Sunday, August 30, 2020

Netflix: Review of UNKNOWN ORIGINS: Comics-Cloning Crimes

 August 30, 2020

There was a series of grisly murders in Madrid where the victims had been laid out to depict the origin story of a superhero. The killer was obviously familiar with the details as told in the classic comic book where this superhero first appeared. The murders were meticulously planned and carried out for a prolonged period of time in elaborate set-ups which required scientific knowledge and a considerable budget to pull off. 

Assigned to the case was an idealistic but smug young cop David Valentin (Javier Rey). Much to his annoyance, his boss Norma (Veronica Echegui) decided to partner him with geeky comic store owner Jorge Elias (Brays Efe) to investigate the case. When clues led to a connection with a 20-year old cold case involving David's parents was uncovered, the search became more intensified and personal.

Director and co-writer David Galan Galindo was obviously fans of the comics culture and it was fun to catch all the pop culture references he and his writing partner Fernando Navarro sprinkled generously throughout the course of the film. The aesthetic of the film was similar to David Fincher's "Se7en" in terms of the grotesqueness of the crime scenes. However, since the crimes were based on comic books, there was a balancing sense of silly black humor that ran throughout the whole film. 

The mismatched pair of investigators were cast perfectly. Javier Rey was the stuffed-hirt David -- handsome, fit, confident, impeccably groomed, and always smartly dressed. In stark contrast, Brays Efe was the nerdy Jorge -- overweight, unkempt, mousy, totally unmindful of the way he looked and dressed. Of course, the two did not hit it off right away as partners. The haughty David looked down upon Jorge and his colorful friends with derision, only to later be served his generous piece of humble pie.

Veronica Echegui had a blast playing David's no-nonsense superior officer Norma as an active cosplayer who had an affinity for wearing Sailor Moon and other Japanese anime costumes. Ernesto Altiero relished his role as the forensics expert Bruguera, pointing out all the gory details in the corpses and their process of dying. Antonio Resine played Jorge's father and retired detective Cosme, whose character served as the film's emotional core. 

All the previous Spanish serial killers film that I had seen all had fanatical religion as a connecting theme. These have all been dark, serious and somber affairs, as would be generally expected of such films. The odd concept of using the comic book superhero genre as the unifying theme of the crimes of a serial killer led to a witty script, campy visuals, and comic culture references galore. This brought in an ironic element of fun for a supposedly grim crime movie, actually turning out to be quite a clever idea. 7/10.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Netflix: Review of ALL TOGETHER NOW: Reaping Rewards

 August 29, 2020

Amber Appleton is a cheerful and earnest high school student, a very active member of the drama club, and would organize a variety show yearly to raise funds for various causes (this year, to buy a new tuba for the school band). She was also a talented singer, and had been invited to audition for a prestigious music school in Pittsburgh. 

Unknown to her friends though, Amber and her alcoholic mom Becky (and her scruffy little chihuahua dog Bobby Big Boy) were actually homeless. They had been living in a parked bus since they left the house of Becky's abusive partner Oliver. To save up for a decent apartment, Amber had to work as a night-school teacher, a donut shop worker and a nursing home aide.

Of course, things cannot simply go on like this forever for Amber and Becky. Their illegal shelter on the bus was found out and so desperate decisions had to be made. This led to a series of bad circumstances resulting in Amber becoming a shell of her old self as she threw herself into working full time, to the detriment of her education, her friends and her dreams.

This film introduces us to the face behind the talented young lade we only heard as the voice of Disney's Pacific island princess, Moana. Auliʻi Cravalho was a very likable performer in this, her first feature film. She projected genuine sincerity and kindness as Amber. We may not completely understand or agree with the decisions she made when she felt her world cave in on her. But then her character was a teenager after all, so angst and rebellion naturally welled in her. Cravalho managed to balance on that fine line very well.

Justina Machado played Amber's mom Becky, who seemed to be an irresponsible parent. The way this thankless role was written, there was no redemption for this unfortunate and bitter character, not even in retrospect. Rhenzi Feliz played Ty, the young man who liked Amber and constantly supported her, the ideal prince charming films like this always had for Cinderellas like Amber. Judy Reyes played Donna, the mother of Amber's best friend, who treated Amber as her own. The beloved comedy veteran Ms. Carol Burnett was in a special role as one of the seniors Amber entertained in the nursing home. 

This was a very wholesome film, language-wise and humor-wise, about teenagers for teenagers. You can see the inspirational arc of the story from the beginning, so you can sort of expect how it was going to end. However, the way Amber got to that ending was not as predictable. This film, like many inspirational fairy tales before it, assures that rewards can be reaped from the kindness that you sow to the people around you. We certainly need that reminder during these difficult times. 6/10. 

Netflix: Review of AWAY: Extreme Estrangement

 August 28, 2020

The exploration of outer space had always been a fascinating subject for movies.  There is so much drama that can be mined about our fascination about the human experience in an extreme environment full of danger and the unknown. Film like "Apollo 13," "First Man,""Hidden Figures" were based on real life events.  Films like "Gravity," "Interstellar" and "The Martian" depict astronauts in fictional scenarios. 

The only TV series which I had seen about space were only of the campy sci-fi variety like "Star Trek,""Lost in Space" or "Space 1999". This new Netflix series "Away" is a more realistic depiction of astronauts in an albeit fictional space mission to Mars. While it was the story of mission commander Emma Green and her family which is the central core of the series, each member of her team is given a personal story which was dealt with in each episode. 

American astronaut Emma Green was the leader of an international crew sent on a pioneering three-mission to Mars. Her husband NASA Chief Engineer Matt Logan had health issues which prevented him from joining the mission, and had to be left behind to take care of their teenage daughter Alexis (Talitha Bateman). While Emma trying her best to perform as wife and mother while in space, issues that arise from Matt's medical condition and Alexis' abandonment are dealt with.

While Emma had the support of her Indian pilot Ram Arya (Ray Panthaki) and British-Ghanaian Jewish botanist Dr. Kwesi Weisberg-Abban (Ato Essandoh). She faced resistance from her veteran Russian engineer Misha Popov (Mark Ivanir) and Chinese chemist Lu Wang (Vivian Wu), who both felt that Green was not fit to be mission commander. The series opens with a fiery accident which triggered the team's heated internal conflict even before they launched for Mars from their pit stop on the Moon.

