Sunday, March 31, 2019

Review of FIVE FEET APART: Pulmonary Prisoners

March 31, 2019

Stella Grant and Will Newman meet while undergoing experimental cystic fibrosis treatment at a hospital. Stella had an obsessive-compulsive personality, making her a stickler for following rules about her treatment. On the other hand, Will was her total opposite -- a artist and a rebel who did not care much for rules nor his medications. When the two eventually fall in love, they challenged convention and decided to take one foot back, using a pool cuestick to maintain a 5-foot distance between them instead of the usual six.

Romantic relationships between sick teenagers are a genre of its own, especially in recent years. The granddaddy of this type of terminal romance story line is probably "Love Story" (1970) with Ali McGraw's character afflicted with leukemia.  "A Walk to Remember" (2002), "Now is Good" (2012) and "Me, Earl and the Dying Girl" (2015) were also about leukemia.  "The Fault in Our Stars" (2014) had thyroid cancer, "Everything Everything" (2017) had severe combined immunodeficiency, "Midnight Sun" (2018) had xeroderma pigmentosum. 

Justin Baldoni's "Five Feet Apart" joins that list this year, and tackles cystic fibrosis (CF). This is a genetic disorder that affects the lungs by clogging up its passages with thick mucus, which causes difficulty in breathing and makes them very much at risk for lung infections caused by atypical bacteria that require special antibiotics. Because of this, patients of CF are strictly advised to maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from fellow CF patients to avoid potentially deadly cross-infections among themselves.

The film was very educational for health professionals here, because CF because this disease is inherited via a recessive gene which is more common among Caucasians, and is hence not usually seen on our side of the world. Thanks to Stella's informative social media vlogs, we learn a lot of useful information about CF, and the difficulties experienced by patients afflicted with it. We learn about other conditions associated with this disease, in particular nasal polyp surgery and lung transplantation. 

Haley Lu Richardson was a warm and winsome Stella, whom you could not help but root for. Cole Sprouse plays the brooding bad boy Will whom she could not help but fall in love with. Like most teen romances, this one also had a talkative gay best friend character in the person of Poe (Marcus Arias), who was afraid to love because of his CF. Their parents only showed up towards the end of the film (with Claire Forlani as Will's mom), but their de facto parent had been Nurse Barbara (Kimberly H├ębert Gregory). 

Of course, the development of the love story may have been too good to be true. It is highly unlikely that these stunts can actually happen in real life, especially since they were patients confined a hospital with nurses supposedly keeping watch over them. Sometimes the rules are not too clear with regards to infection control and precautions, especially when it comes to people they come in contact with, the things they use, or the activities they can do. I think lapses in protocol have been breached in the interest of cinematic license. You do have to wait almost two hours to see who makes it or not, but there are smiles and tears along the way to make it worth your while. 7/10. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Review of HOTEL MUMBAI: The Guest is God

March 30, 2019

On November 26, 2008, a group of young men went to Mumbai to launch a grisly series of terrorist attacks on the city.  They were egged on by the voice of their boss Bull who brainwashed them to strike back those who caused their poverty. These boys opened fire and threw grenades on big crowds at selected targets, causing countless casualties. 

Four of those young men laid siege on the posh five-star hotel for the rich and famous, the Taj. The film focused on how some hotel employees, like head chef Hemant and food server Arjun went over and beyond the call of their duty to stay and try to help their valued guests survive the bloody ordeal at the hands of these Muslim extremists. 

I first knew Dev Patel when he was much younger in critically-acclaimed Oscar Best Picture "Slumdog Millionaire" (Danny Boyle, 2008). The last time I saw him was in another Oscar-caliber film "Lion" (Garth Davis, 2016). Here, Patel played Arjun, a young father who needed to work extra shifts to earn for his growing family. He was supposed to have been spared from working that night of the attack because his shoe fell out of his bag, but fate had a lot more in store for him. 

