Saturday, May 30, 2020

iWant: Review of MALAYA: Pressured Prerogatives

May 30, 2020

Malaya (Lovi Poe) was a communication arts graduate from Manila who just joined her mom and brother working as domestic helpers in Italy.  One day, she met Iago (Zanjoe Marudo), a Filipino born in Italy determined to make a good life on his own. The two got close to each other in no time while working together, and fell in love. However, real life soon came into the picture and major decisions needed to be made. 

Malaya felt bitter that her mother (played by Isay Alvarez) who left to work in Italy as a domestic worker. She was determined to not be a domestic helper when she herself was petitioned by her mother go to Italy. On the other hand, Iago had issues against his own absentee father (played by Robert Sena). He grew up with an Italian family who took him in as their own, hence his facility with the Italian language. He was also not content with minimum wage jobs. How will falling in love affect their ambitious natures?

Lovi Poe seems to be the go-to young actress to cast when the script requires the female lead to show a little skin and engage in sexy scenes, much like what she did in her last two films "The Annulment" (2019) and "Hindi Tayo Pwede" (2020). Her patrician beauty kept her always looking dignified and classy. As an actress, she was able to project sincerity effectively. This was even when the character of Malaya, who had difficulties moving on from bad experiences, did not seem to be her real-life personality.

Zanjoe Marudo worked hard on his Italian language and accent as his role required. This interesting character was actually quite a challenge on paper because of what it demands from its actor. Marudo did well in his portrayal, but you can't help but feel that there was still more that could have been done with Iago. His was the more unpredictable character and he was the one who was driving the story forward with his decisions, until Malaya made her own decision at the end. 

This latest iWant original film followed the lead of local romance films focused on the life of Filipino workers abroad, like "Milan" (2004) and "Dubai" (2005), and more recently "Barcelona" (2016) and "Hello Love Goodbye" (2019). The story was set in the Puglia region of Italy, the heel part of the boot-shaped country. The picturesque nature views and charming town architecture were put into good use as the backdrop of this love story. The soundtrack with emo songs by Juan Karlos fit right into the film's anxious mood.

Director Connie Macatuno went back and forth in time to tell her story, which can be confusing with all the cards that indicated when the scenes were happening. As the film's title and the lead character's name would indicate, she stayed true to feminist themes she told and developed in her two other films, "Rome and Juliet" (2006) and the first iWant original film "Glorious" (2018). 6/10. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020


May 28, 2020


Director: Bruno Garotti

Teto (Danilo Mesquita) is a handsome playboy, the lazy spoiled heir to the major tomato business empire of his father Teodoro Trancoso (Ernani Moraes). During a local tomato festival, he met capable medical intern Paula (Giovanna Lancellotti). Unsure whether he could win her without knowing his real circumstances, Teto lied that he was just the poor son of the farm caretaker who wanted more in life. When he went to Rio de Janeiro to train for an executive position in their company, Teto solicits the help of his friends to continue his complicated charade to woo Paula.  

The plot of this Brazilian film was actually very common -- about a lie that kept on growing until it just fell under its own weight. However, it remained to be very watchable just because of its lead stars Mesquita and Lancelloti (and the romantic chemistry between them) are too attractive to resist. The supporting roles of Igor (Jaffar Bambirra) and Monique (Lellê) were also very likable despite being Teto's accomplices in his big lie. A major plot hole would of course be the sheer impossibility that the managers of the tomato company in Rio would not know how their boss's only son Teto looked like, especially since they knew of his notoriety as a ladies' man. Anyhow, this remained to be a light, diverting and entertaining watch. 6/10. 


Director: Angga Dwimas Sasongko

Narenda (Donny Damara) and Ajeng (Susan Bachtiar) have three adult children who still live with them, a very close-knit family. Eldest brother Angkasa (Rio Dewanto) worked with concert musicians. Middle child Aurora (Sheila Dra) was a mixed-media artist about to have her first public exhibit. The youngest daughter Awan was an budding architect still competing to work for her dream firm. However after Awan met band manager Kale (Ardhito Pramono), the children began to feel the pressure of their father's over-protectiveness. 