Two-time Oscar Best Actress Hilary Swank leads the all-inclusive cast here as Commander Emma Green. Of all moms who worked away from home, Emma was the ultimate example. She was not only working overseas, but in outer space. Of course, she tries her best to balance her duties as mission commander (at hand) with her obligations as a mother (from a distance). So far Swank's scenes been more of drama than action. She had some scenes which displayed her physical prowess in "zero gravity" (like that space walk scene). But so far, It had been more of her dramatic muscle which had been flexed.

Among her four teammates in space, the writers have distributed all other forms of dramatic tropes, mostly dealing with estrangement from family and the various ways people try to deal with their psychological stress and their guilt feelings. Since the crew members come from different countries, there are also leeway for discussing inter-cultural differences, not merely based on their individual personalities. In the first four episodes, we had already seen the backstories of three of them, and the various personal issues they faced in the past and how they are affecting them now as they are in space. 

As a whole, viewers who were expecting more of an action-filled space adventure series may be disappointed. A lot of the conversations were being conducted as phone calls and video calls which can tend to be tedious. Actually, the space mission felt like a mere backdrop to tell a several dramatic stories -- absentee parents, physical disability, teenage rebellion, difficult family relations, LGBT issues, life-threatening disease -- none of which are particularly novel topics for a TV series, be completely honest. 

Hopefully, the last four episodes (when they finally reach Mars) can give us something more exciting to chew on. As of now, the first half of "Away" still feels like a typical melodramatic soap opera enhanced with high-tech special effects.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Netflix: Review of METAMORPHOSIS: Diabolical Doubles

 August 25, 2020

Middle-age married couple Gang-gu (Sung Dong-Il) and Myung-iu (Jang Young-Nam) have three children: two teenage girls Seon-u (Kim Hye-Jun) and Hyeon-ju (Cho Yi-Hyun) and the youngest son U-jong (Kim Kang-Hoon). When they moved into a new house in the suburbs,  it was not long when when one member of the family would be terrorized by another family member who was acting very strangely and violently.  Fearing demonic possession, the panicking family called on their Uncle Jung-su (Bae Sung-Woo), Gang-goo's brother who was a Catholic priest and an exorcist.

The first Korean film about Catholic exorcism rites that I watched was called "The Divine Fury" which was just last year. "Metamorphosis" was another exorcism film with a twist. It actually opened with a particularly grisly exorcism scene conducted by a young priest exorcist that ended badly for the possessed girl.  The mayhem of these opening scenes would set the stage for the level of blood, gore and violence for the rest of the film. The make-up and special effects were all trying to go beyond the standards for such films set by "The Exorcist" in 1973. 

I think I have may have watched enough Korean drama series now to be able to recognize some members of the cast. The father was played by Sung Dong-il, who also played one of the fathers in "Reply 1988." The mother was played by Jang Young-nam who was just recently seen as the head nurse in "It's Okay Not to Be Okay." The elder daughter was played by Kim Hye-jun, who was a terrifying queen in the zombie series "Kingdom." The youngest son was played by kid actor Kim Kang-hoon, who gave an award-winning performance for his scene-stealing portrayal as Pil-gu in "When the Camellia Blooms." 

Viewers from the Philippines will get excited to see some scenes shot in the historic San Agustin Church in Manila featuring Filipino actors. Bing Pimentel was the nun who handed the Korean exorcist Fr. Balthazar (Baek Yun-shik) the mobile phone in the courtyard. In the table discussion scene in the church, Ronnie Henares was the exorcist with a chopped-off hand, while Joel Saracho was the priest who argued with him. The priests played by Archie Adamos, Jef Flores and Nico Locco had no lines to say; but as auxillaries of Fr. Balthazar, Flores and Locco still got to fly to Korea for a couple more scenes (still wordless) there. 

The scene when the father went into their neighbor's house and saw an array of dissected animal carcasses was a an over-the-top visual shock display of guts and gore. That whole sequence of that night where the parents were assaulting their daughters with a hammer was the most suspenseful part, with the build-up of unbearable tension in those scenes very well-done. However, the oddly lackluster performance of Bae Sung-woo in the critical role of the guilt-ridden priest and reluctant exorcist Fr. Park Jung-su made all his scenes (even the final confrontation) feel awkward and anti-climactic. 5/10. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

Netflix: Mini-Reviews of THE SLEEPOVER, FRIEND ZONE, WORK IT: Lightweight Laughs

 August 23, 2020


One night, Clancy Finch (Sadie Stanley) planned to sneak out of the house with her friend Mim (Cree Cicchino) to attend a party thrown by her crush Travis (Matthew Grimaldi), while her younger brother Kevin (Maxwell Simpkins) had his friend Lewis (Lucas Jaye) over for a sleepover. That same night, some bad guys came and abducted their parents Ron (Ken Marino) and Margot (Malin Akerman). The kids decided they should go rescue them, discovering that their mother was not who they thought she was. 

The four kids were typical spunky Disney Channel-type characters. Stanley's Clancy started out as shrinking violet yet to bloom, while Cicchino's Mim was her wacky sidekick. Simpkins' Kevin was a wide-eyed and quick-witted boy, while Jaye's Lewis was an over-protected Asian kid. Marino played the insecure dad Ron as the main comic relief, easily the most annoying character. Akerman did well in her action scenes together with Joe Manganiello, who played Margot's alpha male ex, Leo. 

It has been some time since I had last seen a crime action-comedy movie featuring children as the main protagonists. When my kids were much younger, I watched "Spy Kids" and "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" with them. As expected, while the dangerous situations were there, the treatment of the story were all very cute, light, shallow and humorous to be appropriate for the target kiddie audience.  Adults who watch these movies should watch them with the eyes of their inner child to enjoy them, and they will. With that in mind, I do think Trish Sie's "The Sleepover" does hit its mark. 6/10


Since their school days, Palm (Naphat Siangsomboon) had been harboring an unrequited love for his best friend Gink (Pimchanok Leuwisetpaiboon), who only thought of him as a confidante and sidekick. As they grew older over the next ten years, Palm had become a flight attendant while Gink was a music producer, both getting their fair share of romantic partners along the way. However, whenever the insecure Gink needed help at any time, Palm would drop everything and went out of his way to go rescue her. 

During its 2 hours running time, we see a repetitive pattern of Gink getting into an emotional funk and Palm going the extra mile to help her out -- but always winding up frustrated to tell her his real feelings for her. This film had a high-budget, with Gink and Palm's story crisscrossing several international cities like Yangon, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, as well as Thai destinations like Chiang Mai and Krabi. 

