Saturday, November 30, 2019


November 30, 2019


Gabriel took off to work in Cagayan de Oro for a whole year, and never communicated with any of his friends back in Manila in that whole time. When he came back to Manila, a high school batch reunion made it necessary for Gabriel to reconnect with everyone he left behind, including his best friends Kev and Nicole, and his ex-boyfriend Jared. This reintegration process was not going to be easy for Gabriel. 

The cast is composed mainly of theater actors. Gio Gahol was on the screen almost 100% of the time as Gabriel, and he never once lost his troubled character. Topper Fabregas felt as if he was being just himself and not really acting as he played the sensitive Jared. Phi Palmos came across naturally and sincerely as boisterous best friend Kev. Writer-director Dwein Baltazar now also adds actress to her resume, playing quirky girl Nicole. Bart Guingona played Gabriel's married sugar daddy. Meann Espinosa played Gabriel's chatty co-worker at the education NGO. Adrienne Vergara was extraordinarily shrill as rich girl Linda. Boo Gabunada and Jasmin Curtis Smith were only seen in a single scene each, yet they certainly made their presence felt as a pothead driver and Jared's younger sister respectively.

Director Giancarlo Abrahan has an expertise with talky films about relationships. "Dagitab" was about the relationship of husband and wife. "Paki" was about elderly mother and her adult children. "Sila Sila" is the first film Abrahan directed which he did not write himself. This incisive and witty script was the first work by Daniel Saniana, and it won deservedly won him the Best Screenplay award. This film was a very frank depiction of a modern gay relationship. While its scenes of sexual nature may not be comfortable to everyone, the character flaws and the quirks tackled in this film can be seen in any relationship. 7/10.



Camille Montenegro was 10 years old when her mother brought her back to their old ancestral house in the province. Her Mother was much older woman, probably in her fifties. She was disorganized, moody and depressed, rarely showing any affection for Camille, spending her days smoking, drinking or having a casual dalliance with a neighbor. Daughter harbored a dark obsession with enchanted creatures, a departed elder sister and a mysterious woman taking over her mother's person, which peaked with a violent outburst at school. 

This was a dreadfully dismal movie as intended by writer-director Eve Baswel in her feature film debut. We are watching a mentally-unstable middle-aged woman wreak her terrible brand of abuse on her impressionable young daughter, and it was a very unnerving experience. There were several weird photography and soundtrack choices that give a surreal atmosphere. The horror here is psychological, so there was a blurring of boundaries of what was real, imagined or any version in between. Watching this can give you a headache in more ways than one -- brutal stuff.

Cherie Gil had been the archetypal villain in Philippine cinema since 1985 when she played bitchy Lavinia Arguelles and splashed the contents of that wine glass on virtuous Dorina Pineda's face. She totally deglamorized herself and went all out unhinged contravida in this latest role of hers as she wreaked torturous anguish on her child's vulnerable psyche. Now if that child had the adorable face of Jana Agoncillo, this mother's blatant neglect and was even more cruel and unforgivable. I hope Agoncillo was debriefed properly after portraying this traumatic role, a sadistic challenge to foist on any child. I do not think it was worth the potential psychological scars. 4/10. 

Review of THE HEIRESS: Scion of Sorcery

November 29, 2019

When I first heard of the title, it called to my mind a classic 1949 American drama film which won for Olivia de Havilland a best actress award. Its story about a rich but homely heiress and her handsome but poor suitor was remade in Filipino as "Ikaw Pa Lang ang Minahal" starring Maricel Soriano as the heiress Adela. However, the trailers soon made it clear that this new film was of the horror genre and had nothing to do with the first, but it was interesting that Maricel Soriano was also starring in it.

Guia (Janella Salvador) was a young woman who grew up under the care of her strict, old-fashioned aunt Luna (Maricel Soriano). As Guia's 18th birthday approached on the coming Good Friday, a malevolent ghost, appearing as an elderly woman dressed in black,made herself felt in their old house, wreaking terror to ensure the delivery of a promised offering. Meanwhile, Guia's limited world view was being changed by her friend in school Renz (McCoy de Leon) and the surprise homecoming of her mother (Sunshine Cruz). 

It was not really a surprise that Luna, with her dark dowdy long dresses, severe braided hairstyle and shelves full of herbal medicine, was a sort of local folk sorcerer called "mambabarang" (a Filipino brand of voodoo), and a powerful one at that. In an early scene, after their landlady Yolly (Lotlot Bustamante) threatened eviction for delayed rent payment, Luna whispered incantations while manipulating a doll to cause the poor woman's death. 

Maricel Soriano's last dramatic role in a feature film was at least eight years ago in the Jun Lana film "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow" (2011) which won her the Best Actress award in the Metro Manila Filmfest that year. Since then, she only had occasional film projects in the past few years, all in silly comedies like "Momzillas" (2013), "Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy" (2013) and "My 2 Mommies" (2018). 

This new film brings her back to a serious lead role, but this one is rather heavily stylized in over-the-top horror mannerisms in terms of acting style and line delivery. Every time Luna appeared on screen, her presence always had to be accompanied by eerie music to emphasize her evil. I felt Soriano did not really need all these in-your-face embellishments to establish her intimidating presence. 

Janella Salvador played the title character Guia, who was indeed an heiress, but her inheritance was not exactly monetary in nature. Her fresh beauty still shone through even in those scenes where she was supposed to be a plain mousy girl with an old maid's wardrobe. It was odd that only McCoy de Leon's character Renz who noticed her at all. Story-wise, if the evil spirit Mamalarang wanted Guia to join her coven, it was not clear why the girl was being scared off, instead of being enticed in. 

After a long absence from the silver screen, Sunshine Cruz is back in a second film this year after "Malamaya." Here she played Guia's absentee mother Carmen who suddenly came home to claim her daughter, running counter to Luna's plans. Unfortunately for Cruz, it was her character who had the most questionable, and even downright wrong, decisions. Also, despite the fact that she was away from the country for all those years, yet it seemed so easy for her to locate old Apo Digos (Dido dela Paz) for help. 

The best scenes for me were those showing Luna's ability to bilocate, which were well-executed to create viewer confusion. The production design of Luna's secret room was also commendable, meticulously filled with all sorts of creepy sorcery paraphernalia from wall to wall. It was good to see the future Darna Jane de Leon as the young Luna, depicting why and how she embraced the powers of sorcery. 

