Sunday, April 28, 2019

Review of GRETA: Longings of a Lonely Lady

April 28, 2019

Frances McCullen was a lonely young woman, orphaned by her mother, estranged from her father. Greta Hideg was a lonely old woman, widowed by her husband, abandoned by her daughter. One night, Frances picked up Greta's green handbag from a train and delivered it to her house personally the next morning. The two women hit it off very well and found comfort in each other -- one yearning for a mother, the other yearning for a daughter. One day, their ideal friendship was going to take a turn for the sinister.

The experience of watching this film would have been more intense had its trailer not spoiled all the major points of the plot. It already showed us how Frances was going to discover that Greta was not who she seemed. It already showed us how Greta was going to behave once Frances began to avoid her. It was easy to predict how the story was going to go from there, although writer Ray Wright did add a few surprise twists along the way. 

I got the vibe of "Fatal Attraction" while watching this film. Greta Hedig was its Alex Forrest, They both grew crazier the more they are ignored. Greta was made to do some pretty over-the-top stalking and terrorizing stunts here, such that the film took a turn to the unrealistically campy. That one scene in the restaurant where waitress Frances was forced to serve her stalker was the most public display of Greta's violent madness, yet the police still did not think she was dangerous -- most unbelievable. 

Frances was played by Chloe Grace Moretz, an ever-consistent solid actress among the younger generation. She was sincere in her naivete as a new New Yorker, trusting this nice little old French lady who played the piano, foolishly giving out both her mobile and landline numbers, and apparently, her work and home address too. Ironic how her chewing gum metaphor about herself completely and literally got turned around against her.

Acclaimed senior French actress Isabelle Huppert played Greta, the most unexpected stalker from hell. She was so nice and motherly, and played Lizst on the piano most heavenly. Towards the end, Greta's behavior turned horribly and outrageous psychopathic, yet there we see Huppert was gleefully dancing barefoot like a little girl. Huppert could have made Greta's turn to madness an acting class for subtlety had the film's pace slowed down.

Despite its common creepy stalker plot, this film was still worth the watch because of the level of acting talent it had. I think Jordan should have taken time to develop Frances and Greta's relationship so that its transformation to bad would have been less jarring, thus scarier. The actual violence could have been avoided, as pure deep psychological suspense would have been adequate to carry this story through given his lead actresses. Jordan took the shallower popcorn route on this and paid the price for his decision. 6/10. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review of AVENGERS: ENDGAME: Cosmic Conclusion

April 25, 2019

The hype and anticipation for this movie is unprecedented. People bought first day or first weekend tickets a month or so in advance, and these were mostly sold out. Some movie houses had showings as early as 6 am on the first day yesterday. I had not seen anything like this before, not even last year with "Avengers: Infinity War," when we were still able to buy tickets for the first night on the day itself. 

As expected, the movie theater was full-packed with fans. Even if there was initial apprehension for the running time of 3 hours (no big deal for me really), no one actually stood up to take a bathroom break. From the very first scene, everyone was kept in rapt attention watching the whole film unfold with drama, shock, humor, action and tears, right up to the final fade out. You never feel the 3 hours pass by. 

Following the devastating events of "Avengers: Infinity War," our remaining heroes, along with the rest of the 50% of the world, try to cope with the aftermath of Thanos' fateful finger snap with his infinity stone gauntlet. Some fared better than others. Upon a call though, they banded together with other friends, both old and new, to whip up a grand single-shot plan to get their dusted super-colleagues and the rest of humanity back from limbo. 

Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have come up with an epic interweave of story lines which enabled nostalgic revisitings of several previous MCU films, with cameo appearances of several major and minor characters. The tag-team direction of the Russo brothers Anthony and Joe executed the immense challenge of the complex script so well that we never lost track of what was going on in whatever timeline the events were happening. The audience was always fully engaged in the adventure and the drama of it all.

Everyone in the main cast of original Avengers -- Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) -- got their chance to shine in various ways, some more dramatic, some more humorous, all with honor, all with heart. Nebula (Karen Gillan), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) were in on the action all the way. 

Not a single minute of its 181 minutes was wasted. It had enormous pressure on coming up with a fitting conclusion to a continuing saga of 21 films, and it delivered way more than expected. A screenplay for this sort of narrative involving time is bound to have some holes, but you won't care to nitpick because of the overall dramatic effect. All the actors poured their hearts and guts out for this. The visual effects as well as the other technical aspects were faultless and spectacular. I won't be surprised if this will be nominated for Oscars (Best Picture and Director on top of the tech categories), and probably even win. 10/10. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Review of CAPTIVE STATE: Payoff for Patience

April 21, 2019

Alien invaders have taken over the world and are controlling things as a government system called the "Legislature." While some humans are rabidly supporting their presence because of the perceived technological advances the aliens provide, there are those underground movements organized to resist their continued presence on earth. This film followed one such resistance organization in the city of Chicago called the Phoenix, and the efforts of officer William Mulligan to led police operations against them.

When you read this synopsis, you get a clearer picture of what the story was. However, when I watched this film, I had no prior idea of what it was about. Unfortunately, the disorganized way the setup of the story was being presented in Act 1 almost made me want to give it up altogether. Aside from John Goodman whom I knew, there were so many other lesser known actors playing characters whom I could not connect with immediately because I could not understand what they were doing. 

It was a struggle to get through these introductory parts and get the identities of the multiple characters straight. There would be one big important scene in Act 2 of a big event set in a sports arena which will clear up the plot more clearly. After that, you can follow the action better right up to that detailed scene in Act 3 explaining about the whole operation of the Phoenix which certainly helped in making me appreciate the whole story better. The final scenes revealing more character motivations and their subsequent actions made for a most unexpectedly good ending. 

There was an opening sequence set nine years before recounting the first few days of the alien invasion, involving two children -- brothers who survived an alien attack on their car that killed their parents. Later we see these two brothers again as young men, Gabriel and Rafe Drummond, played by Ashton Sanders (best known as one of the leads in "Moonlight") and Jonathan Majors respectively. 

Veteran actor John Goodman was of course being his usual ever-efficient character actor as Mulligan. Vera Farmiga was the only other familiar face in the cast and she played Jane Doe, this amorous lady friend whom Mulligan visited. It was never clear what the true nature of their characters were, which I first thought was annoying. However, upon reaching Act 3 though, I realized on retrospect how skillfully director Rupert Wyatt had told his story. He took a big risk with an unengaging Act 1, but his Act 3 was a satisfying payoff. 6/10. 

