Monday, February 25, 2019


February 26, 2019

Hiccup's dragon-utopia village of Berk barely survived a sneak destructive intrusion by notorious dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly who was obsessed to kill Toothless, said to be the last Night Fury. In response, Hiccup convinced his village-mates to uproot themselves from their homes in search for the legendary "Hidden World" which his late father believed in. As they set up temporary camp on an isolated island, a female white Light Fury was sent as bait to make Toothless lose his focus. 

This is the third in the "How to Train Your Dragon" franchise, the concluding installment. Frankly, the trailer did not really entice me too much to go watch it, but I still went to watch it with my kids who were bigger fans of the series than I was. Like many Dreamworks animated features, the artwork of some human and dragon characters did not really appeal to me from the start. However, the two previous episodes all delivered emotional moments in the third act to end each installment on a high note. 

Jay Barruchel's Hiccup is still a fun-loving, earnest young man, but with the maturity of a seasoned fighter and leader now. America Ferrera's Astrid also matures here into a worthy consort of the chief. Jonah Hill's bully Snoutlout had also mellowed, especially since he was insecure with the taller and buffer hunter Eret (Kit Harrington). Kristin Wiig's annoying Ruffnut got to spend some solo time away from her twin brother Tuffnut (Justin Rupple). Cate Blanchett's cool voice made for a motherly authority in Valka. F. Murray Abraham's raspy voice was sinister as ever for Grimmel the Grisly.

To be honest, I was not too hot on the first two acts of this new film as well. I found it to be messy art-wise, and unengaging story-wise. I thought the attack on Berk was a crazy mess, with all those firebreathing dragons with tusks and scorpion tails, spouting gallons of green venom. There was even a very long, wordless sequence detailing some sort of comical courtship dance by Toothless to woo the Light Fury, which some viewers may find cute or delightful, but I did not. There were a lot of small kids in the theater when I watched this, I doubt if they understood any of these scenes.

However, once again, following their tried and true success formula, Act III saves the day again. I really loved how the writers was able to come up with such an inventive, exciting, and totally heart-warming climax and conclusion to neatly and fittingly wrap up all the chaotic action from the first two acts. Midway, I was about to just rate this average one at best, but because of that beautiful Act 3, I will give it a higher score. I may not rate it as high as the exhilarating Part 2 (MY REVIEW), but enough to recommend it as a memorable conclusion to this animated franchise. 7/10. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019


February 24, 2019

With the Oscar Awards coming on March 5, Monday morning Manila time, it is time for me now to make my fearless Oscar predictions.  (My Oscar predictions of previous years were posted on these links: 201820172016201520142013).

This year's nominees are a very tight group, each with their own unique forms of cinematic excellence. With ratings between 9 or 8 out of 10, I really would not mind with any one of these films to win the Best Picture Oscar. Here is how I would rank this year's 8 nominees for Oscar Best Picture based on my own opinions when I first saw them, not exactly in the order of probability that I think they will win. 


FIVE NOMINATIONS Picture, actor, supporting actor, original screenplay, film editing

The simplicity and warmth of the story is charming and engaging. The picture it painted about the hypocrisy extant in the segregationist Southern USA during those times was tense and powerful. The two lead actors Mortensen and Ali both gave down-to-earth, sincere and captivating transformative performances of white driver and black employer. The original screenplay by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and director Peter Farrely seems to be Oscar-bound. The lack of a Best Director nod for Farrely though may not bode too well in its Best Picture bid, but definitely this is one of the year's most outstanding films. 9/10.


SIX NOMINATIONS Picture, director, supporting actor, adapted screenplay, film editing, original score

This was a most audacious yet very entertaining film directed by Spike Lee, who is finally nominated by the Academy for Best Director for the very first time. The story was about Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer who pretended to be white over the phone to applied for membership to the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs. When they called for a face-to-face meeting, he sent his white colleague Flip Zimmerman to stand in for him. For a final punch, Lee gave us shocking news reel footage which showed anarchy on the streets during the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to further drive home the message against bigotry. 9/10. 


FIVE NOMINATIONS Picture, actor, film editing, sound mixing, sound editing

Technical aspects of cinematography, editing, production design, costumes, and the musical score were all top notch. The hit song choices in the soundtrack were all extraordinary.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 very entertaining for mainstream viewers.  In the final 20 minutes devoted to Queen's bravura set in the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley Arena, Rami Malek's performance was almost a perfect copy of Freddie Mercury's. 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. 9/10.


EIGHT NOMINATIONS Picture, director, actor, supporting actor and actress, original screenplay, film editing, makeup and hairstyling

Under the direction of Adam McKay (who also did "The Big Short"), "Vice" is like no other political biopic I had seen before. It was a sly unflinching blackly comic film that boldly criticized its subject (and the people around him) in a most underhanded manner. This movie was fascinating to me because it was so bold. All of these people (Dick and Lynne Cheney, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld) were still very much alive, yet here was a movie that was brazenly making fun of them and what they had done. Amazing wit and guts. 9/10. 