Director Frasco Mortiz's major highlights were those grisly scenes of remote-control sorcery showing the victims' excruciating ordeal of being ripped limb from limb which left their bodies in a distorted mess. The editing, visual effects, sound effects and musical score all came together well in these scenes, but for me, watching them evoked pain more than fear. Also, the face of the evil Mamalarang (Naya Amores) was shown close-up too early in the film, right in the opening sequence. Her scare factor diminished with her multiple subsequent appearances. 5/10. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Review of UNBREAKABLE: Melange of Melodrama

November 28, 2019

It was 2005. A couple of 18 year-old college girls became best of friends. Mariel Salvador (Bea Alonzo) was a responsible, studious, straight-as-an-arrow IT student. Her direct opposite Deena Yambao (Angelica Pangilinan) was an impulsive, emotional, can't-live-without-a-boyfriend type who kept on shifting majors. They vowed that absolutely nothing was going to break their friendship, as they compared themselves to Deena's pair in her ample bosom, Chestina and Chabelina.

Fast forward to 2012. Mariel was going to marry wealthy photographer and businessman Justin Saavedra (Richard Gutierrez). Deena came home from her work as a nurse in Norway to be maid of honor at the wedding, and met Justin's older brother Bene (Ian Veneracion), with whom she hit right off. While the Saavedra matriarch Helen (Gloria Diaz) disliked Mariel, she loved Deena a lot. This was just the first of several conflicts which began to drive a wedge deeper and deeper into their "unbreakable" friendship.

There isn't any doubt that Bea Alonzo and Angelica Panganiban are in top form in their game as leading ladies. They play off each other very well, both in the happy moments and sad moments, but it was especially during those uncomfortable and awkward moments that they really shine. Both Mariel and Deena have their respective big character flaws, and when they clash in a scene, Alonzo and Panganiban made sure sparks fly. Yes, some situations and lines can get incredibly corny, but the all-out dedicated performances of these two actresses kept the film engaging and afloat on even keel. 

Richard Gutierrez had a challenging role as Justin, whose character was torn between passion and duty. He delivered credibly, even as his character arc was predictable. As for Ian Veneracion, he certainly prevailed over his smaller role and limited screen time. Bene's sheer perfection made the character scene-stealing and memorable, especially vis-a-vis Justin's faults. Gloria Diaz was very effective as the mother-in-law from hell, in Mariel's point of view that is. Rosanna Roces was underused as Mariel's supportive mother Janice, but she did have a couple of lines delivered with her signature bite. 

From beginning to end of this film, practically every problem in the book of relationship plots (involving friends, spouses, in-laws) was thrown into the mix to come up with this 2 hour-long melange of such pure melodrama which was all so contrived and so convoluted that it ended up actually being so entertaining. Director Mae Cruz-Alviar never allowed the story to sag, coming up with another new, more difficult complication to challenge their friendship even further. It was so neat to notice how even the smallest details mentioned fell right into place in the overall story. 7/10. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Review of COUNTDOWN: Defying Death

November 27, 2019

A mobile phone app called "Countdown" rapidly became viral because it claimed to tell the exact amount of time down to the very second that someone had left to live. People thought this was all fun and games, until their friends began dying on the exact time that the app predicted. Furthermore, if they try to change the circumstances which was supposed to cause their death, a demon will come and finish the job off. 

Nurse Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail), her younger sister Jordan (Talitha Bateman) and new friend Matt Monroe (Jordan Calloway) were all told by their respective Countdown apps that they barely had one day to live. They interview Fr. John (P.J. Byrne), a Catholic priest expert on curses and demons, in a desperate effort to break the curse of the app before their predicted time of death comes.

Horror movies featuring its young adult characters dying off one by one had been a common sub-genre on its own. Perhaps beginning with "Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984), many neophyte young actors and actresses made their big-screen debuts as victims in films like "Scream" (1996), "I Know What You Did Last Summer" (1997), "Final Destination" (2000), and all their sequels. Recently, there had been films like "Cabin in the Woods" (2011), "It Follows" (2014), and "Truth or Dare" (2018). 

The premise of this new one was actually very interesting since it dealt with piece of technology which we all had on hand -- our cell phones, with the myriad of apps we have on it. Once an app becomes viral, everyone wants to try it out, be they games or social media platforms. It is not impossible that an app that could predict one's exact moment of death could actually become viral in real life. As morbid as it sounds, people will be curious and find it fun, unmindful of the psychological torture of seeing the length of time you have left.

TV actors Elizabeth Lail (best known for her role in the stalker drama "You") and Jordan Calloway (from the cast of Nickelodeon sitcom "Unfabulous") make for attractive lead characters. The romance aspect between them seemed forced in, but at the same time predictable. The film even tried to squeeze in a sexual harassment angle involving an extra-amorous doctor played by Peter Facinelli (known best for playing Dr. Carlisle Cullen in "Twilight"). The comic relief came mainly from the hyper-excitable Catholic priest and curse expert played by P.J. Byrne. 

Of course, there are the typical horror movie cliches, like bravely venturing out into the dark, hiding under the bed covers, investigating strange noises in the closet, and more. However, that you can see exactly the countdown on how much time a character had left to live did give a sense of tension on how exactly he was going to die at that moment. The long suspenseful set-ups would suddenly end in a jump scare, most of which were startling. Being rated PG, the deaths were not graphically depicted. This was actually a fun watch, not as bad as you may think. 6/10. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Review of FROZEN II: Elemental Enchantment

November 24, 2019

It is difficult to believe that it had been 6 years since "Frozen" (MY REVIEW) was the biggest hit movie of 2013, and became an animated classic. It had a number catchy songs in its soundtrack, Like " Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" and "Love is an Open Door." But one song became a true musical phenomenon of our time -- the anthem celebrating Elsa's emancipation, "Let It Go." The ending of that film was so different from the usual Disney princess movie that it made such a big impact on its viewers. 

When Queen Elsa responded to a mysterious voice calling out to her, she awakened spirits of air, water, fire and air which caused a forced evacuation of Arendelle. Along with iceman Kristoff, his reindeer Sven and lovable snowman Olaf, Elsa and Anna went off into the unknown to seek out places they only heard from their parents in their bedtime stories -- the mist-enshrouded enchanted forest of the Northuldra people and the river of Ahtohallan which told secrets of the past. There, the sisters learned more about their parents's love story and about Elsa's power with ice.