Review of DAGSIN: Mortal Mercy

April 21, 2019

Atom Magadia's "Dagsin" was first shown as an entry in the 2016 Cinemalaya filmfest. While the film lost the Best Picture and Director to Eduardo Roy, Jr.'s "Pamilya Ordinaryo," it won Tommy Abuel the Best Actor in the festival awards. Since then, it had made the rounds of international film festivals and won more awards, including two best pictures and multiple other awards for acting, director, cinematography and costume design. 

Now three years later, "Dagsin" finally makes its commercial debut on Black Saturday, which by no coincidence was a crucial day within the film's plot.

Judge Justino Razon had gone through a lot of physical and psychological torture during his long and checkered life. He was a survivor of the Bataan death march as a young idealistic soldier. He was a survivor of an assassination attempt during the Martial Law years when he was a crusading lawyer. While his two legs may have been paralyzed by a bullet in the spine, he still went on to become a well-respected judge. 

His main motivation to live had been Corazon, a spirited daughter of an American soldier and his Filipina wife, who had been the Judge's wife for 50 years. Corazon had been the source of the Judge's inspiration through the years. When Corazon (Marita Zobel in a rare screen appearance) succumbs to cancer, Judge had to rely on the kindness of his adopted daughter Mercy (Lotlot de Leon) and his nurse Grace (Sue Prado) for the activities of his daily living. With ghosts of the past catching up on him as he read Corazon's diaries, will the atheist Judge have enough reason to go on living?

Veteran actor Tommy Abuel had long been recognized for his acting skills. His turn as the paraplegic judge dealing with various traumatic experiences from his distant and recent past must have been one of the heaviest acting challenges of his career. Being confined in movement to his wheelchair or bed, Abuel had to rely on his face to convey his inner turmoil which led him to contemplate his mortality. His best scene was an unexpectedly unabashed breakdown at his wife's deathbed which alone could have won him the awards.

There was an effort to recreate the more genteel late 1930s and wartime early 1940s with the costume designs of Jonah Ballaran and the production design of Cyrus Khan. The younger Justino and Corazon were played by Benjamin Alves and Janine Gutierrez. Gutierrez in particular was perfectly cast as Corazon with her classic beauty and youthful verve. The face-to-face "Game of Destiny" confrontations between Justino and Japanese officer Tanaka (Yoshihiko Hara) were intensely scary even if you already knew the outcome. 

Even with its lengthy talky expository scenes, there were details in the lives of the main characters which were still never fully expounded upon. I was hoping to see more of the Martial Law action rather than just stories read out of a diary or told over dinner. There were no scenes saying why Judge and Corazon never had children of their own, even if there was a scene establishing that they wanted to start a family. 

Writer-director Atom Magadia definitely poured out his passion for philosophy throughout his ambitious opus. The elements of a good cinematic drama were all there, more imaginative execution (to circumvent its budget limitations) and more judicious editing could have helped come up with a more engaging film.  The obscure Tagalog word "dagsin" used in the title means "gravity" in the physics sense. In this film about the heavy ethical choices Judge made in his life, it was a metaphor for gravity in the moral sense. 7/10. 

Review of THE MUSIC OF SILENCE: Bringing Up Bocelli

April 20, 2019

Amos Bardi was born with a serious condition in both eyes which eventually led him to being blind as a child. Because of a perceptive music teacher in his school for the blind, Amos's love of opera singing was nurtured and his own talent in singing was discovered, boosting his self-confidence. As a college student, he became a singer at a piano bar, which led him to meet his future wife. Later, he would be inspired to take up singing opera seriously under the guidance of an esteemed maestro. 

I went to watch this movie because I assumed it would be about music. However, I never thought I would actually be watching the life story of one of my favorite singers of all time -- Andrea Bocelli. It was unusual that the filmmakers chose to give the lead character another name Amos Bardi, when this film was obviously about Bocelli. The screenplay was adapted from Bocelli's own 1999 autobiography, but are we to assume that some parts of the film may not have been completely true to Bocelli's actual life story?

English actor Toby Sebastian played the lead character Amos Bardi. He certainly tried his best to look and act like Andrea Bocelli, nailing his facial mannerisms while singing. The beautiful Italian actress Luisa Ranieri played Amos's mother, Edi. Spanish actor Jordi Molla played his father, Sandro, who had one very moving scene after leaving Amos at his boarding school. Nadir Casselli played Amos' supportive wife Ellonora. Antonio Banderas as the strict Maestro who elevated the quality of Amos' singing with his exacting rules of discipline of silence. 

All the known facts about Andrea Bocelli were in there. He was born with congenital glaucoma. He completely lost his eyesight in a soccer accident at age 12. He sang "Miserere" with rock singer Zucchero in 1993 and became an overnight superstar. The difficulties and heartaches he experienced growing up as a child and as a singer filled up the rest of the nearly two hours of running time. 

I found some of this new information very interesting to know, like let's say, that he actually completed a degree in Law. But some other events were rather mundane, episodic, and yes, boring. I think part of the problem was the decision to write the script into English, instead of the more authentic Italian language, the mother tongue of most of the actors, making many of those scenes sound somewhat stilted. 

Anyhow, for fans of opera and Bocelli like me, none of that was a major problem. I found this biopic directed by Michael Radford (best known for writing and directing "Il Postino" in 1994)  quite engaging in general, with only a few rough patches along the way. The beautiful singing featured in the film, both by Bocelli (for adult Amos) and the boy soprano (for child Amos) whose heavenly voices we hear in the soundtrack, made the film well-worth the time spent to watch it. 7/10. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Review of HELLBOY (2019): Cartoonish Chaos

April 19, 2019

The original "Hellboy" (2004) was a very dark yet very entertaining film interpretation written and directed by Guillermo del Toro of a graphic novel by Mike Mignola about a good-natured, red-skinned demon with chopped off horns on his forehead, a right hand made of stone and long tail. There was a sequel "Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)," also written and directed by del Toro. But for this third reboot, neither del Toro nor actor Ron Perlman are participating. I guess we'll have to brace ourselves for a big change.