Arnie Hammer played David the American husband of an Indian-Muslim heiress Zahra (played by Iranian-British actress Nazanin Boniadi). Australian actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey played the Sally, the nanny of their infant son. David and Zahra were at dinner during the attack, while Sally and the baby stayed in their suite. This created a tense situation where the parents were willing to risk their safety and their lives in order to get together with their son.

Indian actor Anupam Kher (also seen in films like "Lust, Caution" and "The Silver Lining Playbook") played the head chef of the Taj, Hemant Oberoi, who calmly and nobly took upon himself the task of keeping their guests safe inside the secret exclusive Chamber lounge, staying true to the Taj's mantra -- "The guest is god." 

English actor Jason Isaacs (better known as Lucius Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" series) played the role of Vasili, a Russian guest of shady reputation and a taste for exotic women. In her final screen role, the recently departed Australian actress Carmen Duncan played Lady Wynn, a paranoid prejudiced society matron. 

Even if these events happened only a little over 10 years ago, I had no memory of them at all. That was why I was totally riveted as the recreation of the attacks unfolded on the screen, shocked that I don't remember any of these. Australian director Anthony Maras told the stories in a most compelling manner, from various points of view -- the terrorists, the hotel staff, the VIP guests, and the local police. Even if the brutality was hard to watch, this film was very effective as both a dramatic vehicle, as well as a suspenseful thriller. 8/10.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Review of MARIA: Slick, Sexy and Sadistic

March 28, 2019

Last year, action movies starring male stars failed to fly with the critics nor at the box office. Meanwhile, action movies starring the most unlikely female stars were on a nerry roll. First, Anne Curtis rocked as a fearless drug enforcer in "BuyBust." Soon after, Erich Gonzales was a tough movie stuntwoman in "We Will Not Die Tonight." This year, it is the turn of sexy actress Cristine Reyes to become an action star. The first two films were all topnotch for me, both earning high ratings from me. Curious to see how Ms. Reyes will continue the trend.

Maria (Cristine Reyes) led a happy content home life with her husband Bert (Guji Lorenzana) and daughter Min-min (Johanna Rish Tongcua). Her secret dark past as a topnotch hired assassin Lily finally caught up with her when her former boyfriend and partner-in-crime Kaleb (Ivan Padilla), son of notorious crime boss Ricardo de la Vega (Freddie Webb), spotted her in a crowd, and wasted no time to raid her home, turning her idyllic present life upside-down into bloody chaos. 

This was one hell of a jaw-dropping, no-holds-barred action film. The violence was all-out and in-your-face, challenging the limits of its R-16 rating. (There are some cinemas showing the Director's Cut, rated R-18.) The shock value started from the very first action sequence, and later was sustained with various mercilessly sadistic ways to kill people. Director Pedring Lopez knew that people can already watch gunfights for free on TV in "Ang Probinsyano." Action films need to go beyond what they can do on TV so people will go watch them on the big screen, and that is precisely what "Maria" did.

A couple of whistleblowers were hung with hands over their heads, then shot to death point-blank. A baseball bat was used to shatter a person's skull. A teenager was tortured with pliers even as he was already begging for mercy. A man was tied down on a block of ice and tortured with a drill. A pretty head was smashed onto a marble countertop, and stilletto heels were used to complete the kill. 

The imagination of fight choreographer Sonny Sison (same guy who worked on the stunts of "BuyBust" as well as various Hollywood films) certainly worked overtime to come up with all of these thrilling hand-to-hand combat or curved-knife fight scenes, mixed with gunfire and explosions for more excitement. 

Cristine Reyes went over and above my expectations of her. Despite how delicate she may look, she was very credible as a kick-ass action star. As wife and mother Maria, she was all-feminine in dress and manner. However, when pushed to a fight, she faced her enemies head on with her deadly skills in fighting and with weapons. She could wipe out an entire swarm of bad guys with her bare hands or whatever random items she can get her hands on, even in a dress with high heels. As Kaleb said, she is more deadly than his entire troop of goons put together. 