If the original "Frozen" was already quite bold in its plot and its storytelling, this sequel is darker and more mature than the first. There were very many kids in the audience when we watched, but I only heard them laughing out loud in a few scenes, mostly those with Olaf and his silly antics. Other than those, most of the story -- about the history of Arendelle, old King Runeard, how King Agnarr and Queen Iduna met, the conflict between Arendelle and the Northuldra tribe -- were certainly not kiddie stuff and needed parental guidance.

The songs were also more serious-sounding and less catchy than the songs in the first film, with only two notable exceptions. The first is "Into the Unknown," with its LSS-inducing serial escalation of notes while singing the title line in the chorus. This was the only song most people knew prior to watching the film because it was heard in the trailers, and there was already a pop version by Panic! at the Disco released to radio as well. Honestly though, I cannot really recall the verses of the song now, aside from that chorus is pure earworm.

The only other song that made a memorable impact for me was "Lost in the Woods." The melody of this song was a throwback to the love ballads of the 80s and 90s, with hilarious cheesy lyrics professing Kristoff's love for Anna. The whole sequence of Kristoff singing this song was also reminiscent of old MTV videos with those classic sun-lit close-ups shots.  The whole thing was so corny and cringy, it was laugh-out-loud funniest part of the whole film for me. The pop version by Weezer sung over the closing credits was likewise catchy.

Many people have said that this sequel was better than the original, but I can't say I totally agree with that assessment. Both were excellent in their own ways. The quality of the animation of the elements here was truly spellbinding, especially with its rendering of water -- from Elsa taming the elegant water horse, Anna and Olaf navigating the river where the giant ape-like earth spirits lay, to the torrential rampaging of water towards Arendelle. That adorable little lizard-like fire spirit is sure to have many fans. It is entirely possible that this sequel might just win the same Oscar for Animated Feature that the first film won, the first time this will ever happen. 8/10. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Review of 21 BRIDGES: Clampdown for Cop-Killers

November 22, 2019

Two petty crooks, Michael Trujillo (Stephan James) and Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch) got more than they bargained for when what should have been a routine job to steal some cocaine from a restaurant ended with them killing eight police officers who just so happened to all be at the scene of their robbery. 

Investigators called on to handle the case were led by internal affairs officer Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman), who immediately called a lockdown of Manhattan Island by closing off all 21 bridges that led in and out of it. The superior of the dead cops, Captain McKenna, (J.K. Simmons) assigned narc officer Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller) to back Davis up. 

This looked like it was going to be a great police thriller when I first saw the trailer. "Black Panther" Chadwick Boseman played Officer Andre Davis, a dead-serious police officer who was not averse to taking extreme measures to make sure the perpetrators do not get away. However, he did not have to sweat too much to figure out who the criminals were since they were positively identified by a single random witness from a single screenshot of a traffic video. I felt this was lazy and too contrived of a coincidence. 

To be fair, the action sequences of this film (mostly shootouts and chases) were executed well and were entertaining. Boseman and James stood out among the actors in the cast in both dramatic and action scenes, while some were too hammy (especially Kitsch and Miller). However, there were too many obvious clues even from the initial cocaine robbery scene which already pretty much telegraphed how the narrative was going to go -- and it did go exactly as I predicted, twist and all. 

Actually, the whole conceit of the title, the total close-down of all 21 bridges to isolate an entire island.  It was done as a preventive measure since it was in the wee hours in the morning, it did not affect business in Manhattan. It sounded so sensational, I was expecting a bigger group of criminals, not just two small-time crooks. However, it was not really involved in the plot, except to limit the time that Davis had to catch the killers (he had to wind things up by 5 am when Manhattan wakes up). But hey, it worked to bring people in to watch and that is the whole point of a catchy title. I felt letdown when I realized that the thieves will not even be on any one of those bridges. 

The names of "visionary directors" Anthony and Joe Russo were so prominently in the trailers and poster, so I thought this was their next directorial work after "Avengers: End Game." However, as the end credits rolled, the director was actually Brian Kirk, a veteran TV director best known for directing some episodes of "Game of Thrones." Turned out that the Russo brothers were among the producers along with star Chadwick Boseman. 5/10. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Review of DAMASO: Faults of a Friar

November 21, 2019

Movie producer Ms. Lulu (Aiko Melendez) is asking her in-house director Joey (Nyoy Volante) and scriptwriter Ferdie (Marlo Mortel) to come up with a more profitable follow-up to their last award-winner but box-office dud film. They come up with the idea to make a film centering on Fr. Damaso, a character from the Jose Rizal classic novel "Noli Me Tangere." Outside this movie within the movie, problems of modern society are referred to, such as the issue of family abandonment and OFWs and of drug addicts and EJKs.

When I first saw advertisements about this film online, especially about the iffy choices in the casting of the Noli characters, I was frankly not too excited about watching it. However, when I heard that it was going to be an original musical film (with music and lyrics all by director Joven Tan), that certainly peaked my interest to give it a chance. There are very few original Filipino musical films in our theaters, and for that this deserved our support. 

There was a song right off the bat in the first few minutes of the film, with Nyoy Volante singing "Susunod na Bayani" when he pitched his idea for the next movie to Ms. Lulu. In the next scene, Joey and Ferdie brainstorm while caught in heavy traffic, and Marlo Mortel burst into the song "Pagbabago." Both the song melodies and the singing was very good, so at from that point I was in good spirits about watching this film, no matter how things get.

The "Noli Me Tangere" scenes began like how Rizal's novel began, at a gathering in Kapitan Tiago's (Leo Martinez) house where the guest of honor was Crisostomo Ibarra (Jin Macapagal), who studied in Europe and had now returned home with idealistic plans of building a school. When Ibarra was introduced to Padre Damaso (Arnel Ignacio, without his toupee), the old friar was immediately antagonistic against him, his deceased father Don Rafael, and his relationship with the fair Maria Clara (Riva Quenery). 

Along the way, we get introduced to familiar characters "Noli" characters like Pilosopo Tasyo (Lou Veloso), Sisa (Vina Morales) and her sons Basilio (Noel Comia Jr.) and Crispin (David Joshua Lansang), Elias (EJ Falcon), Dona Victorina (Pinky Amador) and Don Tiburcio (Jon Achaval), Dona Consolacion (Carmi Martin) and Padre Salvi (Mon Confiado). Running parallel is the present day stories of Ferdie and his OFW girlfriend Jenny (Mj Lastimosa), Ms. Lulu's employee Perry (Ketchup Eusebio) and his drug-addict father Lauro (Allan Paule),  and Lulu's friend Ms. San Andres (Irma Adlawan), who was an OFW recruiter. 

