Saturday, October 31, 2020

Netflix: Review of BLOOD OF ZEUS: A Wife on the Warpath

 October 31, 2020

Tales about the Olympian gods, their adventures and conflicts were among my favorite stories to read since childhood. I was very excited to see a new animated series about them on Netflix. There were only 8 episodes at about only 30 minutes each on average, so this should an easy binge. The series was rated 18+, cautioning about violence. This came as no surprise knowing how bloody these mythic battles can get.

A young man named Heron (Derek Phillips) was always fighting to keep his mother Electra (Mamie Gummer) safe from their neighbors who considered them outcasts. However, his protective instincts went into overdrive when band of demons led by Seraphim (Elias Toufexis) was wreaking havoc on the countryside killing everyone in sight. The deities of Mt. Olympus also get involved in the action as a major marital dispute erupted between the ever-philandering Zeus (Jason O'Mara) and the dangerously jealous Hera (Claudia Christian).

The first episode was not too easy to get into right away. Aside from the unfamiliar style of the artwork, the initial characters seen were all unfamiliar names. Aside from being introduced to the lead character Heron, we also meet the blond-haired female Grand Archon Alexia (Jessica Henwick) leading her men to fight the demons terrorizing the towns. There was a wise old man Elias who was always there to help Heron and his poor weak mother. It was only at the final sequence of Ep. 1 that Olympian gods entered the scene. 

So from the Ep. 2 onwards, mythology junkies will already be hooked as the connection between Heron and Zeus will be revealed in flashbacks. Succeeding episodes would recount how Hera got wind of the scandal and entered the fray. Much later, the origin of the head demon Seraphim will also get connected to everything else. Among the other gods, prominently featured were Hermes (Matthew Mercer) and Apollo (Adam Croasdell)

Meanwhile, Heron will have his own rigorous ordeals to go through on his own. Aside from Alexia, he would also meet good friends like fellow slaves, the smart wisecracking Evios (Chris Diamantopoulos) and strongman fighter Kofi (Adetokumboh M'Cormack) to help him in his quest. Other familiar mythological characters like the wise centaur Chiron (David Shaughnessy), as well as Clotho (Jennifer Hale) and her fellow Fates, also had roles to play.

Those who know Greek mythology will be familiar with the volcanic anger of Hera when she learns about the illicit extramarital affairs of her husband Zeus, so what transpired in this story will not really be a big surprise. Frankly, the svelte Hera here was not how I had been imagined her as a child, but this glamorous design worked for the purpose of this series. The gore factor was certainly in-your-face, but not too extreme, even with all the vicious stabbings, dismemberment and decapitations. Save for some slow exposition in certain scenes, this series was generally well-paced and engaging, especially for mythology buffs. 7/10.

Friday, October 30, 2020

KTX.PH: Review of U-TURN: Vindictive Victims

  October 30, 2020

Donna Suarez (Kim Chiu) has been a reporter at Daily Journal Online for 7 years now, but her career was going nowhere. One day, she chanced upon a freak accident involving a motorcycle hitting a displaced barrier blocking a U-turn. This caused the death of a young mother Elisa (Kate Alejandrino) and her daughter Anna (Miel Espinosa). Donna's sensational coverage of this grisly incident finally gave her the viral news video her demanding boss (Cris Villonco) wanted. 

One day, Donna's twin brother Eric (Martin del Rosario) suddenly died from mysterious circumstances. With the help of a homeless man Tata Selo (Jerry O'Hara) and her policeman friend Kevin (JM de Guzman), Donna learned that Eric was just one of a series of presumed suicides all of whom made an illegal U-turn at that very same site right before their deaths. Donna boldly decided to go to the haunted road and knowingly make a fateful U-turn herself, taunting the ghosts to go after her next. 

That awesome scene where Donna was challenging the ghosts at the U-turn was such a precious Kim Chiu moment to rival her viral "bawal lumabas" video. The sequence after this scene was was when we see Donna do all the typical things we see foolhardy horror film heroines do -- went home alone, kept all the house lights off, put her face near the drain of a sink, ran up the stairs instead of out the open door, hid under the bed sheets. Seeing Kim Chiu do all these horror scenes was pure entertainment gold. She made horror fun!

The rest of the cast were either underplaying their roles, like JM de Guzman and Mercedes Cabral (who both played cops), or overplaying them, like Alex Medina and Kate Alejandrino (who played a tragic couple). Tony Labrusca felt miscast as Robin, Donna's literal "boy"-friend, who was not as smart as he may think. His character and his whole Canada subplot was completely not material to the plot. Of course, there had to be an unnecessary scene where he would bare his torso. 

