Saturday, February 29, 2020


February 29, 2020


Director: Jeff Fowler

Sonic was a powerful super-sonic alien hedgehog who sought refuge on Earth when bad guys on his home planet wanted to capture him. For 10 years, he hid out alone in Green Hills, Montana. One night, Sonic caused an electromagnetic pulse that caused a massive power outage. The government called on the eccentric genius Dr. Robotnik to contain the source of the electrical surge. Sonic, along with his favorite human, local sheriff Tom Wachowski, make a road trip to San Francisco to retrieve his bag of rings which could create portals to help him escape to another planet.

I only knew Sonic as a Sega video game character but I never really played any Sonic video game. However, the Sonic in this film was really cute, easily likable and very delightful in his antics, as he wished to complete his own bucket list of human things for him to do with the help of Tom, who was played by a uncharacteristically un-serious James Marsden (whose most famous character Cyclops barely even smiled). The main comic highlight was Jim Carrey reprising another snide slapstick character Dr. Robotnik, like those he famously brought to life in the beginning of his career, like "Ace Ventura Pet Detective" and "The Mask." The two after-credit scenes brought back more video game nostalgia and promised an entertaining sequel. 7/10.


Director: Michael Cristofer

Bart was a 23 year-old young man who had high-functioning Asperger's syndrome living with his mom who worked in the front desk of a hotel. To learn speech patterns and behavior of "normal" people, Bart surreptitiously took videos of guests via cameras he hid in their rooms. One night, he witnessed a murder of a female guest at the hands of a man with whom she was having a secret affair. Police detective Espada felt that Bart was not being on the level. Meanwhile, Bart noted that Andrea, a female guest he liked and became close with, may also be in danger. 

The most remarkable aspect of this quiet creepy voyeuristic film were the performances of its lead actors, Tye Sheridan as Bart and Ana de Armas as Andrea. Sheridan, in a complete turn-around from his hyper character in "Ready Player One," was convincing as someone within the autistic spectrum, with his little odd mannerisms and repetitive verbal tics coming off very naturally. Ana de Armas, whom I just knew from her recent role in the winning ensemble of "Knives Out," was mysterious and beguiling. Their tender interactions lifted the film from the limitations of the weak script.  Long absent 90s star Helen Hunt played Bart's protective mom Ethel, while John Leguizamo played the suspicious Detective Espada. 5/10.


Director: Wilson Yip
Action Director: Yuen Wo Ping

Master Ip traveled to San Francisco, California to find a school for his rebellious son. For this he needed a letter of endorsement from the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. However, association president Mr. Wan was reluctant to give him that letter because of his displeasure with the attitudes of Bruce Lee, Ip's celebrated student who was then teaching Chinese martial arts to Americans. Meanwhile, Master Ip also tried to help US Marine Corp staff sergeant Hartman Wu to integrate Chinese martial arts into their training program, but met severe resistance from his sadistic superior, gunnery Sgt. Geddes, who believed karate was superior. 

For this final installment, the Master was on a fictional trip to the US, where he joined the fight for rights of Chinese immigrants and respect for Chinese culture, specifically martial arts. Donnie Yen's performance as Master Yip was as serene as ever, and his elegant Wing Chun fighting skills were still the main draw of this film. Danny Chan's portrayal of superstar Bruce Lee was magnetic. Vanness Wu, once famed for his long hair as part of the F4, now sported a very close-cropped military haircut for his role as a Marine staff sergeant. However, Scott Adkin's portrayal of insultingly bad American soldier Geddes was one-dimensional and downright caricaturish. 7/10.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Review of THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020): The Vanishing Violator

February 27, 2020

Architect Cecilia Kass was trapped in an oppressive relationship with Adrian Griffin, a very wealthy innovator in the field of optics. One night, she decided to escape from their beautiful fortress-like seaside mansion with the help of her sister Alice. Deeply traumatized and paranoid, she hid at the home of her old policeman friends, Detective James Lanier, and his teenage daughter Sydney.

Two weeks later, news reaches Cecilia that Adrian had committed suicide. She reluctantly met with Adrian's lawyer brother Tom to talk about an inheritance that Adrian had left her, with the condition that she had no involvement in crime and remained sound of mind. However, right after that meeting, Cecilia began to experience inexplicable events which made her look crazy in front of other people, including the very people dear to her. 

The story of an invisible man was from the fertile mind of H.G. Wells in 1897. The name of Wells' invisible man Griffin is likewise used here as the surname of Adrian. Both Griffins were experts in optics. The first Griffin used chemicals to render bodies invisible. In this new one, Griffin used a suit of micro-cameras to make himself invisible. How? No idea. They never thought it would be helpful to elaborate the technology used, even a theoretical one. However, his invisibility made his obsession to control Cecilia's life even more sinister.

Lead actress Elizabeth Moss had been more famous in her TV roles, in acclaimed series like "The West Wing," "Mad Men" (for which she won a SAG Best Actress award) and more recently "the Handmaid's Tale" (for which she won an Emmy Best Actress award). Since we do not see her tormentor, we only see the terrifying ordeal of Moss as Cecilia. She was totally invested in this exhausting role, needing to act as if someone was throwing or pulling her around even if she was all alone in that scene. With her vulnerability all out on her sleeve there onscreen, you will feel for her as she teetered on the edge of sanity. 

The musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch was pretty intense in a lot of scenes, creating a wall of sound in those moments of extreme suspense. In contrast, there were also suspenseful moments in total silence with no music at all, and those scenes likewise kept me on edge. Director Leigh Whanell (writing and directing for the third time since "Insidious: Chapter 3" in 2015) had crafted a nifty and gripping thriller, complete with some feminist undertones as per recent trends in dramas. There was certainly more to this than the seemingly spoiling trailer would suggest. This Blumhouse film is a winner. 7/10. 

Review of US AGAIN: Astral Apologies

February 26, 2020

Med tech Marge and artist Mike used to be lovers. The end of their relationship was not good. Five years later, Mike flew back home from the US to apologize for his past misdeeds, but bitter Marge would not hear of it. However, when a major gaffe at work necessitated Marge to make a long drive to Laoag, she allowed Mike to tag along. Together for more than 12 hours on the road, will Mike finally be able to gain Marge's forgiveness?

The initial scenes set at Marge's place of work -- a diagnostic laboratory -- was highly improbable from the get-go. Real-life med techs would never act as unprofessionally as those careless fools we saw in that unfortunate sequence of events, no matter how busy they get during their shifts. The whole contrived situation was manipulated unnaturally to be able to set up a long road trip for Marge and Mike. This opening scenario alone already warned me not to expect too much from the rest of the film. 

It was only during this road trip that we are given the details about their failed romance. It turns out that the beginning of how they became lovers was actually as bad as how their relationship ended. Every possible coincidence just had to be in the right place in order to make all the stars align for that moment that Marge met Mike, whom she considered to be the answer to her fervent request to the patron saint of Monasterio de Tarlac for her to get a boyfriend soon. Unfortunately, Mike came along with complicated issues to overcome. 

Marge was a medical student when she was with Mike, but it was incredible how much free time she seemed to have. Even on those weekends when her classmates needed to review, she can afford to take road trips to Zambales to attend an art festival. The whole thing about Marge being the third wheel between Mike and his then girlfriend Ana was also very unrealistic. Like, since when would a third party be invited to an intimate dinner meant to celebrate a "monthsary" of a couple, even if she was a close friend?  

The way they ended their relationship was also fraught with a terrible strain of incredulity. So when there was a drowning incident involving a friend and Marge was not able to revive her with rudimentary CPR. For some contorted logic, a few days later (not immediately mind you, he had time to think about it), Mike actually accused Marge of killing their friend and even called her a failure as a future doctor. Marge was clearly not responsible for making that girl drink herself silly and go swimming into the ocean to drown. That scene was unbearable because of its ultra-overdone melodrama. 

Lead stars Jane Oineza (as Marge) and RK Bagatsing (as Mike) did well to perform their roles effectively despite all the limitations of the story. They were able to project their ill-fated romance well, given whatever reasonable or unreasonable situation the script made them do. The two actors were also credited at the end for their contributions to the script, which I guess really needed a lot of improvisation to spice things up. They were definitely the plusses of this production, even though their box office appeal has yet to be proven. 

Sarah Edwards played the impossibly magnanimous best friend and girlfriend Ana. Jin Macapagal played Paolo, the poor guy from Laoag to whom Marge had to personally apologize. He also got to channel Whoopi Goldberg's Oda Mae Brown in a couple of scenes. They could have cast a bigger girl in that last scene to play Paolo's daughter Lois to reflect the five years that has supposedly passed.

Just when you thought this plodding story had nowhere else to go, there suddenly came a twist out from left field. The big reveal was the major gamble of the writer Juvy Galamiton (who also wrote "Gandarrapiddo," "Ghost Bride" and "Indak") and director Joy A. Aquino (a cinematographer on her feature film debut) to give this sappy love story a preternatural closure, and hope that the viewers will watch it in awe for its cleverness, instead of derision for its incredulity. It is one of those "love it or hate it," "believe it or not" scenarios. 

For me, I would give that climactic plot twist credit for at least enlivening the final act, which up to that point had just been wallowing in endless, tiresome, repeating lines of bickering, regrets, and apologies. 4/10.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Review of BOMBSHELL: Executive Exploitation

February 24, 2020

Once upon a time, there were three women who worked for the American right-wing, conservative cable TV news channel, Fox News. Invariably, like all other women featured on camera in this channel, they were not only confident and articulate when they speak, they also generally fit a common mold -- white, blonde, beautiful and sexy. The way the network blocked them on set made sure their legs were seen on TV. 

In  the 2015 presidential primary, popular newscaster Megyn Kelly confronted then candidate Donald Trump about his misogynistic statements and acts against women. When Trump and his rabid fans turned against her, Fox got her back. When an issue about sexual harassment erupted within Fox News itself, she hesitated to take any action -- at first. However, she knew in herself that she had to make an important decision soon. 

On the other hand, Fox & Friends co-anchor Gretchen Carlson (former Miss America 1989) had fallen from the graces of her bosses and was being fired from Fox. In retaliation, Carlson accused Fox big boss Roger Ailes of sexual harassment, something she had meticulously documented over the years. She opened a can of worms which had long festered within their organization where women who dared to complain were shut up.

