Friday, July 26, 2019

Review of MIDSOMMAR: Bizarre Bacchanalia

July 25, 2019

Anthropology major Pelle invited his fellow grad students Josh, Mark and Christian to his home community of Hårga, in Hälsingland, Sweden. Christian's emotionally-fragile girlfriend Dani, who was just recovering from a devastating family tragedy, tagged along with the boys to witness special midsummer celebrations which took place only every 900 years. However, their excitement quickly turned into horror with each passing day as the cult rituals become more and more bizarre and even deadly. 

Florence Pugh carried the film well playing the vulnerable central character of Dani. She had a vibe of a young Kate Winslet, and with the talent she showed here, her career promises to go the distance of Winslet's as well. Jack Reynor displayed a lot of chutzpah to play the bold role of Christian, Dani's cold detached jerk of a boyfriend. Of the supporting cast, I only recognized Will Poulter playing the raunchy friend Mark, but the rest were all new actors and actresses. This casting decision further contributed to the authentic eerieness of the film. 

It was such a different sort of horror movie because it was mostly set outdoors in broad bright daylight. It was also remarkable that unlike the other horror movies, the inhabitants of Harga were all so friendly and smiling, and furthermore, they were also seen wearing immaculately white clothes most of the time. Nothing was lurking in dark shadows as everything was in plain sight under the midnight sun. There was just this very slow build up of suspense which led up to most outrageous and unsettling scenes. 

This film which reminded me in some way of "The Wicker Man" a British horror starring Edward Woodward (Robin Hardy, 1973) involving an isolated community of people who had heathen May Day celebrations with beliefs of reincarnation and free sex. It contained several elements seen in "Midsommar" such as the remote location, pagan ceremonies, weird costumes and ritualistic bonfire.  It was notoriously remade in Hollywood starring Nicolas Cage (Neil LaBute, 2006). It had scenes of Cage disguised as a bear, an animal which also seen in "Midsommar."

The R-18 rating of this film was fully deserved. The use of hallucinogenic drugs was rampant throughout the film, and the audience also gets a dose of psychedelic effects reflected in the unusual camera work and visual effects. Despite the peaceful rustic setting of flowery meadows, extreme gore was shown up close and bloody. Its very first scene of splattering anatomy was a guaranteed shocker. 

On the other end of the R spectrum, the climactic highlight was a prolonged and graphic copulation scene with unabashed frank nudity. This wild sick scene was totally disturbing and deranged, not easily forgettable for sure. When a naked little old woman joined in the action, the scene turned all the way more psychotic. The women of Harga shared their emotions seriously as they moaned and writhed in unison during the whole rite. 

Writer-director Ari Aster gained accolades for his feature film debut "Hereditary" last year. "Midsommar" proved that his prior success had not been a fluke.  He knew exactly what he was going for and he audaciously went all the way and more to achieve his vision. "Midsommar" lasts for more than 2-1/2 hours, but the audience gets hooked in from the get-go and held in rapt attention the whole time up to its outlandish conclusion. 8/10.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Review of YESTERDAY: Bluffing Beatle

July 24, 2019

Jack Malik was a frustrated musician who had just accepted that he was not going anywhere with his singing career. This was despite the loyal support of his best friend and manager Ellie Appleton, who was always optimistic for him. One fateful night, there was a momentary worldwide electrical blackout, and Jack was hit by a bus. 

When he recovered from his accident, he realized that apparently the whole world never knew about the Beatles nor their music, except for him. When Jack restarts his music career performing Beatles songs, he eventually generated a frenzy in the pop music world where people believed that Jack was churning out all this incredible music by himself. 

"Yesterday" follows the footsteps of recent musical films featuring the discography of iconic musicians like "Bohemian Rhapsody" for Freddie Mercury and "Rocketman" for Elton John. However, the main difference was the Beatles were not in the consciousness of the world of "Yesterday" at all, well at least except for Jack Malik. We hear actor Himesh Patel singing of all those classic songs. While Patel's singing voice had a rather unpolished quality, the songs indeed had that lyrical quality about them we love.