This new film starts with an introductory sequence about the powerful, evil Blood Queen Nimue who was contained by King Arthur when he chopped her up with into many pieces and buried each part in separate boxes in different parts of the country. Of course, you know that she will not remain in pieces forever. Nimue will eventually make a big comeback to resurrect herself, and our hero Hellboy will come forth against all odds to fight her.

The computer-generated imagery of this movie were very cartoonish, so the whole movie felt very cartoonish, true to its comic book roots. There was still fun, but of a different sort -- more immature, shallower, geekier. There were so many things going on, with action scenes going haywire here and there, flashing forward and backward in time and dimensions, with Hellboy fighting different sorts of bad guys, from a winged vampire masked wrestler, a bloodthirsty wild boar monster, knights with electric gadgets, man-eating giants, and various other denizens of hell. If you were not familiar with Hellboy comic lore, things can get a bit complicated and confusing. 

The Hellboy as portrayed by "Stranger Things" star David Harbour was younger and rasher than Perlman's, adding to the juvenile vibe of the film. Ian McShane played Hellboy's adopted father Trevor Bruttenholm, founder of the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense). Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim played Hellboy's partners in action, Alice Monaghan and Ben Daimio, each with their own special abilities.  Milla Jovovich played the destructive queen of the underworld Nimue who desired human apocalypse. America's Got Talent contortionist Troy James got to play the slinky and scary Russian witch Baba Yaga at her disgusting dinner party.

This film is Rated R so it was no-holds-barred in terms of profanity of language and the wanton bloodiness of the carnage.  The way blood had been splattering left and right from the start, you actually get numbed about the violence by a certain point. By the time when that scene where flying monsters were tearing human bodies apart in the most grisly ways, the shock value, we were not shocked anymore. In fact those scenes even felt so over-the-top funny. 6/10. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Review of MISSING LINK: Scholarly Sasquatch

April 16, 2019

Laika is an American company which since 2005 was slowly but steadily building its name in the field of stop-motion animation. So far, all four of its feature films -- "Coraline" (2008), "ParaNorman" (2012), "The Boxtrolls" (2014) and "Kubo and the Two Strings" (2016) -- had all been nominated for the Oscars for Animated Features. Coming off from the positive glory that was "Kubo," this next Laika feature is under a lot of pressure to match or surpass that last one. However, the word of mouth seems to be weak this time.

Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) desperately wanted to join a prestigious society of great explorers, but the leader of that society Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) would not accept him, believing that Frost did not have what it took to be a member. One day, Frost claimed he can prove that a Sasquatch existed. Piggot-Dunceby agreed to accept Frost into his group if he could prove the reality of this claim. However, Piggot-Dunceby was going to make sure Frost failed in his mission, by fair means or foul. 

Actually, Lionel Frost only needed about ten minutes of screen time to find the Sasquatch. Then, to make it very much easier for them to communicate with each other, this giant furry hominid just happened to be delightful and friendly. Very conveniently, Mr. Link, as Frost called him, can read, write and speak English fluently (with the voice of Zach Galifianakis). He was also able to ride ships or elephants. With scenes like these, I lowered my lofty expectations down and regarded this film as mere kiddie fare.

The story though did not stop there when he found Mr. Link. The rest of the hour of running time left was spent following the adventures of Frost and Link to search for legendary Shangri-La, the home of the Yeti, whom the orphaned Link thought would accept him as a long lost cousin. For providing the map to the Yeti, Frost's spirited ex-lover Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) went along for the trip halfway around the world. I did not like the artwork for Adelina with her arched eyebrows making her look angry all the time, even if she was not.

For a film seemingly targeted for young kids, "Missing Link" had a lot of dark humor and cartoony violence in it. From the very start, a grown man was already eaten up by a sea monster. Then, there was an assassin Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) sent to follow Frost on his trips in order to murder him, so there were repeated scenes of gunfire. Scenes of a chase set on a ship on rough seas and scenes of people hanging on to dear life from an icy cliff may be exciting for adults, but at the same time, these could scary for young kids.  

"Missing Link" may have been another feat of stop-motion animation for Laika. However, in all aspects (from story to screenplay to artwork), I felt it was a step or two backwards from the near-perfection of "Kubo and the Two Strings" (MY REVIEW) which as of now, still safely remains to be the peak of Laika's filmography to date. 6/10. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Review of THE HEALER: A Choice to Cure

April 14, 2019

In London, Alec Bailey had a repair shop for electric appliances he called "The Healer." However, his mismanagement and womanizing had affected his business to near bankruptcy. One day, his estranged uncle Raymond Heacock, brother of his departed mother, contacted him that he would pay off all of Alec's debts. The catch was that Alec should spend an entire year in remote town in Nova Scotia, Canada. 

Pushed to the wall, Alec agreed, and immediately regretted his decision when he could not get used to the provincial life. After a few days of staying there though, he unexpectedly realized that he actually possessed the ability to treat human diseases -- a superpower that ran among the men in his family when they reach the age of 30, one in every other generation. Alec had to decide whether he accepts to be The Healer or not. 

I had no idea what this film was going to be about when I started to watch it. After a rough start with how crazy Alec's life was in London, it succeeded to grab my attention in the scene when he met his uncle Raymond and the unusual deal was struck. In the Canadian rural scenes, the Catholic parish priest Fr. Malloy had prominent scenes, suggesting a faith based film. The  too-pleasant-to-be-cool musical score with the quality of a Hallmark film to it corroborated this feeling.

However, this was rather different from a typical faith-based film. This one actually had naughty humor which involved "un-Christian" sexual behavior, like adultery, fornication or homosexuality. There were even several profane words being said. Hence, this one was not all bland goody-two-shoes vanilla. It actually had an edge. It was not too predictable. The story was quite engrossing for me, although admittedly it lost steam in the final act with the arrival of the character of Abigail, the cheery teenager with cancer. 

Oliver Jackson-Cohen (who played adult Luke Crain in Netflix series "The Haunting of Hill House") played the lead character Alec. Alec was a rather unlikable guy as written but Jackson-Cohen injects some of his charm into him. Camilla Luddington (who played Dr. Jo Wilson on "Gray's Anatomy") was a breath of fresh air as the local farm vet Cecilia, on whom Alec had an immediate crush (and who could blame him?). 