Meanwhile one day, a pretty, young Fox new recruit Kayla Pospisil was called into Roger Ailes's office. Aside from talking business, she was asked to raise her skirt, among other things. Being the new girl, Kayla was pressured to keep silent about what transpired behind Ailes' locked door, on the pain of losing her precious opportunity to be an anchor. Her liberal lesbian friend Jess (Kate Mc Kinnon), could not risk her job as producer to help her.

Charlize Theron was nominated for Best Actress for her apt portrayal of Kelly's quandary of professional ethics. Nicole Kidman was also remarkable in her portrayal of the bitter Carlson. In another year, she could have been a nominee as well. Since their characters were based on real life people who were still actively seen on TV, the challenge for these actresses for authenticity was formidable.

Seeing Margot Robbie's innocent Kayla in front of a lecherous Ailes was one terribly uncomfortable scene to sit through.  For that scene alone, her nomination for the Best Supporting Actress was unquestionable. Veteran actor John Lithgow was barely recognizable as he morphed into the predator Ailes, who physical infirmities did not curb the sexual maniac within him. 

The initial buildup of this film's premise took some time with the Donald Trump angle, which was just an introductory issue to set the mood of the whole proceedings. However, when it got into the main story about Roger Ailes and his sexual predator ways, then things began to get focused and riveting. Theron and Kidman had been transformed into Megyn and Gretchen respectively, looks-wise. This achievement in  Makeup and Hairstyling by Kazu Hiro was rewarded with an Oscar. 7/10. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Review of WATCH LIST: Troubles with Tokhang

February 20, 2020

Oplan Tokhang was the code name for the recent government project of inviting everyone involved in illegal drugs to come forth, confess their guilt and promise to reform themselves of their destructive habit. However, despite its noble intentions, some of those who voluntarily surrendered to this campaign actually became targets for what seemed to be cases of extra-judicial killings. 

Several cinema verite style local indie films had depicted this controversy before, either as central theme or as side vignettes. But this new one by Hollywood-based director of Indian descent, Ben Rekhi, depicts these burning socio-political issues from within, following various characters actually involved in this disturbing culture of violence that pervaded the slums of Metro Manila over the past three years.

Tricycle driver Arturo Ramon (Jess Mendoza) was shot dead by "riding in tandem" killers who cornered him in one section of the slums in Barangay 120 in Caloocan City. Ironically, Turo and his wife Maria (Alessandra de Rossi) just surrendered in the Oplan Tokhang held in their community just the day before. Desperate to fend for herself and her three children, Maria volunteered herself to become the asset of police officer Ventura (Jake Macapagal) who headed the drug investigations. On her very first assignment with her partner Alvin (Art Acuna), Maria realized she did not exactly get what she bargained for.

Alessandra de Rossi once again proved how she is one of the best actresses in her generation. She gave her character of Maria a sense of palpable realism such that we really felt like we were in her shoes as she made one terrible decision after the other as a result of her desperate sense of hopelessness. Like her style in her previous films, de Rossi was not one to showboat with hysterics. Her best work was quiet and internal, and we feel it all coming through the big screen. 

Micko Laurente played Maria's 13-year old eldest son Mark with sensitivity.  He is now four years older than when he debuted as a child actor in "Bambanti" (2016) (MY REVIEW), also as the son of Alessandra de Rossi's character who was also a widow. He successfully transitioned to more mature roles in this one as a vulnerable teen in a neighborhood of drug addicts. Maria's other two younger children were 9 year-old asthmatic Nina (played by Susan Coronel Malonzo) and delightful David (played by Sher Khalifa Floresta). 

Everyone in the supporting cast were very well-cast, blending right into the underbelly of the slums they lived in. Jake Macapagal dripped with sinister vibes throughout as the crooked police officer Ventura. Art Acuna was so cool playing someone as insouciantly bloodthirsty as Alvin. Timothy Mabalot played the dangerously volatile character of Joel, the drug addict eldest son of Grace (Angeli Bayani), a friend of Maria's who was also a Tokhang widow. Lou Veloso was ever-dependable as Hector, a barangay official who looked out for Maria.

The cinematography was a remarkable mix of varied styles of camera work. There was one puzzling editing decision when Maria was shown to ride a motorcycle to go to a place presumably near their residence, but this was a minor quibble. You may have heard all these Tokhang stories before and seen movies depicting the same tragic events. However, director and co-writer Rekhi combined and interwove them in a most gripping and thrilling manner. That heartbreaking final scene of powerless Maria will stick with you. 8/10. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review of THE CALL OF THE WILD (2020): Canine Cuteness and Courage

February 20, 2020

"The Call of the Wild" was a novel written by Jack London in 1903. There had been a number of movie adaptations of this book over the years, with those starring big stars of their respective eras, like Clark Gable (in 1935, and Charlton Heston (in 1972) as the more popular versions. This year, yet another movie version has been released taking full advantage of the special visual effect technology available now. Taking over the lead human role is another big name star, Harrison Ford.