Acting by the veteran character actors in the cast was mostly proficient, although some were prone to excess (like Vina Morales and her antiquated "iyak-tawa" portrayal of the Sisa stereotype). Acting neophyte Jin Macapagal's very weak projection as the lead character of Crisostomo Ibarra hampered the energy of this version. That famous scene of Ibarra holding a knife against Damaso's neck had absolutely no fire at all. When I saw the scenes between Macapagal and EJ Falcon (as Elias), I was thinking if it would have been better if they traded roles (or not). 

Despite the title, the film did not really give any additional dimension to Damaso's character. Even his two solo songs "Kung Kayo" and "Ako...Ako...Ako" did not really make any impact on me even if Ignacio was singing these songs himself. On the other hand, the love songs were the best in the soundtrack. Ibarra sang soulful ballads like "Hanggang Dito na lang Tayo" and "Hanggang Dulo" but Macapagal was just lip-synching the voice of Khalil Tambio. The song sung by Jenny to Ferdie over the phone "Konting Tulog na Lang" was beautifully sad, with Mj Lastimosa lip-synching the voice of Emie Conjurado. 

There was sincere effort to faithfully present the Noli story most Filipinos know since high school. The final parts about the fates of Ibarra, Maria Clara and Damaso were played out instead of just narrated in letters as in the book, but it could have been elaborated a bit more since this was new. Budget limitations were evident in the costumes and production design. Most of the time, the director would divert our attention from them by shooting the actors closeup. The quality of the cinematography and sound were better than expected. 

As social commentary, it tried to connect certain scenes in Noli to the present, like how the abusive guardia civil were juxtaposed over the "operation tokhang." There were several subtle and passing digs at the present administration, appreciation of which depends on your politics. The ending smacked of irony, when even after all the OFW issues depicted, the film seemed to say that hope is still found abroad. Overall, I appreciate the Herculean effort of director-writer-composer-lyricist Joven Tan in this passion project of his, although there is still a lot of room for further fine-tuning. 6/10. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Review of ADAN: Throwback Tittilation

November 20, 2019

Ellen Sta. Cruz (Rhen Escano) was a blossoming young lady at 16 years old, but her father Lucas (Bembol Roco, Jr.) kept her locked up in their remote cottage near their barren farm after they were abandoned by her mother Mara (Maui Taylor). Her only moments of happiness were those days when her best friend Marian (Cindy Miranda) who worked in town, came for her monthly visits.  

One fateful day marred with blood, Ellen escaped from her father's control, and fled off to live with Marian. In the sultry heat of the summer nights, the two women succumb to the temptations of the flesh between themselves. However, the trail of violence continued as ruthless loan shark Alan (Raffy Tanada) and a lusty policeman Abraham (Epy Quizon) crossed their paths, while paranoia and mistrust take over their relationship. 

This was a story of deep friendship which turned into love, but here, it involved two women. This lesbian scenario is also not commonly tackled in Filipino movies. The most famous example should be "T-Bird at Ako" (1982) especially because it starred superstars Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos. There were a number of indie films about lesbians like "Ned's Project" (2016), "Baka Bukas" (2016) and "Billie and Emma" (2018), but I was not able to watch any of them to compare whether they were as bold as the treatment here in "Adan."

Nowadays we only see sensual dramatic film like this one in indie film festivals, but this one went for a mainstream release, like the ST films of the 1990s. However, recent sexy films (like "Just a Stranger," "Malamaya," "Belle Douleur," "The Annulment") were ironically it was their male partner who would bare more skin than the female lead. Here in "Adan," the two lead actresses generously displayed their bodies in tastefully-photographed sensual scenes with a sort of nostalgic throwback feel, along with other ST film staples like the farm hut, the waterfalls. the mosquito net and the white chemise. 

With her dewy eyes and willowy body, 21-year old Rhen Escano still had the look of an innocent barrio nymphet of 16. On the other hand, the tall lissome Cindy Mercado still looked very much like the confident beauty queen that she was. The camera loved these two ladies, and they looked beautiful together. With no outlet to express herself, Escano's Ellen only had her eyes to reveal her repressed emotions from loneliness to suspicion. After experiencing one trauma after another, Miranda's Marian had eyes which turned from bright to glassy to reflect the abused condition of her person. 

From a story by Yam Laranas and screenplay co-written by Jonison Fontanos, violence was very much an integral part of this film as much as the sex. These murderous scenes were progressive in brutality and bloodiness, though admittedly they were rather contrived in execution. The final scene in the bus was the most unexpected shocker with over-the-top absurdist sensibilities, a la Quentin Tarantino. Co-writer and director Roman Perez, Jr. had a bold vision and went for it full-on, willing to trigger extreme audience reactions, especially with his polarizing love-it-or-hate-it ending. 6/10. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review of THE ANNULMENT: A Cheesy Chore

November 19, 2019

Gari (Lovi Poe) was a stylish fashionista who worked as a pre-school teacher, with online sales businesses on the side. Sherwin (Joem Bascon) was a poor student training to be an auto mechanic, working as a waiter on the side. They first encountered each other in a private party where Gari was a guest and Sherwin was a waiter, and they shared the stage together for an impromptu song number. 

Fast forward to one day when Gari's car stalled, and Sherwin just so happened to be right there to fix her battery problem. Fast forward again to one day when Gari was eating fishballs in a sari-sari store in Sherwin's neighborhood. Fast forward again to the day when Sherwin boldly proposed to be Gari's boyfriend with the help of their friends. Then fast forward again to the fateful wedding day when Gari became Mrs. Sherwin Gallardo.

With this initial sequence of episodic scenes, we can already feel that this was not going to be a movie of substance. The story of how two people of vastly different, totally contrasting social standing, educational attainment, bank accounts, English-speaking skills, fashion sense and physical appearance getting together to get married could already be a full-length movie in itself. Yet here, the director simply stitched these contrived scenes together and just expected us to accept that incredible fantasies like this could really happen just like that.

The director should have taken the effort to convince us that an ambitious rich girl like Gari can drop everything and accept the marriage proposal of someone like Sherwin who did not seem to have any future in his horizon. The strength of the foundation upon which their marriage was built was essential to create the tense dramatic situations which the title alone already told us was going to happen to them. In this case, their relationship was shallow and frivolous, there was not an iota of doubt that this marriage was doomed from Day 1. 