SEVEN NOMINATIONS Picture, original score, original song, sound editing, sound mixing, costume design, production design

This film was a gloriously rich celebration of African culture, with several tribal influences seen in the costume design (by 2-time Oscar nominee Ruth E. Carter), production design (by Hannah Beachler), musical score (by Ludwig Göransson, with a soundtrack featuring songs by hip-hop star Kendrick Lamarr!) and choreography (by percussionist Jabari Exum). This resplendent cultural color and pride brought about by all these potential award winning technical artists were what made this film stand out above all Marvel Cinematic Universe films, not really its superhero aspects. 8/10. 


TEN NOMINATIONS Picture, director, actress, supporting actress, foreign language, original screenplay, production design, cinematography, sound mixing, sound editing

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. Everything seemed to be so simple and common, yet there was a clear (and strangely engaging) dramatic progression in the way director Alfonso Cuaron told his story. 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.  8/10. 


TEN NOMINATIONS Picture, director, actress, supporting actress (two), original screenplay, production design, film editing, costume design, cinematography

The main story of this strange period film about the rabid rivalry between Sarah and Abigail to be the Queen's favourite. This was a no-holds-barred and vicious catfight with all claws out, as presented to us for our entertainment by Greek director Yorgos Lanthinos. The blackness of the comedy reflects in the unusually over-the-top costume designs (an Oscar nom for Sandy Dennis) as well as make-up and hairstyling. In contrast with all the strong female characters, the males were all seemingly made to look very foolish. The sharpness of the biting comedy is certainly something to relish, like fine-quality cheddar cheese. 8/10. 


EIGHT NOMINATIONS Picture, actor, actress, supporting actor, adapted screenplay, original song, cinematography, sound mixing

The first half of the film was more about Ally and her rise. We see about how Jack met Ally, their first night hanging out together, and the first time they sang on stage together. These parts of the story were so perfectly told onscreen. With the camera of cinematographer Matthew Libatique tightly focused on their faces most of the time, we immediately felt the spark that lit up between them and saw how it developed into a bright ball of fire. This part of the film was so raw and honest with heartfelt chemistry between the two characters, truly amazing film-making by newbie director and star Bradley Cooper. 8/10. 

My bets to win for each of the other categories:

Lead Actor: Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”;
Nominees: Christian Bale, “Vice”; Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”; Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”;  Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

Lead Actress: Glenn Close, “The Wife” (MY FULL REVIEW)
Nominees: Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”;  Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”; Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”; Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”;
Nominees: Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”; Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”; Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”; Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, “Vice”;
Nomineees: Marina de Tavira, “Roma”; Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”; Emma Stone, “The Favourite”; Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

Director: Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”;
Nominees: Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”; Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”; Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”;  Adam McKay, “Vice”

Animated Feature: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman; (MY FULL REVIEW)
Nominees: “Incredibles 2,” Brad Bird; “Isle of Dogs,” Wes Anderson; “Mirai,” Mamoru Hosoda; “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Rich Moore, Phil Johnston;

Animated Short: “One Small Step,” Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas;
Nominees: “Animal Behaviour,” Alison Snowden, David Fine; “Bao,” Domee Shi; “Late Afternoon,” Louise Bagnall;  “Weekends,” Trevor Jimenez

Adapted Screenplay: “BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee;
Nominees: “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen;  “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty; “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins; “A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

Original Screenplay: “Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly; 
Nominees: “The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara; “First Reformed,” Paul Schrader; “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón; “Vice,” Adam McKay

Cinematography: “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón; 
Nominees: “Cold War,” Lukasz Zal; “The Favourite,” Robbie Ryan; “Never Look Away,” Caleb Deschanel; “A Star Is Born,” Matthew Libatique

Best Documentary Feature: “Free Solo,” Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi;
Nominees: “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” RaMell Ross; “Minding the Gap,” Bing Liu; “Of Fathers and Sons,” Talal Derki; “RBG,” Betsy West, Julie Cohen

Best Documentary Short Subject: “End Game,” Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman;
Nominees: “Black Sheep,” Ed Perkins;  “Lifeboat,” Skye Fitzgerald; “A Night at the Garden,” Marshall Curry; “Period. End of Sentence.,” Rayka Zehtabchi

Best Live Action Short Film: “Marguerite,” Marianne Farley;
Nominees: “Detainment,” Vincent Lambe; “Fauve,” Jeremy Comte;  “Mother,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen; “Skin,” Guy Nattiv

Best Foreign Language Film: “Roma” (Mexico); “Shoplifters” (Japan)
Nominees: “Capernaum” (Lebanon); “Cold War” (Poland); “Never Look Away” (Germany); 

