) and Rebecca Ferguson (who was unrecognizable under the make-up of the evil Morgana). They were made to deliver very cheesy and corny lines, it can be uncomfortable to watch, but they do so with all professional gusto. 

Of course, amidst the kiddy action and comedy (very British), there are important messages for the children who watched it. It encourage kids to follow their dreams (even to be a king, if you will) and they will be fulfilled, as long as you have goodness in your heart. It also advised the kids to follow the Knight's Code to avoid misconduct, to honor people you love, to always be honest and to stick to all your endeavors through to the end. 

As a whole, despite aiming to be "epic", this film by comedian-director Joe Cornish was quite juvenile in execution, in terms of the script, the humor and the special effects. It sought to revive interest in the characters of the Arthurian legend among the new generation of moviegoers, as summarized in the comics-style animated introductory scenes. You really have to turn on your inner child to enjoy this as it seemed to be geared for audiences below the age of 10 (in actual years or in terms of mentality). 5/10. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Review of THE UPSIDE: Pepping Up a Paraplegic

January 27, 2019

Dell Scott was an ill-mannered ex-convict who had no job and was losing his family. He was going around several possible jobs to have a form signed stating that he had been interviewed and rejected in order to continue receiving welfare. However, when he met Philip Lacasse, a bored billionaire who had been rendered a paraplegic and a widower by a freak accident, Dell was actually offered the job to become Philip's "life auxillary".

The trailer reminded me of the 2011 French movie entitled "The Intouchables," a comedy-drama about unlikely buddies.  It was the French entry for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film that year, but did not earn the nomination despite the buzz. From the opening scene where we see Dell and Philip outsmarting cops who pulled them over for speeding, it was clear that "The Upside" was going to be a remake of "The Intouchables," and a very faithful one it was.

All the major plot points of "The Intouchables" were also here -- Philip's unfortunate paragliding mishap with his wife, Dell's exposure to opera and modern art, Philip's birthday party, Philip's epistolary relationship with a woman he had never met or spoken to. This American version gave Dell Scott a wife and son to worry about, showcased Aretha Franklin's music, and had an expanded role for Philip's secretary Yvonne (given that she was played by Nicole Kidman, after all).

Bryan Cranston was very good as the classy Philip Lacasse, successfully overcoming the limitations of the script and his disabled character. Despite his being confined in his wheelchair or a bed for the whole film, only able to move from the neck up, Cranston was still created a remarkable character so rich in emotional expression, from mirthful joy to absolute panic, from frustrated anger to brooding misery. 

Kevin Hart's Dell Scott was a very unlikable character, with an annoying and even scary gangster attitude, I would have given up on him much earlier than Philip did. I think he overdid the brusqueness and the rudeness. He did not make it easy for viewers to root for him at all despite the family and financial problems he was facing. Admittedly, this role gave Hart a most complex acting challenge compared to his other lowbrow comedies.

Overall, the negative way Dell Scott's character had been written and portrayed did not ride well with me, causing me not enjoy this movie. It was too over-the-top and unsympathetic, it made the whole premise of the film uncomfortable and unconvincing, even if this was actually based on a true story about a French aristocrat and his Algerian caregiver. 5/10.

PS: The local poster of this film showed the two guys looking at the legs of a woman wearing stillettos with her panties hanging on her leg -- something obviously not in the international poster above. Why do the local distributors have to photoshop in this lurid image which had nothing to do with the film at all? I find it deceptive and insulting to the Filipino audience.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Review of BORN BEAUTIFUL: Sass and Sensitivity

January 26, 2019

Three years ago, a comedy-drama film about a trans-woman "Die Beautiful" (MY REVIEW) was the box-office leader and audience choice award winner during the 2016 Metro Manila Filmfest. It also won acting awards from both Paulo Ballesteros and Christian Bables for playing the protagonist Trisha and her best friend Barbs. After its big success, news about a sequel immediately came out, this time to be about Barbs and the aftermath of the first movie. However, Bables was not available to re-create his award-winning role in the sequel, so the producers had to cast a new star in the role. 