This Indonesian film (based on a book by Marcella F.P.) was a compelling family drama about a festering secret that manifested itself only after two decades of strained artificial harmony. The story was told flashing back from present to the past. The color palette, musical score and production design were all excellently done. There were two sets of actors playing the parents (Oka Antara and Niken Anjani played the younger set), and three sets of actors playing the children at different ages. The actors were very good, however, the younger actors did not really look like their older versions, and this careless casting somewhat negatively-affected the totality of this otherwise above-average film. 7/10. 


Director: Megha Ramaswamy

On the day of the major scholarship exam, an unusual girl named Vivek (Yashaswini Dayamawho) decided to boycott the exam to make a statement. She grabbed her permit out and ran off. She realized too late that she had inadvertently grabbed the permit of the popular head boy Ashwin (Karanvir Malhotra) out as well, which caused him to also be unable to take the exam. Because of this mishap, Vivek and Ashwin ended up spending the whole day together out in the streets of Mumbai, and struck a special friendship between them. 

This unusual Indian movie had a good part of its script in English, but it was still not really an easy watch. Older viewers may just give up after the first 30 minutes. However, if you do decide to give the film a chance, it would go from one weird scene after the other -- dancing senior citizens wearing red tracksuits, stealing a bottle of alcohol from a a bar, and strange encounters with a guy urinating on a roofdeck, a motorbike thief trying to recover dentures, and a neglected hungry goldfish. Director Megha Ramaswamy's concept of cinematic art in her first feature-length film may look whimsically indie, but was ultimately very puzzling. Only the quirky charms of the two young lead actors can hold your attention enough to finish this film to see where it led. 4/10. 

Netflix: Review of THE LOVEBIRDS: A Comical Couple in Crime

May 26, 2020

Jibran and Leilani are now four years into their relationship. However, they have hit a serious snag lately and had been arguing a lot. While driving to a party one might, they bickered to a point when decided to just call the whole thing off. Unfortunately at that very moment, Jibran ran a red light and bumped a cyclist. This accident would then get them caught up in a series of murders which involved a man with a mustache, drugged-out frat boys and a high-class masked sex cult.

That plot sounds dire and dangerous, but it really was also over-the-top and crazy. The whole story all happened in the duration of one night. While the caper was going on, we know very little about all the bad guys our two protagonists encountered, how they were connected to one another, or why they were after each other. However, with Kumail Nanjani and Issa Rae playing Jibran and Leilani, this dark crime story actually became a fun, enjoyable and entertaining action-romance-comedy. 

I may have seen his face in various ensemble roles in the past, but I only knew of Kumail Nanjani by his name in last year's "Stuber" and he was really funny there with Dave Bautista. He brings more of the same bumbling, nervous, cowardly vibe here as Jibran as well. This Pakistani-American actor-comedian actually hit it big in 2017 when he co-wrote and starred in an indie film about himself and his wife entitled "The Big Sick," which one of AFI's best films that year and was even nominated for an Oscar for Original Screenplay. 

Issa Rae is a new name and a new face for me. Her entertainment career began on YouTube with her "Awkward Black Girl" series in 2011. She later developed a pilot on a TV series also about experiences of African-American women in current society entitled "Insecure" which was picked up and released on HBO in 2016. She had been nominated for both Golden Globes and Primetime Emmy Awards for her lead performance. Her Leilani was may be smart and sassy, yet Rae certainly gave her a cute, lovable side as well 

The combination of murder mayhem and comic madness is not really new, like the excellent "Date Night" (with Steve Carrell and Tina Fey) or middling "Murder Mystery" (with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston). In movies like this, the more absurd the crime caper, the richer the comedy gets. In "The Lovebirds," the plot itself may have been uneven and clunky, but it was the novel combination of Nanjani and Rae that made it work. 6/10. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

HBO Go: Review of BAD EDUCATION: Corrupt Campus Chiefs

May 26, 2020

Dr. Frank Tassone was a district superintendent of schools in Long Island, New York. Together with his able assistant of several years Pam Gluckin, Tassone had elevated Roslyn High School into becoming one of the top public schools in the country. One day in 2002, Gluckin's simpleton son Jimmy made suspicious purchases using his mom's credit card, which led to the exposure of her long history of embezzlement of school funds. 