Film Editing: “Vice,” Hank Corwin
Nominees: “BlacKkKlansman,” Barry Alexander Brown; “Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Ottman; “Green Book,” Patrick J. Don Vito; “The Favourite,” Yorgos Mavropsaridis; 

Sound Editing: “A Quiet Place,” Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl; (MY FULL REVIEW)
Nominees: “Black Panther,” Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker; “Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Warhurst; “First Man,” Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan;  “Roma,” Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay

Sound Mixing: “Bohemian Rhapsody”;
Nominees: “Black Panther”;  “First Man”; “Roma”; “A Star Is Born”

Production Design: “Black Panther,” Hannah Beachler;
Nominees: “First Man,” Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas; “The Favourite,” Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton; “Mary Poppins Returns,” John Myhre, Gordon Sim; “Roma,” Eugenio Caballero, Bárbara Enrı́quez

Original Score: “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Nicholas Britell; 
Nominees: “BlacKkKlansman,” Terence Blanchard; “Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson; “Isle of Dogs,” Alexandre Desplat; “Mary Poppins Returns,” Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman

Original Song: “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice; 
Nominees: “All The Stars” from “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA; “I’ll Fight” from “RBG” by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson; “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns” by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman; “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

Makeup and Hair: “Vice”
Nominees: “Border”; “Mary Queen of Scots”; 

Costume Design: “The Favourite,” Sandy Powell; 
Nominees: “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Mary Zophres; “Black Panther,” Ruth E. Carter; “Mary Poppins Returns,” Sandy Powell; “Mary Queen of Scots,” Alexandra Byrne

Visual Effects: “Avengers: Infinity War”; (MY FULL REVIEW)
Nominees: “Christopher Robin”; “First Man”; “Ready Player One”; “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Review of VICE: Channeling Chaney

February 24, 2019

In the last Golden Globe awards, films about the music industry like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "A Star is Born" were nominated in the category of Best Picture Drama, while a political  biopic like "Vice" was nominated under Best Picture Comedy. Under the direction of Adam McKay (who also did "The Big Short"), "Vice" is like no other political biopic I had seen before. It was a sly unflinching blackly comic film that boldly criticized its subject (and the people around him) in a most underhanded manner.

"Vice" referred to Vice President Dick Cheney of the George W. Bush presidency. The historical flashback began from the year 1963 when Cheney dropped out of Yale University with a drinking problem. His political career began with his work as a White House intern under Nixon, a congressman under Carter, Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush and CEO of Halliburton under Clinton. Then he accepted to run as Vice President under George W. Bush, and as won. It further tells about the inside story about Cheney's actions behind the scenes during 9-11 and the WMD issue in Iraq. 

For physically transforming into Dick Cheney, Christian Bale won the SAG for Best Actor. He also won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy, although frankly, his performance here was not comic at all. It was in fact a realistically chilling personification of political manipulativeness, greed and ambition. He is a likewise a critical frontrunner to win the Oscar for Best Actor, but Rami Malek seems to be the more popular choice for transforming into Freddie Mercury.

Throughout his career, Cheney had his loyal and even more ambitious wife Lynne by his side. Lynne was the one who threatened Dick to give up his booze, She was the one who used her charm to campaigned on uncharismatic Dick's behlaf when he suffered a heart attack when he was running for congress. She was the one who was calling the shots when Dick was being offered to run for vice president.

Amy Adams is gunning for an Oscar for the sixth time this season for her understated portrayal of Lynne Cheney, the woman behind the man's success, Sam Rockwell also had awards buzz playing an autistic George W. Bush, now that was truly comic performance. Although as far as supporting actors were concerned, I preferred the acting of Steve Carrell as two-time Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He's a familiar name but I was surprised about how viciously he was portrayed in this film. Tyler Perry was also a smart standout as Sec.of State Colin Powell. 

As a non-American, I was trying to remember what I knew about Dick Cheney, and, aside from the fact that he was W's vice president, I do not know anything about him at all. I do not even know how he looked like. This movie was fascinating to me because it was so bold. All of these people (Dick, Lynne, W, Rumsfeld) were still very much alive, yet here was a movie that was brazenly making fun of them and what they did. Amazing wit and guts. 9/10. 

Review of BLACKkKLANSMAN: Incog Infiltration

February 24, 2019

Almost every year, there would be movies made about the civil rights movement in the USA in the 1960 and 1970s. Commonly they would be about prominent activists like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. However, this year director Spike Lee comes up with this remarkably fresh take on this contentious period in recent American history. What is better news is that this movie finally brings Spike Lee an Oscar nomination for Best Director and Best Picture. 

The year is 1978. Ron Stallworth was an African-American police officer, the first one in Colorado Springs, Colorado. When he saw an ad in the local paper that the Ku Klux Klan chapter in his area was recruiting members, he called the indicated phone number, pretended to be white and applied for membership. When they called for a face-to-face meeting, he sent his white colleague Flip Zimmerman to stand in for him. As long as their ruse was working, the police had inside information about the Klan's planned activities. 