While married, Gari was working on both her teaching job and her online stores to earn all the money to sustain their daily needs. Sherwin quit from his job at the car repair shop to find a better job but he could not because it turned out he never even graduated from his vocational school after all this time. So one night, this great husband got himself drunk at a party and allowed himself to be seduced into bed by a cheap-looking hussy named Samantha (Myrtle Sarrosa).

Now who has not seen these scenarios in a Filipino movie before? This was absolutely lazy writing as no effort was spent it seems in coming up with a more original conflict between the wife and husband. We already saw all of these problems happening ever since they stepped out of the church during their wedding. Everything was so ho-hum predictable, no surprises at all to spark interest.

Then we fast forward to familiar scenes of secret phone calls and mall meet-ups, again no imagination at all. All of this set up to that day where Sherwin and Sam were going at each other right in the Gallardo living room, and Gari walked in on them. This major confrontation scene is a staple in all Filipino about infidelity. Yet with all those multiple crisp-sounding face-slapping, this was the most entertaining scene in the whole film. Too bad the director had to ruin the fun by slipping in a miscarriage. 

The whole meat of the film was supposed to be about the annulment proceedings. Yet the film also did not delve on the details of its taxing procedure. There was only one court scene, where the Gari's lawyer friend flaunted her English enunciation prowess. After that, there was again another easy way out where one party simply acquiesced to the demands of the other. You'd think there would be more weight and time given to the legal workings during an annulment case, but here we see yet another abbreviated process just like we have seen in other Filipino dramas about couples parting ways. 

The beauty, class and talent of Lovi Poe was wasted in a cheesy, banal and inept film like this. She (and also Ana Abad Santos as Gari's mother) was the only positive aspect in this film. 2/10. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Review of FORD V FERRARI: Gripping Gear-shifts

November 16, 2019

When the Ford company decided that they wanted to race Ferrari at the celebrated 24 Hours of LeMans endurance car race, they contacted Carroll Shelby, a racecar designer who won LeMans in 1959. Shelby wanted the troubled but instinctive British driver Ken Miles to drive the Ford GT 40 they co-designed for the big race. However, Shelby met resistance from the Ford executives, particularly Leo Beebe, head of the Ford Racing Division, who thought that the temperamental Miles did not properly reflect the Ford image. 

Car race movies had always been a great source of heart-pounding action and heart-rending drama, from "The Love Bug" and "Cars" for the kids, to the "Fast and Furious" and "Need for Speed" for the adrenaline-junkies. However, a special subset are the biographical race movies, like "Heart Like a Wheel" (1983) about Shirley Muldowney, and "Rush" (2013) about James Hunt and Niki Lauda. That these racers and their races are true-to-life gave them additional dramatic heft.

This movie belonged to Christian Bale as Ken Miles, World War II veteran turned race car driver. He really got into the skin of this difficult character, fully capturing his flawed personality. Physically, the gauntness of Bales' face here approximated Miles' actual facial features.  He was very believable the way he was throwing all those automotive engineering jargon around in his thick British accent during the development of the GT 40 cars. He was very believable as the driver who really knew his car inside and out, knowing exactly what his machine can do, and he can coax her full potential out with his driving skills. 

Matt Damon was his old reliable self as Carroll Shelby, although he did not really disappear into the role like how Bale did. His Shelby was still very much Matt Damon, but acting-wise, he was solid. Terry Letts played the petulant big boss Henry Ford II in a sort of caricaturish comical depiction. Josh Lucas was despicable as Leo Beebe, Ken's nemesis in the Ford board who interfered on the track as well. Remo Girone portrayed the venerable Enzo Ferrari, so proud of his beautiful cars. Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe turn in supportive performances as Ken's wife Mollie and son Peter. 

I did not know any of the characters nor any of the race results depicted in this sports drama movie. This made the watching these real-life events unfold on the big screen all the more engrossing and thrilling. Director James Mangold, best known for directing the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line" (2005) and the Wolverine valedictory "Logan" (2017), outdid himself by putting together an effectively involving biographical sports movie. 

The cinematography, editing, sound mixing and musical score made the exhilarating race sequences, and there was quite a number of them throughout the 152-minute running time of this film, fully-immersive, pulse-racing, breathtaking viewing experiences. That extraordinary finale at LeMans was a nail-biting affair from the initial faulty door to its controversial photo-finish. 9/10. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Review of CHARLIE'S ANGELS (2019): Furthering the Franchise

November 15, 2019

Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) is a scientist behind a powerful new invention which could be dangerous in the wrong hands. When her warnings went ignored by her bosses, she decided to blow the whistle on the project by contacting the Townsend Agency. The tough-as-nails Angels assigned to her case were Sabina Wilson (Kirsten Stewart) and Jane Kano (Ella Balinska). However, after narrowly escaping an intense attempt on her life, Elena joined the Angels to get to the bottom of this case in a wild European adventure that brought them from Hamburg to Berlin, London, Istanbul and Chamonix. 

"Charlie's Angels" was one long-running TV series in the late 1970s about three former policewomen who work as private investigators, receiving instructions from the disembodied voice of a mysterious man named Charlie, whom they've never seen. This show starred Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan, Farrah Fawcett (then Majors) as Jill Munroe, and Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett. In the second season, Fawcett was replaced by Cheryl Ladd, playing Jill's sister Kris. When Jackson left, Shelley Hack and Tanya Roberts tried to take over but could not recover the initial magic, so the series was cancelled after five seasons. 

In the 2000, a film was made to reboot the Charlie's Angels franchise. This action-comedy starred Cameron Diaz as Natalie Cook, Lucy Liu as Alex Munday and Drew Barrymore as Dylan Sanders. In the second film in the series subtitled "Full Throttle" (2003), Demi Moore was cast as a former Angel Madison Lee. John Forsythe, who was the voice of Charlie for the entire five seasons of the TV series, also provided the voice of Charlie in these two films. However, because of mixed reviews, a planned third installment was canned.

This latest reboot was written and directed by Elizabeth Banks, who also took the role of a "Bosley," Charlie's assistant who worked directly with the girls on their cases. Originally played by David Doyle in the TV series and Bill Murray in the 2000 films, Bosley is now an official position title in the worldwide Townsend Agency, who took care of a whole network of Angels. Banks' Bosley was special because she was the first Angel to become a Bosley. Patrick Stewart played the role of the original Bosley who had reached his retirement age.

When I saw the first trailer, Kirsten Stewart was the last person I expected to be cast as an Angel. Since she broke into the Hollywood A-list as Bella Swan in the "Twilight Saga," her screen persona had always been the sullen, unsmiling, mousy girl. But here as Sabina, she was funny, feisty, energetic, smart-ass, bad-ass -- everything Bella was not. Believe it or not, she was even dancing hot moves! Her smile was definitely dazzling and she had a totally winning personality. I liked this all-new Kirsten Stewart a lot.