I felt like singing along to every Beatles hit I heard Jack sing.  "Yesterday" was sung in a picnic after he was discharged from the hospital. "Let It Be" was sung in their living room in front of his disinterested parents.  "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" was sung during his first recording gig and Ellie sang backup. "In My Life" was sung on his first TV show appearance. "The Long and Winding Road"  was sung when a musical superstar challenged him to an "impromtu" sing-off. "Help" was sung during his launching concert on a building rooftop. "All You Need is Love" was sung as a guest artist at a fully-packed Wembley Stadium concert. 

At the heart of this interesting sci-fi-ish premise (where not only the Beatles, but also cigarettes, Coca Cola and Harry Potter were lost from human history) and all the wry dry British humor is the relationship between Jack and Ellie. With Ellie played by the beautiful Lily James, any viewer would wonder why this loser Jack never felt any romantic feelings for her at all until it was too late. James literally lit up the screen whenever she was in it. That scene with her radiant face on the big screen at Wembley was simply moving.

I enjoyed all the little references about the Beatles throughout the film. It was funny that titles of actual hit Beatles albums like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and song lyrics like "Hey Jude" were being ridiculed for being corny. The "Abbey Road" album cover was referenced when the feet of Paul McCartney was shown without footwear. I enjoyed Jack's side trip to Liverpool to visit places that inspired hits like "Penny Lane" and "Eleanor Rigby." I immediately caught the dig that Oasis also did not exist because their main influence was the Beatles. I'm sure there would be more, maybe even Ed Sheeran himself. 

Writer Richard Curtis (of "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill," "Bridget Jones's Diary," and "Love Actually" fame) and director Danny Boyle (of "Trainspotting," "The Beach," "28 Days Later," and "Slumdog Millionaire" fame) whipped up a charming little flick rife with wry British humor. Being a big fan of Beatles music and their lore, I enjoyed watching every moment of this jukebox film. The ethical issues about plagiarism could be very disturbing, but Boyle gave it a light touch which served the film well. 8/10. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Review of DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE: Ironically Introspective

July 21, 2019

Brett Ridgeman and Anthony Lurasetti were policemen who were suspended without pay because they committed abusive acts against suspects during an operation. The two desperate cops use their contacts in the criminal world to look for a job to support their families while they were out of work. They were tasked to tail a gold bullion heist by ruthless bank robbers led by Lorentz Vogelmann, with ex-cons Henry and Biscuit as getaway drivers.

With a lurid title like "Dragged Across Concrete," I was almost afraid of the extreme bloody gore which it may be showing in its violent action scenes. However, in a supreme case of irony, this turned out to be a very slow-moving and talky one instead. The glacial pace stretched out over 2 and a half hours of lengthy, many times seemingly off-tangent, conversations in households, during stakeouts or while driving around. 

With his real-life notoriety and involvement in cases of bigotry and misogyny, Mel Gibson is a very bold choice to play the lead role of Ridgeman. The gritty role fit him like a glove, so jaded and cynical, it was all so realistic, as if these were actually his own words he was saying. If you do patiently listen to his lines in his various conversations, there was wry humor and warped wisdom in there to appreciate. 

Vince Vaughn played the younger partner Lurasetti unwillingly and unwittingly carried along the wave of unprofessionalism initiated by Ridgeman. Don Johnson played Lt. Calvert, Ridgeman's ex-partner, now his superior officer. Tory Kittles played the recently-released convict Henry Jones, who had no options but to take another crime-related job. Michael Jai White played his best buddy and partner-in-crime Biscuit. Jennifer Carpenter played an anxious banker on her first back from maternity leave in an incredulously useless detour.

There were occasional scenes of unadulterated violence, but these were too few and far between for action junkies who come to watch. When you think the action will pick up (like in the bank, or in the warehouse), the momentum just dies down right away and dissolves into more contrived conversations. The starkly violent scene in the convenience store committed by a masked criminal which was truly terrifying, but it was unconnected to the main story. 

I think there was an effort by writer-director S. Craig Zahler to be introspective here, so that the audience will get to see deeper into the psyches of the cops and the crooks involved in this caper. While this intellectual approach may impress thinking critics, these scenes come across as needless, meandering self-indulgence for the average mainstream viewer expecting more John Wick types of action entertainment. 5/10. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

My Review of MY LETTERS TO HAPPY: Dealing with Depression

July 19, 2019

Albert Tantoco is a serious, joyless advertising executive. Driven to depression by the death of a loved one, Albert only found his spark again when he started chatting online with a cheerful HR recruiter named Maria Jasmin Pantaleon, who called herself Happy. When they eventually met up, they hit it off mainly because of Happy's relentless energy and generosity revived Albert's joy in living. However, behind her infectious smiles, Happy was also experiencing psychological issues of her own.