Barbs Cordero (Martin del Rosario) used his make-up transformation skills as the make-up artist of the Happy Endings Funeral Homes owned by an old transwoman Flora (Lou Veloso). After a failed attempt to recover his lost manhood by joining a religious retreat, Barbs got entangled in a web of affairs involving two married suitors -- a macho tricycle-driver (and her ex) Greg (Kiko Matos) and a gentlemanly taxi-driver (and Trisha's ex) Michael Angelo (Akihiro Blanco) -- and a problematic prostitute Yumi (Chai Fonacier). 

Being a sequel, it cannot be helped that this film would be compared to the original film. Except for a couple of scenes depicting sexual violence, "Die Beautiful" was a generally wholesome and very funny film. "Born Beautiful" was much franker in language and in story. There were plenty of bleeped words in the R-16 version I saw, most probably sexually-charged terms based on context. There were several torrid kissing scenes between Barbs and her suitors, something "Die Beautiful" did not have. The story also delved into very serious topics like religious hypocrisy, rape, assault and abortion. 

Martin del Rosario was beautiful and committed as Barbs. He was confidently and consistently feminine, even if his off-shoulder gowns made his shoulders look broader than her boyfriends on the big screen. Lou Veloso was a scene-stealer as the fabulously florid Mama Flora. Chai Fonacier had her effective moments as the desperate homely whore Yumi  Kiko Matos and Akihiro Blanco were not really given meaty enough roles to chew on as Barbs' consorts. Paulo Ballesteros makes a special return appearance as Trisha in a most controversial incarnation which may not sit well with some Catholic viewers. 

Joey Paras and Jojit Lorenzo were so sleazy as Pastor Donald and Bro. Sonny of Way of Light reformation center. Elora Espano was too good to be true as Angela, Michael Angelo's accepting wife. Gio Gahol, Jason Barcial, Milo Elomido Jr. and VJ Mendoza played Barbs' sassy coterie of trans friends, all make-up artists at Happy Endings -- Kennie, Arianne, Selena and Princess respectively. There could have been more funny gags than what they were given to do here, since the "beaucon" scenes were not really emphasized. 

It is really difficult to come up with a sequel that would match the bar set by the original film. Director Perci Intalan had his work cut out for him and tried his best, but it was not enough. The writing on this one felt episodic, with situations linked together in an odd progression and pacing, and a most abrupt ending. There were several very funny shock moments here and there, but not as many, as original nor as mirthful, than the first one. There seemed to have been difficulty in figuring out a more convincing or more plausible ending than what it had. "Die Beautiful" really set its bar very high in this genre, "Born Beautiful" was okay, but simply could not keep up. 6/10.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Review of ALPHA: THE RIGHT TO KILL: Drug-Dealing Derelicts

January 23, 2019

The recent projects of director Brillante Mendoza all have something to do with the drug war. In 2016, he had "Ma'Rosa," tackling police corruption in the drug war.  In 2017, he directed a TV series for TV5 called "Amo" (now on Netflix) also about police corruption in the drug war. Last year, he came out with "Alpha:The Right to Kill," and yes, you guessed right -- it was again about police corruption in the drug war. 

Sgt. Moises Espino is very active in the anti-drug campaign in his district of San Miguel. He employed a young ex-con "asset" Elijah to penetrate the drug dens and do the dirty job. The two have a little extra business on the side with some of the stash they confiscate during the raids, and things were going swimmingly for their partnership. However, when police intecepted a homing pigeon with a pack of meth crystals taped to its legs, the two began to feel the heat.

The film immediately began with a written disclaimer that it was not intended to besmirch the integrity of the Philippine National Police. Instead it acknowledges the fact that there are those among the ranks of the policemen who go against the basic principles of their sworn service. At that point, we already expected that it was going to revisit issues which had already been tackled in previous films about the drug war (and there had been quite a number of them lately), probably those of Mendoza himself -- and it really did.

Exposing dirty cops working the drugs beat.had already been done very damningly in "Ma'Rosa."  However, "Ma'Rosa" focused more on the dynamics of a family involved within the drug trade, led by their matriarch Rosa, played by Jaclyn Jose, who went on to win the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival that year. "Alpha" focused more on parallelizing the life of a crooked cop and his asset, family men both. "Alpha" did not have a Jaclyn Jose to boost up the acting department.