Aside from Stewart, the two other Angels were relative unknowns. Nevertheless, I'd say they both came up with creditable performances as well. As ex-MI6 Jane, Ella Balinska is a new face, but her height and beauty were quite eye-catching, and she was quite graceful in her fight scenes. Naomi Scott, we just met as Princess Jasmine in the live action version of "Aladdin." Elena is the newbie to the group so she mostly played it cute and awkward as her scientist character gets initiated into spy action. 

The plot of trying to recover stolen technology from those who intended to use it for bad purposes is already a very overused plot device. This film really just relied on the enthusiastic performances of the new Angels to push it to a higher level of entertainment. It was difficult for this set of Angels to surpass the set in the previous film version. Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore were all already big names when they were cast as Angels. I'm game to see this new team in another more original adventure for them to prove their worth as Angels. 7/10. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Review of THE ART OF LIGAW: Courtship Counseling

November 14, 2019

Jake Esguerra is a hotshot fund manager who is also well-versed in the art of picking-up ladies for quickie affairs. One day, he went to Davao to lecture salesmen on making a sale using the art of seduction, There he met their team leader Carisse, who was a conservative sort of girl, no boyfriend since birth. Challenged because his usual pick-up lines and moves did not work, Jake decided he will win Carisse over by courting her the old-fashioned way. 

This little film presented its story in a first-person point of view, with Jake himself breaking the fourth wall to narrate his own story. The context of this type of narrative will be explained later on in the film. The problem with this style of storytelling is that technically Jake cannot know what Carisse was doing when he was not with her, so how can he narrate what she was doing, or what she was thinking. There could have been more imagination in how to tell Carisse's story still from Jake's point of view.

First of all, it has to be said, Epy Quizon is the spitting image of his father Dolphy, more than ever. While Quizon was charming, he did not seem to be a Jake, a ladies man who had no trouble sweeping women off their feet and was proud of it. His Jake and his patented pick-up style can come off as pretentious, arrogant and even creepy. His over-confidence did not look natural enough to have girls fall so easily for him, well at least in this guy's perspective.

I was expecting Jake to display some sense of humor since it is usually said that girls usually fall for funny guys. Quizon is known to be funny in real life, however his Jake was so self-conscious about his style that any attempt at humor felt put on. In fact, the way Quizon's Jake was narrating his whole story felt so serious and heavy-handed. It had none of the magnetic characteristics that Jake was supposed to have. 

KZ Tandingan is being introduced as an actress in this film, and honestly, I thought she held her own against the more experienced Quizon. She was quite good when she was in light and breezy scenes as they came off as effortless for her. She still had some tendency to deliver her more serious lines in a rather dull singsong manner. but I am sure this will improve in her future projects. 

Tandingan had some scenes in which she was supposed to be funny, where she came across like Melai Cantiveros in the delivery of her Visayan lines, something she should be more conscious to avoid in her future films. Of course, the film also highlighted her world-renowned talent in singing and she aced those scenes effortlessly. "Quicksand," a ballad Tandingan herself wrote and performed was a perfect fit into her part of the story.

There were a lot of pressing questions in the story it was trying to tell. Why did Jake want to court Carisse in the first place? She is supposed to be the very first girl he decided to court in an old-fashioned way, but why her? Was it just because she rebuffed him right off when they first met? He practically shamed Carisse to accepting a date with him by serenading her at work in front of her officemates. Was this really the advice Sebastian was giving men who wanted to court a lady love? 

With the title, it seemed writer-director Jourdan Sebastian wanted to tell about the art of courtship when aiming for a long-term relationship. However to be frank, I thought I saw more and remembered more about the techniques about picking up girls (hence I question the generous PG rating) , than techniques of courtship he wanted to show. Anyhow, Sebastian was clever to point out that the Filipino term for courtship ("ligaw") is the same as the Filipino term for lost (also "ligaw"), and explained just how this coincidence made. 5/10.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Review of THE LIGHTHOUSE: Claustrophobic Chaos

November 12, 2019

It was the 1890s. Two men were sent to maintain a lighthouse in a remote island of rock in New England. Thomas Wake was the older guy with the false leg who kept the key to the light at the tower top. Ephraim Winslow was the younger guy who did all the other heavier chores around the place. Soon, the miserable life conditions take their toll on Ephraim leading him to fantasize about mermaids and kill seagulls. Later, the two men take out their perpetual drunken madness on each other. 

The acting styles of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson hark back to the era of silent cinema, with exaggerated facial expressions and over-the-top gesticulations. When they were shouting furiously against each other while seriously inebriated, crazy matched with crazy, chaos matched with chaos. They spoke in an archaic sort of sailor slang English which I admit I could not understand fully all the time.

Willem Dafoe had been known as an intense actor ever since that iconic silent scream scene of his in "Platoon" (1986), which got him the first of his four Oscar nominations for acting. As Thomas Wake, Dafoe was as curmudgeonly salty as one can get, with more than a hint of instability from the get-go. His most memorable scene here was that one when he was lying in a hole in the ground and he was rambling while soil was being thrown on his face. That harrowing scene was one haunting image of dedication to the craft of acting that few actors can match. 

If Dafoe was expected to fit right into an art film like this, Robert Pattinson was the big surprise. After gaining super-stardom as the vampire hunk Edward Cullen in the much-maligned "Twilight Saga" films, Pattinson struggled to rebuild his reputation as a serious actor. This should be the culmination of that journey as he matched Dafoe's madness every step of the way, and gave it his own younger, more volatile spin of disturbed. Aside from scenes of his perverse fetishes, he had two chilling scenes with seagulls, one at the very end which will haunt you as you step out of the cinema and long after that.

When you watch this film, you are immediately taken back to the time of classic cinema when movies were in extremely contrasted black and white, and actors were shot in extreme closeup. The squarish screening aspect lent further claustrophobia to the already heavy atmosphere. The images conjured up by director Robert Eggers and his cinematographer Jarin Blaschke reminded me of classic film directors like Ingmar Bergman, Fritz Lang, Akira Kurosawa and Orson Welles. 

This arthouse film is definitely not for mainstream audiences. Like it or not, you still recognize its merits as a serious piece of cinematic art. It won't take long that this film will likewise be hailed as a classic in its own right, like the films by the masters it evoked. 8/10. 