This was a most audacious yet very entertaining film directed by Spike Lee, who is finally nominated by the Academy for Best Director for the very first time. He hit the big time thirty years ago with an Oscar nomination for his original screenplay for "Do the Right Thing" (1989) very early in his career. but since then, there was only one more nomination for Best Documentary Feature in 1998 for "4 Little Girls." Lee teamed up with Jordan Peele (director of "Get Out") as producer to make this film based on the memoirs written by Stallworth himself and published in 2014.

With his strong performance here of Ron Stallworth, John David Washington came out from under the shadow of his father, Denzel Washington. His Ron Stallworth was a smart and cool cat, confident and fearless against the odds his character was facing. However, for being the face that the Klan members see, it was Adam Driver (as Flip) who was rewarded with an unexpected Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. 

Topher Grace played KKK Grand Wizard tongue-in-cheek. Jasper Pääkkönen (as Felix Kendrickson) led the other actors playing the local KKK minions who maintained the thick atmosphere of danger intact amidst the dark humor of the procedings. Also memorable among the supporting cast were Corey Hawkins as civil rights speaker Kwame Ture, Fred Weller as racist patrolman Andy Landers and Laura Harrier as student activist Patrice Dumas (who became Ron's love interest). 

Also included here were scenes not integral to the story of Ron Stallworth, but were powerful statements against the racial atmosphere in the United States not only in the past but also in the present. Alec Baldwin appeared in the very first scene in a hateful white supremacist rant. Harry Belafonte appeared as activist Jerome Turner telling about the lynching of African-American teenager Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas way back 1916. 

For a final punch, Lee gave us shocking news reel footage which showed anarchy on the streets during the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. President Trump's statement about the heinous event would also be heard. This ending is vastly more disturbing and horrific than everything else we have seen because it shows the real-life state of racism in the USA even in this supposed age of integration. 9/10. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Review of THE FAVOURITE: Rabid and Ribald Rivalry

February 21, 2019

It was 1708. Sarah Churchill was the Duchess of Marlborough. She was the closest friend of Queen Anne, who was preferred to spend her days doing her unusual hobbies than be queen. Sarah was actually making the political decisions on behalf of the queen. This caused her to have enemies among the landowners who were being heavily taxed by her policies to fund Britain's war against France. 

Abigail Hill was Sarah's cousin whose family had been disgraced by gambling debts by her father. She started work at the palace as a maid, but she was eventually promoted to be the Queen's personal maid in her bedchamber. There, upon discovering Sarah's secret initmate relationship between the Queen, the shrewd Abigail developed a devious plot to usurp and take over Sarah's position as the Queen's favourite.

The main story of this strange period film about the rabid rivalry between Sarah and Abigail to be the Queen's favourite. Do not expect a peaceful genteel Merchant-Ivory film. This was a no-holds-barred and vicious catfight with all claws out, as presented to us for our entertainment by Greek director Yorgos Lanthinos. His previous films "Dogtooth" (2009) and "The Lobster" (2015) attained critical acclaim. Despite its offbeat nature, it was still the one that was most accessible to the mainstream. Likewise, it was this one that finally earned him the Oscar nomination for both Best Picture and Directing. 

Despite not being the main character, Olivia Colman was the one who earned a slew of Best Actress nominations for her role as Queen Anne. In the story, this queen was actually frail and often seen in bed, or in the company of her pet rabbits. However, Colman was able to give Anne a memorably bizarre behavior that cannot be ignored. She still maintained an imperious queenly air about her despite being infirm. Her bipolar personality was switching to and fro erratically, but she can still make her royal pronouncements and made sure her orders were carried out.

Previous Oscar winners both, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone fully deserved critical praises for their performances here, which I honestly thought were not supporitng at all. They were both played strong characters. They were so shamelessly committed even if the scene was crude or embarassing. I would have thought that Weisz and Stone should compete for Best Actress, together with Colman to set an Oscar precedent. Between the two, I'd say Weisz has the edge to win, for being in that fantastically beguiling ballroom dance scene and that harrowing horse riding scene. 

The blackness of the comedy reflects in the unusually over-the-top costume designs (an Oscar nomination for Sandy Dennis) as well as make-up and hairstyling. Under all the strong female characters, the male characters were all seemingly made to look very foolish.  For me, I like these types of historical movies with their interesting character and cultural studies, so I was very much engaged in this one. The sharpness of the biting comedy is certainly something to relish, like quality cheddar cheese. .8/10. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Review of HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U: Sci-Fi Slasher

February 20, 2019

For someone not fond of slasher films, the original "Happy Death Day" (MY REVIEW) was a slasher film I really enjoyed because of its entertaining time loop concept laced with a wry sense of humor. Just when you thought everything was ironed out pretty neatly at the end of that film, the filmmakers behind suprised by coming up with a sequel. Since we had a lot of fun watching the first one, deciding to watch this sequel was an automatic decision.