I think a lot of viewers can identify with Palm's predicament, although their problems will most probably not reach the outrageous extent of what he had to go through in his Herculean efforts to win Gink over. While this Thai romantic comedy was a mostly delightful romp, I just did not like the way that bathtub scene was written and executed, which felt incongruent to the general light spirit of the film. I'm sure there could have been a better way to stage this confrontation scene without getting unnecessarily sordid. 7/10. 


Quinn Ackerman (Sabrina Carpenter) was a straight-laced high school senior whose whole school life had been geared towards being accepted into Duke University. She maintained her 4.0 GPA, volunteered at a nursing home, joined the AV club as the lighting director and played the cello to boot. However, during her interview at Duke, the lady at admissions Mrs. Ramirez (Michelle Buteau) mistakenly thought she was a member of their school's famous winning dance team, and Quinn did not object. When Mrs. Ramirez wanted to see her dance, Quinn had to walk her talk.

We have seen this teen story done so many times before with the same predictable conclusion, like "High School Musical" for musical theater or "Bring It On" for cheer-leading. All the usual characters were there: we have dorky protagonist Quinn, the supportive best friend Jasmine (Liza Koshy), the over-bearing mom (Naomi Snieckus), the good-looking love interest Jake (Jordan Fisher) and the school diva antagonist Julliard (Keiynan Lonsdale). It followed the usual story of overcoming incredible odds to try and win the competition in the end. What do you think -- will Quinn's team win? 

The free-style dance sequences had some great moves individually and were generally fun to watch. However, the final team routines were not as clean or impressive as we have seen in other similar dance films. Even if we know how impossible it was for a group of nerdy misfits who had just barely met to do this in two short months, somehow we still wanted to see a flawlessly-executed competition-level choreography and performance in the finale, especially if they expect us to believe that this group was going to win it all. 5/10.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Netflix: Mini-Reviews of LOVE THE WAY U LIE, FINDING YOU and TIME & AGAIN: Love with Loopholes

August 20, 2020

Love The Way U Lie

Directed by: RC de los Reyes

Written by: Danno Kristoper C. Mariquit

Nathan Torres (Xian Lim) was an online business developer who still obsessively mourned the death of his wife Sara (Kylie Versoza) one year ago. Stacey Likauko (Alex Gonzaga) is a cheerful, luckless-in-love psychic who told fortunes and sold Chinese trinkets on Plaza Miranda. When the two crossed paths, the spirit of Sara would speak through Stacey to convince Nathan to let her go and move on.

For me, the best aspect of this film was its stunning cinematography by Lee Jake Mariano. It was so was clean and crisp, making Manila look bright and beautiful. Unlike how they are usually portrayed in those grimy indies, Quiapo Church, Ongpin Street, Jones Bridge, Fort Santiago, Rizal Park, Manila Baywalk, even the abandoned Manila Film Center, all looked very picturesque and worthy to revisit. 

The afterlife theme was familiar from films like "Ghost" and "Honey, Nasa Langit Na Ba Ako? (the 1998 Regine Velasquez-Janno Gibb film referenced in the script), but this had an uncomfortable twist about lying as added spice. There were no real surprises to speak of, story-wise. Alex Gonzaga was her usual wacky, kooky self whom we know from TV, sometimes going overboard. Xian Lim looked great on camera here, but was awkward when it came to comedy scenes. Kylie Versoza had a strong screen presence despite her short screen time. Stacey's over-dependent Chinoy family (Jeric Raval, Kim Molina, Chad Kinis) were mostly there for comic relief, and the occasional emotional support. 5/10.

Finding You

Written and Directed by: Easy Ferrer

Nel (Jerome Ponce) was a carefree journalist diagnosed with hyperthymesia, so his memory was so extraordinary that can recall any past event to its exact date. When he began receiving notifications about his some of his previous social media posts about a lost love, he realized that he could not recall anything about who she was. His best friend from childhood Kit (Jane Oineza) just happened to be in town for her wedding that weekend. So, Nel asked Kit to help him recall who that mysterious lost love actually was. 

Frankly, the way the story was being told, and the way Ponce and Oineza were portraying their characters, there was not really much of a surprise as to who the lost love was. Nel's scenes with the other girls, like high school sweetheart Grace (Barbie Imperial), successful career woman Ces (Kate Alejandrino) or camping enthusiast Leah (Claire Ruiz), were clearly only there to further prolong the obvious resolution.

The big surprise here was this shocking revelation as to why he lost this particular memory. This was the main weakness of the screenplay for me. Was it really possible for any radical medical intervention to actually erase one specific memory out and not affect everything else? Aside from major issues of medical privacy committed, this physiological impossibility was a very problematic plot device which could not simply glossed over. 5/10.

Time & Again

Written and Directed by: Jose Javier Reyes

Apol (Winwyn Marquez) lived with her aunt Ipang (Madeleine Nicolas) and cousin Rio (Adrienne Vergara) and worked as a cashier in a diner cafe. Despite never having any boyfriend since birth, she wrote romances on an online platform under the name of Scarlet Veronique. One day, law student Ozzie (Enzo Pineda) walked into her shop and swept her off her feet. However, he already had a beautiful girlfriend Leah (Sammie Rimando).

During the first hour of the film, this felt like a very simple typical girl-meets-boy love story and seemed destined to go and end that way. Winwyn Marquez was a very charming Apol, and we are all rooting for her to get the boy of her dreams, with the help of her family and friends. By the end of that hour, writer-director Reyes surprised us all by dropping an unexpected major hurdle that Apol would have to overcome to get her man.  

After that point, the whole story made an unexpected quantum leap into the realm of fantasy. The way Apol was written for these last 30 minutes was not the Apol we knew in the first hour. She was impatient, impertinent and even creepy in the way she was dealing with Ozzie. I did not see a compelling reason why she had to act this way, except maybe to build a feeling of suspense before the final reveal. However, what happened was that the ending became too anti-climactic and illogical, even when it was what we were expecting. 4/10. 

Amazon Prime: Review of HUNTERS: Nabbing Nefarious Nazis

  August 18, 2020

When I started watching this series, I totally had no idea what it was going to be about. The first scene was set in a colorful outdoor barbecue party sunny day in June 1977. Then suddenly, the Polish wife of one of the guests began to get hysterical accusing the affable host, Pres. Carter cabinet member Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker), as a Nazi butcher. Things then escalated into a bloody massacre -- fast.  This shocking first scene would just be the first of many over-the-top, darkly comic and sadistically violent scenarios involving Nazis in this 10-episode 2020 Amazon Prime series.