Freddie Webb had a better time portraying a ruthless crime lord dela Vega here, than in the dramas I had seen him recently. Ivan Padilla (who actually had a career on US TV under the name Germaine de Leon) and KC Montero played his two English-speaking brat sadist sons Kaleb (the favored yet unreliable son) and Victor (the less favored yet more reliable son). Padilla was a sick hateful impulsive mess of a guy as Kaleb, while Montero in contrast was calmer and restrained. Comic relief was provided by Maria's retired mentor in the assassin trade -- old man Greg, played by Ronnie Lazaro. 

The film itself was technically very clean and topnotch, with a slick world-class look. Cinematographer Pao Orendain worked very well balancing light and shadow for a classy dramatic effect. The editing of the fight scenes by Jason Cahapay worked very well with the hard rock-flavored musical score of Jesse Lasaten to whip up an atmosphere of frenetic energy. The sound effects mixing literally took your breath away as you can feel each punch hit hard with bone-crushing force. The promise of a sequel at the end was uncommonly audacious for a Filipino film, and I for one, am rooting for it to come to pass. 8/10.

Review of EERIE: Guiding Girls and Ghosts

March 27, 2019

The local movie industry had been on a sad slump since the beginning of this year. Whatever the genre, nothing seemed to work. So far, the only film that hit it big in the box office was a romance that starred a very popular young love team, but that was hardly a surprise. However, this horror film by Mikhail Red hopes to break that trend with the very  loud media hype surrounding it, despite its uncommon combination of female lead stars -- Bea Alonzo and Ms. Charo Santos.

Sta. Lucia Academy is an all-girls school housed within the convent of nuns led by the very conservative and very strict Sor Alice Nicolas. In 1995, Ms. Patricia Consolacion was their kind and approachable guidance counselor. Because of a personal trauma in their family, Ms. Pat was very sensitive to the problems faced by the students. In fact, Pat was so sensitive that she can even see and communicate with the tormented spirits of girls who had died on campus, like Erika Sayco (who hanged herself in the restroom) or Clara Nemenzo (who was strangled in the courtyard).

Director Mikhail Red started things off very well, as he opened the film with an uneasy montage of images depicting the daily disciplined routines of the girls and nuns in Sta. Lucia. He generated that uncomfortable mood right off at the start, and that was very good. However, as the film went on, to generate more scares, he unfortunately resorted to as many predictable horror tropes in the book as he could throw into the mix, sometimes becoming repetitive.

There were jump scares galore here, all with that slow steady, quiet setup, then that sudden blast of loud blaring music to jar the tension and elicit the screams. Also, despite being the "premier" Catholic school in Manila in the 1990s, the long medieval-looking halls of Sta. Lucia Academy seemed perpetually cloaked in darkness, with practically no evident security system nor any working lights at night. It was so pitch black in there, that the characters had to carry flashlights and even light matches to be able to see what was in front of them.

There were spooky reflections in mirrors, scratchy-souding cassette tapes, Latin chanting, red-lit darkrooms for developing film, abandoned toilet cubicles, vivid nightmares, furniture shrouded in white cloth, water turning into blood, and the ubiquitous religious statues (If you recall, Sta. Lucia had her eyes on a plate which in itself is a ghastly image). I thought it would not have a scene set on a dark rainy night, but indeed there was, right at the film's climax. Finally and not the least, there was also a vengeful spirit who wanted to punish others because of how badly she was treated in life. 

Sor Alice (pronounced with three syllables "a-li-che") started out as such a strong imposing character, red herrings notwithstanding. However, her final breakdown confrontation with Pat was marked with an abrupt and inexplicable shift in personality, which for me was such a sorry development in her story, and could have been done better. With her incredible screen presence, Ms. Charo Santos embodied Sor Alice with so much passion and power, which all but dissipated (and wasted) in that one key scene.

We know how good Bea Alonzo is as a dramatic actress, and she showed her range off very well here in a genre so different from the romances we are more used to seeing her in. Her Pat was a very brave, empathetic character who was not difficult to root for, even when she was being either very dedicated or very foolhardy to be staying up way past midnight in abject darkness, over and beyond the call of her duty, and dare to speak with and even counsel the souls of disturbed dead girls. 