High school junior Rachel Bhargava was only supposed to write a piece about the much-anticipated bridgeway project in the campus. Tassone idealistically encouraged her to make the story more than the fluff she initially thought it was. With her persistent and thorough investigation of school financial records, it soon became apparent that the multi-million dollar corruption did not stop at Gluckin's level alone. 

 At the beginning of this one, Jackson had also imbued Dr. Tassone with so much respectability and popularity, as expected of him. However, the way director Cory Finley executed the script of Mike Makowsky, as based on the magazine article entitled "The Bad Superintendent" by Robert Kolker, the chipping away at Tassone's seemingly perfect character happened slowly and steadily. 

Though it was not technically part of the actual crime he committed, Tassone's sexual orientation was a scandalous side detail of his life which had Hugh Jackman doing kissing scenes his fans would not imagine him doing. Even if Jackman's big breakthough role was the gay lead character in the musical "The Boy from Oz" (2003) where he won a Tony Award for Best Actor, most people knew him best as the uber-masculine mutant, Wolverine. 

Alison Janney felt right at home with her role as Pam Gluckin. She has been a very consistent veteran actress ever since we first took notice of her in "The West Wing" where she won four Primetime Emmy awards starting 2001. After her Oscar-winning performance as Tonya Harding's mother-from-hell in "I, Tonya" (2017), this role as Pam may seem right up Janney's alley. Yet she still gave nuance to the role, it was never one-dimensional. 

The third main character in this tale is the student Rachel played by promising young half-Indian, half-Swiss Australian actress Geraldine Viswanathan. The black comedy aspect of the film originated from her character, as Rachel's unexpectedly serious financial record auditing was borne out of Tassone's earnest piece of teacher's advice. It was this angle that kept the crime story light, yet suspenseful and engaging to follow.

Because of heroic roles he gets and his goodwill off-screen, we usually see Hugh Jackman as the good guy when he headlines a movie. This movie allowed Jackman to ever so subtly transform from the beloved ideal school official people thought he was into the despicable unscrupulous thief that he really was. He even got to delivers a message to parents that teachers deserve respect. Jackman is sure to bag a nomination for the Emmy for Best Actor in a TV movie or limited series, his biggest competition being Mark Ruffalo from another HBO production "I Know This Much is True." 8/10. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

HBO Go: Review of I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE: Torment of Troubled Twins

May 26, 2020

40 year old house painter Dominick Birdsey had a twin brother Thomas who suffered from schizophrenia. One day, Thomas went into a public library with a big knife and committed a grisly act of biblically-motivated sacrificial self-mutilation. He was arrested and taken into custody in a maximum security prison facility. Despite having to deal with his own problems with stepfather Ray, wife Dessa and baby daughter Angela, Dominick, fulfilling a promise he made to their mother, took it upon himself  to take care of Thomas and his best interests.

This HBO mini-series of 6 episodes was adapted by writer-director Derek Cianfrance from a best-selling 1998 novel by Wally Lamb. Premiering on HBO Go and HBO last May 11, 2020, the series is only on its third episode. However, you can already see the gritty quality of Cianfrance's storytelling of the disconcerting present events, interspersed with flashbacks from the twins' difficult childhood to their college days growing up together, letting us all in on where their damaged psyches were both coming from. 

While gaining wide mainstream recognition as Bruce Banner / Incredible Hulk in the "Avengers" films, Mark Ruffalo was also being nominated for Oscars in films like "Spotlight" (2015), "Foxcatcher" (2014) and "The Kids are Alright" (2010) and for an Emmy for "A Normal Heart" (2014). Here as the Birdsey twins, Ruffalo had to reach deep into his bag of different acting styles for portraying each twin. 

Thomas is the showier role of the two because of his labile psychotic state. As Thomas, Ruffalo was not only able to disturb viewers with his irrational actions, but also elicit sympathy with the depth of his vulnerable performance. Dominick may have been the rational twin outwardly, but in actuality, he was fighting a lot of devils internally. His bad temper was also not helping his cause any. This may actually be the more difficult role for Ruffalo because it required both physicality as well as restraint. 

Many of the main female supporting actors had been award-winners and nominees themselves. Melissa Leo (Oscar winner for "The Fighter") played their fragile mother Concettina. Imogen Poots (BAFTA winner for ""The Look of Love") played Dominick's current girlfriend Joy. Against type, comedienne Kathryn Hahn (Emmy nominated for "Transparent") played Dominick's ex-wife Dessa. 