The story was told in the point of view of a Jewish teenager and math genius Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lehrmann), whose grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin) was shot and killed in her NYC home. The embittered Jonah was befriended by Ruth's old friend, the mysterious millionaire Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino). Jonah would soon learn that Ruth was actually a key member of a group whose main objective was to locate and bring to justice Nazis who had secretly immigrated into the USA after the war -- the Hunters. 

The Hunters group was interestingly all-inclusive, a collection of personalities way before its time. Aside from Offerman and Ruth, they also had a rigid former MI6 operative Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvany), a master of disguise actor Lonny Flash (Josh Radnor), a sexy single-mom skilled fighter Roxy Jones (Tiffany Boone), Vietnam vet Joe Mizushima (Louis Ozawa) and an elderly husband and wife electronics and coding team Murray and Mindy Markowitz (Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane). 

The Nazi organization in the US is called Fourth Reich and was led by the sinister Colonel (Lena Olin) who had planned an elaborate, nationwide yet mercilessly insidious operation of cleansing the gene pool. Of her numerous operatives, the scariest one was this ruthlessly and relentlessly bloodthirsty American Neo-Nazi Travis Leich (Greg Austin), who consistently chilled the screen with his particular brand of crazy in all ten episodes. 

Millie Morrison (Jerrika Hinton) was a pioneering African-American lesbian FBI agent who began to suspect about Nazi presence in the US during her investigation of the death an old woman in her own shower stall which had been converted into an Auschwitz-like gas chamber. Relying on her intuitive detective skills, she was eventually able to track down both the Hunters and the Fourth Reich.

We had seen the World War II tragedy of the Jews in many other movies (like "Schindler's List") and television series (like "Holocaust") before. However, I had never seen it told from this angle or style before. There was realization of pride in Jewish traditions, told with flashbacks of atrocious tragedies and tough decisions made during the war. There was a fascinating expose on the highly-classified Operation Paperclip, a secret post-war arrangement between the US government and the scientists of the Third Reich. The last time I've heard of "Paperclip" was when it was tackled in an episode in Season 3 of "The X-Files." 

The strategy game between the Hunters and the Nazis was very well encapsulated by the opening credits sequence depicting the characters as chess pieces on a chessboard. Like many of these gritty violent crime dramas created for this millennial generation, the cinematography and production design were of high standards as story seamlessly went back and forth in time. The musical soundtrack was peppered by a number of high-energy rock and pop numbers from bands as diverse as the Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground to Roy Orbison and the Stylistics. 

Throughout the whole series was a heated debate on how to deal with these Nazi immigrants. There was a powerful scene between Offerman and Simon Wiesenthal (Judd Hirsch) that discussed that contrast solidly from both sides. This controversial issue of morality underlying the show's disturbing display of excessive cruel violence, pushing its luck all the way to the final episode and its shocking (problematic?) twist as only Al Pacino can spin it. Your own sense of ethics and politics will determine how you will like this polarizing series or not. 6/10. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Netflix: Review of PROJECT POWER: Drug-Dependent Dynamics

 August 16, 2020

There is a popular new pill being sold on the black market in New Orleans. It is called "Power" because it can cause the development of unpredictable animal-like superpowers in the person who took it. In order to be able to match criminals who use this drug, a policeman Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sourced his own personal stash of Power from a teenage dealer Robin (Dominique Fishback). Frank was tracking ex-solider Art Reilly (Jamie Foxx), who was tipped to be the drug source. However, Art was on his own personal mission. 

The superhero theme is a very popular trend following the box-office ascendancy of the Avengers films in the last decade. Recently, most of the major steaming platforms had one show with such theme. There was "The Boys" on Amazon Prime and "Watchmen" on HBO. On Netflix, there was "The Umbrella Academy" (now its second season), as well as "The Old Guard" (which could very well be the pilot of its own series). "Power" dealt with artificially-acquired superpowers from a pill, reminiscent of films like "Limitless" (2011). 

Jamie Foxx still had that tough action man persona he had been in several of his films like "Collateral" (2004) or "Django Unlimited" (2012). He had always maintained a fair measure of sensitivity for drama. Joseph Gordon-Levitt may be more well-known for his quirky rom-coms, most specially for "500 Days of Summer" (2009), but he also had his share of action films, like "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012). His film "Looper" (2012) coincidentally had an Ecstacy-like eye-drops form in its story-line. 

The third member of the lead triumvirate was Robin, a teenager who hated school, but loved free-style rapping. It was this character that gave a unique spin to what could have been a run-of-the-mill action flick. She served as the balancing force between Frank and Art's machismo. She wanted to be in the thick of the action, with enough of  her own street-smarts to serve her well. On the debit side, her presence may annoy hardcore action afficionados. Dominique Fishback is already 30 years old, yet was still convincing as a high school student.

Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman gave this film a very frenetic style which may feel excessive at times. The atmosphere was very dark for most of the film, many scenes set at night and in dimly lit locations. The action may be too gory and violent for some viewers, enhanced with cleanly-executed special computer-generated effects. There were certain use of these powers which were too logically inconsistent just to serve the flow of the narrative. It was confusing if these wild powers could actually be controlled by the user or not. 6/10. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Apple TV: Review of GREYHOUND: Challenging Crossing

August 11, 2020

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant closure of movie theaters, producers of feature films have been looking for various online venues where they can stream their films, like Netflix, HBO, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, YouTube, or many other options. Apple TV+ is one of the newer web TV services available only since November, 2019. This latest Tom Hanks project is one of the first high-profile films to premiere on AppleTV+.

During the Battle of the Atlantic, a convoy of 37 Allied ships, was crossing the North Atlantic to reach Liverpool. The convoy's escort ships were under the overall command of Commander Ernest Krause, who was also the captain of the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Keeling, radio call sign Greyhound. It was Krause's first crossing. When they reached the "Black Pit," an area in the mid-Atlantic where there won't be any protective air cover, their convoy was attacked by relentless fleet of German submarines.  

One of the remarkable things about this film was its very short running time, very uncharacteristic for a war movie. Most war movies we see, both good like "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) or "Inglourious Basterds" (2009), or not so good like "Pearl Harbor" (2001) or "Midway" (2019) usually ran for more than 2 to 3 hours long. In stark contrast, "Greyhound" clocked in at a very economical at 91 minutes. 

Director Aaron Schneider was able to squeeze in all the naval procedure and battle drama in with no extra fuss, and that was rather impressive. There was only a short introductory flashback set on shore which featured a cameo by the much-missed 90s actress Elizabeth Shue, who was the only female in the cast. After that, the rest of the film all happened onboard the Greyhound.  Other more traditional directors would have prolonged that intro segment, and would have ended with a protracted and more flashy ending sequence. 