C1 ORIGNALS 2019: Review of METAMORPHOSIS: Intersex Illumination

November 13, 2019

14 year-old Adam Bonifacio is a senior high student in the rural town of Natividad. He is the son of a Christian pastor Edgar and illiterate wife Elena (Yayo Aguila). Because of his androgynous look, he was frequently bullied in school. He became close friends with Angel, a 24 year-old woman who joined Adam's class to earn a secondary school diploma. One day, Adam came home sick in the stomach, with a red stain on the seat of his pants. 

Young actor Gold Azeron had his work cut out for him when he played the physically and psychologically disturbed teenager Adam. He had the right look and build for the role with his face which may look male or female in different scenes. More impressive was his very realistic in his attack on his role with all the confusion and vulnerability of youth. His sensitive performance definitely puts him in strong contention for the Best Actor award.

Iana Bermudez played Angel, a trusted best friend and a bad influence in one.  Ricky Davao and Yayo Aguila provided consistently excellent support as Adam's concerned parents. Davao's occupation as a religious pastor, made him voice the opinion of the church sector about this issue. Ivan Padilla was rather awkward as Dr. Tolentino because of his distracting American accent when he attempted to talk in Filipino. In a more minor yet key role, Bodjie Pascual played neighborhood doctor Dr. Mortiz with his delightfully subtle voice inflections.

We only hear about intersex or hermaphrodite individuals when they are involved in sporting scandals. Apart from these fleeting news articles, we basically know nothing else about them -- how they live their lives raised as a certain gender, and yet face complex psychological challenges everyday because they possess both male and female sexual organs and do not understand what was going on in their bodies. Director Jose Tiglao chose to use the metaphor of a butterfly coming out of its cocoon to illustrate these issues.

Adam had been raised as a male all his life. However, time came when he and his parents finally had to face the hard truth head on. There was an endocrinologist character in the film to lay down the scientific facts about this condition. There were three types of hermaphrodites, based on the gonads and genetic karyotype one possessed. The issues surrounding surgery were tackled, and their potentially-devastating psychological impact when done without the patient's full informed consent.

This film had first been rated X by the MTRCB and banned from public exhibition apparently because of certain sensitive scenes of sexual nature. I suspect the scene which raised the film censors' eyebrows was one protracted scene of a naked Adam pleasuring himself via his two sexual organs. This uncomfortable scene, while may be needed in the story, lasted longer than it probably should have. The director wisely chose to end it on a comic note to diffuse the tension it created. That scene with Dr. Tolentino in bed, however, was a little over-the-top, and felt out of place in the general tone of the film.

Fortunately, Tiglao won his appeal and gained an R-16 rating instead and was therefore allowed to be shown during this current Cinema One Originals film festival. This controversy will definitely drive up public interest to watch this film, which is good news for a bold and important work that aimed to illuminate the public about the various issues surrounding intersex individuals. Now it is bound to win Best Picture of this festival, and make it to numerous year-end lists of the year's best films. 8/10.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019


November 11, 2019

Alex (Jane Oineza) was an ambitious, career-oriented young woman. Needing to prove that she more than just a pretty face, she became demanding, abrasive and defensive. Carlo (JC Santos) was Alex's creative and laid-back graphic artist who was trying to move on from a painful breakup. One night, the two were working on an advertising project in Alex's apartment. Aside from discovering their common fear for cockroaches, the two also realized that there was something there between the two of them after all. 

Jane Oineza did well portraying a strong driven woman. She was supposed to be smart and brilliant at what she did, but unfortunately, this was all talk but not shown. Alex was never really given a scene to display her talents, so we don't know what she really does well at all. Instead all we see a disorganized slob, evident both in her messy apartment and her rushed morning routines. In yet another variation of a fool in love, I felt this was a thankless role for Oineza, who gave it a good effort nevertheless

JC Santos just portrayed a sort-of similar role in the recent film "Open," where his character wanted to break from the traditional set-up of relationships. His Carlo here got along very well living together with Alex, going to the extent of cooking for her and ironing her clothes. However, even if he was deep into the relationship, he just did not want to formally call it a "relationship". This illogical mindset defied definition. The choice of Santos with his appealing screen image made such a incorrigible character into a sympathetic one. 

The plot of a man unable to commit to a relationship is a very familiar staple in local rom-coms, so there was nothing really new here. Alex and Carlo had a good thing going romantically it seemed. It was just that Carlo did not want to label their relationship as anything, and they just go on as is, something Alex could not easily accept. The etiology of his insecurity was so obvious, even Alex was able to predict why he was acting that way. Maybe it would have been more innovative if the inability to commit came from the bossy Alex instead, the situation would have been less commonplace and probably more interesting -- or maybe not. 

Once again, this film reinforced the reality that casual sex is indeed an integral part of a millennial relationship. After a night of supposedly work-related discussions, Alex and Carlo ended up in bed even after barely knowing each other. The very first scene of the film was about Alex trying to get a one-night stand going with a himbo (Victor Sy) who cared more about his gym routines than the girl he was with. My old-fashioned sensibilities are wary of the signals this may send to young women, since this was written and directed by a woman Denise O' Hara, in a rather disappointing follow-up to her stunning directorial debut feature "Mamang" (2018). 5/10.  

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Review of DOCTOR SLEEP: A "Shining" Sequel

November 8, 2019

"The Shining" (1980) was a classic horror film by Stanley Kubrick based on a 1977 novel by Stephen King. This was filled with so many creepy images which remain indelible from the memories of those who watched it all those years ago. In 2013, Stephen King revisited his own novel and wrote a sequel. This year, this new film comes out based on the sequel, as well as a sequel to the film version. "Doctor Sleep" is the fourth film based on a Stephen King book in 2019 alone, after "Pet Sematary," "It Chapter 2" and "In the Tall Grass."

The film starts slowly, going back and forth in time, to introduce each of the main characters. In 1980, we meet Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), a mysterious woman who led a shady cult who fed on the essences from gifted individuals. Then we rekindle our acquaintance with 6 year-old Danny Torrance (now played by Roger Dayle Floyd), Jack Torrance's son, as he was riding his plastic go-kart in the carpeted halls of Overlook Hotel and we are reminded of his gift of "shining" (an extra-sensory ability, to detect spirits in his case). 