18 year old Kaitlyn Bernard played Abigail, the vivacious teenager with cancer of the blood, who was the focus of the third act. She did not really look or act very sick, but she was being Abigail living life to the max. Her chemistry with fellow actors Jackson-Cohen and Luddington was easy and convincing. Jorge Garcia (whom I last knew as Hurley, the obese guy from "Lost") played the doubting priest Fr. Malloy. Jonathan Price did not really need to flex too much acting muscle to play Alec's mysterious benefactor, Mr. Raymond Heacock. 

At the end of the film, they revealed that the film was made to benefit a charity for seriously ill kids. The filmmakers dedicated the film to actor Paul Newman as another kind of healer who worked hard for raise money for similar charities for kids. We do not all have the power to cure all diseases, like Alec the Healer. However, this unexpectedly engaging film reminds us that we can all also be healers in our own ways by supporting organizations who work toward that noble goal. 7/10.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Review of STRANDED: Saved by the Stars

April 11, 2019

Julia is an uptight IT executive in a general merchandise warehouse. Spencer is a laidback delivery boy for Healthy Eats diet service. One stormy day when the eye of Supertyphoon Ligaya crossed Metro Manila, the two of them were trapped inside the warehouse together after everyone else had left to go home. With the rains and floods outside and power outage inside, Spencer entertains Julia to keep their minds off their scary predicament. 

Three years ago, director Ice Idanan made her feature film debut in a quirky indie romance "Sakaling Hindi Makarating" (2016) (MY REVIEW). In only her second feature film, idanan goes mainstream with a rom-com starring two A-list movie stars. To be completely honest, the story only worked because of the two lead stars Jessy Mendiola and Arjo Atayde, whose dazzling smiles, infectious charisma and extreme likability rendered each scene passable, no matter how corny or cringy the lines or the situations were.

The stunts Spencer was doing inside the warehouse, opening all the merchandise and rearranging them to fit the scene he wanted to recreate, were all so awkward. Wearing a snorkel mask while paddling a surfboard over bubble wrap looked stupid. Toppling down lit candles causing curtains to burn was reckless. Yet in the very next scene, Julia consented to lying down inside a tent with a man she just met. Again these scenes had a semblance of cute only because it was bedimpled Arjo Atayde was doing them. 

All the scenes that transpired after the storm were all felt problematic. Did Julia really have to make her big announcement during their dinner with their parents? She had so much time alone with her fiance, in their condo or food tastings they went to before that dinner. Drama queen much. Why did Spencer give up just like that after one unsuccessful call because the other phone had a dead battery? He could have easily called that number again the next day, and the entire outcome would have been different. Cop out much. The final scene simply came from completely out of nowhere with no proper setup at all, as if just appended as an afterthought. 

Despite being set in the present day in the big city, "Stranded" is very much a fairy tale. Nothing like this will ever happen in real life. The very premise of this film only works because the two characters involved just happened to be very attractive people. In real life, there was no way a girl who looked like Jessy Mendiola will warm up very easily to just any other delivery boy, except perhaps this one who happened to look like Arjo Atayde. In fact this same exact scenario can easily turn into a crime film or even a horror film, depending on which actor was cast as Spencer. 6/10.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review of LAST FOOL SHOW: Commercial Creativity

April 10, 2019

Mayessa Dominguez (Arci Munoz) is an award-winning director of indie films. Because of her success, she was invited by the giant mainstream movie company Galaxy Films to make a movie for them. This offer was Mayessa's dream come true career-wise, and also because she needed the money for the ongoing chemotherapy of her mother Sonya (Snooky Serna). 

However, Galaxy executive Tess Ranido (Bibeth Orteza) insisted that it had to be a rom-com because this was what the masses want to watch. Since this genre was not Mayessa's forte, in her desperation, she had to dig out her own previous failed romance with her ex-boyfriend phone app designer Paolo (JM de Guzman) who had abandoned her three years ago. Will Mayessa be able to complete her film and turn it into the box-office hit Galaxy was expecting?

Arci Munoz was beautiful and vivacious, and unexpectedly very hyper here. There were some scenes where she already came across as too overeager to be funny, but she was easy on the eyes and looked great in a bikini, so everything is forgiven. In any case, I guess those scenes were really supposed to be over-the-top as envisioned by the director, which could explain why she was kind of overdoing her line delivery. 

JM de Guzman is already known to be a great dramatic actor, but here was one of those rare films where he actually got to show off his skills in comedy. In "That Thing Called Tadhana," more of the comedy was care of Angelica Panganiban, while JM played the straight man. Here, JM was actually doing physical comedy which was quite funny to watch. His on and off American accent as he asked about Pinoy street slang like "walwal" or "wasak" and his emotional rendition of an Aegis classic song were also very funny scenes.

True to the look of most Star Cinema films, the cinematography was clean and lush, with a bright color palette, especially when the scene moved to the newly-refurbished resort island of Boracay, with its various activities, like mermaid swimming and cliff diving. Of course, also following the trend in most rom-coms, there was also a sentimental love song to accompany the heartbreak, in this case it was the Cliff Richard light rock classic, "Ocean Deep," as sung by the serene voice of Juris.

Even if I cannot explain exactly how the title related to the plot, this film is very interesting for me because it was about the local movie industry and the market forces that drive it nowadays. Indie directors have their own pet topics, but these were usually not commercially viable to make money. Mainstream film companies have the money to bankroll these young talented directors, but business sense tells them to stick to tried-and-true formulas of previous box office hits, however trite and predictable these are.

Hence, idealistic young writer/directors known to tackle social or political topics in their indie films were forced to direct silly comedies or cute romances in order to break into the mainstream scene. They are obliged to cast commercially-successful love teams. They are forced to make script revisions which may totally change the film's original story or ending. Unfortunately, when they do this, their old fans accuse them of selling out to be commercial, which is unfair, since mainstream success, as welll as making a good living, may just be as important for these directors as their advocacies and passions. 

There was one key scene where Mayessa's idol, the acclaimed senior director Joana Lee (Gina Alajar), told her that she was also very passionate like Mayessa when she was starting out in her career. However, Ms. Lee advised Mayessa (and indirectly all the young directors out there) that films are made not for her, as the director, but it is for the audience. Therefore a balance had to be struck in the director's choice of projects. 

Maybe this was also the message of director Eduardo Roy, Jr. wanted tell his fans. I first knew Roy as a writer/director responsible for the raw and gritty style of indie film "Pamilya Ordinario" (2015) (MY REVIEW), which was starkly different from the slick and glamorous style of "Last Fool Show." In place of the dirty streets of Quiapo in his former film, Roy now has the white sands of Boracay as his setting in his latest one. With this wide contrast in look and genre, Roy was able to show off his versatility with the film medium. 7/10. 