Like many horror films, majority of the scenes were too darkly lit to be clearly visible,but the sound of effect of the ghosts creaky bones made it known she's there. The best-executed and original-looking horror scene was that one when Eric encountered the child ghost in the corridor of his condo. The dialogues were so cliched, they were actually quite funny, especially when you hear Kim Chiu delivering them. That final confrontation scene between Donna, Elisa and their respective partners was so gloriously melodramatic with everyone inviting the ghost to kill them instead of the others, it was hysterical fun. 5/10


This should be perfect for an enjoyable Halloween night movie with your family or friends. Tickets are at P150 each, available on KTX.PH. This price gives you 48 hours access to watch the film online on KTX.PH. There are also group buying deals and promos offered. You can also catch "U-Turn" on SKYCable Pay Per View, Cignal Pay Per View, and iWant TFC. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Netflix: Review of HAYOP KA! THE NIMFA DIMAANO STORY: Melodrama in Mired Morality

October 29, 2020

“Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story” is significant because it is the first animated Netflix film from the Philippines. Filmmaker Avid Liongoren, noted for his previous animated work "Saving Sally" (2016) took 3+ years to complete his new project, with the homestretch done during this pandemic quarantine. The inspiration for the film were love advice programs commonly heard at night on AM radio. After hearing a particular caller get reprimanded by the DJ for her experience, Liongoren was able to spin his own story into this film.

Pretty pussycat Nimfa Dimaano (Angelica Panganiban) was a contractual salesgirl in a mall in Manila, trying her darnedest to sell her knockoff Sabella colognes in her efforts to support her mother (Via Antonio) and sister Linda (Yeng Constantino) in the province. She was living-in with her musclebound mongrel bulldog boyfriend Roger (Robin Padilla) who worked as a janitor in the mall and enjoyed listening to the radio, especially the advice program of brutally honest DJ Papa Jorge (Piolo Pascual).

One day, Nimfa assisted pedigreed husky billionaire businessman Inigo Villanueva (Sam Milby) when he needed to buy a gift for his mother (Claudia Enriquez) who longed for a grandchild. That chance encounter led to Nimfa accepting future invitations from Inigo to go out with him. She met his industrious frog valet Jerry (Empoy Marquez) and his trusty pelican caretaker of his Batangas resthouse, Mang Ding (Juliene Mendoza). She was also introduced to Marie (Madeleine Humphries), the socialite poodle who just caused his nth breakup. 

The whole script by Manny Angeles and Paulle Olivenza was a veritable compilation of familiar Filipino telenovela tropes. The title, an oft-heard line in these melodramas, says it all. However, since this is rendered in animation for streaming online with animals as characters, the filmmakers found it possible to push the envelope in terms of the vulgarity of colloquial lingo used. The dialogue (as well as the artwork) was fearlessly peppered with frank sexual jargon, either directly in-your face or as double entendre innuendos. For the millennial audience it targets, the humor should be sidesplitting hilarious and perhaps even be lifestyle-affirming.

The raunchy language will definitely shock and make older viewers uneasy from the opening scene. For them, the morality of the Liongoren's story may come across as too loose and permissive for comfort. Partners were just hooking up in shallow relationships left and right, with marriage never being in the equation. Children were being born out of wedlock and it was all okay. Hard to accept as these situations may be for the elders, this is indeed the moral state of the modern society we live in nowadays. As far as appreciating the comedy out of these situations, I believe this is a matter of personal taste.

The voice acting of the A-list cast of this project was the most entertaining aspect. The roles given each of the main cast were all very apt. Imagining Angelica Panganiban or Sam Milby delivering their naughty lines was funnier than the actual scene itself. The original score by Len Calvo created the light comical mood for the story to unfold. As local animation is still in its infancy, the hard work of art director and animation supervisor Jether Amar and his team of designers and animators to create their colorful original concept of Manila inhabited with anthropomorphic animal residents, was very commendable. 6/10.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Netflix: Review of RECORD OF YOUTH: Showbiz Shine and Sorrow

 October 28, 2020

So far, I had only completed five K-drama series. The first four had been high-profile and popular titles, all having a heavy underlying topic behind the drama and comedy, be it North Korea, serial murder, inter-dimensional intrigue o mental illness. In contrast, this fifth K-drama I just finished was considerably more restrained and lower key, tackling a much lighter, less sensational topic -- the world of modeling and acting. 