The mission of "Greyhound" was grand in scope. but it was a far more intimate film. It was so compact, it focused mainly on Tom Hanks' face and the tactical decisions his character made. He was the only character we recognize and remember. Everyone else were faceless soldiers echoing and following Hanks' orders. Audiences can only connect emotionally with Hanks' character and no one else's, so the film's success lay squarely on his shoulders. Tom Hanks had repeatedly shown that he can do this, and he proved that again here. 7/10. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Netflix: Review of A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Forgiveness in the Family

 August 12, 2020

Believe it or not, Tom Hanks' last Oscar nomination was for Best Actor in the film "Cast Away" (2000). Even if he had marked roles in several recent Oscar Best Picture nominees: "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (2011), "Captain Phillips" (2013), "Bridge of Spies" (2015) and "The Post" (2017), Hanks was never cited by the Academy again for nearly 20 years. It was only this last Oscar season when he finally nabbed a nomination again, this time for Best Supporting Actor in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" (2019).

Maybe because Mr. Rogers was not as well-known a TV personality here in this part of the world as he was Stateside, I did not notice if this film ever got released in local movie houses, even if it was Tom Hanks who played him. I wanted to see why Tom Hanks was nominated for Best Supporting Actor if he was playing Mr. Rogers in a film about Mr. Rogers. Thankfully, this month, this film gets it turn to be streamed on Netflix, so my question can now be answered.

Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) was a tough investigative writer from Esquire Magazine who had an unsavory reputation of being cynical and mercilessly negative in his writing style. He was married to a public attorney Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and they just had a new baby boy Gavin. Lloyd had a tough childhood as his mother died when he was still a child, and he had to grow up harboring major ill will against his estranged father Jerry (Chris Cooper).

One day, Lloyd was assigned by his editor to interview and write a feature article about Fred Rogers, who was the host of the beloved long-running children's show "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" on American public television. Reluctant as he was about writing what he thought would be a shallow fluff piece, Lloyd went to Pittsburgh to meet his subject. He was about to encounter a unique man whose strength lay in his magnanimous empathy.

Okay, so technically the lead character of the story was Lloyd Vogel and it was his character who will be undergoing a transformative arc. However, there was certainly no denying that it was really the magnetic character of Fred Rogers who is the very heart and soul of this film.  It was Mr. Rogers who was in the opening scene, and it was also him in the final scene. Despite what his numerous nominations for Best Supporting Actor may suggest, Tom Hanks was definitely a co-lead, if not the main lead, in this film. 

Hanks completely dominated this film with his consistent and convincing portrait of Mr. Rogers. I may not have seen a single episode of the old TV series, but I was sold, Hanks was totally Mr. Rogers. Hanks has one of the most famous and distinctive faces in Hollywood, so he cannot really disappear into a role, we always see his face. However, for some reason, he can always make us believe that he was ship captain Phillips or skilled pilot Sully, or even iconic celebrities like Walt Disney, or this one, Mr. Rogers. 

Matthew Rhys does his best in his challenging but unlikable role, but the screen presence of Hanks was simply too luminously bright to match. Hanks' line delivery in Rogers' characteristic slow gentle cadence never became boring. His face was always with that kind smile which never rang false. The best scenes for me were those with Rogers voicing his hand puppets, Rogers being serenaded by children and Rogers playing piano with his wife Joanne (Maryann Plunkett). It was great to see long-missed actors in smaller roles, like Christine Lahti (as Lloyd's editor) and Wendy Makkena (as Jerry's second wife). 

At first, I thought I might not like this Marielle Heller indirect biopic about an icon unfamiliar to me. However, I ended up hooked from the start and watched the whole thing without let up until the very end. This was a very pleasant surprise for me, an engaging and emotionally enriching film experience. 8/10. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020


August 11, 2020


Directed and Written by: Eileen Cabiling

Bong was a fisherman in Manila Bay. He lived in abject poverty in a slum area with his wife and four little kids. There was hardly any fish to catch. Other opportunities for earning money, like going abroad, also required a lot of money. Bong was forced to rely on a very shady and disgusting sideline to feed his family. 

This film tackled a topic usually swept under the rug in mainstream media -- how victims of extra-judicial killings are disposed into the sea by poor desperate fishermen. We see Bong's unsavory means of living from the very first scene, so the whole story seemed to have been told in reverse. This technique may seem clever on hindsight, but it felt unusually anti-climactic when you are watching it for the first time. 

Of course, Jericho Rosales can play this character with his eyes closed, and still project the required intensity. Cabiling never actually told us the identity of the bodies, or who was ordering the disposal. Obviously with a lot more story left untold, this felt like a mere introduction or teaser to a more substantive feature-length film. 7/10.


Directed and Written by: Maria S. Ranillo

This short film followed the titular Nang Em as she went through the Covid-19 lockdown alone in her apartment in Cebu City, from March 17 to June 1, 2020, because her stay-out caregiver could not with her. Her friendly barangay official named Tagalog frequently visited her to give her regular rations of food, protective supplies and cash. 

It was very good to see Ms. Gloria Sevilla in action again as she played this senior citizen confused and concerned about this mysterious virus. Sometimes she would be cantankerous, sometimes she would be motherly, but always dear and vulnerable -- like many other elderly women we may know.  Manu Respall played the solicitous neighbor named Tagalog, humoring and calming the old lady when she expressed her concerns. 

The film was simple, both thematically and technically. Furthermore, the Covid-19 community quarantine subject matter may feel repetitive or over-stated already for some viewers, affecting whatever charm it may have intended. 5/10.  


Directed by: Chuck Gutierrez
Written by Dr. Floro Quibuyen

Jose Rizal's eldest brother Paciano had been a very active participant in the revolution being a close friend of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto. However because of his reticence and introversion, his side of the story was never told --- well, until now. Here, a dying 79-year old Paciano Rizal delivered a monologue addressed to his illustrious departed brother Jose, elucidating on his frustrations about how Filipinos seems to keep losing their battles and why he thought so. 

The eloquent script of Dr. Floro Quibuyen was well-researched, very informative and revealing.  Veteran actor Nanding Josef was passion personified as he shared with us Paciano Rizal's elusive thoughts and misgivings. With this, director-editor Chuck Gutierrez interwove vintage historical video footage and photographs with new scenes of Jose Rizal (Juan Lorenzo Marco, his face unseen) walking in the present day, to connect Paciano's message from the past into the present. 