Allen Dizon's Moises Espino in "Alpha" was practically the same character as his Camilo Molina in "Amo"  -- a cop involved in the drug business. He knew this character very well. Aside from Dizon, several cast members in "Amo" were also seen here in "Alpha." These included: Elijah Filamore (who played the title character Elijah, Espino's alpha or informer); Jalyn Taboneknek (who played Elijah's consenting wife Rhea), Apollo Abraham (who played Espino's chief of police Abraham), Dante Wayan (as pigeon breeder Mang Dante), Angela Cortez (as Espino's wife Angela), among others. The only other known actor is Baron Geisler, who was a very realistic drug lord.

Most of director Mendoza's signature stylistic shots to were also seen here to evoke grit and realism. We see the long tracking shots, the extreme close-ups, shaky cam, shots going on and off focus, the shots taken from floor level (all of which we also saw in the State of the Nation addresses by President Duterte, which were also directed by Mendoza). From the first episode of "Amo" there were already several similarities noted, like singing the National Anthem, random checks by neighborhood inspectors, gethering "suspects" without a warrant, sneaking drugs with children, etc. 

There were several ironic juxtapositons made by the director to deliver his message. The dirty cops all had Biblical names. A policeman killed someone in one scene, then in the next scene he was attending Holy Mass at the Lamb of God part. Children of a policeman recite an earnest rhyme extolling the heroism of policemen in one scene, then in the next scene, a corrupt policeman was ambushed. The fillm as a whole was not bad at all,with moments of effective tension and dread. The topics and the execution were just so familiar such you feel you have seen it before. 6/10

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Review of SAKALING MAGING TAYO: Summoning Serendipity

January 20, 2019

Pol had admired fellow freshman Laya ever since that chance meeting during enrolment time while taking their school ID photo. However, he never did get the guts to confess to her how he felt. On the last day of school, a distraught Laya (who just had a bad breakup with her boyfriend Maui) got into the taxi Pol was driving (actually to driving to watch a concert series that night). He saw this as a serendipitous chance to finally spend some time with and get to know better the biggest crush he had been harboring for the past year. 

McCoy de Leon and Elisse Joson fit right into the roles of Pol and Laya. Being exes in real life must have made the filming of their sweet scenes difficult, but it did not show on the big screen. There was very good chemistry between this young couple and they surely knew how to play up the cutesy romance for the sake of their fans. While I was watching this, I got the feeling that I was watching a younger version of JC Santos and Bela Padilla (as first paired up in "100 Tula Para Kay Stella").

The simple story would have been all over in 20 minutes if Pol had simply brought Laya to the bus station for her trip back to Manila. However, to beef the midsection of the film and make the whole film more entertaining, director JP Habac ("I'm Drunk I Love You") used the device of a game which Pol agreed to play with Laya. Each would pick out a piece of paper from a purse on which was written a crazy dare. These dares ranged from eating a fried day-old chick to dancing on a busy sidewalk to getting a tattoo!

There was also a short but funny diversion when the story decided to enter the horror comedy genre, always a hit with the young crowd. Aside from Pol and Laya, they had with them their best friends: the ditzy Erna (played by the ever-reliable Chai Fonacier), the sassy Kevs (played by Milo Elmido Jr.) and Pol's gay BFF and Kevs' boyfriend Emerson (played by Paolo Santos, whom I just saw play lead in an episode of MMK the previous week as a character very different from who he was here). 

Baguio had always been a very photogenic setting for a romantic movie, and the cinematographer Lee Briones-Meily was able to capture its best colors and images. Like most of these teen romances, there was also a very eclectic music soundtrack in this one, featuring songs sung by Johnoy Danao (his version of Session Road's "Suntok sa Buwan"), KZ Tandingan ("Bakit Lumuluha") and of course, Moira dela Torre ("Tagu-taguan"). Markus Peterson had a cameo playing Laya's jerk ex-boyfriend Maui, and since he was an R&B singer here, we get to hear his song "Di Mo Na Kailangan Pang Malaman."