Then the scene shifts to 2011 in New Jersey, where we meet an adult Danny (Ewan McGregor) as he was dealing with his alcoholism to drown out his "shining." He began receiving messages from Abra Stone (Kyleigh Curran), a young girl with extraordinary "shining" powers from New Hampshire. Fast forward to 2018, a teenage Abra had a violent dream of the True Knot murdering a child to obtain his life essence. She sought out Danny in person to recruit him to help her fight the cult. 

While some sequels can stand alone, I think this one will be best appreciated only if you have already seen "The Shining." There was an overwhelming sense of nostalgia which can be experienced when seeing all those scenes and characters all over again, a testament to how strong Kubrick's brand of eerie imagery has stuck to our consciousness over time. We reencounter Danny's mom Wendy (now played by Alex Essoe), the chef Mr. Halloran (now played by Carl Lumbly), the bartender Lloyd (now played by Henry Thomas, yes, the boy from "E.T."), the Grady twins, the elevator gushing blood, the hedge maze in the garden, "redrum" on the mirror, and of course, the naked old lady in the bathtub in Room 237. 

 Director Mike Flannagan, who wrote, directed and edited all his previous horror films like "Oculus" (2013) and "Ouija: Origin of Evil" (2016), as well as the acclaimed Netflix series "The Haunting of Hill House" (2018) did all three vital duties for this film as well. The build-up of horror was perfectly paced, with startling imagery of his own. That harrowing scene of Rose with the baseball kid is truly one of the most intensely terrifying horror scenes in recent history. The manner how Flanagan integrated the iconic elements from "The Shining" into his own adaptation reflected his absolute reverence for the Kubrick original. 8/10.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Review of CARA X JAGGER: Forgive to Forget

November 8, 2019

Cara (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) ran a successful events coordination company with her two close married friends Yani (Gabby Padilla) and Joseph (Dino Pastrano). She had a condition called hyperthymesia, which meant that she could remember details of everything that happened in her life down to the precise dates and time, as well as the corresponding emotions attached to these events. She was the girl who could never forget.

Jagger (Ruru Madrid) was a cool hotshot motocross riding champion. Following their chance meeting on the train, he eventually became Cara's boyfriend. However, because of an accident on his motorcycle, he suffered from amnesia, forgetting everything except one name -- Cara's. His grandfather, whom they endearing called Papalo (Dante Rivero), requested Cara's help to help Jagger recover the memories he had lost. 

This love story involved a clever contrast of medical conditions. Cara can remember everything, while Jagger forgot everything. Jagger struggled to remember, while Cara struggled to forget. The process of rebuilding Jagger's memories was painful for Cara as she relived both the bitter with the sweet, but it was also eye-opening for her to realize certain aspects of these events which she never saw before. 

As she had consistently been in all her previous films that I had seen, Jasmine Curtis-Smith gave a very natural performance as Cara, which had little or no sense of pretense at all. Everything seemed so sincere and heartfelt. Curtis-Smith's attack on her difficult role was deceptively simple and effortless, but it was really her character Cara which carried the brunt of their emotional roller-coaster as a couple. 

With a completely erased slate, Ruru Madrid's Jagger began as an innocent rediscovering his own past. His challenge was to convince the viewers that this was really how a person with amnesia behaved and it was not an easy task to pull off. Because unpleasant details of memories were only revealed later, it was only in the second half of this film that Madrid had more complex emotions to display with his endless apologies.

This is the third film of director Ice Idanan that I had seen, after "Sakaling Hindi Makarating" (2016, MY REVIEW) and "Stranded" (2019, MY REVIEW). To spice things up, there were silly comedy scenes care of Dino Imperial's Joseph, bitchy villainous scenes care of Michelle Dee's Madz and words of wisdom care of Dante Rivero's Papalo. Given its lyrics, "Leaves" by Ben&Ben was a very appropriate theme song. For me, I would have wanted more detailed results about Cara's final decision than what was shown. 7/10. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Review of NUUK: Snowbound Secrets

November 7, 2019

Usually, if a Filipino movie is shot in a foreign country, it is to take advantage of its festive scenery and exotic romantic ambiance. But this one is very different. Nuuk is the capital and largest city of Greenland, an island territory of Denmark, three-fourths of which are within the Arctic Circle. This location was chosen for its seemingly perpetual bitter cold and snowy winters, which was just the perfect backdrop for this story of desolation and depression. 

Elaisa Svendsen is a middle-aged Filipina woman who lived in Nuuk. She had been a widow twice-over already. She had a very testy relationship with her rebellious young adult son Karl Kleist. She had been estranged for some time because her interference with his love affairs cost him the girl he truly loved. 

One day, while desperate for her Prozac fix, she met a visiting Filipino seaman Mark Alvarez at the pharmacy. Friendly and caring, Mark lent Elaisa a helping hand with her many problems. Just when Elaisa thought some sun was shining through in her life, it appeared that a blizzard was threatening to cause further havoc.

Alice Dixson had the showier role as Elaisa, and she went for it unrestrained. She was a lonely woman whose struggle to make a meaningful connection with her son had wreaked damage to her delicate psyche. Her vodka and her Prozac pills were her only friends in her tough times. In the final act she had a number of intense breakdown scenes, a couple of them set outdoors in the snow which definitely raised the level of difficulty. 

For most of the film, Aga Muhlach played Mark as Elaisa's supportive friend and potential Romeo. Initially, his performance felt rather tentative and unnatural, which was unusual knowing the caliber of actor that he is. However, by the time the final act came around, everything fell into place so well that we understand the rationale of the acting choices he made to make his character more believable. 

The third actor in this drama is Greenlander filmmaker and actor Ujarneq Fleischer in the role of Karl. This was a difficult and thankless role, playing a troubled character not easy to like or sympathize with. Based on Karl's life, the image of life in Nuuk was not too rosy compared to life in the Philippines. Comments on the high rate of suicide among the youth and the easy morals of girls further cast Greenland in a rather unfavorable light.

Every carefully-chosen scene location emanated a sense a sinking feeling of distance, misery and isolation. The bluish tint cast over the white outdoor scenes made the whole atmosphere feel all the more bleak. The pacing of the story telling was purposely slow to build up more tension. However, there were scenes where momentum flagged (like some awkward romance scenes) or felt repetitive (like those Karl scenes at the bar). 

The first film by director Veronica Velasco that I had seen was "Through Night and Day" (2018), a rom-com which she shot in Iceland. However, in this new project, she went even further north into Greenland and shot this psychological noir in sub-zero temperatures. This was a commendable effort to tell a complex story not commonly tackled in Filipino films in a technique not commonly used by local filmmakers particularly for mainstream films. 7/10.