The central character is Sa Hye-jun (Park Bo-gum). He gained moderate success as a model, but was not able to translate this into a an acting career, so he had to take on several other menial jobs to get by. He had two very good friends -- Won Hae-hyo (Byeon Woo-seok), a fellow model-actor who came from a rich family with an aggressively supportive mother Kim Yi-young (Shin Ae-ra); and Kim Jin-u (Kwon Soo-hyun), a struggling photographer's assistant who was secretly dating Hae-hyo's law student sister Hae-na (Jo Yoo-jung)

Hye-jun came from a working class family -- his father Young-nam (Park Soo-young) was a carpenter, while his mother Ae-suk (Ha Hee-ra) was a housekeeper in Hye-hyo's house. His elder brother Gyeong-jun (Lee Jae-won) was the favored son, a university graduate and a banker. Hye-jun shared a bedroom with their grandfather Min-gi (Han Jin-hee), a man blessed with good looks but no fortune to speak of. On Hye-jun's encouragement, Min-gi would later enroll in a modeling school for senior citizens.

Ahn Jeong-ha (Park So-dam) was working as a make-up artist when she first met Hye-jun (for whom she was a big fan) and Hae-hyo (who was her first celebrity assignment). After several encounters, she eventually became Hye-jun's girlfriend, but still maintained a close friendship with Hae-hyo at the same time. She had a stormy relationship with her mother, and felt closer to her father, a talented artist who could not support his family when she was young. She was an independent thinker when it came to decisions about her career path. 

Hye-jun was the first and only client of Lee Min-jae (Shin Dong-mi), the neophyte CEO of Jjampong Management Agency. The ruthless Lee Tae-su (Lee Chang-hoon) was Hye-jun's bitter former manager, and was now the manager of the ill-mannered star Park Do-ha (Kim Gun-woo), who was insecure of Hye-jun. Kim Su-man (Bae Yoon-kyung) was a cutthroat gossip columnist who brought up Hye-jun's skeletons, like his past relationship with gay fashion designer Charlie Jung (Lee Seung-joon). Jung Ji-a (Seol In-ah) was Hye-jun's ex-girlfriend who later became his lawyer.  

I first saw Park Bo-gum as genius Go champion Choi-taek in "Reply 1988" (2015), and had certainly polished up a lot since then. Park So-dam caught international attention by being in the cast of Oscar Best Picture "Parasite" as the crafty daughter Ki-jung (alias Jessica).  Their acting style, as well as everyone else's in this series, was very understated. There was no shouting or hysterics at all. Dramatic highlights consisted only of quiet, subdued crying scenes at most, and nothing more. But that was why this series felt so real and relatable.

The series brought us behind the sheen of Korean showbiz, away from all the glamour and glitz, beauty salons and Pilates sessions, fan adulation and awards nights. It tackled topics like professional rivalries, loss of privacy, negative effects on family and personal relationships, timing of mandatory military service, buying followers on Instagram, etc. It dealt about how tabloid reporters come up with scandal stories, how social media can become toxic for celebrities, and how managers work for damage control. 

This series also devoted significant time to tackle family issues about sacrifice and gratitude, grudges and forgiveness between generations. There was a special focus on father-son relationships which was not always an easy topic to present in dramas. The love story was in there of course, but it never felt like the main focus. The main point was more about the process of individual growth and attainment of personal happiness for all the characters. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Review of THE WITCHES (2020 vs. 1990): Children Challenging the Coven

 October 27, 2020

In 1968, Hero Boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) had lost his parents in a car accident and went to live with his Grandma (Octavia Spencer). To keep him entertained, Grandma told him stories about witches and how they hated children. She warned him that witches may look like typical women, but they had ugly feet and hands that they hid in shoes and gloves, a bald head that they hid with itchy wigs and had mouths that opened wide at the corners.

One day, Grandma and Boy went for a vacation a seaside hotel at the same time with a big group of witches led by their Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) came in to have their annual meeting. Boy and his new friend Bruno Jenkins (Codie-Lei Eastick) were their first victims of the witches' plot to turn all children into mice using chocolate bars treated with a magical purple potion. With Grandma and Boy's pet mouse Daisy (voice of Kristin Chenoweth), they have to try to thwart the witches' evil plans.  

The screenplay of this film was adapted from a 1983 book by Roald Dahl. We know Mr. Dahl wanted to scare kids against gluttony, as he did in his other book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." There had already been another film version done in 1990 starring Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch. That version used Jim Henson's animatronic technology to animate the mice, which may be charming to older viewers, would look dated for today's children. 

The tone of that film was much darker and scarier, with Huston even able to remove her mask to reveal a grotesque witch face. In contrast, this new film by Robert Zemeckis was done in a lighter, more childish and comical vein. The cute special effects of the mice and their humorous antics were of course all computer-generated, giving it a flashier and more colorful image quality which is more in consonance with the frenetic tastes of young viewers of today. 

Anne Hathaway played her Grand High Witch in a considerably more hyperactive and over-the-top style than Huston did, which catered to kiddie viewers (but which older viewers may find annoying, especially her accent). Octavia Spencer's Grandma was significantly warmer and more loving, in contrast with Maia Zetterling's rather disinterested portrayal of Grandma Helga in 1990. Stanley Tucci played the hotel manager Mr. Stringer, a character who was more noticeable with the ever scene-stealing Rowan Atkinson in 1990. 