Buck, a huge hyperactive dog of St. Bernard lineage, was the pet of Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford) in Sta. Clara, California. One night, he was stolen from the judge's home and sold to traders supplying dogs to the gold prospectors in the Yukon region. Buck's first master was the mail courier Perrault (Omar Sy) and his indigenous partner Francoise (Cara Gee). Buck's next master was a cruel man Hal (Dan Stevens) who worked him to the point of near death. This prompted old man John Thornton (Harrison Ford) to go to Buck's rescue. 

Harrison Ford was all grizzled up here with his unkempt gray hair and beard. Nevertheless he still got to show off his skills in fighting, rifle shooting and canoe rowing. He even proudly bared his ripped 77 year-old torso in a scene where he was taking a bath in the river (he denied any digital enhancement for his physique). He is no doubt fit and ready for his upcoming 5th installment of the Indiana Jones franchise expected later this year. With all the manly roles he had taken on over his long career, this actor is really an icon of manhood. 

What was clearly evident from the get-go was that "Buck" was not portrayed by a real dog. He was a computer-generated image, with portrayed in motion capture by Terry Notary (motion-capture actor in similar films like "Jungle Book," "Kong: Skull Island" and the "Planet of the Apes" series). While there admittedly were a number of touching moments of canine cuteness, the CG imagery of Buck and all the other dogs and animals sort of took away some of the impact of what were supposed to be breathtaking nature scenes.

Anyhow, it was because also because of this imprecise style of CG (not as realistic as that of  the "live" version of "The Lion King" last year) that Buck and his friends were able to portray certain human-like facial expressions of concern, fear, sadness, anger, jealousy, etc, which translated into some pretty touching moments, and delightful ones as well. There are scenes of violence that require parental guidance, like those involving the alpha dog Spitz and all of those with the villain Hal. In general though, this is a solid, good, old-fashioned outdoor adventure film for kids of all ages, even if they are not familiar with the book. 7/10. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Review of BRAHMS: THE BOY II: Doll of Delusions

February 19, 2020

It had already been four years ago when a little film entitled "The Boy" (MY REVIEW) came out and became a moderate sleeper hit. This year, director William Brent Bell and writer Stacey Menear join forces again to come up with a new horror adventure featuring the titular the haunted porcelain boy doll Brahms. 

Severely traumatized by a burglary in their London home, Liza (Katie Holmes) was taken on a long respite in a countryside rest house by her husband Sean (Owain Yeoman). Their son Jude (Christopher Convery), who witnessed the violent assault on his mother, was so shocked that he totally did not talk to anyone anymore after the incident. He could only communicate by writing on his sketchbook. 

One day, the couple wander from their vacation home to the neighboring abandoned mansion left behind by the Heelshire family. While outside, Jude dug up a porcelain boy doll out from the forest floor, calling him Brahms. From then on, Jude would be obsessed with Brahms, obeying the rules he said the doll set and expecting even his parents to obey them. When an incredulous Liza began to disregard the rules, sinister things begin to happen.

Unlike the first movie with the all unknown cast, there was a well-known actress playing the female lead here, and that was Katie Holmes. While she still had film projects over the recent years, she had not been in any popular film ever since she played Rachel Dawes in "Batman Begins" (2005). She was the target of most of the jump scares and psychological torture throughout the film, and she brought us along her harrowing ride. 

Owain Yeoman played the supportive and patient husband Sean. Conveniently he was usually absent when something strange happens to Liza, lending doubts to her precarious sanity. Christopher Convery played a very creepy Jude, especially in that grim silent mode whenever Brahms possessed him. Ralph Ineson played Joseph, the mysterious watchman of the grounds, who turned out to know more about things than he was letting on at first (but of course he did).

This film was as much about mental health and post-traumatic stress as it was about a good scare. Since Brahms was an inanimate doll (like Annabelle before him), much of the scares were reliant on the indicative musical score, with all those sudden sharp blasts which were meant to startle. The scene which had me at the edge of my seat was that rough play Jude had with his bully cousin. Even if I already sort of knew what was going to happen, but I still could not bear to watch it play out. 

While the creep factor was still there overall, this followed a more typical and predictable story line than the first. 5/10. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Review of FANTASY ISLAND (2020): Risky Reverie Realization

February 16, 2020

I had known of the long-running television series "Fantasy Island" starring Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize (and his famous catchphrase "The plane, the plane!") but I never really had any interest to watch this series during its run from 1977-1984. I knew that it was like its contemporary TV series "The Love Boat" (which I watched) where there would be celebrity stars playing the guests on the island who paid a price to have their fantasies fulfilled. It was very surprising that Blumhouse actually thought of rebooting "Fantasy Island" as a horror film.

There were five people who won a contest to go on a vacation to Fantasy Island, a resort which promised its guests that one fantasy of their choice can become a reality. When their private plane landed on the dock of the island, they were welcomed and oriented by the mysterious host Mr. Roarke who reminded them that they should follow their fantasies to their conclusions, however they went. 

Stepbrothers JD and Brax had the desire to be surrounded by beautiful models who followed their sexual whims. Gwen wanted to turn back time to that moment when she rejected a man's wedding proposal. Patrick wanted to be a soldier in a war, to pay homage to his father who died a war hero. Melanie wanted to get even with Sloane Madison, a bully from high school who made her life since then a miserable existence. 