True to her other quirky roles, Juliette Lewis (Oscar and Golden Globe nominee for "Cape Fear") played a neurotic Italian translator Nedra. Archie Panjabi (Emmy and Golden Globe nominee for "The Good Wife") played Thomas' new psychiatrist Dr. Patel, who was able to gain deeper insights to the psyches of both brothers. In a serious turn, Rosie O'Donnell (multiple Emmy-winning host and nominee) played firm social worker Lisa Schaeffer. 

Movies about twins had always proven to be an acting showcase for the actor who played both twins, from Olivia de Havilland in "Dark Mirror" (1949) and Bette Davis in "Dead Ringer" (1964) to Jeremy Irons in "Dead Ringers" (1989) and Nicolas Cage in "Adaptation" (2002). In "I Know This Much is True," where one twin was the polar opposite of the other, both were suffering distinctly different psychiatric disorders from each other, further multiplying the challenge several fold. 

Even in the first three episodes alone, this premise practically allowed lead actor (and co-producer) Mark Ruffalo to display his entire range of dramatic acting skills, courting a Best Actor Emmy for giving his all in a couple of physically and emotionally-draining roles. 8/10. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Netflix: 3 Mini-Reviews: THE WRONG MISSY, LOVE WEDDING REPEAT, I LOVE YOU STUPID: Comedic Couplings

May 20, 2020


Director: Tyler Spindel
Writers: Chris Pappas, Kevin Barnett

Tim Morris had a disastrous blind date with Melissa, a homely, weird girl, nicknamed Missy, from whom he wanted to escape as soon as they met. Then soon after at the airport, he had a brief encounter with another Melissa, this time a beauty queen with whom he shared a lot of things in common. When his company had a work retreat in Hawaii, Tim texted Melissa to invited her to come along, and she agreed. However, on the plane, it was the goofball Missy who showed up!

With co-producer Adam Sandler's old gangmates David Spade (as dry hapless Tim) and Rob Schneider (as the loony shark tour operator Komante) on the cast, you could not really expect high-class comedy, and it was not. This was as low-brow as it gets -- the gags were as dirty and disgusting as their fans expect and like them to be. The zany Missy is played by Lauren Lapkus, who could not have been more over-the-top and outrageous. Lapkus was totally no-holds-barred and shameless slapstick, complete with crazy eyes to make sure we get that she's wacko. How you like her in-your-face comedy style will dictate how you will like this movie (or not). This is totally Lauren Lapkus' show, a career-making (or breaking) title role for her. 2/10. 


Director: Dean Craig
Writers: Dean Craig (adapted from the 2012 French film "Plan de Table")

Jack was giving his sister Hayley away for her wedding to her Italian fiancee Roberto in Rome. Hayley's friend Dina was also there, so Jack looked forward to getting to know her better. Also in the party were: aspiring actor Bryan, Jack's spiteful ex Amanda and her insecure beau Chaz, and the boring kilt-wearing Sidney. However, Hayley panicked when she saw an unwanted guest Marc. Desperate, she asked Jack to giving Marc a sleeping potion to knock him out.

This was a very British social comedy with neatly interweaving little sub-stories among the ensemble cast.  The concept may have been good on paper, but some poor casting decisions such that some characters simply did not fly. Only Sam Claflin (as Jack) and Eleanor Tomlinson (as Hayley) gave winsome performances. Olivia Munn (as Dina) was beautiful, but sadly underused. The main conceit of this film was how the ending would change given something as random in seating assignment at the table. I did not think it worked as well as the writer-director Dean Craig must have envisioned. The final cut, while not without its Anglican charms, was rather confused and flat. 4/10.


Director: Laura Mañá
Writers: Abraham Sastre, Iván Bouso

One night, Marcos proposed marriage to his girlfriend of 8 years, Ana (Alba Ribas). However, she decided to break up with him instead. The day after, he was also fired from his job, so he had to move back to his parents home. Feeling broken, Marcos followed the advice of a cheesy online adviser Sebastian Vennet (Ernesto Altiero) on how to become a man of the 21st century to improve his health, fashion and disposition in order to attract women. By chance, he met Raquel, his schoolmate from 15 years ago, and they hit it off as friends right away. 