The main problem of this film was really the paper-thin plot. There were some moments of well-written reflections about life as a young person. You will want to hang around to see if they will get together at the end or not, but the entire midsection was obviously just fluff to make it seem like there was something substantial happening, when everything felt conveniently contrived. That said, this film was still pleasantly diverting nonetheless, thanks to the youthful brio and energy of the cast.  6/10. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Review of GLASS: Signature Shyamalan

January 18, 2019

Two years ago, I watched M. Night Shyamalan's "Split" starring an impressive James McAvoy as a disturbed man afflicted with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I did not expect that puzzling extra scene when Bruce Willis appeared. It was his character David Dunn from another much older Shyamalan film "Unbreakable" (2000). Shyamalan was actually going to connect the stories of these two extraordinary human beings with superpowers! Back then, this was a totally exciting development, and now this dream mash-up is a reality.

"Unbreakable" was about security guard David Dunn, a man who apparently possessed the power of invincibility. Not only had he never gotten sick ever, he was also the only survivor of a terrible major train accident. He can also see a person's past by touching him. He met Elijah Price, a wheelchair-bound genius afflicted with osteogenesis imperfecta (hence his monicker Mr. Glass), who was a comic book fan obsessed with superheroes.

"Split" was about Kevin Wendell Crumb, one of his 24 distinct personalities of different gender, age and incilinations that comprise his so-called "horde." He had been abducting teenage girls and torturing them out of their minds. His most remarkable persona was that of "The Beast," who had incredible brute strength, as well as the ability to climb up walls and crawl across ceilings. 

You need to watch both "Unbreakable" and "Split" to appreciate this new film sequel on a deeper level. In this third episode, David, Elijah and Kevin were all gathered together and confined in a mental institution with advanced security facilties in order to be studied by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). The main aim of her sessions with them was to convince all three that their "super powers" were only mere delusions in their heads, not real. 

As before, James McAvoy was spectacular to behold as the personality-shifting Kevin. Without warning, McAvoy would seamlessly shift from one character to another. (He really should have been at least nominated for an acting Oscar for "Split". ) Samuel L. Jackson can really get into play these creepy eccentric characters like Elijah with seemingly effortless ease. Even in a low-key character like David, Bruce Willis does turn in one of his best acting performances of late. The commitment of three actors to their roles certainly made the whole film worth watching despite some qualms about the storytelling. 

It was incredible that all the main characters of "Unbreakable" were all back to reprise their roles. Willis and Jackson played David and Elijah like how these characters would have evolved with the passage of time. Charlayne Woodard was back in her role as Isaiah's supportive mother. The most remarkable was the return of Spencer Treat Clark as David's son Joseph. He was only 13 in "Unbreakable," now he is 31. From "Split," Anna Taylor-Joy returns in her role of Casey, who survived her ordeal under Kevin. 

For those unfamiliar with the first two movies, the psychobabble may get too boring and repetitive, especially in Act 2. However, for fans who knew these characters well, all the introspective talk about and between them were actually quite fascinating, until they all peaked in a major showdown scene we all expected (but certainly not predict). Even if it may have felt like Shyamalan took too long to get to its gut-wrenching climax, everything ended in a polarizing brain-twister, in his signature style 8/10. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Review of BUMBLEBEE: Yellow and Youthful

January 14, 2019

The Transformers film franchise by Michael Bay have been going on from the first film 2007 to "The Last Knight" in 2017. By and large, they were CGI-crazy, explosive spectacles which were critical duds despite the fact that they all hit it big at the box office. Even if I knew exactly what noisy senseless action movie I was getting into, I still watched each each and every one of them because the kids enjoyed them, and I guess me too, 

This year for the latest installment of the franchise, Bay relinquished the helm to acclaimed "Kubo and the Two-Strings" director Travis Knight for his only first live-action feature film. From films starring the whole ensemble of Transformers, this time the story was going to focus on only one of them. For this first spotlight feature, they have chosen the young and yellow audience favorite Bumblebee.