Jake Cuenca played the intrepid police investigator Julian Castro. Maxene Magalona played a young novice nun, Sister Mia, Pat's friend in the faculty. Miguel Faustmann played the cheerful Father Darwin, the rector of Sta. Lucia Academy. Gillan Vicencio, Mary Joy Apostol and Gabby Pineda played Erika, Clara and Joyce, the three psychologically-disturbed girls with whom Ms. Pat had close encounters with. 

Mycko David's classy cinematography was filtered in dull grey, practically washing out all color, except for the occasional shock of bright red. The editing of NIkolas Red and Jeffrey Loreno worked well with the somber music of Myka Magsaysay-Sigua and Paul Sigua, and the sound design of Immanuel Verona to create the whole eerie atmosphere that pervaded the whole film. The script by Mariah Reodica, Mikhail Red and Rae Red had some nifty original elements in it, with M. Night Shymalan's "The Sixth Sense" an obvious inspiration (not really Corin Hardy's "The Nun" as many may think). 7/10. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Review of PANSAMANTAGAL: Rambling and Risque

March 22, 2019 

Agnes was a mistress who wanted to break off from her man, but could not make herself do so. Leo was a lonely man who could not find his right partner in the world. Serendipity had it that the two of them would cross paths along the picturesque beachfront of the Sunset Paradise Resort, where they had both decided to have a temporary getaway from the stresses of their daily living. With the gregarious resort staff Lorena hovering around them, will Agnes and Leo hit it off as a couple?

Bayani Agbayani's Leo was supposedly reserved, yet shockingly direct. That first day he met Agnes, he brought up the matter of the size of Agnes' boyfriend's member. On their first date, he actually put a face towel into this underwear to simulate this organ that Agnes still longed for. This issue would eventually be a recurrent joke throughout the film, where all three main actors all mentioning the vulgar Filipino word for it. In one fleeting scene, we actually get a fleeting glimpse of this legendary organ (as shock value). Agbayani bravely played against type here, but he felt creepy in the way certain scenes were executed.

Gelli de Belen's Agnes, on the other hand, was pretty, stylish and seemed to have the world in front of her, yet here she was. wasting her life away as a married man's mistress. Her character was very badly written, with a lot of illogical actions and decisions. Why was she resting her head on Leo's shoulder at the concert? Why did she say she was checking out, even rolling out her suitcase, yet was shown staying one more day? What was her cruel, heartless, derisive fake laughter for? What did her "Godbless" followed by a hand shake signify that a scene like that had to be repeated two times? 

DJ Chacha's Lorena was a nosy busybody. For a resort employee, she was inexplicably intrusive and did not know her place. Despite how natural her comedic style seemed to be over the radio, the naughty lines given for her to say were very awkward, uncalled for and quite embarrassing. Consequently her acting here was still very self-conscious and unnatural. Anyhow, she still managed to keep her winsome personality her fans loved her for, despite the forced, frankly unfunny, humor in her scenes.

Perla Bautista and Ronnie Lazaro had minor roles as the publisher and worker at the Bahaghari Publishing House, which published the works of Kiko Rivero. They used to be big back in the day when "komiks" were the rage, but now had floundering fortunes, with only Kiko's books keeping them afloat. The film's tribute to comics was charming, but I am not sure what its connection was to the totality of the story. 

Edgar Allan Guzman provided his image (on the book cover) and his voice (as the initial narrator) for contemplative author Kiko Rivero. John Vic de Guzman played guitar and sang "Can This Be Love" at a beach concert and his number was shown in full. However, he never appeared again the rest of the film.

The title of this film is a ironic portmanteau of two Filipino words: "pansamantala" (meaning "temporary") and "matagal" (meaning "long-lasting"). In this film, this made-up word was also the title of the latest book by best-selling author Kiko Rivero, who was eloquent with words as he was also young and good-looking. This word was translated in the English subtitles as "temporary infinity" -- an oxymoron which may certainly sound poetic when heard, but is actually difficult to define in any context. 