TJ Trinidad is already for being a good actor and he proves it again here as Albert. When he met Happy, we see his gradual transformation from a bitter ruthless man into someone so much more open and unselfish. He had problems of his own, but when he realized the girl he loved had more serious problems than he did, he decided to man up, face the challenge head on and fully support her along her tougher journey. Trinidad's voice-over reading his titular letters to Happy was sincere with his longing.

I only got to know Glaiza de Castro after her stellar turn as the Martial Law rebel mother Liway, one of the best acting performances in film last year. Despite that unflattering hairstyle given Happy in the first half of the film, de Castro shone through with her genuine sense of euphoria for life. It was not difficult for Albert to fall in love with Happy so deeply that by the time her difficult down phase came to fore, we completely feel why Albert decided to see Happy through it all.

Volleyball star Alyssa Valdez had her acting debut as Albert's protege Cindy. She was still a bit self-conscious in her scenes, but the character was not entirely necessary in the story. Odette Khan appeared as Albert's mother, to whom he was totally devoted after they were abandoned by his father (played by Chris Perriz). Benj Manalo and Sarah Facuri played Albert's friends, while Teetin Villanueva and Juan Miguel Severo played Happy's friends. Anne Feo played Happy's strict boss Jenny.

I get dizzy easily with shaky camera work, so I wished there was not too much of that throughout the film as there was.There may be occasional problems in the pace of the storytelling. It felt a bit jerky at the start, while it tended to drag towards an uncertain ending.

Overall, this was a film sensitively written (by director Pertee Brinas) to expound on the challenges mental health problems bring to the person who has them and their significant others around him. The plot may just a simple story of a two lonely people falling in love, but here depression comes in to disrupt the bliss. This is no fairy tale ride and the film does not sugarcoat the pain and difficulties involved. We really still do not know what is best to do in cases like this, but we know we need to hang on in there and hold their hands all the way. 7/10. 

Friday, July 19, 2019


July 18, 2019

I knew the name of Ted Bundy as that of a notorious American serial killer of young women back in 1970s. Aside from that fact of general information though, I knew nothing more about this man. This year, crime docu-drama director Joe Berlinger made a film about Bundy based on "The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy," the memoirs of his girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall. Unexpectedly cast as Bundy was Zac Efron, eager to shed off his "High School Musical" image with this offbeat role.

In 1969, Liz Kendall was a mousy single mother who was swept off her feet when she met the handsome law student Ted Bundy in a bar. The two eventually live together and raise Liz's daughter Molly together. By 1974, Ted was implicated and tried as the suspect in the series of murders of young women committed cross-country from Washington, Utah and Colorado and later, Florida. Ted turned on his charm and intellect to act as his own attorney in court. Meanwhile, Liz turned to alcohol to deal with her stress.

With his looks and sex appeal, Zac Efron turned out to be a good choice to play Ted Bundy. He was able to project Bundy's confidence, sleaziness and eerie sense of danger, yet still remaining irresistible to women. Despite being accused of murdering a series of women, Bundy was still supported by his own fawning fan club of women during his sensational televised court proceedings. Efron made that phenomenon believable.

There were several court scenes which looked unrealistic because of Bundy's brazen behavior. I thought Efron was being very over-the-top in his acting in those scenes. However, these events were later shown to have actually happened in real life in news reels shown with the closing credits. Of course, there was some cinematic embellishment, but truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. 

Despite being the point of view from where Ted's story was told, Liz Kendall's character was decidedly downbeat and depressing, and a wan Lily Collins played her just like that. In contrast, Kaya Scodelario aggressively played Carole Ann Boone, a woman who even moved to Florida to stand by her man Bundy. 

Among the recognizable supporting actors were a very overweight Haley Joel Osment (yes, the kid from "The Sixth Sense") as Liz's friend Jerry, Jim Parsons (Sheldon from "Big Bang Theory") as prosecuting attorney Larry Simpson, and John Malkovich as Judge Edward Cowart, from whose lips the words of this film's very long unwieldy title came from.