Part 2 began September 19, the day after Tree Gelbman's interminable Monday in Part 1. Science geek Ryan, who had been working on his "quantum reactor" thesis project with this fellow nerds Samar and Dre, began having his day repeat itself. Tree got herself involved again, and after an accident with the reactor, her September 18 began all over again. However, when she noted marked differences, Tree realized that she was not in exactly the same dimension where she came from, and she must choose where she wanted to go. 

Jessica Rothe was still very likable as the desperate Tree. It was funny to see that very first scene from the last film of Tree waking up in Carter's dorm room over and over, and Rothe gave it a different spin each time. It must have been quite a fun challenge for her to change things up with every reliving of the past and do all those different ways to die. Tree had a big decision to make in this film, a choice that spelled how the film was going to end. Rothe winningly drew us all on her side and held everything together, perverse and absurd as events may get. 

It was a lot of fun seeing all the familiar characters again. Carter (Israel Broussard) was still the supportive boy in whose room Tree woke up in, but his character will have a big surprise in store in the new dimension. Mean girl Danielle was the still the hilarious comic relief she was in the first film, with more over-the-top acting from Rachelle Matthews this time. Tree's nurse roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), Tree's professor Dr. Butler (Charles Aitken) and Tree's parents (Missy Yager and Jason Bayle) all had significant twists in their storylines. Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), Samar Ghosh (Suraj Sharma) and Dre Morgan (Sarah Yarkin) were all awkward and dweebish. 

The repeating hi-jinks of the first movie are all here again, this time upping the dose of comedy along with the science-fiction angle. The series of Tree's inaginatively violent death scenes by the Babyface killer were also oddly entertaining in a macabre way. The "science" and the "math" were probably all meaningless gibberish, but these scenes were quite funny, especially those where Tree herself was doing the hifalutin calculations. However, even when the jargon was just flying over my head, the crazy editing of the scenes all seemed to make perfect sense. I actually enjoyed this a bit more than the first one. 7/10.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Review of THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART: Sub-awesome Sequel

February 19, 2019

This new animated feature is a direct sequel to the big hit "The Lego Movie" released five years ago, which launched its own series of films with anthropomorphic Lego characters. It follows events from both the animated world of Emmet and Lucy in Bricksburg, as well as the real-life world of siblings Finn and Bianca. 

The city of Bricksburg has been serially attacked by "cute"-looking alien creatures until it had evolved into a dystopic community called Apocalypseburg. The rough and angry life in Apocalypseburg had hardened all its inhabitants. Well, except for Emmet who was still chipper and cheerful as ever, who still believed that everything is awesome. Even if he was being bothered by nightmares of "Armamageddon," Emmet constructed a little house where he and Lucy can rebuild the world. 

In the next attack by the Duplo aliens, General Sweet Mayhem abducted Batman, Lucy, Benny, MetalBeard, and Unikitty, to take them to the Systar system where their sassy Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi had a matrimonial ceremony planned at 5:15 that afternoon. Emmett goes out in pursuit of his friends using a spacecraft he made from the ruins of his dream house. He encounters space adventurer Rex Dangervest who tried to toughen Emmett up for the big fight ahead of them. 

This sequel had everything we expected from it -- the imaginative animation designs with an explosion of colors, the catchy earworm pop tunes, the exceptional voice acting (by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett), the offbeat sense of humor. We see inspirations from other movies, notably "Mad Max Fury Road," on which Apocalypseburg with all its dystopian vehicles had been based. There were a lot of cameos of various fictional characters -- JLA members, Gandalf, Velma of Scooby Doo, etc. There were also cameos of real-life people as Legos, like US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.and Bruce Willis. 

Lego Duplo blocks (bigger and thicker Lego blocks designed for young kids) were used for the alien invaders, which I personally thought had corny and uncool designs. I did not like how Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi was first portrayed to us. Her square block of a face was so awkward-looking design-wise. The voice acting by Tiffany Haddish was so distinctly her usual screen personality, which could be really off-putting or annoying. But again, I get it why these aliens were portrayed this way as a metaphor for the real-life drama behind the whole animated storyline. 

The problem with this film being a sequel is that the novelty that made the first one so great is not all there anymore. The new elements, like the Lego Duplo aliens, do not really help up its level of innovation or comedy. It is still fun and funny, yes, but anymore not as fun and funny as the first one was. 6/10. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review of SERENITY: Nebulous Noir

February 14, 2019

Based on tropical Plymouth Island, Baker Dill earned a living by taking tourists on fishing tours on his boat Serenity. One day, his ex-wife Karen paid him a visit to tell Baker that her present husband Frank had been abusive to her, She wanted Baker to help her murder him. Baker was not interested despite the hefty price Karen offered for the deed. When he learned that his son with Karen, Patrick, was also being abused by Frank, Baker began to reconsider doing the crime. Will he?