SINAG MAYNILA 2019: Review of AKIN ANG KORONA: Reinforced Reality

April 9, 2019

Since I had seen all five of the feature film in competition for this year's Sinag Maynila 2019, my personal bet for Best Picture is this little unassuming film about what happens behind-the-scenes in a reality TV show. It lost to "Pailalim," however it did win as Audience Choice, and it was no surprise. "Akin ang Korona" was the only comedy in a sea of very serious dramas, and it dealt with something the ordinary moviegoer can relate with -- television.

Mariano Castillo Jr. or "Nonong" (Nar Cabico) is a young gay guy from Catanauan, Quezon who worked in a facility making dried fish. Ten years ago, his father abandoned their family and totally disappeared. His mother suddenly died soon afterwards, leaving Nonong alone to raise himself and his much-younger sister Letlet. He is a cheerful person, and enjoys joining gay pageants with his best friend Pia (Philip Palmos).

Nonong's life was selected to be featured by the reality TV show "Akin ang Korona" hosted by cool, calm and elegant Ms. Hope (Angel Aquino). Segment producer Marky (Aaron Rivera), researcher Dona Mae (Kiray Celis) and cameraman MJ (Kirst Viray) visited Nonong in Catanauan to shoot his story, promising him not only a talent fee for his cooperation, but also with the hope of locating his long-lost father. 

These reality TV shows are all the rage nowadays, and in each one of them, we see several taped segments featuring the case study or the contestant in his home town with his family and friends. Sometimes, we do get to thinking how they actually shoot these segments and make them overflow with emotion to connect effectively with the viewing public. Granted that this is a comedy film, I am sure "Akin ang Korona" has more than a sliver of truth to share about how they shoot these kinds of shows. 

Lead actor Nar Cabico is being introduced here as a movie actor. However I already knew him as a theater actor and singer as far back as 2012 in "Walang Sugat" (MY REVIEW). He was most memorable stealing all his scenes as the nasty villain Senor Blangko in "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" in 2015 (MY REVIEW). As Nonong, Cabico was naturally wacky and carefree as his character. We also get to hear his beautiful singing voice. When things got dramatic, he can also inspire empathy.

It was very refreshing to see Cabico win the Best Actor award for his comedy (with drama) acting here, winning over heavier dramatic hitters like Joem Bascon (in "Pailalim") or Oliver Aquino (in "Jino To Mari") who arguably did more intense roles. 

The segment producer cum director Marky was convincingly played by Aaron Rivera, coming across as serious and no-nonsense to the point of being insensitive and ruthless. He will do anything to get the dramatic effect he wanted from a scene, even if it totally went against or actually changed the original thoughts, attitudes and the very personality of the subject matter. His character makes you wonder how much of this was based on reality.

Kiray Celis was realistic as the harassed researcher cum production assistant, who did all the legwork on all the whims of the director, like a slave with no mind of her own anymore. I am sure overworked PA's will all identify with her. Handsome commercial model Kirst Viray first got known for being romantically linked with Kiray a few years back. Here as cameraman, he did not do much except to look good brooding behind his camera.

Angel Aquino hied back to her days as a magazine TV show host on "F!" (with Cher Calvin and Daphne Osena) in the early 2000s to play the host of "Akin ang Korona" Ms. Hope. Aquino's Ms. Hope could match Korina Sanchez or Jessica Soho of the real world, she should revive her career in this type of TV. Ms. Hope was smiling, kind and personable as a rule, but when things do not go smoothly, her feathers do get ruffled, and how. 

Of the five entries in the Sinag Maynila this year, this is the best entry for me. It was eye-opening and thought-provoking as any other indie film, without losing that vital aspect of being entertaining to watch. 7/10. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

SINAG MAYNILA 2019: Review of PAILALIM: Cemetery Chronicles

April 9, 2019

The poster of this film was starkly to the point - - it would be about life of squatters living within cemetery grounds. Admittedly it sounds just like a typical depressing indie film about impoverished lives in the big city. However, it had won the coveted Best Picture and Best Director award of this year's Sinag Maynila filmfest, so I made sure I had to catch it. 

The setting of the film is present day within the sprawling compound of the Pasig City Cemetery where several families had illegally occupied various crypts of their choice as their informal residences. Bangis is one such resident, who lived with his wife Barbie and sickly daughter Ningning. Bangis and his friend Pepe (Ryan Sandoval) earned a living by transferring bones from big to smaller niches.However, when push came to shove financially, they also resorted to robbing freshly-interred corpses in connivance with unscrupulous funeral homes.

The acting talents of lead actors Joem Bascon and Mara Lopez in indie films like this are already well-known, and they deliver strong performances here again as Bangis and Barbie. Bascon, in particular, goes all method here, never missing any beat at all. He just went on doing even the most private things people do in the bathroom or bedroom, as if the camera was not there at all. His one big dramatic moment at the end had a very sincere outflow of tears, pain and emotion that crossed the screen right into the audience.

The main story was simply that of Bangis and Barbie's daughter Ningning, her week-long fever and repeated convulsions, and what her parents do (or not do) about it. The rest of the film brings us around their little microcosm of the city inside the cemetery walls. Aside from the grave workers, there was also the wanton harlot Lala (Jalyn Taboneknek), the corrupt security guard Temyong (Jun Nayra) and those "Action Line" personnel who regularly threw all the cemetery denizens out into the street in the wake of their surprise raids. 

There was an entire, practically wordless, barely lit 30 minutes dedicated to showing in full an actual grave robbery, step by step, that took place at 2 in the morning. I personally thought that that whole part was too long, too quiet and too dark. With only one security bank doing the rounds, there was practically no real danger nor tension to make this sequence more exciting. I would have also wanted to know what the funeral parlor would do with these new corpses they have stolen because the reason was not mentioned.

Production quality-wise and acting-wise, "Pailalim" was a reasonable choice for best picture and best director for Daniel Palacio in his debut effort. There were some simple but very nice dramatic touches at the end, like the revelation of Bangis, Barbie and Ningning's family name as "Malinaw" and the fulfillment of a little promise of a Hello Kitty ring made at the beginning of the film.