Quim Gutierrez did well to show us what an uncool loser Marcos was at first. He would break the fourth wall so we can join him in his process of self-reinvention into an alpha male, like his friend Diego (Alfonso Bassave). . However, the more magnetic character is the vivacious red-haired Raquel (played by Natalia Tena, whom we first saw as Tonks in the "Harry Potter" films). When she came into the picture, the whole story simply brightened up with her beautiful smile and lively screen presence. The erratic story telling can occasionally be as frustrating as Marcos' insensitivity, but just having Tena there made the whole film worth the watch. 6/10. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

iWant: Review of LOVE LOCKDOWN: Illicit Infatuations

May 19, 2020

The social distancing directive during this expanded community quarantine brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic really challenged the movie industry to think outside the box and come up with innovative ways to film their works. It seems that iWant, the digital content app platform of ABS-CBN, actually got a leg up on their competition and was able to figure out a way to create a full-length feature given the drastic limitations this lockdown had imposed. 

According to their press releases, this film had been shot by the actors themselves from their own homes. This was done in virtual coordination with their team of directors, namely Andoy Ranay, Darnel Villaflor, Noel Escondo, and Emmanuel Palo. Aside from being their own cameraman, these actors had to also be responsible for their own production design, costumes, hair and makeup. 

Architect Jacob (Jake Cuenca) and fashion designer / vlogger Karen (Kylie Versoza) who were having the time of their lives quarantined together in a high-rise condo. However, problems arise when Lesley (Angelica Panganiban) called Jacob up. Meanwhile, Lesley who was being harassed by a stalker who seemed to be able to enter her apartment. Her friendly neighbor med rep Allan (JM  de Guzman) offered to help her cope with her intruder. Meanwhile, Allan's ex-girlfriend online troll Abby (Sue Ramirez) gets involved with hunky businessman Darren (Tony Labrusca) and his mysterious friend Fred (Arjo Atayde).

The ensemble cast was a gathering of both A-list and emerging stars of the ABS-CBN network, and they all did not hold much back in their playing their respective flawed characters. The more senior actors, Cuenca, Panganiban and de Guzman, delivered restrained emotional performances. The younger actors, Versoza, Ramirez and Labrusca, pushed more with daring physicality. Atayde was given an offbeat character who could have been fleshed out more. 

For a project shot by the actors themselves, the camera work looked slick and impressive. In the first episode, the scenes were well-lit with sharp details. In contrast, the scenes in the second episode was more on the dull and dark side, as the story required. The third episode featured a sensual virtual encounter shot from several angles. Given the shooting limitations, these scenes must have been very challenging to execute for the actors. 

The sound and music all enhanced the atmosphere of tense suspenseful eroticism. The sexy scenes were there not just as a carnal tease, but were inherently vital in these intertwined stories of lustful obsessions. This was a novel approach to movie-making may temporarily be the new norm given these uncertain times. For employing an innovative technique that responded to unprecedented demands and a script that fully incorporated the crisis situation into its plot, this pioneering effort did very well for being the first-of-its-kind.  7/10. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

YouTube: Review of THE NEXT 12 DAYS Parts 1 & 2: Detour in Destiny

May 18, 2020

9 months ago, Blade decided to release their second feature film "12 Days to Destiny" (MY REVIEW) direct to YouTube, instead of in movie theaters. Since its debut, it has now garnered an impressive record of 2.7 million views. During this pandemic summer, Blade has released the sequel to the love story of Daniel and Camille entitled "The Next 12 Days." split into 2 parts. Part 1 (LINK) was released last May 8 and has now garnered more than 190K views to date. Part 2 (LINK) was released last May 15 and so far earned more than 100K views in the past 3 days. 

In Part 1, Daniel (Akihiro Blanco) and Camille (Mary Joy Apostol) face a big challenge of their love affair. Daniel received a "once-in-a lifetime" job offer to work in Cebu City, to which Camille reluctantly agreed. However, when this would further lead to another opportunity for Daniel to fulfill a childhood dream of working for Ferrari in Dubai, Camille felt she cannot accept being in such a long-distance relationship. 