When Cybertron fell to the Decepticons, Optimus Prime and the other Autobots evacuate to different planets in the universe. The scout robot B-127 was sent to Earth to secure it as the possible future base for the Autobots. However, upon landing in California, the US Military immediately wanted to apprehend him. To escape capture, B-127 took the shape of a beat-up Volkswagen Beetle.

Meanwhile, ever since her father died, teenager Charlie was having a rough time with her harassed mother Sally, dorky stepfather Ron and snooty little brother Otis. On her 18th birthday, she found a certain old yellow VW Beetle at the junkyard. Upon bringing it home, Charlie discovered that it was no ordinary car but a gentle giant robot whom she became fast friends with, calling him Bumblebee. However, it was not long after that the deadly Decepticons were on already his tail. 

I think the factor that made "Bumblebee" connect more easily to the audience is his youthful demeanor and charm. He is also smaller than the other Autobots, with a decidedly cute puppy-dog face anybody can love. His friendship in this film with Charlie (as played by a spunky and winsome Hailee Steinfeld) felt more sincere and real than it was with Sam Witwicky, who also found and bought Bumblebee (as a Chevrolet Camaro) in a used-car lot in the first movie. This movie is more personal, and character-driven, which explains why most reviews are calling it "the best Transformers movie" ever. For us, Gen-X'ers, the 80s pop soundtrack and movie references certainly helped a lot. 

While the story sort of confused the timeline of the other Transformers films by showing Optimus Prime and other Autobots on Earth in 1987 (not 2007 as the first film established), it can also be seen to reboot the series in the direction of more intimate stories of the relationship between humans and individual Autobots. There may have still been a lot of corny, cheesy lines and impossible close calls in "Bumblebee," but the "Iron Giant"-like heart of its story still shone through all that to win us over again and give the "Transformers" series another chance. 8/10. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review of MARY POPPINS RETURNS: Missed Magic

January 9, 2019

I know the original "Mary Poppins" film inside and out as it was one of those videotapes and vinyl records which was on repeat in our house when I was a child. I knew almost all the songs by heart. When I learned that a sequel was going to be released, I was not sure whether this was a good idea or not. Even when the trailer came out and I got a glimpse of Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, I was still not convinced. Despite my doubts, I was still curious how Disney was going to do this formidable job.

The sequel picks up 25 years after the events of the first movie. Michael Banks was a widower with three boisterous children, Annabel, John and Georgie. He worked as a teller in the same Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, where his father used to work. His wife had just passed away that year, and he was deep in debt, in danger of losing his house. He needed to find the the certificate to prove that his father had left them shares of the bank. 

One day, playful little Georgie found his dad's old kite and went to fly it in the park. When he pulled the kite down, Mary Poppins was riding along down with it. With the practically perfect nanny back, the lives of the Banks family were about to change magically once again. 

The structure of this sequel followed the outline of the first movie faithfully. The relationship of the Banks children with their problematic father was not too good. Mary Poppins appeared in their lives and magical things began to happen. From there, each new song had its parallel song from the older film. Mary's introduction of her magic to the kids "Can You Imagine That" (where Mary took the kids on an undersea adventure) was like "A Spoonful of Sugar" though not as charming. 

When Mary, Jack and kids entered the cartoon world inside an old bowl, "The Royal Doulton Music Hall" was the parallel to "Jolly Holiday," which was sung when Mary, Bert and kids entered the chalk drawings on the sidewalk. "The rap-like rhythm of "A Cover is not a Book" corresponded to the tongue-twisting "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," but it was definitely not as catchy. "Turning Turtle" sung by Mary and the kids during their visit to her Cousin Topsy was in the spirit of "I Love to Laugh," sung during their visit to their Uncle Albert. Unfortunately, none of these new songs were as memorable as their older counterparts.

The gentle ballad "The Place Where Lost Things Go" evoked similar emotions with the beautifully sad song "Feed the Birds." "Trip a Little Light Fantastic" an extended song and dance number by the Leeries (or streetlighters) was the answer to "Chim Chim Cheree" and "Step in Time," a song and dance number with the screevers (or chimney sweeps).  The upbeat and optimistic final song "Nowhere to Go but Up" was the equivalent to the happy and snappy "Let's Go Fly a Kite." These were better songs which may endure longer, but likely not to the levels of the originals.