The standard Cinemalaya 2020 program bundle cost P250, but you need to pay an additional P150 to watch these three premier shorts. "Heneral Rizal" by itself, with its very important message and appeal so powerfully delivered, made the additional $3.00 worth every penny. You will want to watch this again. 9/10. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Netflix: Review of IT'S OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY: Psychiatric Passion

 August 10, 2020

It was only during this year that I had finally given in to watch a Korean drama series in full. "Crash Landing on You" was really quite a trending topic last February so I took the plunge with that one. I liked it a lot, and binged through the whole series in a breeze. So, next, I tried to watch a series in real time as it was still being released weekly -- "The King: Eternal Monarch." It was getting middling reviews and I tended to agree how unsatisfactorily the whole series ended. The next one I chose was because of its multiple awards, "When the Camellia Blooms." That excellent finale was well-worth the series length of 20 episodes.

This review of the just-concluded "It's Okay Not to Be Okay" (also called "Psycho but It's Okay") is the first time I am attempting to review a Korean drama series. Since I am relatively new to this television phenomenon, I am not really familiar with the actors, their past work in other series and their reputations. Therefore I am just going to comment on how I see the story being developed and how the characters were being portrayed, with no biases or preconceptions about the actors themselves as celebrities.

Ko Mun-yeong (Seo Ye-ji) was a famous author of a successful series of children's books. However, behind the scene, she was a petulant, quarrelsome misanthrope who would rather work alone. Her publisher Mr. Lee was always ready with cash to pay off people she would offend with her tactless behavior. One day, during the grand launch of her latest book, circumstances led her to act violently in public. This scandal caused her to drop from public view and return to her old home outside Seongjin City, called the Cursed Castle.

Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun) was a caregiver in psychiatric hospitals. He was also the devoted guardian to his autistic elder brother Moon Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se) since their mother passed away. Because of Sang-tae's curious aversion to butterflies, the brothers had been constantly on the move whenever autumn came around. In the current year, the two relocated to their hometown Seongjin City. There, they leased a room in the house of their old friend Nam Ju-ri (Park Kyu-young), and worked in the hospital where she worked.

One of the main settings of the drama was OK Psychiatric Hospital, a charming hospital located on a hill overlooking the sea. The hospital director was Dr. Oh Ji-wang (Kim Chang-wan) who had some unconventional methods of treating his patients borne out of his genuine care for their condition. Mrs. Park Haeng-ja (Jang Young-nam) led the efficient staff of nurses, which included Ju-ri. Ju-ri's mother Kang Soon-doek (Kim Mi-kyung) was the cook in the hospital canteen. Among the patients there was Ko Dae-hwan (Lee Eol), the long estranged millionaire father of Ko Mun-yeong, now with dementia. The other admitted patients had conditions like alcoholism, post-traumatic stress and dissociative disorders.

The conceptual premise of the series was very risky -- mental health. All the lead characters had some sort of serious mental health issue that disturbed their day-to-day lives. The leading female character herself was suffering from some sort of anti-social personality disorder, which causes her to lash out on people that she did not like without caring about the consequences of these actions. The leading male character had always been burdened with self-imposed grief and guilt, mostly having to do with caring for his brother, which also prevented him from enjoying what most would call a normal life. 

In the very first episode alone, the first encounter between Mun-yeong and Gang-tae was already a bloody affair with a knife -- definitely not the typical beginning of what was supposed to be a romantic relationship, and this was probably what kept viewers hanging on to see how things will turn out. Seo Ye-ji and Kim Soo-hyun are both attractive and charismatic actors who had an electric chemistry between them when they are together. However, you knew that things were not going to be smooth between them easily. There was friction all the way up to Episode 15! Without any spoiling any details, for me, the absolute best moment between them was the studio scene of Episode 12, with the campfire scene in Episode 16 coming close. 

The character of Moon Sang-te was truly special one, and a real challenge for any actor to portray. On top of being autistic, he also suffered from an anxiety disorder brought about by a traumatic event that he witnessed as a child. Beneath his behavioral and psychological disabilities, he had a remarkable talent for the arts in drawing and painting. I did not realize until I am writing this that Sang-tae was played by Oh Jung-se, who was also in "When the Camellia Blooms." It is really amazing how Korean actors look very different in their different roles. Oh won Best Supporting Actor awards in both KBS Drama and Baeksang awars for "Camellia." I won't be surprised if he brings home the bacon again for his role here for his consistency and connection with his troubled character.

Aside from heavy family drama, psychological drama, romantic drama and crime drama, this series has comedic moments mostly from the characters of the sneaky publisher Lee Sang-in (Kim Joo-hun), Lee's indomitable assistant Yoo Seung-jae (Park Jin-joo) and Gang-tae's clingy best friend Jo Jae-su (Kang Ki-doong). There was one episode when even the usually straight-laced Nam Ju-ri was absolutely hilarious. Balance was also provided by the way Dr. Oh conducted his patients' therapy with a twinkle in his eye, or the way Mrs. Kang cooked her food with motherly devotion. The elegant yet over-the-top fashion sense of Ko Mun-yeong is always entertaining in its own right. 

The black and white fantasy intro sequence with scarlet highlights and haunting music represented the world of the series to a T. The horror sequences reflecting the characters' nightmares and psychoses, as well as real life danger, all bore dark eerie dread.  Aside from tying up all the loose ends for everyone we met in the past 16 episodes, the finale was very emotionally satisfying with its sincere portrayal of humility and maturity among Mun-yeong, Gang-tei and Sang-tei, especially the inspired way their relationship was mirrored by the beautiful animation of Sang-tae's charming book illustrations. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020


August 9, 2020

The Cinemalaya had adapted to the current physical distancing protocols brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic by bringing this year's film festival online for streaming on Vimeo. The films in competition were all short films only this year, 10 of them in all. While there was no competition for full-length films. there are also several past Cinemalaya feature films in its retrospective selection available for streaming. 

Disclosure: I am not really a fan of short films. In all the previous film festivals I have attended and reviewed, I always prioritized feature films only. Because there were only short films competing in this festival, it then follows that I will be reviewing short films -- for the very first time since I began reviewing movies. This art form is new to me so my criteria for their appreciation are still in development. Here are my reviews of the 10 short films in competition:


ANG GASGAS NA PLAKA NI LOLO BERT ("The Broken Vinyl Record")

Directed by Janina Gacosta and Cheska Marfori

Written by Janina Gacosta

Lonely retired music teacher Bert lived in an old stone house by himself. One day, a package was left at his doorstep, containing old photograph of an old friend and a scratched up vinyl record of a kundiman which would skip when played. He went to a record shop owned by an old widower named Miyo to have it fixed. 