In Part 2, Camille decided to leave Daniel and fly back to her parents in Australia because she felt very bitter for what she felt was Daniel's inconsiderate selfishness. One year later, she came back to her home in Manila with another young man Derek (Stacey Balagtas). However, chance would have it that Derek would be working on the same project as Daniel. This coincidence forced the paths of Daniel and Camille to cross with each other again.

Part 1 was just a middle episode to bridge the first movie with the third with a major problem that would crop up between the two lovers. There was still Daniel's ex Cathreen to throw in that proverbial wrench between them. Daniel and Camille in this part were only talking on the phone about topics that portended doom. The dynamics of the couple felt like trouble from the start. For example, a girl expect her boyfriend to recall where they went on Day #40 of their relationship -- absolutely crazy. 

Part 2, Camille would be in an angry mood practically throughout this whole film as the very presence of Daniel triggered her. Of course, the crafty scriptwriter made sure they would still run into each other several times over -- the forced serendipity of which can be annoying. However, there was that important revelation which was obviously being withheld which kept you from abandoning it. I felt that the emotional twists and turns of the story which led to that revelation was actually well-executed by director CJ Santos, and performed by the actors. 

Blanco and Apostol were the most experienced actors in the cast, and both were able to do what was expected from them as the romantic leads. Kathryn Bernardo-lookalike Carissa Viaje (her character's name Cathreen is a play on this resemblance) was able to deliver better than how she did in the first film. Bridge Martin did well in her portrayal of Camille's grandmother Lola Bridge, who played a crucial role in Part 2. The other young actors were obviously newcomers who were still very conscious in front of the camera. 

Overall, compared to the first film, there was note of improvement in the development of the story and the quality of production values, like cinematography and editing. There were still some product placement of Blade stores and items, but not as much as before anymore. Maybe without the silly Mark (Xander Pineda) and Mang Balot (Jansen Altamirano) filler scenes, the plot of two parts could really have been distilled and told in only one film. Digital filmmakers could possibly go as long as they want as long as their budget permits, but their main story must not get drowned out by all the extras. 6/10. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Netflix: Review of THE HALF OF IT: Backwoods Bergerac

May 6, 2020

Ellie Chu was a mousy over-achieving high-school student in the remote town of Squahamish who made extra pocket money by ghost-writing papers for her classmates. One day, inarticulate football student Paul Munsky asked Ellie to help him write a love letter to his crush, fellow schoolmate Aster Flores. However, as Ellie was helping Paul woo Aster with letters and text messages, she found herself getting attracted to Aster as well because their shared interests in books and art. The longer their partnership went on, Paul was also starting to get confused as to who he really liked. 

The story of Cyrano de Bergerac has been first been told by Edmond Rostand as a play in 1897. It has since been retold in several movies, like the classic 1950 film which won Jose Ferrer his Oscar for Best Actor or the 1990 French film where Gerard Depardieu got his Oscar nomination. There had been modern retellings like "Roxanne" (1987) or "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" (1996) and teen adaptations like "Let It Shine" (2012) and most recently "Sierra Burgess is a Loser" (2018). There had also been Filipino adaptations on film, like "Cyrano at Roxanne" (1973) starring Dolphy; and as a theater musical, like Pat Valera's "Mula sa Buwan" (2016). 

"The Half of It" takes the story of Cyrano helping Christian woo Roxanne with poetry and transported it to a remote little American town where nerdy Ellie helped awkward Paul to win the heart of pretty Aster. The plot was apparent from the get go, so there wasn't really new at the start. However, the wooing approach focused on literature and art had been so eloquently rendered on the script. A suspenseful tension was also successfully developed among the three teenagers in the love triangle, such that it was not exactly obvious how the story would go in the end.

Chinese-American actress Leah Lewis may already be 23 years old in real life, but with her physical stature, she looked like she was only 15 years old here, with all the vulnerability of an insecure high school student. With her calm yet vibrant voice, Lewis's delivery of lines, especially the romantic ones, felt sincere and heartfelt. While her excellence in academics and her filial devotion to her father may be stereotypes, it was very rare and refreshing to see an Asian girl in a central role like Ellie. 