With its tropical heat, duplicitous wife and incipient crime, "Serenity" possessed an old-fashioned film noir set-up. The best examples of this genre were "The Big Sleep" and "Double Indemnity" both from the 1940s, when this type of films were the rage in Hollywood. After "Chinatown" (1974) and "Body Heat" (1981) however, one would be hard-pressed to name another successful one in more recent years.  "Serenity" tried going that route, but no, it won't be joining the list of these classics. 

The first problem was its star Matthew McConaughey, As Baker Dill, he was back to his old pre-Oscar exaggerated acting style in this obnoxious character. From its very first scene on the fishing boat, he made known his obsession to catch Justice, his dream giant tuna. He also enjoyed a friends-with-benefits relationship with a matron Constance (a wasted Diane Lane). He was naked in many scenes, and was not shy to show off his 50-year old glutes. 

Anne Hathaway played Baker's ex-wife Karen, who was trapped in an abusive second marriage.  Her acting was supposed to be sexy and sultry, but they come across as oddly stilted and somehow funny. Jason Clarke played Karen's current husband, a violent loudmouth of a man. He projects that sinister sense of danger about him, but because Karen was also so annoying, we don't really feel sorry or anything about her condition. 

The weirdest character was that of a nerdy but persistent salesman Reid Miller who stalked Baker to offer him a complementary fish tracking equipment. When he finally got to talk with Baker, he was completely intelligible referring to some game he kept on talking about. Only at the very end do we realize what he was talking about, but then by then some people may have already tuned out of what he meant in the first place. 

Even if you already knew the ending, you still cannot see how everything fit in. The gratuitous inclusion of 90s style erotic scenes was also mind-boggling. I understand that they were going for something heart-warming -- some sort of a connection between a son misssing his estranged father. The concept was not bad in that sense, but the execution by writer-director Steven Knight of that idea was simply too bizarre and illogical. 3/10. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Review of ALONE / TOGETHER: Tempestuous Timing

February 13, 2019

Christine Lazaro was an idealistic arts student from UP. Rafael Toledo was a pre-med student from UST. They became sweethearts soon after Raf fell in love at first sight with Tin ever since he first saw her as a tour guide at the Spoliarium exhibit in the National Museum. They seemed to be the perfect couple until Tin suddenly called their relationship off for reasons she never let Raf know.

Fast forward five years, Tin was the secretary of a busy businessman Gregory Fausto currently undergoing an annulment of his marriage. Raf, now an emergency room physician in a government hospital, just received an award for his exemplary public service as doctor to the barrios in Dinagat Island. Sheer serendipity led to Tin and Raf crossing paths again. Will they rekindle their interrupted love, despite having respective significant others?

Writer cum director Antoinette Jadaone certainly knows how to tell a story of romance. She had written and directed some of the best Filipino romance-comedy movies in recent years, like "That Thing Called Tadhana" (2014), "Love You to the Stars and Back" (2017) and "Never Not Love You" (2018). She continues her winning streak with "Alone / Together." 

Jadaone has the uncanny ability to write lines based on the personality of the actors playing the characters, so their dialog just rolls off very naturally, as if they'd say these words to each other in real life. She also knew very well how to mine the chemistry between her two stars. She had the knack to create ticklish thrills, as well as draw out tears. 

I think Jadaone goofed a bit with the five year gap between their break-up and reunion, when it came to the meteoric speed of Raf's medical career. When they broke up, Raf was still not done with his premed. Yet in five years, he was able to finish his med school (4 years), internship (1 year), serve as doctor to the barrios long enough to merit a TOYM award (surely more than 1 year), and now serve as emergency room consultant (which requires a 3-year residency). 

For a story that spanned several years, the running time was short, only 1 hr and 40 minutes. From the beginning up to the peak of the plot which took place in bustling New York City no less, the pace of the storytelling was brisk and engaging. However, after the Big Apple scenes, the pace sort of slowed down and felt too long.; Some parts in Act 3, like the dinner scene of Tin and Gregory or those meet-up scenes in the ER parking lot, felt awkward and unrealistic.

This is the first feature film of the LizQuen love team that I have seen, and I was impressed with their acting skills. They both started off as simple unglamorous college kids, hardly any makeup, pimply oily sweaty faces, but blissfully happy. Later they mature into well-dressed, sophisticated adults, yet full of regrets and what-ifs. The transition was smooth and subtle for both of them, not only in how they looked, but also their voices and demeanor. 

The best scenes of the whole film involved two emotionally-charged proposals. There two very heartfelt scenes were so richly played by both Soberano and Gil at their best. Their delivery of lines were so effectively affecting, such that the words go straight to the heart and linger there. We will definitely feel how time had been so much against their favor despite being seemingly so right for each other. 