The story may be very simple, but the film had a bittersweet yet charming throwback feel to it. This nostalgia was further evoked by its faded color palette, aside from that unmistakable sound quality of the vinyl records that serve as its musical score. The winsome portrayal of Soliman Cruz as Miyo convincingly tamed the curmudgeonly Bert, as portrayed of ever-reliable Dido de la Paz. 7/10

PABASA KAN PASYON ("Chanting the Passion")

Directed and Written by Hubert Tibi

It was Holy Week in an Albay town. The elderly mother was a singer of the traditional "pasyon," and her middle-aged son acted as her manager. When the son played Herod in their Passion Play, the mother prepared his costume and makeup. Meanwhile the radio station where the son worked as an announcer closed shop as it could not compete with FB and Spotify. 

This film was shot in elegant black and white, with the Mayon Volcano regally in the background. The mournful soundtrack was composed of traditional pasyon chants and heavy strings music. The relationship of son and his mother was poignantly portrayed by the actors, Buboy Aguay and Isabel Pedrasa Bogoc. That final scene was heartbreaking in its implications. 7/10


Directed and Written by James Mayo

It called itself an interactive film where participation is important. You are an exhausted employee who had overslept from sheer fatigue. You sleepwalk through a dimly-lit underground pedestrian tunnel. You exit your room, go downstairs, meet your dog and end up in your room again. You follow the voice of mother (Yayo Aguila) telling you to wake up. 

This was a truly bizarre experimental film, and I appreciated it especially on second viewing. From the beginning, an atmosphere of horror was created with creepy images and musical score. This film was crafted in a way that we need to keep our eyes on the screen, to read the printed words in order understand what was going on. However, the whole nightmare effect was ruined by an unfortunate typographical error in the final frame. 6/10. 

TOKWIFI ("Star")

Directed and Written by Carla Pulido Ocampo

A grandfather of an Igorot tribe was telling the story of how a young man named Limmayug (Kurt "Aye-eo"Lumbag Alalag) saw a fiery star falling to the ground. At the site where it landed, he found a working television set. An actress from the 1950s, Laura Blancaflor (Adrienne Vergara) was on, and she engaged the clueless Limmayug in conversation. 

Shot in the picturesque Cordillera mountains among the Igorots of Bontoc, this had a deep mystical feel to it. This was unexpectedly juxtaposed with classic Filipino cinema with mentions of director Manuel (Conde?) and producer Dona Sisang. This was a quaint little film with a strange story and weird sense of humor, but it certainly had memorable impact because of its uniqueness, especially with that endearing ending. 7/10


Directed and Written by Reeden Fajardo

Middle-aged transgender sampaguita farmer Budang (Jeff "Budang" Gando) learned that his son Janjan was coming back home after working in Canada for several years. So she and his partner Georgia (Lucas "Plyka" Dungca) go to market to get the kitchen ready for his homecoming party. 

This Kapampangan short film started with some appetizing close-up scenes of cooking a tasty-looking stew, which set a warm homespun mood. However, the corny jokes and awkward acting of Plyka almost tank the whole thing from the first few minutes. But fortunately, Budang came across as sincere, and, along with its reunion theme, these aspects certainly gave the film its effective heartwarming moments. 5/10


ANG PAGPAKALMA SA UNOS ("To Calm the Pig Inside") 

Directed and Written by Joanna Vasquez Arong

This was a documentary in the Bisaya language with a female narrator (Anna Rong) bitterly reminiscing about the time when super- typhoon Yolanda wreaked her destructive power in Tacloban City. She talked about devastating deadly storm surge and compared it to a "buwa" or the pig underground during an earthquake. 

The film consisted of video footage and a slideshow of haunting still photos and children's drawings about the storm. It has been seven years since Yolanda and Tacloban has somehow risen from the disaster already by now. But even then, looking back on these images and footage can still trigger chills and tears. 6/10


Directed and Written by Martika Ramirez Escobar

Kints (Kristine Kintana) and Charles (Charles Aaron Salazar) are a young live-in couple. They tend to be quite immature as they decide about  who took out the garbage by having a staring contest or spend a lengthy amount of time discussing about their favorite things. Suddenly one day, Charles turned into a life-size cardboard cutout of himself. 

This was as strange and perplexing as any plot twist can get. I am not really sure what becoming a cardboard standee was supposed to mean. Was it to represent how couple who had spent a long time together would want their partners to stay a certain way together? We waited for the ending to make sense of the whole thing, but alas, its interpretation was also wide open puzzle. 4/10

UTWAS ("Arise")

Directed by Richard Salvadico and Arlie Sumagaysay

Written by Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay

This Hiligaynon film followed fisherman (Rene Requiron) as he trained his apprentice son Toto (Joemel Bancayan) the ins and outs, and tricks of their trade. Within his training of skills and knowledge, there were also very pointed commentary about various issues about the ocean, like dynamite fishing and pollution with plastic waste. 

The cinematography was very impressive with great shots of the restless ocean above and below. The sound work too was quite remarkable as the sound and music shifted from clear to muffled as the camera goes from surface to under the water. Among all the films, this was the one that felt most real. This was also the only one with the most compelling ending sequence. 8/10


Directed by Sonny Calvento

Written by Arden Rod Condez

Vangie (Phyllis Grande) was a contractual salesgirl at the Trendysitas Shopping Mall. Supervisor Miss Charo (Angelina Kanapi) told Vangie that she was not going to be regularized because she was slacking on the job. It was only then that Vangie discovered Miss Charo's secret for being so untiring and energetic. 

The oddball sense of humor of this short began with its opening song based on jingle of a popular chain of malls.The special visual effects were remarkably clean and topnotch for an indie short. It was saying that it was virtually impossible to gain work-life balance as a contractual worker, but the ending was a head-scratcher for me. In another one of her quirky characters, Kanapi again steals the show here. 6/10  


Directed and Written by Jan Andrei Cobey

A poor family of five living in a Tondo slum were chosen by a TV show to be interviewed about their lives. The father Julio (DMs Boongaling) and mother Nayda (Sunshine Teodoro) welcomed the crew into their home. Gay teenage middle child and Catriona Gray fan Oliver (Dylan Ray Talon) was most thrilled about his 15 minutes of fame. Youngest child Boy (Kenken Nuyad) was just being his cheerful playful self. However, the eldest Pamela (Jorrybell Agoto) was getting suspicious of the show's motives. 