Michael Pena felt miscast as Mr. Roarke almost throughout the film. It was only in his climactic scene that his portrayal made any sense at all. With the possible exception of Maggie Q who had a passable performance as Gwen, all the other actors in this film were all very awkward in their roles, most especially Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang (whose character Drax felt like a racial slur to me) as the immature Weaver brothers and Portia Doubleday as Melanie's high school tormentor Sloane . I remember Lucy Hale as the lead star of "Truth or Dare" and here she was quite over-the-top as the very insecure Melanie. 

The flow of this film followed the style and sequence of the recent film "Escape Room" (Adam Robitel, 2019). There were a number of apparent strangers who won a contest to participate in an activity where each one will have their own perilous adventure. Later on, there came a twist that, unbeknownst to them, these people were actually involved in one past event. They're being there all together in one place was not completely random after all, but was in fact the grand plan of one mastermind with a revenge on his mind. Once that became obvious, the rest of the final act simply became one big unsatisfactory mess. 

Even the final last-minute reference to the original series elicited a groan. This is as popcorn as they come. 4/10. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Review of KIM JI-YOUNG: BORN 1982: Miseries of Misogyny

February 13, 2020

Just earlier this week, Hollywood recognized the cinematic excellence of Korean films by giving "Parasite" the Oscar for the Best Picture, aside from being the Best International Feature Film. Its creator Bong Joon-ho was given Oscars as Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Locally, we have long admired Korean cinema and the wonderfully original stories they tell. Several Korean horror and comedy titles have been shown in local cinemas. This latest one is one of the rare dramas to join the list.

The main protagonist Kim Ji-young (Jung Yu-mi) was the wife of Jung Dae-hyun (Gong Yoo) and the mother of a cute toddler daughter. She had to give up her office job to be a full time mother. She struggled to be a good daughter-in-law to her demanding mother-in-law, who seemed to keep finding fault in her performance as wife and mother. Wanting to escape from her mounting episodes of depression, she wanted to go work for her former lady boss Team Leader Kim (Park Sung-Yeon) who had established her own business. Will Ji-young ever be allowed to do so?

This heavy drama about the socio-cultural expectations for a woman was told from the Asian perspective, and will definitely resonate with and likely trigger women from all over Asia, and perhaps even in the West. This film showed that even in this modern day, a married woman was expected first and foremost to serve her husband and take care of her children. Her own personal development and professional fulfillment will have to be shelved or even denied. Filial respect is primary and unconditional, no questions asked.

This film went into a lot of difficulties women in general faced when growing up -- how daughters were less favored than sons, how female employees do not get promoted as much nor earn as much as their male colleagues, how they are to be blamed when they are sexually harassed, how they could be the target of perverts who set up cameras in public toilets, and various other day to day issues men usually take for granted. This was one two-hour wake-up call to men on the misogynistic challenges that women, especially their wives, face on a daily basis. 

The pace of the storytelling was very slow, which is appropriate as these oppressive traditions were insidiously destroying women from the inside going out. The performance of Jung Yu-mi as the titular heroine was a very quiet understated one, yet it was so powerful and disturbing, especially for women in similar situations to identify with. Superstar Gong Yoo has a supportive role here as her concerned husband, from whom men could learn some lessons of empathy and true partnership. 

This film, the feature film debut of female director Kim Do-yeong based on the best-selling 2016 novel by female author Cho Nam-joo, is very provocative stuff. Couple who go watch this together will definitely go out discussing or even arguing about these pressing matters of sexual politics. This is a most challenging sort of film for Valentine's Day. 8/10. 

Review of JAMES & PAT & DAVE: Tricky Triangle

February 13, 2020

A few years back, there was a teen romance film called "Vince & Kath & James," starring Joshua Garcia and Julia Barreto and Ronnie Alonte, directed by Theodore Borobol.  That film basically followed the classic story of "Cyrano de Bergerac," but updated it for the modern times, with sweet text messages replacing the romantic poetry of the original. This was the biggest hit of the memorable Metro Manila Filmfest of 2016, the year when the entries were chosen were chosen more for cinematic merit than box office appeal.

It was not really a surprise back then that it was Vince and Kath who ended up with each other in that first film, as it was the first film teamup of the very popular JoshLia love team. This new sequel, also directed by Borobol, interestingly decided to follow the story of the third angle in the love triangle, James. James was the jock varsity basketball player, who asked his nerdy cousin Vince to court campus beauty Kath. In the beginning, there was even a statement saying that this film was dedicated to the ones left unchosen, like James. 

James (Ronnie Alonte) had not been himself since being left behind by Vince and Kath who were now based in the US. After being involved in a basketball game brawl, James was sent to the province to cool off at the Ows Hostel, a beach resort owned by his grandmother Lola O (Odette Khan). There, he was left under the supervision of assistant manager Pat (Loisa Andalio). She was a perky independent young woman who still could not move from her separation from ex-boyfriend, the rich mayor's son, Dave (Donnie Pangilinan), who was now coming back and asking for her forgiveness. 

This film did not hide the major inspiration it got from a 1998 Star Cinema film "Dahil Mahal na Mahal Kita" starring Claudine Barretto, Rico Yan and Diether Ocampo. Like Mela (Claudine) in the original movie, Pat also had a bad girl reputation. The romantic conflict was between the bad boy Ryan (Diether) with whom James identified, and rich kid Miguel (Rico) with whom Dave identified. A clip of the old film was shown during a movie night at the resort, while the "real-life" love triangle discussed the "on-screen" love triangle.