Does it refer to something that should have been temporary, but was lasting longer than it should because of procrastination? Does it refer to something that was supposed to last a long time, but turned out to be short-lived and temporary because of neglect? When the last chapter of Rivero's book was read out loud, "pansamantagal" was actually the very last word of the book. But honestly, i thought that final chapter was a bittersweet melange of Hallmark sentiments which sounded good as individual sentences, but taken together they did not convey a single clear solid message. 

At its core, there was a sappy story of a budding romance. Writer-director decided to spark up it up to life using very raunchy jokes (this film was rated R-16!). This is a very risky move as the older female viewers who may be interested to watch a movie about a relationship between two middle-age single people may not exactly find the sexually-charged humor too amusing (or will they?). With its sentimental style of script, Writer-director Joven Tan may have intended to write it in a way which was supposed to come across as profound, but unfortunately, I did not appreciate it that way. 4/10. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Review of US: Dangerous Doppelgangers

March 21, 2019

Two years ago, writer and director Jordan Peele impressed critics and the movie-watching public alike with his debut feature "Get Out." They were so impressed that that film was nominated in the Oscars for four major categories: Best Picture, Director, Actor and Original Screenplay (which it won). This year, Peele is back with a new project and of course, we all eagerly want to know if this is a worthy followup to the high standards his debut film set.

Gabe and Adelaide Wilson took their two kids on a summer trip to the beach in Sta. Cruz. Adelaide did not feel comfortable there because of a traumatic experience in childhood when she got lost in the Hall of Mirrors in the boardwalk amusement park of that same beach. One night, however, their rest house was broken into by what looked like a family of four who were all dressed in red overalls and carried wicked scissors. Upon closer view, the intruders looked exactly like the four of them. 

Academy Award winning actress Lupita N'yongo totally owned the role of Adelaide Wilson, the mother who, despite her own traumatic past, will never allow anything bad to happen to her kids even if she was scared to death herself. This was a double victory for N'yongo as she also played Adelaide's tormentor Red in a very distinct portrayal. Red just so happened to be the leader of the Tethered (which was how the doppelgangers called themselves). 

N'yongo's limpid big eyes were sometimes all we can on the screen, and they convey so much of her soul. We see Adelaide develop from fearful timid victim to enraged gungho fighter. On the other side, we can feel the depth of Red's seething emotions bottled up all those years, building up to that moment when she finally led her Tethered brethren out to wreak terror on the surface. Like it was for Daniel Kaluuya in "Get Out," it won't be far-fetched to think that N'yongo might just snag her second Oscar nomination.

Winston Duke portrayed Gabe Wilson served more as the source of goofy comic relief dad than the reliable savior dad. Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora, their eldest daughter hooked on her phone, while Evan Alex played Jason Wilson, the youngest son who liked wearing a demon mask over his face. Tim Heidecker as Josh Tyler, Gabe's best friend with whom he had an unspoken competition, while Elisabeth Moss played John's chattty wife Kitty. Real life twins Cali and Noelle Sheldon played Gwen and Maggie, Kitty and Josh's cartwheeling twin daughters. All of these actors played dual roles as well like N'yongo.

On the debit side, there were scenes which not easy to see because they were too dark. The film started with a 1986 TV ad about "Hands Across America," which somehow resurfaced again towards the end, but I am at a loss what it was supposed to mean in the context of this story. I would have liked some mythology about how the population of doppelgangers underground came about. There are some plot points which may challenge logic when Peele tried to inject a twist or two. Unlike the rabbits of "The Favourite," I am not quite sure what those rabbits were all about here in "Us."

If "Get Out" was criticized about being more about race than about horror, "Us" is frankly all-out horror. The suspense was unbearable here with the deliberate slow pace and masterful editing. That really eerie musical score I thought was one of the best. most original and most effective scores I heard from a horror film. The eclectic musical soundtrack which swung from artists as diverse as Beach Boys to NWA was a winner in my book. With the humor about middle class America in healthy doses, "Us" was quite an entertaining film even if you're all tensed up. 8/10

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Review of ULAN: Lustre's Luster

March 14, 2019

Maya Landicho was orphaned when she was very young. She grew up with her superstitious grandmother, who taught her about offering eggs so in order to prevent rainfall, believed to be God's punishment for the sins of man. Often friendless and lonely, Maya developed a very fertile imagination which made her see tikbalangs getting married, her grandmother's third eye, a typhoon as a spurned bride, or her bullies turning into eggs.