The transposition of the setting to Alabama in the 1960s, with the main protagonists as African-Americans was quite a major change from the 1990 version. I was most nervous about that scene of a black Grandma showing a rich white couple that their had turned into a mouse, which could have serious racial repercussions for that time in US history. However, this casting was apparently just for inclusivity's sake and nothing more. 

The fate of the Boy was a complete departure from that of the 1990 version. In 1990, there was a good witch who was able to turn Luke back from mouse to boy, but this remake ended things a different way. The voice narrating the story was that of the Boy as an adult (Chris Rock) who was telling his story to school kids to warn them about witches. This scenario opened up the possibility for future sequels as Boy, Grandma and friends go cross-country, or maybe even abroad, to fight more witches. 6/10.

Netflix: Review of THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT: A Captivating Chess Champ's Chronology

 October 27, 2020

After her mother Alice (Chloe Pirrie) died in a car crash, 9 year-old Elizabeth Harmon (Isla Johnston) was brought to a school for orphans called the Methuen Home for Girls, run by head mistress Ms. Deardoff (Christiane Siedel). One day, while cleaning erasers in the basement, she chanced upon the janitor Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp) playing chess with himself. She got curious and asked him to teach her how to play. This awakened an intense interest in her such that she could envision games being played on the ceiling as she lay in bed.

By her menarche, Beth (now played by Anya Taylor-Joy) joined her first open chess tournament and won over the defending champion Harry Beltik (Harry Melling). Later, her adoptive mother Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller) supported her to join various out-of-state chess competitions, later even out of the country (to Mexico and Paris) as the US representative. She was eventually invited to play in Moscow with top Russian grandmasters.

Her stay in Methuen introduced her to a magic green capsule which she felt enhanced her mind for chess, a habit perpetuated by Alma's own dependence on it to keep calm. Later, Beth also developed an addiction to alcohol. However, she had supportive friends like fellow orphan Jolene (Moses Ingram), her longtime crush Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) and chess frenemy Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sanger).

The mesmerizing stare of Anya Taylor-Joy's beautiful eyes were a major factor for this series' success. She did not need a major histrionic breakdown scene to convey the massive stress she is living under. Everything was so elegantly underplayed by Taylor-Joy, who could even create excitement even as she was just sitting down at a table pushing her pawns. For all the chess players, it was only up their facial expressions to make the games thrilling for the audience watching. Taylor-Joy brought us through the whole gamut of these faces.

You would not think that a static game like chess could be developed into a compelling seven-episode minis-series, and here comes this one to prove that notion wrong. The way director Scott Frank told Beth's story (based on the 1983 fiction novel by Walter Tevis) was very dynamic and engaging despite the fact that that the excitement was mainly developed by the incisive film editing, dramatic musical score, clicking of timer clocks and play-by-play narrations by broadcasters. The detailed production design and Beth's chic dresses and make-up completed our vicarious 60s immersion. 9/10

3 Mini-Reviews: TENET, BILL & TED 3, ON THE ROCKS

 October 26, 2020


A CIA agent, who later called himself the Protagonist (John David Washington), was part of a team on a mission to recover an important gadget. He was told that he was working in an underground organization called Tenet, which aimed to avert World War III by studying futuristic technology. Together with another agent Neil (Robert Pattinson), he encountered arms dealer Priya (Dimple Kapadia) and art dealer Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), whose husband was the ruthless Russian Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who can somehow operate his destructive plans from the future.

A Christopher Nolan film is always a challenge to get through the first time around. Like it was for "Memento" (2000), "The Prestige" (2006), "Inception" (2010) and "Interstellar" (2014), you know you are watching a film of complexity and substance, even if you do not get it right away. Once you think you are following the plot, there comes another layer to throw you off completely. It was considerably more difficult for this one because for several key scenes, the characters voices are muffled by their gas masks or drowned by background music or sound effects.

This was very technically-polished film in terms of its cinematography and film editing. There was a visually-astounding scenes of an airplane crashing through an airport, but this big scene was actually just a major diversion for a more intimate operation elsewhere in the vicinity. Then there were those mind-boggling overlapping scenes of characters and objects going forwards and backwards in time within the same time frame, be it hand-to-hand fight scene in a cramped corridor, or a car chase on a busy highway. I really need to watch this film one more time, but the next time has to be with subtitles. 6/10.


Bill Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) had to write an awesome song to unite the world by a certain specified time as it had been foretold. Since they were not coming up with anything, they use their time-travelling phone booth to go into the future in order to steal this song from themselves, but they discover that they had become even bigger losers by then, even losing their wives to divorce. 