The low-brow comedy was mostly provided by Pat's floridly gay cousin Sasha (Awra Briguela) with his atrocious "trying-hard" English. Rather uncomfortable was the repeated referral to Pat's side-line business of growing and selling snow cabbage or "pechay," with an obvious sly double-entendre meaning the way the word was pronounced here. The character of senile Lolo Ining (Bodjie Pascua) and his relationship with Pat was reminiscent of the McDonald's classic 2001 "Karen" commercial. 

This sequel still followed some of the style from the first film, with its onscreen text messaging and typing entries into the Da Vinci Quotes (a blog where each post only had six pithy words). However, without the star power of Josh-Lia in there, this one, with its less charismatic cast and awkward story conflicts, does not fly as high as the first film. The lead actors do their best, particularly Andalio, but the quality of the material was tough to elevate.

The resolution of the love triangle here was really not much of a guessing game for the audience. The writer tried to throw in an unnecessary wrench to complicate things late in the game, but it was forced and unreasonable. Thankfully, there was a much needed spark by way of a charming surprise last-minute cameo appearance, and you can clearly see what a difference it made. 4/10.  

Monday, February 10, 2020

Review of BIRDS OF PREY: Fabulously Feisty Femmes

February 9, 2020

The full title of this DC Extended Universe movie is actually "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). It is a sequel and spin-off to critically-panned "Suicide Squad" (2016), where the character of Harley Quinn (as portrayed by Margot Robbie) was the most memorable. I thought of myself as a DC fan, but apart from Harley Quinn and Dinah Lance, I only discovered the other characters here. This new film is remarkable for having a female (and Asian) director (Cathy Yan), a female screen writer (Christina Hodson), and an all-female kick-ass ensemble lead cast. 

Harley Quinn was unceremoniously dumped by the Joker, and she formally announced it to the world by blowing up the Ace Chemicals factory where she became his girlfriend. Meanwhile, teenage pickpocket Cassandra Cain gained possession of a multi-million dollar diamond owned by crime lord Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), so all sorts of characters were going after her. Aside from Quinn, also at Cain's heels were: Sionis's driver and star singer at his nightclub Dinah Lance; and under-appreciated GCPD detective Renee Montoya, who was also investigating a hooded woman who was going around town using a crossbow to kill gangsters. 

Margot Robbie was truly the star of this film with a smashing performance again as the inimitable Harley Quinn. Quinn was a ruthless and dangerous lunatic yes, but she was also given to weird quirks like having a spotted hyena as a pet and talking to her stuffed beaver, and Robbie looked like she was having a lot of fun playing this distinctive character. She also displayed her athletic skills in bump and brawl scenes of roller derby, as well as those acrobatically-choreographed fight scenes with her favorite weapons of bat and mallet. 

It was great to see 90s actress Rosie Perez (so funny as "Jeopardy!" wannabe Gloria in "White Men Can't Jump") again as the frustrated cop Renee Montoya. Former child actress Junree Smollett-Bell makes a solid impression as the Dinah Lance, a.k.a. Black Canary, with her high-kicking fighting style (in tight pants!) and her sonic scream. Horror film scream queen Mary Eliizabeth Winstead got to don the black cloak and wield the crossbow of the Huntress, and we get to learn her backstory as well. 13 year-old Ella Jay Basco, who played Cassandra Cain, is of Korean-Filipino parentage, in her feature film debut, and she confidently held her own beside her experienced co-stars. 

If you're up for a bit of stylish, crazy violence from a group of distaff vigilantes, then "Birds of Prey" is the film for you. Despite all the characters involved, even those you never knew before, the story was easy to follow. But of course, the hi-octane explosive stunt action and fight scenes remain to be the main draw of this film. This story of emancipation was told with tongue-fully-in-cheek. It did not take itself too seriously, despite some pretty disgusting scenes like peeling off the facial skin like a mask. The cinematographer kept its images slick and colorful while the musical choices also added to the fun level. Robbie and company kept the energy levels high with a palpable sense of humor underlying its violence. 7/10. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020


February 8, 2020

With the Oscar Awards coming on February 9, Monday morning Manila time, it is time for me now to make my fearless Oscar predictions.  (My Oscar predictions of previous years were posted on these links: 2019201820172016201520142013).

Here is how I would rank this year's 9 nominees for Oscar Best Picture based on my own opinions when I first saw them (not exactly based on probability that I think they will win):


Director: Bong Joon-ho
Nominations (6): Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Production Design, International Film

Out of work, driver Kim Ki-taek lived with his wife Choong Sook and two college-age children in a dirty sub-basement apartment in abject poverty. However, when his son Ki-woo was accepted as an English tutor for the daughter of a super-wealthy family, the Parks, he somehow managed to get his whole resourceful family employed as well. However, their wholesale underhanded subterfuge was not going to stay undiscovered for long.

"Parasite" juxtaposes the poverty of a family living in a dirty sub-basement in stark contrast with a family living in a posh hilltop mansion. Aside from dark comedy and family drama, this was also a sharp social commentary. This film also touched on several other genres in passing -- from edge-of seat suspense, to violent crime thriller, going even sexy at one point. All in all, this one has something for everyone in one thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking package. 