The supporting roles were played by veteran actors: Sylvia Sanches as Tin's kind mother Hilda, and Nonie Buencamino so subtly gay as Tin's mentor Sir Alwyn. Adrian (formerly Luis) Alandy played Tin's boss and much older boyfriend Greg. After her featured role as Jericho Rosales ex-girlfriend in "Siargao," Jasmine Curtis Smith was cast in the role of Raf's new girlfriend, Aly, a resident training in the ER. 

The cinematography of the New York scenes were topnotch, also bringing us into the MET and the Guggenheim museums. The mood was enhanced by the 90s musical soundtrack, with Eraserheads "Spoliarium" (the subject of Tin and Raf's first debate) and Rivermaya's "214" (with that iconic intro totally enveloping that nighttime Sunken Garden scene with emo vibes). On overall assessment, even if it is only February now, "Alone / Together" will definitely be among this year's best films. 8/10. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review of ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL: Gritty, Graceful Gamine

February 12, 2019

In a dystopic Iron City in the year 2563,  Dr. Dyson Ido found the damaged remains of a female cyborg whose human brain was still fully intact. After Ido rebuilt and revived her, she did not recall anything from her past. Ido decided to name her Alita, the name of his deceased daughter. As she explored the city along with her new human friend Hugo, she would discover that she has awesome physical skills and fighting prowess. She would soon learn that she was a prime target on the hit list of various cyborg assassins.

Immediately right off the bat, your attention is grabbed by the film's spectacular computer generated imagery. From the busy cityscapes of Iron City to the fast-moving Motorball arena, every thing looks so vibrantly alive. The cyborgs of various sizes and weaponry are also very impressively executed in their breathtaking fight scenes. There are some pretty imaginative machines and vehicles conceived for various scenes, since this is more than 500 years into the future after all. So many futuristic steampunk films have been coming out recently (like "Blade Runner 2049," "Ready Player One," "Mortal Engines"), and this one still manages to stand out distinctly. 

Rosa Salazar had been in teen dystopian films like "Divergent" and "Maze Runner," but I did not really know her name until this one. As Alita, Salazar joins Andy Serkis (Gollum of "The Lord of the Rings," Caesar of "Planet of the Apes" and Supreme Leader Snoke in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"), Zoe Saldana (Neytiri of "Avatar") and maybe even Dan Stevens (Beast from "Beauty and the Beast") in the list of filmdom's most memorable performances by a computer-generated character. 

Even though I had my doubts when I saw her in the trailer, actually seeing Salazar's full performance as Alita was truly enchanting. Her reborn naivete in Act 1 was so sweet and endearing (what with those expressive big eyes!), such that even when Alita goes full-on sword warrior slicing and dicing left and right, we still found her to be good, graceful and beautiful soul -- battle angel indeed. Despite some unclear story elements, it is Salazar's Alita that kept our attention and emotional connection to the very end.

Three actors who had won Oscars for acting in a supporting role have supporting roles in this film. Christoph Waltz ("Inglorious Basterds," "Django Unchained") remarkably went against his usual stereotyped role of cruel German Nazi to play Alita's sentimental father figure, Dr. Ido, His paternal chemistry with Alita had much depth and warmth. Jennifer Connely ("A Beautiful Mind") seemed miscast as Dr. Ido's ex-wife Chiren. She seemed uncomfortable and out-of-place in her scenes. Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight," "Green Book") displayed uncharacteristically awkward acting as Vector, a ruthless Motorball organizer, especially during his final face-off with Alita. 

Producer James Cameron took almost two decades to bring the 1990 Japanese cyberpunk manga series "Battle Angel Alita" by Yukito Kishiro to the big screen. and the technological reasons for the long delay are clearly evdient. Cameron entrusted his script to the directorial discretion to Ruben Rodriguez, known for rough and tumble action flicks like "El Mariachi," "Desperado" and "Machete." That Old West spirit Rodriguez had was brought into the futuristic domain here. The ending promised a sequel (or maybe more if this proves lucrative in the box office) so there should be more opportunities for their creative team to further expound on this exciting new world they had created for Alita. 8/10.

Monday, February 11, 2019


February 11, 2019

Megan Reed is a police officer suffered from severe depression following a failed mission which cost the life of a colleague. After coming out of rehab, she accepted a job working the graveyard shift in a hospital morgue. One night, when she received a twisted corpse of Hannah Grace, which had deep ugly lacerations all over her body. Since then, the morgue was never peaceful anymore for Megan as other people start dying one by one, while Hannah Grace's body seemed to be healing itself.