Daniel Diemer had a goofy charm that made his Paul a pretty likable fellow, along with his taco sausages and fondness for Yakult. He may be clunky on the outside, but he did possess an affecting sensitivity, an irony which Diemer reflected well in his performance. Alexxis Lemire had a serene beauty both wistful and intellectual, which made her Aster believable as the center of everyone's attention. Aster may have the world at her feet, but she clearly had a risk-taking streak in her. Wolfgang Novogratz's Trig Carson was not that annoying as typical self-centered jocks in teen movies go. 

A big part of the success of this film were the fresh performances of its central cast, which gave the familiar story a winsome homespun tweak. The gentle music, art direction, graphic animation, philosophical quotes and wholesome sense of humor also helped develop its coming-of-age story in the positive direction, despite a few questionable plot points. Writer-director Alice Wu's approach for her Ellie's character was not hard-sell nor vulgar, and should not be off-putting for more conservative viewers wary of LGBT themes. 7/10. 

Monday, May 4, 2020


May 4, 2020


Directed by Michael Scott
Written by David Golden

For four months, Katie (Camila Mendes) worked as a caregiver for elderly Mr. Leonard (Elliott Gould), an eccentric rich old man who lived in an old mansion. One day, Katie found Mr. Leonard had died, and the old man had apparently left her his mansion in his will. Just when Julia and husband Adam (Jesse T. Usher) were already seeing the light at the end of their tunnel, things get complicated by suspicious police detective Chesler (Sasha Alexander), persistent real estate agent Hayden (Cam Gigandet), mysterious lawyer Julia Byron-Kim (Jamie Chung) and another dead body found in the garden shed. 

The amateurish one-dimensional acting of the lead actors Mendes and Usher did not help elevate the limited material. Alexander did her best as the detective, but Gigandet and Chung tended to be hammy the way their roles were written. Michael P. Northey as Katie's agency boss George Calvern was comic in a wrong way. Mystery movies may use a red herring device or two to misdirect its audience. However, "Dangerous Lies" was built with one red herring on top of another in an lame effort to beef the thin basic story up. There were many complicating details to throw suspicions at various characters that ultimately led nowhere, which led to a most frustrating viewing experience. 3/10


Directed by Shirish Kunder

Gynecologist Dr. Mrityunjoy Mukherjee (Manoj Bajpayee) was implicated in a grisly series of murders of young, unmarried pregnant women. His wife Sona (Jacqueline Fernandez) sought the help of a famous lawyer Mr. Rastogi (Darshan Jariwala) for legal counsel. But when her ex-boyfriend, police inspector Imran Shahid (Mohit Raina), came up with incontrovertible evidence in court, Sona had to resort to more desperate tactics to save her husband, which included abducting her pregnant student Anushka (Zayn Marie).

This Hindi film was a black comedy through and through. Despite the grisly and disgusting subject matter, there was a sick sense of humor that kept the proceedings light and funny (depending on your sense of humor). There were many plot holes, but since the film and the actors do not seem to take themselves too seriously, you can just ride along their silly shenanigans, each gag more ridiculous than the one before it. Pretty Ms. Fernandez (a former Miss Sri Lanka beauty queen) had good comic timing, keeping her naive character likable despite the crimes she was poised to do in the name of love. The production design (especially that of that hellish operating theater) was as over-the-top as its concept. 5/10


Directed by Patryk Vega
Written by Patryk Vega

Depressed over her fiance's death, Helena Rus (Malgorzata Kozuchowska) worked as a detective of violent crimes in Wroclaw. One day, a male corpse on whose torso was etched the word "Degenerate" was found sewn inside a pied of cowhide. Over the next five days at 6 pm, there would be more similarly spectacularly-staged murders, all in public places. Working with a knowledgeable, no-nonsense agent from Warsaw, Iwona Bogacka (Daria Widawska), Helena tried to figure out the killer's pattern in order to prevent the next murder.

This Polish film was remarkable because of the gore level of its criminal acts was full-on disturbing and in-your-face, nothing was hidden in dark shadows. The second murder which involved spooked race horses running on a bridge, and the third murder which involved an immolation onstage during a Russian opera were the most elaborate in execution. Each murder corresponded to a series of "plagues" in Wroclaw's past when it was still called Breslau. The punishment aspect of the killings was reminiscent of David Fincher's 1995 thriller "Se7en." The mystery remained to be a very engaging affair with its unpredictable twists and turns, despite the dour dispositions of its two strong central female characters. 7/10.