2. 1917

Director: Sam Mendes
Nominations (10): Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

From the very first scene to the last, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins took us along for what looked like one single take of continuous action as the camera followed Schofield and Blake in what seemed to be real time. It was an incredible technical achievement how they did this fluid illusion as the camera followed the two soldiers and show us their surroundings from all aspects. This becomes even more remarkable when they incorporate complex scenes, like a plane crash or a battle charge or even a slowly dying soldier, all integrated perfectly with the flow.


Director: James Mangold
Nominations (4): Picture, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing

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. The cinematography, editing, sound mixing and musical score made the exhilarating race sequences 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.


Director: Martin Scorsese
Nominations (10): Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (2), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design, Visual Effects

This film was yet another cinematic work about American gangsters by Martin Scorsese. This opus may be lengthy at 209 minutes (3-1/2 hours) but it was always engrossing and engaging, not boring at all. The episodic treatment of Sheeran's life events made it alright for me to watch it with a few reasonable breaks, and still not lose the compelling power of Scorsese's storytelling. His major casting coup of getting De Niro, Pesci and Pacino to act together in one big movie was worth every dollar and every minute. 


Director: Quentin Tarantino
Nominations (10): Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing

Quentin Tarantino was expounding on how Hollywood was evolving in the 1960s -- the actors and the films. He was taking his sweet time following three separate stories: Dalton and his plummeting career path, Booth crossing paths with the Family, and a third one following Sharon Tate (a luminous Margot Robbie) on a day out to the city to watch her own film "The Wrecking Crew". These three threads only merge together in one extended, super-intense, wildly outrageous sequence of savage events in the last 20 minutes of the film.


Director: Noah Baumbach
Nominations: Picture (6), Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Original Musical Score

As Charlie sang in his version of Sondheim's "Being Alive," being alone is not being alive. We vowed to share our lives through thick and through thin on our wedding day. It won't be perfect all the time, it could even feel like we were put through hell, as the song went. But that "hell" is part of being a living human being, and as husband and wife, we will be there for each other nevertheless. I wondered why Noah Baumbach entitled his film "Marriage Story" when it was about divorce. It turns out it was as much about marriage as it was about divorce, and marriage is the ideal we should uphold.


Director: Taika Waititi
Nominations (6): Picture, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design

Writer-director Taika Waititi pushed envelopes to write the notorious Hitler as such a stupid childish caricature on film, even if he was just a figment of a child's active imagination here. And being the comedian that he was, Waititi even played this version of Hitler himself, toothbrush mustache, pot belly and all. To push the Nazi satire further, the whole Nazi Youth training camp scenario was also very comically envisioned and executed, with Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen as the inept officers who run it. With Rebel Wilson playing a hefty fraulein instructor there, you can see how riotous that could be. 


Director: Todd Phillips
Nominations (11): Picture, Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Musical Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing

There is no argument that Joaquin Phoenix completely dedicated himself to this character and transformed completely into this pathetic creature, a victim of an abusive and nasty society. His very body was deformed into a grotesque emaciated form. He was supposed to be a clown and comedian, but nothing he said or did was ever funny at all. Even his maniacal laughter was pathological. Phoenix's portrayal reveled in the irony that his character actually gained more self-worth the deeper into violent psychosis he wallowed. 


Director: Greta Gerwig
Nominations (6): Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Original Musical Score

In her adaptation, Greta Gerwin did not employ a linear storytelling style. Her scenes went back and forth in time. As for her advocacy, writer-director Gerwin made sure that even if there were still scenes of romantic relationships with men, the sisters, especially Jo and Amy, made strong statements about their womanhood, including a remarkable scene between Jo and Marmee. The ending went a bit differently from the book, with an effort to merge the real-life story of author Louisa Mae Alcott to that of Jo. 


My bets to win for each of the other categories:

Lead Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Nominees: Antonio Banderas "Pain and Glory", Leonardo di Caprio "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", Adam Driver :Marriage Story", Jonathan Pryce "The Two Popes"

Lead Actress: Renee Zellweger, “Judy” (MY FULL REVIEW)
Nominees: Cynthia Erivo "Harriet", Scarlett Johansson "Marriage Story", Saoirse Ronan "Little Women", Charlize Theron "Bombshell"

Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”;
Nominees: Tom Hanks "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood", Anthony Hopkins "The Two Popes", Al Pacino "The Irishman", Joe Pesci "The Irishman"

Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”;
Nomineees: Kathy Bates "Richard Jewell", Scarlett Johansson "Jojo Rabbit", Florence Pugh "Little Women", Margot Robbie "Bombshell"

Director: Bong Joon-ho "Parasite"
Nominees: Martin Scorsese "The Irishman", Todd Phillips "Joker", Sam Mendes "1917", Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”;

Animated Feature: "Missing Link"; (MY FULL REVIEW)
Nominees: "How to Train Your Dragon 3", "Klaus", "I Lost My Body", "Toy Story 4"

Animated Short: “Hair Love”
Nominees: “Dcera (Daughter)”, “Kitbull”, “Memorable”, “Sister”

Adapted Screenplay: “Little Women" Greta Gerwig
Nominees: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, The Two Popes