Meanwhile, Bill's daughter Thea (Samara Weaving) and Ted's daughter Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) in an effort to help their fathers, also took  their own time machine back into the past to recruit the greatest musicians in history from Mozart to Jimi Hendrix to help Bill and Ted to compose the song that would save the world. However, the Great Leader sent a robot Dennis (Anthony Carrigan) to kill the two guys, in an effort to restore world balance.

We first met Bill and Ted in their "Excellent Adventure" (1989), which was quickly followed by their "Bogus Journey" (1991). 29 years passed before we get this third episode of their series, Winter and especially Reeves had matured significantly. It was not easy to see Reeves playing the slacker Ted after all the iconic film roles he had played since then, from Neo to John Wick. This new film was as shallow and silly as the other two films, reviving the collection of historical figures from the first film. There was good-natured fun and likable characters to root for all around. 7/10.


Laura (Rashida Jones) and Dean (Marlon Wayans) live in New York with their two young daughters Maya (Liyanna Muscat) and Theo (Alexandra and Anna Reime). As Dean spent more and more time at work with his attractive co-worker Fiona (Jessica Henwick), Laura got more and more insecure about their marriage. When she told her father Felix (Bill Murray) about her worries, he flew in to help her get to the bottom of her suspicions.

Like in most of his previous movies, Bill Murray was just being his wry self as Felix. When Felix was being flirtatious with those young women, you would think Murray was just being his charming self. Rashida Jones' character came across as very dull, as maybe how the Laura character was really supposed to be. It was not easy to sympathize with Laura since she was not doing herself any favors by being so boring. 

There was not much really going on in this film, even the comedy is barely there at best. The conversations felt like they were all ad-libbed and so trivial. The words all sounded so carefree or careless, there were no memorable quotes. For me, the only thing that was felt interesting was that part when father and daughter impetuously decided to fly all the way to a Mexican resort to tail Dean who was there on a business trip. That was as exciting as this reunion of Bill Murray with writer-director Sofia Coppola got. 5/10

Friday, October 23, 2020

Netflix: Review of OVER THE MOON: Legend of the Lunar Lady

 October 23, 2020

"Over the Moon" is a computer-animated film produced by Netflix Animation (American) and Pearl Studios (Chinese). The Chinese legend about Chang'e had been developed into this screenplay by Audrey Wells, who had unfortunately succumbed to cancer in 2018. Director Glen Keane had been an animator involved in Disney films from "The Little Mermaid" to "Tangled." "Over the Moon" is Keane's first full-length directorial work. Keane recently won an Oscar for the animated short film "Dear Basketball" (2017) with the late Kobe Bryant.

Spirited teenager Fei Fei had been in mourning for four years already following a family tragedy. However, while her family was ready to move on, she still could not accept the inevitable changes about to come into her life. She was also disappointed that legends about the Moon Goddess Chang'e she held dear in her childhood had all been forgotten at her home. Because of this, Fei Fei was determined to build a rocket to bring her to the moon to prove that Chang'e really existed. 

The voice cast for this production was predominantly Asian-American. Most notably, the main character of Chang'e was voiced by Chinese-American Broadway sensation Phillipa Soo, who broke through into mainstream stardom as Eliza Schuyler in mega-hit show "Hamilton." Korean-American actors John Cho and Ruthie Ann Miles voiced Fei Fei's parents, Baba and Mama. Other actors of Korean descent in the cast were Margaret Cho (as the romantic Auntie Ling), Sandra Oh (as Mrs. Zhong, the mother of mischievous little boy Chin) and Ken Jeong (as a green gelatinous glowworm named Gobi). 

The remarkable discovery here is 25-year old Cathy Ang who voiced the protagonist Fei Fei. Ang was born in the US to Filipino-Chinese parents who were both doctors from UST in the Philippines. Her speaking voice was very perky and expressive, while her singing voice was so delightfully Disney-esque. This was an auspicious feature film debut for this impressive young talent. Another Filipino-American talent in the cast is Glenn Ricamora, who voiced the smaller role of Houyi, the archer husband whom Chang'e longed to reunite with.

Original pencil sketch of Chang'e and Fei Fei 
Rendered by director-animator Glen Keane

Even if this film was set in contemporary times, the central story and animation are very rich in Chinese culture and aesthetics. Aside from the legend of Chang'e and how she became the Moon Goddess, there were little details about the Mid-Autumn Festival, the moon cakes and the family gathering together for a special dinner while admiring the bright round full moon. The artwork for animals were very cute, like Bungee the bunny, or elegant, like the white egret on the waterway. The beautiful traditional gowns of Chang'e were very gracefully rendered.