Growing up, Maya worked as an editorial assistant for a publishing hourse specializing in erotic pulp paperbacks. However, she had been terribly luckless in al her romantic relationships. which left her all cried out. Until one rainy day at the jeepney stop, she met a charming boy named Joseph Peter Buendia. a volunteer for an NGO helping street children with their literacy. Will Maya finally open her heart up again for love?

Writer-director Irene Villamor, presents us with another unique female protagonist, just as she did in two films last year which she also wrote and directed, "Meet Me in St. Gallen" and "Sid and Aya: Not a Love Story." Similar to these two films, both of which consistently appeared among the critics lists of 2018's finest, "Ulan" was also marked by beautiful cinematography by Neil Daza, rich production design, as well as an evocative musical soundtrack. 

Nadine Lustre is luminous as Maya. Despite of her simple clothes and makeup since her character Maya was supposed to have been a homely wallflower, Lustre never lost her radiance on that big screen. The camera loved her and director Villamor's color palette and filters absolutely became her. Maya's psyche had been badly traumatized and she had to cope with all of the hurt, and Lustre was able to convey all of that while acting with remarkable restraint.

Carlo Aquino is effortlessly natural in portraying Peter, and his chemistry with Lustre was quite good despite the 8-year age gap between the two actors. Perla Bautista has the particular talent to deliver any line and make it sound really tearjerking. Leo Martinez should've stuck out like a sore thumb with the sexist, off-color jokes he made as Maya's boss, but he managed to make the role endearing despite the sleaze. Kylie Versoza's sexy Princess certainly gave Maya a lot of reason to be insecure, especially in that tennis scene with Andrew (Marc Gumabao).

The story was actually quite simple in its very essence. However, director Villamor decided on non-linear presentation in order to make things more interesting. While the story of adult Maya developed in regular order (with exes Mark, then Andrew, then meeting Peter), there would be frequent flashbacks to Maya's childhood to certain key people and events (with her grandmother, her teacher, her classmates, close friend Jose Albert Garcia) which molded her fragile psychological make-up into how it is now. 

The unique spice though were the fantastic creatures Maya saw as a child, and apparently all the way up to adulthood. When you first see these fantasy characters, we will be thrown off at first and find it too weird. You later understand that these were just the coping mechanisms employed by a lonely little girl longing for a friend. It was this supernatural element which will distinguish this film from other romances out there. However, this may as well also be the very element which may imperil its fate at the box-office. 8/10.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Review of CAPTAIN MARVEL: Curious Casting Choice

March 6, 2019

To be completely honest, I was ready not to like this movie. I did not know this woman Carol Danvers as super-heroine Captain Marvel at all. The Captain Marvel I knew as a child was the superhero donning a red suit with a yellow lightning bolt across his chest whom Billy Batson turned into when he shouts "Shazam!" I had no idea who Captain Marvel was when Nick Fury paged her at the end of "Infinity Wars" before he turned into dust. As written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, this film will introduce us to this mysterious superhero who will play a key role in reversing the effects of Thanos's fateful fingersnap. 

In Hala, home planet of the Krees, a female warrior Vers under the mentorship of her commander Yon-Rogg, led a Kree Starforce mission against their nemesis, the shape-shifting Skrulls, led by Talos. The action of their outer space battle somehow landed them on Earth in downtown Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. Agents of SHIELD Nicholas Joseph Fury and Phil Coulson were hot on her heels in pursuit, as Vers began to get bits and pieces of memories of a past life on Earth as Carol Danvers, a skillful and valiant pilot who worked for a senior scientist Dr. Wendy Larson. 