Thankfully, director Joe Berlinger resisted the temptation to recreate the heinous gory crimes. In fact, he did not dwell on the crimes themselves but instead on the legal and personal proceedings arising from them. If we never knew about Ted Bundy, we would get charmed by Zac Efron's convincing and manipulative portrayal and actually be unsure if he really did these crimes or not. A serial killer can look as normal as anyone else, or he can even be brilliant and charismatic. Berlinger's subtle approach certainly drove home that cautionary message. 7/10. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review of SAVING FLORA: Sincerely Sentimental

July 15, 2019

Flora the elephant had long been the star attraction of a traveling circus run by ringmaster Henry and his 14-year old daughter Dawn. There came a time when Flora became very old and incapable of doing her tricks anymore. Henry planned to euthanize Flora to put an end to her pain and suffering. However, a defiant Dawn decided to spirit Flora away in order to deliver her to the safety of an elephant sanctuary instead. 

Jenna Ortega was charismatic as the passionate animal lover Dawn. She had a easy chemistry with her animal co-star Tai Tai, a veteran elephant actor. Martin Martinez played Sebastian, an older street-smart teen boy whom Dawn met along the way. His character had an unsure risky vibe we can feel as we become protective of Dawn. David Arquette was very good as the father Henry especially in those scenes where he was sick with worry over Dawn's fate. Leonor Varela was circus acrobat Isabella, who was Henry's calming center during his fatherhood crisis. 

Just earlier this year, the live-action version of Disney's "Dumbo" tackled basically the same "save the circus elephant" theme. There were striking similarities in the plots of both films. The lead human character was a headstrong female teenager who saw things differently from her father when it came to how to treat animals. The widower father would just so happen have a romantic relationship with an attractive aerialist. 

Of course there are major differences between the two. Dumbo was a baby elephant ridiculed for his big floppy ears, while Flora was an elderly elephant forced into retirement by her arthritis. "Dumbo" was a big budget Disney film with a computer-generated lead elephant and elaborate steampunk set designs. Being an indie film with considerably lower budget, "Saving Flora" had a real-life elephant actor playing the title role with gritty rustic settings. Flora and Dawn could not simply fly out of tough spots, like Dumbo and Milly did. 

The pacing of director Mark Drury Taylor may be inconsistent to keep the attention of younger audiences. The quality of the kids' acting may seem too amateurish for adult audiences. Redneck hunters (played by Galen Edward and Tom Arnold) in present day Southern California may seem a farfetched peril. How things turn out in films like this may be predictable. However, the emotional payoff at the end of "Saving Flora" was still sincere and rewarding, especially with that little extra twist they added on. 6/10. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Review of THE LION KING (2019): Lifelike Limitations

July 12, 2019

Disney seems to be rushing through their extensive catalog of animated classics and turning them into live action films at a fast pace. This year alone, there had already been "Dumbo" (which was not so good) and "Aladdin" (which was unexpectedly good). Coming up in the wings are "Lady and the Tramp" (in November) and "Mulan" (in March 2020). And then, there is this one, the "live action" version of the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time -- "The Lion King."

The film told the story of Simba, a young lion cub destined to be the king of the Pride Lands. However, his evil Uncle Scar connived with the hyenas to murder the reigning King Mufasa, force Simba into exile and claim the throne himself. Simba grew up with new friends meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa, leading a blissful "Hakuna Matata" ("No Worries") lifestyle, until fate compelled him to return home and fulfill his destiny to be king.

Director Jon Favreau practically followed the original animated film frame for frame, with all the iconic scenes intact, like the presentation at Pride Rock, the stampede at the gorge, the maturation of Simba while singing "Hakuna Matata," the tender frolicking scenes between Simba and Nala, the final fight between Simba and Scar. There were just some added comic relief scenes care of Timon and Pumbaa, especially one surprising reference to another Disney classic that . The pacing can be very slow at times, especially in that lengthy sequence following a tuft of Simba's hair as it got passed around by various animals. 

As can be seen in the trailers, the photo-realistic computer-generated imagery used in this film followed the style used in "The Jungle Book" (also by Favreau, 2016) which won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The animal imagery in "The Lion King" was strikingly realistic, the whole film practically looking like an actual wildlife documentary with a dramatic story. However, limitations were apparent during scenes when the animals' faces could not completely convey the appropriate emotions, especially joy during the upbeat songs (like "Just Can't Wait to Be King" or "Hakuna Matata").