However, while I was watching this film, another relatively recent Cinemalaya indie film came to mind -- "Pamilya Ordinario" (Eduardo Roy, 2016). They were both realistically shot films about a young couple with a child who had to make ends meet while living a day-to-day, hand-to-mouth existence in the most oppressive conditions. Of course, Bangis and Barbie are older than Aries and Jane, and they are portrayed by more recognizable actors, thus the originality, shock value and realism are all affected somewhat. 6/10. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

SINAG MAYNILA 2019: Review of JESUSA: Melodrama of a Martyr

April 8, 2019

Jesusa Reyes was a manicurist and masseuse who serviced her loyal customers in her local slum community. This rough and noisy neighborhood, rife with drug addicts and pushers, was divided by a very polluted creek which residents need to ride a raft to get across to the other side. One day, her worthless jerk of a husband left her for another woman. Since then, Jesusa's life descended into the depths of hell itself as she was abandoned by everyone else she held dear. 

If there was a woman who was the literal embodiment of a proverbial doormat, it was Jesusa. Her husband Drigo was a recidivist philanderer who caroused with the sexy harlot Gina right under her nose. They apparently had two grown daughters -- the respectable school teacher Malou and the toughie debt collector Beth -- both of whom do not really seem to respect nor care too much about her. Through all this, Jesusa suffered quietly alone. When Drigo actually left her, that was when she broke.

This sadistic screenplay was a heavily dramatic material which was seemingly designed to squeeze the masochistic actress who will play its titular lead character Jesusa of all her acting powers. Name any melodramatic moment in local movies involving an actress over the years and chances are Sylvia Sanchez as Jesusa also did it here. Staring longingly at the night sky from a window - check! Walking on her knees towards the altar of a church - check! Becoming a hardcore drug addict - check! Being gang-raped in a catatonic state - check! Getting thrown into prison for stealing and none of her family visited her -- check! 

This Jesusa was a role made to win awards, and indeed Sanchez did just that at the Sinag Maynila awards night last Sunday. It was very interesting that she had to share the Best Actress award with Angela Cortez, who played Marie, the carefree prostitute and single mom turned porn actress in "Jino To Mari." Their roles demanded diametrically different styles of acting. If Sanchez as Jesusa was marked by a painstakingly-crafted classical style of acting, Cortez as Marie was totally natural, seemingly non-acting method style of acting. 

The rest of the cast played roles right up their usual alley. Allen Dizon just played a rascal husband Ramil to an older woman in "Person of Interest," and now here he is again as another rascal husband Drigo to another older woman. Prim and proper Empress Schuck played Malou, while tough as nails Mara Lopez played Beth. Eternal starlet Ynez Veneracion played the bitchy mistress. Mon Confiado played the corrupt barangay chairman, while Beverly Salviejo played his eccentric opera-singing wife Pavurata. 

There were only two casting surprises worth mentioning. One was that of singer Malu Barry playing the weirdo nurse Mayang, with her offbeat gimmick of offering to take blood pressures for a fee of P20, as well as a more sinister undertaking as drug recruiter. Fanny Serrano played Jesusa's cross-dressing elder brother Kuya Perlo. However, that embarrassing scene of Serrano lipsyncing to Tillie Moreno's "Saan Ako Nagkamali?" was edited so poorly, it should have been totally edited out to spare him some shame.

I also recognized a number of stage actors from the Stagers Foundation of the Philippines playing some minor roles in Jesusa's neighborhood. Vince Tanada played a friend-zoned neighbor Johnny. JP Lopez played the inebriated new barangay chairman. Chris Lim played Beth's boyfriend, the Taiwan-based businessman Elmer. OJ Bacor played Kuya Perlo's loyal transgender ward Lyzza. Johnrey Rivas played the store owner Jesusa stole from. However, I felt it was child Stager Dean Rafols who had been given the plum role of Jesusa's grandson, Dino, for whom he gave a touching performance. 

The camera work had some unusual angles and lighting design. The editing was the most unusual aspect, as time sometimes jumped several weeks or even months even in consecutive scenes, which could be jarring. The gloomy musical score made sure we feel the heartbreaking emotion. Director Ronald Carballo tackles yet another drama drenched in drugs, a very common theme of late in a number of indie films. This one focused on one of the drugs' most miserable martyrs -- Jesusa. However, while it has its merits, it is safe to say that this is not going to be everybody's cup of tea for sure because of the relentless torturous melancholia. 5/10. 

Review of SHAZAM!: Fun, Friendship and Family

April 7, 2019

I knew about Billy Batson (of DC Comics, previously from Fawcett Comics) since I was a kid. He was a shy 12 year-old orphan who was endowed with the powers of six Greek gods, becoming a powerful superhero who wore a red suit, white cape and a yellow lightning bolt emblazoned on his chest. He was known to me as Captain Marvel. It turns out that while I was growing up, Captain Marvel became the name a female superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Billy Batson's superhero identity is now the word he shouted to become him -- Shazam!

In this new origin film written by Henry Gayden and directed by David F. Sandberg, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 14 year-old rebellious boy who would not stay put in any foster home given him because he was searching for his mother with whom he got separated from at a carnival since he was an infant. He is currently lived in Victor and Rosa Vasquez's group home in Philadelphia, with five other misfit foster kids: college-bound Mary, quiet Pedro, gadget techie Eugene, gregarious Darla, and disabled Freddy.

As the story went, one day, Billy was summoned by an old dying wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who was looking for a champion who was pure of heart to continue his work as guardian against the group of monsters called the Seven Deadly Sins. By saying the wizard's name Shazam, Billy became a goofy, wise-cracking adult superhero with a myriad of powers, which he would eventually discover with the help of his roommate and DC superhero fanboy Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer).

When the first trailers for this film came out, I was not so sure about it. The Captain Marvel (whoop, Shazam) here was so silly and harebrained, he was not the superhero I remembered as a child. I was worried about how the whole film will turn out to be, especially since DC just came from a big winner in "Aquaman." However, initial reviews about it have been consistently positive, so we were all excited to go watch it. The hype is real folks, this is one fun and entertaining film.

Yes, there were times when Zachary Levi's man-child portrayal of Shazam (or Captain Sparklefingers, Captain Thundercrack, Mr. Philadelphia, or whatever stupid name Freddy came up with) can get too childish and grating (you can see these parts in the trailer). However, when he finally comes face to face with the very powerful, similarly magic-driven super-villain Dr. Thaddeus Silvana (Mark Strong), that was when he, and the whole film, got down to serious (but still fun) action. 