Emily Blunt had a tough job of trying to recapture the essence of Julie Andrews' Mary. With big shoes to fill, Blunt tried her best, but alas, she never really nailed the role -- not enough charisma, not enough joy. Li Manuel Miranda was an unexpected choice for the role of Jack, but he also lacked the x-factor of Dick Van Dyke's Bert. Ben Wishaw's Michael Banks was so down and woeful, though Emily Mortimer's Jane Banks was cute and chirpy. Meryl Streep's entire segment was forgettable and was of no consequence to the story. Despite being prominently billed on the poster, Dick Van Dyke (his one scene was a highlight!) and Angela Lansbury only appear towards the end of the film.

I wanted to like this sequel, but despite its best efforts and modern technology, I felt it cannot really match the old world charm of the original. The main problems were the new songs, which were clearly not up to the level of the original songs. In fact, whenever I recognize unmistakable tunes from old songs used in the instrumental score, I smile at the nostalgia they evoked. Disney waited 54 long years to come up with this sequel, but ultimately I felt it was not really necessary after all. The first movie was still so much better. Julie Andrews was and still remains to be the quintessential Mary Poppins. Disappointing. 5/10. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Netflix: Review of BIRD BOX: A Blindfolded Bind

January 8, 2010

"Bird Box" was released to stream worldwide on Netflix last December 21, 2018. You know that something about it connected with its audiences because since then, humorous memes about it (mostly having to do with being blindfolded) had been rife on social media, and these jokes persist up to now. It was impossible not to be aware of this movie, and I could not help but be drawn in by all the hype that surrounded it. 

Malorie Hayes was being driven home by her sister Jess after her prenatal checkup. Jess saw something in front of her that compelled her to crash her car and kill herself. Malorie escaped from the overturned car unharmed and saw that everybody on the streets were running around gripped with panic about the mass suicides happening around them. She was able to seek shelter in a house with other people who now had to figure out how to survive this deadly catastrophe.

The story (based on the 2014 novel of the same title by Josh Malerman) was told back and forth from the present (when blindfolded Malorie was taking two young kids, a nameless boy and girl, down a river in a boat) and five years ago (when Malorie was holed up in that house bickering with a motley group of fellow survivors). It was all very suspensefully done, as we feared not only that mysterious entity outside the house, we also feared the hearts and minds of the people inside the house with Malorie. 

However, after watching, major questions would come to mind.

First and foremost was the nature of the powerful being/s that held human beings hostage inside their houses for five long years. The plot never gave us anything about the origin or the nature of this being causing the worldwide tragedy. Well whatever it was, these "monsters" never figured out a way of entering houses after all that time, which was also a strange detail. At the very end, we know it was still out there somewhere, but the poor humans apparently still know zilch about it.

Another bothersome aspect was the presence of humans who seemed to be immune to the visual suicide-inducing mesmerism of the monsters. They were instead brainwashed to flush out other humans who were hiding in their houses and cause them to look at the monsters outside and kill themselves. How did this happen? Were they insane before they saw the monster, that is why they were affected another way? It was a very random story device which kept up the suspense in the second half of the film, yet again the script never bothered to explain why this phenomenon was happening to certain people, not others.

Actually, the titular "bird box" itself was a problematic detail for me. It was shown in an early scene that birds can sense the monsters without seeing them. So, apparently Malorie was keeping the birds alive to be their advanced warning system of sorts. However, I never sensed that these birds even mattered at all in how the action went down in the second half of the film. The way they were kept in that small box, it was actually a miracle how those two lovebirds survived all those years or even the boat ride.

Thankfully, Sandra Bullock can always give us a sympathetic heroine, even if her Malorie was not exactly a likable character. Trevante Rhodes was her too-good-to-be-true knight-in-shining-armor Tom. How they kept healthy during given the dearth of food and water over the years, we don't know. How they could navigate outdoors and look for supplies so skillfully with blindfolded the whole time, we just have to accept. John Malkovich (Douglas), Jackie Weaver (Cheryl), BD Wong (Greg), Danielle Macdonald (Olympia) and Tom Hollander (Gary) played the other survivors in the house, whose fates and behaviors kept us in suspense. 