The Hyenas were not laughing at all in this one. There were no witty Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin gags here. These new hyenas were scary as they were ugly. This live action version is not really a G film, more of a PG especially because of these hyena scenes. The Elephant Graveyard scene was so much more terrifying for young kids, together with their violent brawls with the lions and that final grisly fate of Scar. 

The voice work of the cast was excellent, led by Donald Glover as adult Simba and 11 year old JD McCrary as child Simba in the title role. Beyonce was being very Beyonce here, as she's unmistakable as adult Nala, dominating "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and the new song "Spirit." Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen were scene-stealing as the comic sidekicks Timon and Pumbaa, still the life of the film here as they were back then. Chiwetel Ejiofor captured the bitter jealousy of Scar but I missed the slimy Jeremy Irons version. The great James Earl Jones basically repeated his former lines as King Mufasa, his voice as formidable and noble as ever.

Certainly, the film was beautifully shot with grand cinematography of the African landscape, with the amazing realism of the computer-generated animal images being its greatest achievement. However, this lifelike realism of the animals turned out to be the film's main drawback. It did not seem to be the most appropriate medium to show wild animals cracking jokes and singing songs. Anyhow by the end, the timeless story of the beloved 1994 original still ultimately prevails to envelope you with its undeniable spirit of nostalgia. 7/10. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Review of ESCAPE PLAN: THE EXTRACTORS: Chinese Connections

July 11, 2019

"Escape Plan" (Mikael Håfström) was a 2013 action film which reunited 80s action superstars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stallone played security expert Ray Breslin who believed that he can escape from any prison ever made. I found it quite entertaining and actually smart, earning high ratings. It had a poor sequel last year which was a big dip from the original. Now, just a year later, here's another quickie follow-up.

Daya Zhang (Malese Jow), he daughter of a ruthless Chinese tech tycoon (Russell Wong) was kidnapped and held captive in a Devil's Landing, a notoriously labyrinthine prison in Latvia. Rey Breslin and colleagues were hired to rescue her. The kidnapper turned out to be Lester Clark Jr. (Devon Sawa) avenging his father's fate in Breslin's hands years back. To make it worse for Breslin, Clark also kidnaps Rey's girlfriend Abby (Jaime King). 

Sylvester Stallone's requisite one and one showdown with the sadistic Clark Jr. was of course reserved for the very end, but then Devon Sawa was not really made to put up much of a fight, which is a big let down. Max Zhang had the most prominent role among the Chinese actors as his character Shen Lo also played the love interest of Daya. His own fight showcase against the enemy was the most hard-hitting and bone-breaking one in the film. 

This film had practically nothing to do with the first film anymore. Rey Breslin did not have to break out of a prison anymore. He was breaking into one to rescue a kidnap victim, which made it quite generic. She could have been held some random location and it would not have made any difference. Dave Bautista was given only one fight scene with a huge shotgun to up the gore factor. Curtis "50 Cent" Smith was barely in it at all. The other Chinese actors (even Russell Wong) were wasted in unchallenging parts.

In "Escape Plan 2," practically 50% of the movie was carried by a Chinese martial arts star Huang Xiaoming. Here in "Escape Plan 3," it was practically a Chinese movie already, I'd say 80%. Aside from Jow and Wong, Max Zhang and Harry Shum Jr. also play significant roles as security officers.  Stallone, Bautista, King and Sawa felt like they were only making guest appearances here. I was hearing the Mandarin language being spoken in almost 50% of the script. It was a bit better than EP2, but not really by much. 4/10. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Review of MA: Hedonistic Hazards

July 10, 2019

Blumhouse Productions had built their fortune with ghostly flicks like "Paranormal Activity" (2009). "Insidious" (2011), "Sinister" (2012) and "Ouija" (2014), all of which have spun off their respective cinematic mythologies. Building upon that solid foundation, Jason Blum of Blumhouse had gone on to co-produce a couple of Oscar Best Picture nominees "Get Out" (2017) and "BlacKkKlansman" (2018). 