The initial premise of a psychologically unstable ex-cop applying for a job in a morgue seemed untenable right off the bat. However, if you let that questionable detail pass, the rest of the movie actually worked quite well with its aim to provide scares. Yes, there were all the usual horror film tropes right there in that morgue, with its mortuary freezers, dark corners, dead bodies, flickering lights, claustrophobic atmosphere, etc. Dutch director Diederik Van Rooijen used his spooky setting to maximum effect in this, his first film in the USA.

The deformed cadaver of Hannah Grace (played by Kirby Johnson in her first title role) was also worked very well as the central horror character, with her grotesque shape, all her creaky body movements and open glaring blue eyes. We first see Hannah Grace at the beginning of the film as a subject of two priests attempting to perform an exorcism on her, with disastrous results. This initial part was practically an updated version of "The Exorcist" (the veritable template for all demonic possession films after it), but it came up with a more visually ghastly death for the priest. 

Shay Mitchell followed the lead of her three other co-stars from "Pretty Little Liars" TV series to star in her own horror film. As Megan Reed, Mitchell was a beautiful protagonist we can easily side with in her ordeal. She seemed to be really seriously committed to her role, despite the terrible foolhardy decisions her character was making. People were already telling her to give the morbid job up, yet she wanted to investigate even if it was already completely messing her mind up. Do you call that brave, or was that crazy? The protagonist of all horror films need to act that way, or else there won't be any tension at all to speak of.

Of course, there will be questions that arise after sitting through this with your nerves all riled up. First of all, I guess they should know that destroying the body of Hannah Grace does not prevent the evil spirit from transferring to another susceptible body, right? Who or what was this spirit anyway? Why was it sparing Megan all that time (even though she had always the easiest target), and was only killing the side characters (even taking the effort to go out of the morgue to kill them)? I guess logic is not exactly needed in a horror film like this, just the gore and the scares. 6/10. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Review of ELISE: Engaged to an Enigma

February 8, 2019

As a young girl, Elise (Kristal Brimner) was a pretty girl, but tended to be tough and tomboyish. Her classmate Bert (Geson Granado), a shy, introverted boy, had the biggest crush on her. One day, Elise and her family migrated to the States, so their young love affair was aborted just when it began. 

They met again about 8 years later in college. However, because Elise (Janine Gutierrez) was involved with a boyfriend Ivan (Miko Raval) then, Bert (Enchong Dee) was again frustrated in his bid to profess his feelings for her. Will there be ever be a third chance for Bert to meet Elise again and finally win her heart?

The film began with a mature Bert going back to visit his hometown of San Miguel. When he passed by the school to greet his former teacher Ms. Marithel (an unrecognizable Shyr Valdez), she requested him to bring her delinquent student Remy (Miel Espinoza) back to her home, since it was along Bert's way. Along the walk home, Bert told the inquisitive 9-year old girl how his love story with Elise evolved through the years. This style of storytelling by director Joel Ferrer afforded this film the benefits of heartwarming sentiments, hindsight and reflections.

I've admired Enchong Dee as a down-to-earth sensible young man in real life, and he reflected that impression in his character of the earnest Bert. Bert had to work hard to turn his fortune around to prove that he was worthy of their daughter, and Dee was a convincing actor to portray that character credibly. As the main anchor of the whole film, Dee did well to portray a good man who truly loved only one woman for his whole life.

With her mesmerizing face and smile, Janine Gutierrez was a very good choice for the role of Elise, a girl whom Bert obsessed for his whole life. We only see what Bert knew about her, so she remained an enigmatic character with several aspects of her life that were shrouded in mystery. Because of the ethereal quality of Gutierrez's Elise, her chemistry with Dee's Bert was not instant, but a gradually developing one. 

I may be in the minority, but the comedy style in several scenes were not really my cup of tea. I did not like the fresh, sassy, direspectful way Remy was talking back to adults, which I presume was supposed to be funny. Bert's best buddy Gian (Victor Anastacio) was the main comic relief during the flashbacks, but the way he delivered his silly jokes did not feel natural for me. The green jokes felt creepy coming from Anastacio, just as they were delightful coming from Pilita Corrales as Bert's grandmother Jesusa. 

I thought that the whole episode about 17-year old Bert and the older nursing student Rita (Laura Lehman) went on too long a detour from the main storyline. Also I wish Bert had mentioned in his narration that Josie was his mom's (Jackie Lou Blanco) name. This name would come up prominently at a certain point in the film, but it was not clear who Josie was. I just assumed its significance, which was later to be confirmed at the end credits. 

Overall, I liked how the story was told such that I did not really foresee what was going to happen in the end. It was a fresh approach to a oft-told story of first love and its bittersweet ramifications with the passage of time. Those movie clips from Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos and Kris Aquino (with a flash Lilia Cuntapay) were a nice nostalgic touch. The familiar haunting notes of Beethoven's classic piano piece "Für Elise" (or more formally known as Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor) played throughout the film will also be playing in your head as you think back on Bert and Elise's story of love. 7/10.