I did not find all the initial scenes (before Vers landed on Earth) engaging at all and I kept tuning off, which was very unusual for a Marvel superhero film. Things only started to pick up when Vers landed on Earth and met the 25-years younger, pre-eyepatch Nick Fury, his then newbie partner Phil Coulson and Carol's best friend Maria Rambeau. Fortunately, the 90s pop soundtrack did lift up the energy of the proceedings, with the unexpected use of hits like "Only Happy When It Rains" (by Garbage), "Come As You Are" (by Nirvana), "Just a Girl" (by No Doubt) and many more radio hits. 

A big part of why this movie failed to completely fly for me was because of the seeming miscasting of Brie Larson as Vers/Carol Danvers. She was a curious casting choice even from the trailers alone, when I already felt that Larson may be wrong for the role. Still, I wanted to see the full film before I can judge. During and after watching, I could hardly connect with the way Larson portrayed her character/s. We only get used to her portraying the character as the film went on, but never really felt that it was a perfect fit at all. In the final stretch though, Larson did somehow come through, so I am not giving up on her yet (since she did sign for six more MCU films after this).

On the other hand all of the supporting actors around her, Samuel L. Jackson (Fury), Clark Gregg (Coulson), Ben Mendelsohn (as Talos), Annette Bening (as Dr. Wendy Lawson), Jude Law (as Yon-Rogg), Lashana Lynch (as Maria), Akira Akbar (as Maria's daughter Monica) and even the four cats who played Goose felt more comfortable in their roles. Unlike the Fury we know now, the de-aged Jackson was loose and funny as the younger Fury, looking like how we first knew him as Jules Winnfield in "Pulp Fiction" back in 1994. Too bad that Larson could not seem to keep up with the comic interactiions with Jackson. 

We knew there was going to be a Stan Lee tribute, but did not expect that it would be at the very start, so don't be late! The best CGI moments of the film were in the final half hour or so, when Vers/Carol finally discovered and unleashed the full extent of her electrical powers as Captain Marvel. This film explained a lot of Marvel lore -- like why no one else knew about Captain Marvel, how the Avengers Initiative got its name, why the Tesseract was with Nick Fury, etc. The extra mid-credits scene though promises a better incarnation for Larson as Captain Marvel in the upcoming "Avengers: End Game." And with her origin out of the way, we surely we are all going to watch out for Captain Marvel in that one. 6/10 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Reviews of SECOND COMING and THE PRODIGY: Parallel Possessions

March 5, 2019

The last two movies I watched this week were both in the horror genre. By sheer coincidence though, they both tackled the same horror premise -- the possession of a child by a malevolent spirit of a person who just died. Since they both largely followed the same plot progression with similar basic story elements, I decided to merge my thoughts about these two and just write a joint review for them. 

Jet Leyco's "Second Coming" was about Imee, a young girl who was recovering from a terrible vehicular accident which cost her the life of her mother Raquel. When she was brought back home from the hospital, her father Paolo was already living with his former mistress Bea, who already had a baby Sophie of her own. Later, Imee began to display increasingly disturbing violent behavior resulting in serious injuries to people around her. Bea figured that Imee was being possessed by the spirit of her angry mother. 

Nicholas McCarthy's "The Prodigy" was about Miles, a young boy who was noted to possess extraordinary intelligence from infancy. Later, Miles began to display increasingly disturbing violent behavior resulting in serious injuries to people around him. Upon the advice of his child psychologist Dr. Strasser, his mother Sarah eventually consulted a reincarnation expert Mr. Jacobson who believed that Miles was being possessed by the spirit of an evil older man.

Ever since Mervyn LeRoy's "The Bad Seed" (1956), the evil child is a particular subgenre of horror on its own. Among the most unforgettable of these children were Regan in William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" (1973) and Damien in Richard Donner's "The Omen" (1976), who were both evil incarnate. Locally, among the most memorable evil children were those in Peque Gallaga's "Tiyanak" (1988) and Erik Matti's "Seklusyon" (2016). Matti is also involved with "Second Coming" as co-executive producer.