Original Screenplay:Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino
Nominees: "Knives Out", "Marriage Story", "1917", "Parasite"

Cinematography: “1917,” Roger Deakin 
Nominees: "The Irishman", "Joker", "The Lighthouse", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Best Documentary Feature: “Honeyland”
Nominees: “American Factory”,“The Cave”, “The Edge of Democracy”, “For Sama”

Best Documentary Short Subject: “Learning to Skateboard”
Nominees: “In the Absence”, “Life Overtakes Me”, “St. Louis Superman”, “Walk Run Cha Cha”

Best Live Action Short Film: “Brotherhood”
Nominees: “Nefta Football Club”, “The Neighbor’s Window”, “Saria”, “A Sister”

Best International Film: “Parasite” (South Korea)
Nominees: "Corpus Christi" (Poland). "Honeyland" (North Macedonia), "Les Miserables" (France), "Pain and Glory" (Spain) 

Film Editing: “Ford v Ferrari,” Hank Corwin
Nominees: "The Irishman", "Jojo Rabbit", Joker", "Parasite"

Sound Editing: “1917"
Nominees: "Ford v Ferrari", "Joker", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

Sound Mixing: “1917”;
Nominees: “Ad Astra", "Ford v Ferrari", "Joker", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Production Design: “Parasite”
Nominees: "The Irishman", "Jojo Rabbit", "1917", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Original Score: 'Joker" 
Nominees: “Little Women", "Marriage Story", "1917", "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

Original Song: “Stand Up" ("Harriet")
Nominees: “I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away" ("Toy Story 4"), "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" ("Rocketman"), "I'm Standing with You ("Breakthrough"), "Into the Unknown" ("Frozen 2")

Makeup and Hairstyling: "Bombshell”
Nominees: “Joker", "Judy", "Maleficent 2", "1917" 

Costume Design: “Jojo Rabbit"
Nominees: “The Irishman", "Joker", "Little Women", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Visual Effects: "Avengers: Endgame” (MY FULL REVIEW)
Nominees: "The Irishman", "The Lion King", "1917", "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

Review of LITTLE WOMEN (2019): Sisterhood with Substance

February 10, 2020

I knew the story of Louisa Mae Alcott's "Little Women" -- the coming-of-age adventures of the four March sisters, namely the pretty Meg, the feisty Jo, the sickly Beth and artistic Amy -- from the original book I read when I was very young. I had also seen a musical play of the same title staged as a holiday offering by Repertory Philippines 10 years ago, with music by Jason Howard, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, starring Caisa Borromeo as Jo, Cara Barredo as Beth and Pinky Marquez as Marmee.

I was aware that there had been several adaptations of this story in the movies. The last one was in 1994 with Winona Ryder as Jo, Clare Danes as Beth and Kirsten Dunst as Amy. There was another one in 1949, with June Allyson as Jo, Janet Leigh as Meg and Elizabeth Taylor as Amy. Before that in 1933, there was black-and-white version with Katharine Hepburn as Jo. There were even two silent film versions before. Despite this, I had never seen a screen version before, until this new one.

The story was set during the American Civil War and the years immediately following. The main character was the second sister Jo March, who was telling a story about her, her sisters, and the boys who came in and out of their lives. Eldest sister Meg was a beauty who felt dreadful that they were poor, forcing her to borrow dresses to attend balls. Shy Beth was the pianist of the family, whose bout with scarlet fever gave her a weak heart. Amy was the outspoken youngest with whom Jo frequently found herself at odds with, usually about their handsome neighbor Laurie, among other things. 

Like all her previous movie roles, Saoirse Ronan is ideally cast as Jo. She is headstrong and independent-minded, a feminist before her time. She did not believe women had to be defined by matters of love. Very much like her was Amy, who despite being infatuated with Laurie and painting, also harbored serious reservations marriage because of certain law surrounding finances. Florence Pugh gave a very mature look and portrayal of Amy. Both sisters knew how to make her point and how to stand her ground. These two actresses earned acting accolades for their fine performances.

Even if she was really four years older in real life, Emma Watson felt miscast as Meg because she looked and acted younger than Ronan. Watson did not look like the oldest sister at all, mainly because Ronan strong screen presence was just so dominant. Australian actress Eliza Scanlen played the wan and mousy Beth. That part when Beth received the piano and how she reacted always got me emotional. She also felt a bit miscast because she looked much younger than Amy, and indeed Scanlen was three years younger than Pugh in real life.

In her adaptation, Greta Gerwin did not employ a linear storytelling style. Her scenes went back and forth in time, juxtaposing innocent events in childhood with corresponding sobering events in adulthood. Honestly, this may be confusing for those who were unaware of how the story went. I found it rather distracting in the viewing experience because you need to be alert context clues about their hairstyles to get the timeline right. I personally did not find any improvement in clarity or impact with this type of storytelling. 

As for her advocacy, writer-director Gerwin made sure that even if there were still scenes of romantic relationships with men, the sisters, especially Jo and Amy, made strong statements about their womanhood, including a remarkable scene between Jo and Marmee. The ending went a bit differently from the book, with an effort to merge the real-life story of author Louisa Mae Alcott to that of Jo and the release of her first book. 8/10.