Some scenes can get scary for young kids (hence the PG rating), but they come up with something funny afterwards to lighten the blow. (Well, most of the time. That scene inside the Silvana boardroom was intensely shocking and brutal.) The best scenes were reserved for that final showdown in the amusement park at the end, especially when Shazam realizes the full potential of the magical powers vested in him, and whipped up the Marvel Family! (Well, that's how I knew them before. They were not yet given a name here.) The audience actually whooped it up with that great scene.

There is drama, not only with Billy's search for his mother, as well as the scenes in the Vasquez group home with the other foster kids, a different concept of family. There is comedy, and the good, clean, old-fashioned kind, no dirty jokes or profanity (sorry, Deadpool). There is a formidable evil villain, equally matched in powers, along with his coterie of grotesque monsters, resulting in high-flying, lightning-fast CGI action scenes. There were two extra scenes in the cartoonish end credits (one mid-credits, and one at the very end). This film had it all, right down to that delightful, totally surprising cameo at the very end (for which the audience again erupted in applause and laughter). 9/10. 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

SINAG MAYNILA 2019: Review of PERSONS OF INTEREST: Colorless Crime

April 6, 2019

Dely (Liza Lorena) is an elderly owner of a sisig restaurant in Pampanga who took fancy on Ramil (Allen Dizon), a younger blind man she asked directions from on the street. She took him and his young son Tristan (Ynigo Delen) under her wing. She trained Ramil as a cook (at which he excelled), and they lived as husband and wife, much to the dismay of Dely's daughter, Clara (Dimples Romana). On the baptismal party of Clara's youngest son, Dely was poisoned by one of the dishes Ramil prepared, and he was charged with the crime.

The crime tackled in this film was a relatively simple case of fatal food poisoning. Such are cases which could have been on detective or legal TV shows, like "SOCO" or "Ipaglaban Mo." There were court scenes where witnesses like the manager of the restaurant Aling Miling (Cecile Yumul), the harlot maid Doray (Ireen Cervantes), the loyal assistant Berting (Lowell Kip Conales), Clara's elder daughter Daisy (Nella Marie Dizon), and Clara herself pouring out their version of events. There was so much time spent on the fingerprint "expert," which did not exactly help anyone's case.

To give this one an aspect worthy of a big screen version, writer-director Ralston Jover introduces the character called Ramil 2, the invisible friend whom only the little boy Tristan could see. Ramil 2 was Tristan's idealized version of his father Ramil, hipper and not blind. Despite being supposedly a figment of a child's fertile imagination, Ramil 2 could seemingly intervene in the real world. I found this character more confounding than interesting. 

The development of the story was quite straightforward, until we got hit by an improbable and illogical curve ball that came completely out of nowhere to provide the solution to the crime at hand. There were several reasons I could think of why it should NOT have come out at all this way. Granted it was a surprising and disturbing 11th hour twist in the story, its occurrence was practically a deus ex machina device to sort things out in a most melodramatic fashion in the end.

The lead actors Allen Dizon (as Ramil 1 and 2), Liza Lorena (as Dely) and Dimples Romana (as Clara) all did credible work, but clearly not really performing at their full abilities. Their acting work here was at telenovela levels at best, and in fact, I had seen them all do better work on TV than in this film. Child actor Inigo Delen was ok as Tristan, but still needs additional acting workshops. It was a surprise to see ex-"Flordeluna" child actress from the 1970s, Rosanna Jover (sister of director Ralston Jover), back on the big screen as Tristan's Japan-based mother Myrna.

The drab material and the way their characters were written limited the actors to what they can do. The pedestrian cinematography and choppy editing did not help enhance things. Of director Ralston Jover's previous works, I had seen "Hiblang Abo" and "Hamog," both of which were much better than this one. Just in last year's Sinag Maynila filmfest, Jover won Best Director for "Bomba." It is safe to predict he won't repeat that feat this year. 2/10. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

SINAG MAYNILA 2019: Review of JINO TO MARI: Pressure Principle

April 4, 2019

18-year old Gino (Oliver Aquino) worked as a gigolo to support his grandmother (and his younger sister. 25-year old Marie (Angela Cortez) worked in the sex trade to support her kindergarten-age daughter as a single mother. One day, their common friend Emong conscripted them both to be the featured stars of a pornographic film. Forced by their life circumstances, the two accept the gig which promised a hefty P10,000 talent fee for each of them, even if it was the first time they would perform sex in front of a camera.

The very nature of the story alone dealing about prostitutes and pornography is guaranteed to catch attention. With the name of Joselito Altarejos attached as director, this film promises to be bold and daring. However, those viewers who watch this only for the sleazy scenes, they are in for a very long wait. These lurid scenes would only be seen in the final 30 minutes or so of this 1-1/2 hour long movie.

The first third of this was dedicated to introducing the poverty-stricken lives of Gino (in Quiapo slums) and Marie (in Marikina). During this part, there are only hints and fleeting images of Gino and Marie's anatomy. However, most disturbing was the gratuitous bath scene of  Marie's cute daughter. Even if no private parts were exposed, I thought it was a most inappropriate and unnecessary show of skin for this poor little girl.

The second third of the film was the very long trip to get to the island where the porn shoot was going to take place. There was a 6-hour long bus trip to Lucena then Mauban in Quezon Province, plus a vertiginous ride on a motorized banca. Then when they reach Cagbalete island, Aling Sonia (Ruby Ruiz in a tapis) would take them on what seemed like an hour-long walk en route to the rest house of her boss (Perry Escano), where Japanese director Masato and crew was waiting for them. 

During the bus leg of this very long road trip, the two get to know each other, and enumerate their limitations as to what they would or would not do in the line of work. The rest of this part was just an endless series of dry needless scenes of commuting and walking to the bus station, riding the bus, lunch at rest stop, finding the port, riding the banca, then another very long walk inland -- scenes whose only apparent use was to delay gratification.

When time came for the actual porn scenes, these were at first stylized shots in black and white, accompanied by classical music ("Ellen's Third Song" by Schubert, "The Flower Duet" by Delibes, etc...), without showing of organs, hence the MTRCB felt these deserved a mild rating of R-16. However later, more salacious scenes followed in full color, those frankly showing male erection, masturbation and ejaculation. Because of these obstrusively raunchy scenes, the wisdom of the lax R-16 rating is questionable. The film makes you feel dirty and guilty afterwards, as the director intends. 