Jodie Sta. Maria's Bea was acting and sounding a lot like her former nanny character Maya dela Rosa (on the long-running telenovela "Please Be Careful with My Heart"), with her signature sweetness, meekness and kindness. Marvin Agustin was giving uncomfortable vibes from his very first scene as Bea's new live-in partner Paolo. Angelica Ulip had to do a lot of disturbing scenes as the possessed girl, Imee. In smaller roles were beauty queen Queenie Rehman (as Paolo's ex-wife Raquel), Bing Loyzaga (as Raquel's mother Edralin), and John Arcilla (as a priest). 

I did not know anyone in the cast of the American film, but they all did their parts well. Child actor Jackson Robert Scott was truly unsettling in his portrayal of Miles Blume. with the shifting characters. Scott's scene with Colm Feore (as hypotist Arthur Jacobson) was the most distressing of all. Taylor Schilling and Peter Mooney played his distraught parents Sarah and John Blume. Paul Fauteux played the shadowy Hungarian man Edward Scarka, while Paula Boudreau was the helpful psychologist Elaine Strasser. 

As far as production design was concerned, "Second Coming" had some pretty bizarre choices, particularly with those creepy bubble-wrapped statues of saints on the second floor of the house. It was not explained convincingly what they exactly were there for. It was also unbelievable that a modern house would have no electric lights for such a long time. While this condition gave director Leyco some pretty interesting experiments in subdued lighting, it was quite a stretch that this family will not have this lighting problem fixed. "The Prodigy" did not resort to such additional eerie gimmicks to build the atmosphere of dread.

The first two acts for both films followed basically the same path. Child developed violent behaviors both in school and in the home, and that was the only time the mother sought professional help. However, I found the resolution in the third act more satisfactory in the American film because of the straightforward, yet unusual direction the story took towards its ending. The horror was more tense here. In the Filipino film, the story went down an old familiar melodramatic road, hence the very predictable ending, despite trying a twist with some misleading initial clues. The suspense did not translate to the desired horror effect. 


Review of ESCAPE ROOM: Deadly Dares

March 2, 2019

Six individuals had been mysteriously invited into the Minos Escape Room in Chicago, Illinois to play a special edition escape puzzle. Zoey was a physics nerd. Ben was a problematic grocery boy. Jason was a ruthless stock trader. Amanda was a soldier who did her tour of duty in Iraq. Mike was a former miner. Danny was an escape room fanatic. However, this was no ordinary escape room game. Each room had real extreme challenges which can actually lead to certain death if you cannot figure out how to get of it in time. 

As someone who enjoys escape room activity now and then to whet my IQ, watching this film was a no-brainer. The moment the six main characters begin their first room, I was hooked into their dangerous adventure, trying to figure out the difficult puzzles given them. I thought the exciting editing of the scenes gave me (and other escape room fans) real escape-room vibes, with all the desperation and frustration and the hopelessness that came with it. Big difference though, this one had no friendly game-master with helpful hints.

Taylor Russell (as the shy genius Zoey Davis), Logan Miller (as the down-and-out loser Ben Miller), Deborah Ann Woll (as athletic but traumatized Amanda Harper), Tyler Labine (as the over-gregarious senior Mike Nolan), Jay Ellis (as arrogant hotshot Jason Walker) and Nik Dodani (as enthusiastically geeky Danny Khan) all did their jobs well to portray the various personalities and quirks which may annoy you or make you root for them.

Director Adam Robitel elected to use a frequently-seen sequencing technique where the story starts with an exciting scene somewhere towards the end of the story, then restarts with flashbacks of the events that led to the spine-tingling cliffhanger we saw at the start. I am not sure if this was a good idea since it was a bit of a mild spoiler. We not only get a sneak peek at the nature of the challenges in store for the participants, but also who will likely make it to the end. 

I liked that there were no particularly famous actors in the cast, so that way we won't really know who will be dying first (as is the usual style in horror films involving motley groups of people trapped in one place).  I sort of predicted, as I am sure many fans of this genre also did, that these six people were not exactly there together just by random chance. I liked how they built up to the big reveal. I liked that there is a much bigger story still waiting to unfold in a sequel or even a series. 7/10.