Midway through, there would be a radical shift of setting, pace and artistic theme to more whimsical modern sci-fi designs, all bursting with bright neon colors. Young kids will definitely enjoy the gleefully imaginative rainbow-colored imagery in this frenetic part of the film, like Chang'e grand entrance, chickens on motorbikes, flying lions, a celestial ping-pong match, or that mad scramble to possess a precious item. The dramatic scenes were also very effectively executed like the reunion scene as well the scene in the Chamber of Exquisite Sadness. 

The songs had catchy poppy tunes which would be fun to listen to again and again. The story of moving on after a family tragedy may be very familiar dramatic terrain, but it was tackled here with bold eye-catching artwork and genuinely moving sentiments. 8/10. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Netflix: Review of REBECCA (2020): A Hitchcock Hack

October 22, 2020

Famed film director Alfred Hitchcock only had one film that won the Oscar for Best Picture. This was his first American film -- "Rebecca" (1940), based on Daphne du Maurier's best-selling gothic novel of the same title published in 1938. This was the first of 5 Oscar nominations for Best Director Hitchcock earned but did not win, the others being for "Lifeboat" (1944), "Spellbound" (1945), "Rear Window" (1954) and "Psycho" (1960). 

This original "Rebecca" earned 11 Oscar nominations. Aside from Best Picture and Director, it was also nominated for Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Actress (Joan Fontaine), Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Art Direction, Original Score, Special Effects and Black and White Cinematography (which it won). "Rebecca" was the only Best Picture winner since 1936 that did not win any Oscar for acting, directing or writing.

A mousy middle-class young woman (Lily James), while serving as personal assistant to a rich matron on her vacation in Monte Carlo, met and had a whirlwind affair with the handsome aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), culminating in an impulsive wedding. After their honeymoon, Maxim brought his new Mrs. de Winter back to his estate called Manderley. Only then would the new mistress realize how much the essence of the late Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, pervaded and persisted in the mansion, its staff and in her husband. 

This new version of "Rebecca" felt like an unsophisticated potboiler romance turned sleazy crime drama, mainly because the leads felt miscast. For some inexplicable reason, Lily James, who was ravishing in her previous films like "Cinderella" and "Mamma Mia 2," just could not get her bearings on right here as an overcooked Mrs. de Winter. While there should be several British actors who could play the reticent and mysterious Maxim, they had to choose Armie Hammer who was not convincing at all as an English aristocrat, who surely would not be caught wearing a bright yellow suit more than once in public. 

It was good to see acclaimed actress Kristin Scott-Thomas back in a major role as Mrs. Danvers. In the 1990s and 2000s, she had a run of high-profile films as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1994) and "The English Patient" (1996), "Gosford Park" (2001) and "Il y a longtemps que je t'aime" (2008). Scott-Thomas' eyes did a lot of work here to convey the obsession of this lady-in-waiting towards her perfect mistress. For a while there, I thought that there might be an LGBT angle fitted in to her character as is popular in movies and series nowadays.

I had seen the original "Rebecca" on home video before, and remember it best for its atmospheric black and white cinematography and Judith Anderson's iconic portrayal of the spooky housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. I surmise that this was Alfred Hitchcock's signature mood in his films. This new film did not have this creepy atmosphere at all, and maybe it was not director Ben Wheatly's intention at all to recreate the Hitchcock feel. So again, why remake a definitive film classic if you cannot give it any substantial improvement? 5/10.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Netflix: Review of THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR: Stretching the Screw

October 19, 2020

American Dani Clayton (Victoria Perdetti) applied a job as an au pair in England and was accepted by employer Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas). She was to take care of his troubled nephew Miles and niece Flora, who had lost their parents Dominic (Matthew Holness) and Charlotte (Alex Essoe) during a trip to India. When she arrived at the stately Bly Manor, she would be oriented by the staff -- the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T'nia Miller), the chef Owen (Rahul Kohli) and the gardener Jessie (Amelia Eve). 

Bly Manor was haunted by the spirits of two previous residents -- the children's former au pair Ms. Rebecca Jessel (Tahira Sharif), a smart ambitious woman who took her own life for unknown reasons; and Henry's former valet Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a man of dubious character who also disappeared under similarly mysterious circumstances. Aside from them, there was the ghost of a faceless woman with long black hair wearing a white nightgown who rose from the depths of the lake to also walk the halls of Bly Manor.

The poster announced that this series was made by the creator of the critically-acclaimed 2018 series "The Haunting of Hill House." At that time, I had not yet been watching mini-series on Netflix yet, so I only checked out the first episode of Hill after finishing Bly. In the opening credits alone, I already saw that writer-director Mike Flanagan had recast several of the actors from Hill in Bly, like Thomas, Siegel, Perdetti, Jackson-Cohen and Gugino. 