That is the problem when the script seemed to be making up the rules of the game as the story went along. Since we do not know anything about the monster at all, it was a case of anything goes. They can throw in anything to make things more exciting or scary. (In fact at a certain point, Malorie and the kids did not even really need to see the entity to be hypnotized by it.) However more importantly, overall, director Susanne Bier managed to generate enough suspense to keep us at the edge of our seats and entertained most of its 2-hour running time. 6/10. 

Netflix: Review of ROMA: Of Maids and Masters

January 7, 2019

I had been holding it off for the longest time, but this time I could not any longer. When it was announced that Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" was going to be shown on Netflix, I finally relented and downloaded the popular media-service app. The awards buzz for "Roma" is major, especially for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director. I hope more of the foreign language film nominees are distributed this way in the future. 

It was 1970 in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City. Cleo was a woman who worked as a maid in the household of Dr. Antonio, his wife Sofia, and their four young children, Tono, Paco, Sofi and Pepe. Along with her fellow maid Adela, Cleo took care of the mundane daily chores in the house, like cooking, cleaning and childcare.  But as Sofia experienced problems with her absentee husband, Cleo was also having her own traumatic ordeal with her evasive boyfriend Fermin. 

The story was an episodic depiction of daily life and times of an upper middle-class family, and their maids who tirelessly kept up with them. Eventually, it focuses on the problems of two women, Sofia and Cleo, with the men in their lives, and how they rode through their respective life crises. Everything seemed to be so simple and common, yet there was a clear (and strangely engaging) dramatic progression in the way Cuaron told his story. To inject some excitement, there were scenes of a fire, a riot and martial arts but these were merely occasional.

Yalitza Aparicio, the indigenous Mixtec lead actress playing Cleo, is a first-time actress and it was obvious. She showed very little emotion during what should be intensely emotional moments in Cleo's life, but we do not know if this was due her inexperience or simply her director's instructions. Despite this, Aparicio's performance was oddly compelling and sincere. Marina de Tavera had her moments of humor as Sra. Sofia. Veronica Garcia was so stiff as grandmother Sra. Teresa, All the child actors were naturally spirited. Jorge Antonio Guerrero was over-the-top as irritating Fermin.

However, the main conceit of "Roma" was its mesmerizing imagery. Alfonso Cuaron was so particularly dedicated and meticulous about his vision for this film such that he could only trust himself to be its cinematographer. Filmed in glorious black and white, every frame looked like a moving, living postcards. Tracking shot after tracking shot, those wide shots, and close ups -- all cinematically artful. Even as the story itself may underwhelm, the crisp visual spectacle of this film cannot be denied. I wish I can see this on a big screen, as it should be. 8/10. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

My Top 20 Most Read Reviews on for 2018

January 3, 2019

My very first review published on came out June 6, 2013. That was a largely negative assessment of the Will and Jaden Smith disaster called "After Earth."  I never dreamed that I could reach the 100-mark in less than a year's time after that. 

And now 5 years later, the number of my articles that appeared on have gone beyond 650, and currently pushing 700. I am humbled and very thankful for my editor's continued trust and confidence in my opinion writing about movies, plays and concerts. 

Here is the list of the 20 most popular movie reviews on which carried my byline for the year 2018:

20. Bohemian Rhapsody (LINK): Posted at Nov 02 2018 11:04 AM

19. A Quiet Place (LINK): Posted at Apr 16 2018 01:24 PM

18. Solo (LINK): Posted at May 23 2018 05:58 AM

17. I Kill Giants (LINK): Posted at Mar 27 2018 01:46 PM

16. Buy Bust (LINK): Posted at Aug 01 2018 05:41 AM

15. ML (LINK): Posted at Nov 12 2018 01:52 PM

14. Exes Baggage (LINK): Posted at Sep 30 2018 06:01 PM

13. Goyo Ang Batang Heneral (LINK): Posted at Aug 31 2018 11:29 AM

12. The Nun (LINK): Posted at Sep 07 2018 03:43 PM

11. Kasal (LINK): Posted at May 20 2018 04:55 PM

10. Walwal (LINK): Posted at Jun 28 2018 10:49 AM

9. Miss Granny (LINK):  Posted at Aug 24 2018 10:34 AM

8. Glorious (LINK):  Posted at Nov 19 2018 12:08 PM

7. Teen Titans Go! (LINK): Posted at Aug 06 2018 12:43 PM

6. Meet Me in St. Gallen (LINK): Posted at Feb 11 2018 03:01 PM

5. Fifty Shades Freed (LINK): Posted at Feb 08 2018 01:47 PM

4. Sid and Aya (Not a Love Story) (LINK): Posted at May 31 2018 11:38 AM

3. Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds (LINK): Posted at Feb 12 2018 12:40 PM

2. Red Sparrow (LINK): Posted at Mar 03 2018 06:12 AM

1. The Hows of Us (LINK): Posted at Sep 01 2018 12:51 PM

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

MMFF 2018: Review of ONE GREAT LOVE: Serendipity or Stupidity?

December 31, 2018

This was not exactly the movie I wanted to see, but this was the one that exactly fit that limited window of time I had at the mall. Anyway, it did win 3rd Best Picture and Best Actor (Dennis Trillo won over sure lock Eddie Garcia!) for this festival, so it probably was not as cheesy a romance film as it looked. I did not expect that it would actually be even cheesier than what I was imagining it to be. 

Entrepreneur Zyra still could not move on after her pilot boyfriend Capt. Carl Mauricio simply disappeared from her life for four years without any communication. Meanwhile, her best friend, busy young cardiac surgeon Dr. Ian Arcano, had been her sympathetic ear and her shoulder to cry on whenever she got the blues. One day, Carl suddenly showed up asking for forgiveness, just when Ian was gathering up guts to tell Zyra his real feelings for her. Who will Zyra end up with?

Actually that first decision was not really the end of Zyra's story. Just when you thought she had already learned her lessons in life and love, there she goes on with her silly little cycle of self-pity and delusions of serendipity and then repeats the same mistake all over again. We hear her call herself stupid and pathetic. You know, Zyra, we the audience could not agree with you more, in the superlative degree on both counts. Watching you step on that toxic rusty nail of a relationship over and over was more painful for us than it was for you. 

I wish Kim Chiu had not been the one playing this annoyingly dense and masochistic character Zyra. She has got to be one of the most ill-conceived, moronically foolish movie characters that I had ever seen in a local dramatic movie.  I refuse to believe that there a real woman like this in this day and age. Not only is Zyra a monumental dummy, she is also a ruthlessly heartless Jezebel. Was this character written for us to feel sorry for her, or to hate her? Watching her do her imbecilic thing for almost two hours was cinematic torture. Kim Chiu deserves way better roles than this insultingly trashy character.

Dennis Trillo was supposed to be a hotshot cardiac surgeon Ian, but he did not really come across creditably as one. But the big question was, did he deserve to win that Best Actor prize over Eddie Garcia? Well, Trillo had more dramatic moments where he can show off his ability to cry on cue. But honestly, had he not done similar roles like this before in his other films and telenovelas? This role was right in his comfort zone. He did not need to stretch too much to nail the performance. It did not look like he was challenged at all.

JC de Vera was never subtle in portraying his character. He had this certain way of delivering his sleazy lines that immediately revealed his rascally intentions. Carl was so obviously pretentious and insincere, which made Zyra look all the more stupid than we already knew she was at that point. All he needed to do was flash that smile, prepare a beautiful bouquet of flowers and call himself a cute nickname like "the boy who hates to fly," and presto, he is back in Zyra's life! Effortless. Just like shooting fish in a pail. Disgusting.

Up to the end of this unbearably sappy mush directed by Enrico S. Quizon (who as Eric Quizon also played Zyra's bon viviant father), you do not really know who or what "one great love" the title is talking about. If this was the Third Best Picture of the 2018 MMFF, I dread to venture further to watch the rest of the other entries. I'd hate to follow Zyra's sorry example and spend more money to buy more hammers to bang my head in again. 2/10.