Of all the entries, this wacky comedy should be the most accessible and most entertaining for mainstream viewers. The scene of Nadya's interview when she was stymied by a question about her weight was a memorable one. Sure, some lame jokes don't fly, but everybody can definitely identify with being very foolish and excited to be seen on TV. 7/10. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Netflix: Review of THE BAZTAN TRILOGY: Fatal Folklore

August 6, 2020

The Baztan Trilogy refers to a best-selling series of three crime novels written by Dolores Redondo, released from 2013 to 2014 in Spain, and in the following years, internationally. Much like other successful novels, their eventual adaptation to film was not far behind. The first film, "Invisible Guardian" (2017) was released on Netflix in 2019. The second film "Legacy of the Bones" (2019) and the final film "Offering to the Storm" (2020) were both released on Netflix just earlier this year.

In the first film, police inspector Amaia Salazar (Marta Etura) was assigned the case of a young girl found dead and ritualistically positioned on the bank of the River Baztan. There were uncanny similarities to a case from one month ago, as well as a series of cold cases from several years back, prompting police to suspect a serial killer who had revived his old modus operandi. Salazar had to return to her hometown of Elizondo to lead the investigation. Along with her artist boyfriend James (Benn Northover), she lived in the house of her kindly old aunt Tia Engrasi (Itziar Aizpuru), located near their late father's bakery currently run by her two elder sisters, Flora (Elvira Minguez) and Rosaura (Patricia López Arnaiz)

Going back to her childhood home brought back bitter issues from the past, particularly her traumatic relationship with their abusive, mentally-disturbed mother Rosario (Miren Gaztanaga). Amaia also had to deal with deeply problematic family and professional issues. Her eldest sister Flora harbored deep resentment against Amaia for perceived abandonment of filial duty. Aside from her loyal deputy Jonan Etxaide (Carlos Librado aka Nene), the other men under her command question her authority, particularly  senior detective Montes (Francesc Orella).

In the second film, Amaia was handling the case of a witch cult desecrating churches with skeletons of babies. There was also an associated case of women murdered with their arm cut off by their husbands, who then committed suicide. The investigation led to the discovery of a tragic detail of Amaia's own family history which had long been unrevealed. Amidst threats of torrential rains, flash floods and her own baby Ibai's safety, Amaia faced up against Vatican psychiatrist Fr. Sarasola (Imanol Arias), as she became aware that Judge Javier Markina (Leonardo Sbaraglia) was getting too close for her comfort.

In the third film, Amaia was still faced by cases of babies being murdered by families, apparently members of a cult who believed that this grisly sacrifice will help them become more wealthy. Amaia again had to go through family (disagreements about their mother) and professional conflicts (accusations of leakage of police plans), which led to her to making very poor decisions in her investigation and in her life, which also put her relationship with James at risk. The characters of the amorous judge Javier and Amaia's loyal right-hand-man Jonan get very prominent roles in this series conclusion. 

Directed by Fernando Gonzales Molina, the Baztan Trilogy had an interesting inherent premise. Crime stories with involvement of the Catholic religion always had a fascinating appeal, much like the Dan Brown's books. Inclusion of Basque folklore, like the basajaun (Bigfoot-like guardian of the forest), tarttaro (a man-eating cyclops), or Mairu-beso (arm of an unbaptized newborn as a charm) add to its interest. The camera work is frequently dark as many scenes were shot at night or torrential rains. The execution of the flash flooding of Elizondo in Part 2 was excellently done. The series started strong with "Invisible Guardian," but the momentum just sort of got bogged down with each succeeding installment, particularly the last one. 

The Invisible Guardian: 7/10
The Legacy of Bones: 7/10
Offering to the Storm: 6/10

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Netflix: Review of CURSED: Arthur from Another Angle

August 5, 2020

One thing about this quarantine is the extra time it gave me to actually binge on entire TV series, something I never did before. There are excellent ones which were an easy binge, like "Trollhunters" or "The Umbrella Academy." Some may be flawed, but they may have something interesting in them that somehow engaged you follow it all the way to the end despite its faults. "Cursed" is more of the latter kind.

Nimue (Katherine Langford) was a rebellious girl from the Fey tribe. She was shunned by her neighbors for being a witch because of her ability to call on plants to hurt her tormentors in times of distress. One day, her village was attacked and destroyed by a band of red-robed priests called the Red Paladins, under the leadership of the heartless Fr. Carden (Peter Mullan) and their deadly hooded warrior called the Weeping Monk (Daniel Sharman). 

On her deathbed, Nimue's mother Lenore (Catherine Walker) told her to bring a powerful enchanted sword to the drunken wizard named Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård), adviser to the weakling King Ulther (Sebastian Armento). Along her way, Nimue encountered a dashing mercenary named Arthur (Devon Terrell), who stole the sword to win a tournament which he hoped would gain favor from his cruel guardian, Sir Ector of Gremaire (Peter Guinness).

"Cursed" was a young adult series recounting the tumultuous coming of age of a gifted Fey peasant girl who would later become way more powerful in more ways than one. Nimue regarded her abilities as a curse because these were the reason for her social ostracization. As she faced a series of betrayals and persecutions along her way, facing mortal danger from both politicians and churchmen, Nimue would have to finally accept her powers, develop them and use them to help her people survive. The winsome Katherine Langford portrayed her inner conflicts and growth quite well. 

Its connection to the Arthurian legend really tenuous, but this was the aspect that hooked me to stay. This was even if the names of various characters here actually had nothing to do with the Camelot stories. Aside from Arthur and Merlin, we would also hear the names of several knights of the Round Table, such as Bors, Gawain, Percival and Lancelot. Arthur had a sister here named Morgana (Shalom Brune-Franklin), who used the name Igraine when she was a nun. These were the names of King Arthur's half-sister Morgan le Fay and her mother in the legends.

The casting was very much of this day, with an all-inclusive group of actors. There was interracial romance as well as lesbian romance. The feminist leaning was unmistakable with the triumvirate of Nimue, Morgana and ebony Amazon warrior Kaze (Adaku Ononogbo) leading the resistance, as well as an 11th hour entrance of Red Spear (Bella Dayne). There were also three major female antagonists: the creepy Sister Iris (Emily Coates), the imperious Queen Regent (Polly Walker) and Nordic warrior Eydis (Sofia Oxenham). 

The target older teen audience would appreciate the aspects of dark magic and horror, folkloric fantasy, and perhaps even the gory scenes of computer-generated violence. For me, these things can get rather corny. There were even some sneaky references to "Game of Thrones" as well, with all its medieval political maneuvering and having a character called the "Ice King". Because of the last-minute revelations in the final episode, a second season is in the works, but I am not sure if I will still watch that though. 6/10.