The main story of "Bly Manor" was that of Henry James' 1898 classic novella, "The Turn of the Screw." However, Flanagan added several (required?) modern touches, like the all-inclusive casting of the roles, as well as an LGBT angle. By the 8th episode, we are brought further back in the history of Bly Manor, shifting to black and white to tell the story of the two sisters who once owned the estate -- Viola and Perdita Willoughby (Kate Siegel and Katie Parker). The final episode further added the story what happened to Dani beyond Bly.

The pace of the storytelling was quite slow, especially the first three episodes, and there wasn't much horror scenes as may be expected, which may disappoint many viewers. It was all atmosphere-building and character-building until about Episode 7, when true evil and horror finally came to fore. There were scenes of existential discussions which criss-crossed from past to present for all of the characters, going around in circles with recurring dialogue with added dimensions every time. Well-acted and seamlessly executed as these scenes may be, their point seemed superfluous in the overall flow of the story.

This mini-series was bookended by a prologue and epilogue sequence about a wedding in the present day. The whole story was being narrated by a female guest (Carla Gugino) to the couple and some other people at the party. I felt this was a rather awkward device to introduce and tell this type of story because of the seeming inappropriateness of the occasion. There was an attempt to make a metaphorical connection at the end that may seem clever at first, but for me, this final gimmick felt a tad overreaching. 6/10. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Netflix: Review of THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7: Progressive Political Principles

 October 17, 2020

In 1968, there were three groups who gathered in Chicago to demonstrate against the Vietnam War. These were the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) under Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), the Youth International Party (Yippies) under Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam (Mobe) led by David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) and the Black Panther Party under their national chairman Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen). 

When bloody riots broke out between the protesters and the Mayor Richard Daley's police force in Chicago's Grant Park during the 35th Democratic National Convention held from August 26-29, 1968, these six leaders were arrested and charged as revolutionaries bent on the destruction of the American government -- the new radical Left. 

On September 26, 1969, the trial was underway to indict them for conspiracy to cross state lines to incite violence. Their defense lawyers were William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman). The federal government was represented by lead prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Attorney General Thomas Foran (J.C. MacKenzie). The presiding judge was Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella). 

Aaron Sorkin had been a noted screenwriter since his debut in 1992 with the film "A Few Good Men." He would be credited with writing some of the most compelling biopics like "Moneyball" (2011), "Steve Jobs" (2015), his directorial debut "Molly's Game" (2017) and most notably, "The Social Network" (2010), for which he swept all the major awards for Best Adapted Screenplay. On television, he is most remembered for his work on the long-running political drama "The West Wing" which had won a slew of Emmy Awards from 2000 to 2003. "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is only his second directorial job but he was clearly in his element.

The first two minutes alone were already a concise but effective introduction to all seven of the main defendants. We get to know their personalities quirks and their political philosophies which would all come to play as the trial went on. After the title card, we were introduced to the straight-laced lead prosecutor Schultz who took on the case on the sheer pressure of his superiors. We could see the Judge's questionable character from the get-go. All the actors were very committed to their characters and their ensemble work, most notably Cohen as the witty smart-ass Abbie Hoffman and Langella as the off-kilter Judge Hoffman (not related). 

Sorkin's storytelling style would bring us back and forth in time to tell the story in seamlessly edited scenes from testimonies from witness stand to scenes in Grant Park the year before, with real news footage integrated as well. His visual style was very energetic as fireworks blew up on the streets and in the courtroom. His original screenplay was a complex work of writing that dealt with multiple characters based on real life people with distinctive personalities and political motivations. Issues about freedom of speech and assembly is as relevant today as it was back then.  This is the first serious Oscar contender for Best Picture I can foresee for this coming awards season. 9/10. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Netflix: Review of BLACKPINK: LIGHT UP THE SKY: Popstar Phenomena

 October 16, 2020

The topic of this documentary by director Caroline Suh is South Korean girl group Blackpink. If we are going to base a musical act's popularity on Billboard magazine, Blackpink would be the most popular girlband in the world right now.  Just last month, their single "Ice Cream" (2020) peaked at #13 on the Hot 100, as their latest album (only their first full-length studio album) simply called "The Album" (2020) peaked at #2.

Career-wise, these four girls are definitely on fire, and on the brink of worldwide domination, if they haven't yet. This documentary brings us back to how they became the wildly successful group that they are these days. It is not only for the benefit of their rabid fans, but also for everyone else whose curiosity has been sparked by their catchy pop hit songs. Now that this revelatory film is streaming on Netflix, now everyone can get to know them better.