The orgy scenes which Gino and Marie were unwilling to do were really depraved and demeaning as they were really meant to be in the story. They had to throw all their limitations out the window, or else they were not going to get paid. Here, writer-director Altarejos rallied against exploitative Japanese pornographers reportedly at work in remote areas of the country, when he accompanied these offensive sex scenes with the radio report of the Japanese attacking the Philippines during World War II.

In those artistically-blocked, tightly shot, fearlessly-acted scenes in the intense climax, Altarejos sought to comment on how poverty can lead people to do anything, no matter how disgusting, perverted or unsavory, in this case practically accepting a rape scenario, just to earn enough money for their families. Their bodies and psyches do get traumatized by these rotten experiences, but they simply have no choice but to ride the wave as it comes crashing down on them. 5/10. 

Review of PET SEMATARY (2019): The Barrier is Breached

April 4, 2019

The original film version of Stephen King's horror novel "Pet Sematary" was shown 30 years ago back in 1989. Following "Carrie" in 2013 and "It" in 2017, "Pet Sematary" also got its remake this year. This particular story had been acknowledged by author Stephen King himself as the novel that really scared him the most. 

The Creed family moved from hectic Boston to the laidback small town of Ludlow in Maine. The head of the family is Dr. Louis Creed, an ER physician; and he brought with him his wife Rachel, and two kids, nine year-old Ellie and toddler Gage. In the forest behind their big country house, Ellie discovered a place where dead pets were buried, with a sign calling it the "Pet Sematary" (sic). 

One day, Ellie's cat Church died because it was hit by a speeding truck. To spare Ellie, Louis was instructed by their friendly old neighbor Jud to bury the animal in an area beyond swamp above the barrier behind the Pet Sematary. When Louis came back to the house to tell little Ellie that her cat had run away the night before, there was Church in the closet hissing at him.

The role of Louis Creed gave Jason Clarke ample room to display his acting range as the distraught and guilty father. Amy Siemetz played the mother Rachel, who had a traumatic experience about the death of her late elder sister. Child actress Jete Laurence had a brave performance as Ellie who had to do some pretty intense scary stuff. Veteran actor John Lithgow did his best to keep us second guessing the motives of his character Jud Crandall, getting to utter the classic line "Sometimes dead is better." 

In general, the story was built up very well by directors Kevin K├Âlsch and Dennis Widmyer in terms of tension and suspense. The editing was done very well by Sarah Broshar in consonance with the musical score by Christopher Young to raise the fear factor of each scene. Those crude homemade animal masks children used during the Pet Sematary burial procession were really creepy. 

We will find out that the titular Pet Sematary was just a benign front for the sinister land with supernatural powers that lay beyond it. Sacred Native American burial grounds and wendigos were mentioned as part of the legend. The eerie ghostly horror of the first two acts of the film (with realistic nightmares and ominous warnings) shifted gears to become a bloody slasher horror in the final act (with a giant kitchen knife). 

The way the trucks whizzed by so rapidly in front of their house (loud enough to cause a jump scare), there was an early foreboding on what was about to happen. The victim of that big vehicular accident was actually different from that in the original film. The final outcome of the whole film was also very different from how the original film ended. I believe this new ending was all the way more unnerving and outrageous. The final frame gave me major last second goosebumps right before the end credits rolled. 7/10.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Review of DUMBO (2019): Dark Dismal Dazzle

April 2, 2019

In 1919, a new baby elephant was born with big floppy ears and he was derisively called Dumbo. This made his mother Jumbo very angry thus displaying aggression and was therefore deemed dangerous, and sold off. The elephant caretaker Holt's two children, Milly and Joe, discovered that this baby can actually use his ears to fly, effectively making him the star of the circus. This was "the end" in the original beloved 1941 animated Disney film.

However, in the script written by Ehren Kruger, the story went further to involve an ultra-modern amusement park magnate named V.A. Vandevere, who acquisitioned Medici's circus to gain ownership of Dumbo and make him the star of his show. Vandevere greedily forced Dumbo to fly with his pretty French aerial acrobat Collette without a net despite the dangers, knowing that this act will propel his theme park to bigger financial success. 

There were some details that call back nostalgia for the older film. The train's name is still Casey Jr. There was still that act of the burning building which Dumbo was supposed to put out with water from his trunk. The beautiful song "Baby Mine" was sung here by some circus personnel to accompany the same scene of Dumbo reaching for his imprisoned mother's trunk through the bars. 

I was wondering how they would do the champagne-induced illusions of pink elephants in the original film. Welll, that scene was here all right, but in true Tim Burton fashion, the elephants were formed from huge soap bubbles instead. The character of Timothy, the mouse who became Dumbo's only friend, was replaced by two kids. I did not notice any crows this time (not that I really missed them), nor their song "When You See an Elephant Fly."

In this 2019 live action remake (I really do not know why Disney had to do this), the story was expanded to become longer with more human characters. As Tim Burton was the director (he of the most bizarre vision as a filmmaker), the treatment of this childhood favorite became somber and complex, a very far cry from the simplicity of the original. Scenes where a circus worker died and those showing people falling from high places or trapped in big fires may be too scary for young kids.

It was interesting for Tim Burton to cast his original Batman and Penguin, Michael Keaton (as Vandervere) and Danny Devito (as Max Medici), as weird characters on opposite sides of the law this time. However, the rest of the casting choices were not that great. Colin Farrell (as Holt Farrier) and Eva Green (as Collette) did not really need to be a romantic couple, but the storytelling seems to predestine it. The two child actors Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins (as Milly and Joe) lacked screen presence and likability. 

Ok, I thought the CGI Dumbo was indeed cute. However I did not like having people ride him in flight. (A fully grown woman as his first ride, really? He's just a baby, for Pete's sake! ) I did not really appreciate the anachronistic technology available to create Vandervere's Dreamland and its high-tech attractions. It did not really progress effectively enough for a satisfying emotional climax. The way it was dark and overwrought, I am not certain if kids, especially younger ones, will like it at all. Even if it felt misplaced in the 1919 setting, the animal rights advocacy was loud, clear and admirable..

Between this and the "Alice in Wonderland" films, I feel Tim Burton and classic Disney are not a good combination. 5/10.