Occasionally, Blumhouse would also tackle horror which do not involve evil spirits. "The Purge" (2013) was about the horror of politically-sanctioned social anarchy. "Split" (2017) and "Glass" (2019) was about the psychological horror experienced by people with special abilities. "Happy Death Day" (2017) was a black comedy slasher horror. "The Gift" (2015) was about the horror coming from a friendly person with a disturbed psyche, and so is this this latest one "Ma."

Sue Ann was a lonely middle-aged woman who worked in a vet's clinic. One day, she befriended a group of teenagers (Maggie, Haley, Chaz, Durrell and Andy) who randomly requested her to buy alcohol for them as she passed by their van. Calling herself Ma, Sue Ann invited the teens over to use the basement of her house as the venue for their drinking parties, a generous offer which the friends excitedly accepted more than once. Little did they expect that Sue Ann's kindness and hospitality will soon have its dire consequences. 

Octavia Spencer had already won one Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in "The Help" (2011), and had been nominated two more times since then, for "Hidden Figures" (2016) and "The Shape of Water" (2017). For this role as Sue Ann, Spencer had to summon all her Oscar-pedigreed acting talents to carry the whole weight of this film on her shoulders. As one can already see in the trailers, she goes well over-the-top as Ma, a role that required so much energy for it to succeed. Spencer was clearly having fun with the offbeat role, especially in those three raunchy scenes with handsome actors. 

The teen actors (led by Diana Silver as Maggie and Corey Fogelmanis as her love interest Andy) were the usual variety we see in any Hollywood teen-oriented films -- attractive faces and bodies, but nothing substantial in terms of acting to offer. To be fair though, they was not really given much to do here, but drink, dance, make out and be bitchy, again typical of Hollywood teen films. 90s actress Juliette Lewis returns to the screen as Erica, Maggie's mother. The hardworking Luke Evans played Ben, Andy's father.

Honesty, there was not really much real horror in this film at all for maybe the whole first hour, just a lot of teenage carousing with Ma Sue Ann overseeing their foolishness. The tension only began in the last 15 minutes or so when Ma got her whole act in play. It started from that of Ben tied to the bed with only a towel covering him, a truly squirmy scene for the men in the audience. This would later escalate all the way to a fiery Grand Guignol finale in the basement, which unfortunately was a case of too much too late. 3/10. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Review of SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME: Incredible Illusions

July 5, 2019

We all thought comic book character Spider-Man already had his definitive film version when Tobey Maguire played him in Sam Raimi's trilogy from 2002-2007. Marc Webb tried to reboot the series with Andrew Garfield in two films 2012-2014, but these were too dark to gain any lasting public favor, stopping after two episodes. 

In 2016, Sony entered a special licensing agreement with Marvel to allow Spider-Man to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, beginning with "Captain America: Civil War." We got our first glimpse of then 20 year-old Tom Holland play our friendly neighborhood web-slinger. We would get to meet him more in his stand-alone movie "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017).

In "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018) and "Avengers: Endgame" (2019), we saw Spidey dusted by the Thanos finger snap and came back to witness the death of his mentor Tony Stark. In this newest film adventure, 16-year old Peter Parker will deal with the aftermath of Stark's death and his fledgling career as a superhero.

Simply wanting to enjoy the carefree joys of being a teenager, Peter Parker went for a European trip with his classmates without his Spidey costume. He just wanted to buy MJ a special gift in Venice and give it to her on the Eiffel Tower after professing his love to her. Powerful monsters of water and fire called the Elementals came along to spoil all his plans. However, Peter meets a new superhero Mysterio whom he saw to be a new mentor. 

Like "Homecoming" before it, Tom Holland was such a lovable Spider-Man. He had that vulnerable high-pitched squeaky voice which immediately makes you care for him as your own son. We can feel his inner conflicts as a teenager in puppy love, who also recognized that his great power came with great responsibility. We can feel his anguish for his departed mentor and his desperation for another guide as a superhero. 

Back from the Blip (as the dusting is known) were his best friend Ned (Fil-Am actor Jacob Batalon), arch enemy Flash (Tony Revolori) and lady love MJ (Zendaya), and they were all along on the grand European getaway. We meet his inept nerdy teacher chaperones (J.B. Smoove and Martin Starr) and other classmates like pretty girl Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) who had taken an unexpected fancy on Ned, and pretty boy Brad Davis (31 year-old Remy Hii), Peter's rival for MJ's attention.

Back to their SHIELD duties are Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). Throughout the film, you sort of feel ol' Nick was not his usual cool and collected self, and you'd have to wait for the extra scene after the end credits to clear that one up. Stark's bodyguard Happy Hogan (an ever-congenial Jon Favreau) kept an eye on Peter, but he also had another eye trained on Peter's pretty Aunt Mae (Marissa Tomei). And then there is the hero on the block, Mysterio (a charismatic Jake Gyllenhaal), whose relationship with Peter made an indelible impression on the teenage hero. 

Director Jon Watts continues his winning streak in telling yet another tale about our web-slinger as he matured another level in the superhero business. There was never a dull moment throughout, as the focus shifted from breathtaking Elementals action to funny classmates comedy and back, ever so fluidly and entertainingly with scintillating special visual effects. There were several surreal scenes where illusion and reality became indistinguishable from each other for both the characters onscreen and us -- this was top-notch film editing in action. 

By the last frame of the movie, I rated it a 9/10. But then came that AWESOME mid-credits scene that threw me, and everyone else, completely off our tracks. This was one major super surprise twist (and cameo guest) which no one saw coming. I just could not hold my applause while catching my breath on what unfolded in those couple of quick incredible minutes. That one extra scene pushed my initial rating up one full point, making my final rating a solid 10/10. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

iWant: Review of MOMOL NIGHTS: Risque and Risky

July 1, 2019

Peng (Kim Molina) could not move on from the break-up of a long-term relationship. Her three friends (Vera, Kate Alejandrino and Prince Stefan) advised her to seek out opportunities to MOMOL ("make out - make out lang") with random strangers who catch her attention in the bars they frequent. One guy who made a big impression on Peng was the tall and handsome Marco (Kit Thompson). So when serendipity willed it that they shared a ride together on a taxi, Peng took the bull by the horns and went for it.

Being Gen X, I had no idea about local acronyms like MOMOL until I heard them being mentioned and discussed on a notoriously naughty night-time radio show a few years back. Far from being a thing kept only among more liberal-minded young people, MOMOL has just become the title of a movie being digitally released on the iWant app. Now, I guess everyone knows or will know what this sexual practice means. 

The colorful and frenetic storytelling style of director Benedict Mique will appeal to its millennial target audience. However for a parent of teenagers like me, the whole youth culture presented here was actually scary. In many current Filipino films. sexual encounters are already shown to be inevitable even at the courtship stage among millennials. However, this film took my apprehensions further as it actually promoted MOMOL (and one-night stands) with strangers as a thrilling experience everyone should try at least once in their lives. The very first line already says this, and the final lines reinforce it further.

This was a very different Kim Molina from the girl I first knew from musical stage productions like "Rak of Aegis" and "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady." Well as Peng, she still had that cute, funny and likable "sister" vibe around her, which was why it was shocking to see her here going for it aggressively in daring sex scenes. Her vibrant sense of humor kept her character afloat, but this also made the sexual risks she took feel scarier.

As Marco, Kit Thompson effortlessly projected that quiet elusive mysterious man vibe women like Peng found irresistible. He was largely just used as eye candy for most of the film, with barely enough lines to say, coasting along with his brooding stares and flashy smiles. Thankfully , he did get to flex some dramatic acting muscle towards the end which reveal his sensitive side and potential for more to offer in future projects.

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I personally feel this was a dangerous film for vulnerable young women to watch. It spoke to heartbroken women and advises them to do something very high risk to satisfy "needs." Peng caved into the intense peer pressure exerted by her more sexually-adventurous friends to try these lusty escapades she would not normally try on her own. The MOMOL here went all the way to a one-night stand or two, breaking the list of rules it set. Peng was just lucky that Marco, while a player, was not a total monster.

I'm all for women standing up and going for what they want, but Peng's story with Marco is only a fairy tale and some naive young people may not recognize it as such. In the dangerous world of crime and disease we live in today, young people need to realize that lines need to be drawn especially when it comes to these sexual matters. Viewer discretion is warned in the very first frame before the movie itself began, but this material being freely available online, can this discretion ever be assured? 

As a film reviewer, I rate it 6/10 for its technical merits. But based on what I have written above as a concerned parent, I guess you can surmise how I would rate it on its sense of moral responsibility.