Blackpink was launched in 2016 with big hit singles like "Boombayah" and "Whistle." However, for me, I only knew Blackpink for their 2018 singles from "Ddu-Du Ddu-Du" and their collaboration with British singer Dua Lipa, "Kiss and Make Up." "Kill This Love" was a major hit for them in 2019. This year, 2020 was a big year for them as they finally broke into the Top 40 of the Hot 100 with three consecutive singles "Sour Candy" with Lady Gaga (#33), "How You Like That" (#33) and their highest peaking hit "Ice Cream" with Selena Gomez (#13).

The first major revelation for me in this film was that out of the four girls, three of them did not grow up in Korea, and that one of them was not even Korean! Jisoo was the only homegrown Korean. Korean by blood, Jennie grew up in New Zealand, while Rose grew up in Australia, hence they both spoke impeccable English. Lisa was the biggest surprise for me because she was actually Thai, born and raised. I confess that I never really knew these girls by name before, but this film made sure won't forget their names after watching.

It was very interesting to see how YG Entertainment conducted worldwide auditions as early as 2010 to look for talented girls to form a new group. This was a real life American Idol situation wherein the top girls were all interned in a talent boarding school where they were trained to perform in varying combinations. There would be regular elimination rounds where under-performing girls were sent home. The final four members were all 18 or younger, so they practically did not have a normal teen life by the time Blackpink was launched in 2016..

I liked the parts when the girls were talking about themselves and their experiences during their audition and training days.Their record producer, Teddy Park, was very well-spoken and it was clear that there was a mutual respect between him and the girls. Seeing the girls backstage before their triumphant US breakthrough live concert performance in Coachella was very gratifying. Overall, the four winsome ladies make their introductory documentary a most entertaining 79-minute ride. 7/10. 

ETC: Review of ENDLESS LOVE: Ardent Amorous Aspirations

 October 15, 2020

ETC launched its first dizi (Turkish telenovela) last month with the rom-com "Everywhere I Go." They are premiering their second offering this month, this time with the romantic drama "Endless Love" (Turkish title "Kara Sevda") which ran for two seasons from 2015 to 2017. This long-running series won as Best Series in the International Emmy Awards (Best Series 2017), as well in various Turkish TV awards, particularly for the performances of its two attractive and charismatic lead actors, Burak Özçivit and Neslihan Atagül. 

One day, pampered rich girl Nihan (Neslihan Atagül) rode a public bus for the first time and encountered difficulty with how to pay the fare. Regular middle-class boy Kemal (Burak Özçivit) helped Nihan out of her awkward situation. From that single chance encounter, these two young people were struck by love at first sight for each other, but still they were yet to be introduced. However, fate had other plans for them.

Kemal saw a poster of an art exhibition with his face featured on the banner. He rushed to the exhibit hall saw his portrait mounted on the wall and noted Nihan's name as the artist. One night, because her arrogant persistent suitor Emir (Kaan Urgancıoğlu) made an ugly scene at her birthday celebration, Nihan left her party to cool off next door at the docks, which by chance was where Kemal was working as a caretaker of boats. 

The setting may be in Turkey, but the running theme in this series is certainly universal -- star-crossed lovers who dared to challenge the wide gap between the rich and poor. Even the character of the main antagonist is very familiar -- a spoiled, unscrupulous and ill-mannered rich brat who was used to getting anything and anyone he wanted. There had been so many Filipino movies and telenovelas which addressed this theme since the beginning of the film industry itself, so getting settled in won't be difficult. 

There were the usual problematic stock supporting characters, like Nihan's imperious mother Vildan (Neşe Baykent) or Kemal's jealous older brother Tarik (Rüzgar Aksoy). But there were also some wild card supporting characters whose contribution to the story had yet to be revealed, like Nihan's twin brother Ozan (Barış Alpaykut) or Kemal's younger sister Zeynap (Hazal Filiz Küçükköse). There was also Kemal's kind senior neighbor Leyla (Zerrin Tekindor) who had a major secret up her sleeve to be revealed in a future episode. 

However, by the third episode, there would be significant events that transpire which would even things up between Kemal and Emir and make their conflict over Nihan a fairer fight. So there will certainly be more than the very basic melodrama formula we watched unfold in the first two episodes. These initial episodes merely established the romantic chemistry between Kemal and Nihan, and set up the dramatic foundation upon which more and more complicating situations will be built in the next coming episodes. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Netflix: Review of I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS: Cryptic yet Compelling Conundrum

 October 13, 2020

This was one of those Netflix films which debuted early last month that did not really attract me to watch because of the depressing title and the unfamiliarity of the lead actors. Furthermore, the running time of a two-hours is intimidating for what seemed to be a very heavy drama. However, when there was rising buzz for potential Oscars in its future, particularly for its adapted screenplay, made me decide to check it out for myself. 

The story centered on a young woman (Jessie Buckley) who wanted to end her six-week relationship with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). However, she still agreed to go with Jake for a long drive out of the city on that cold snowy day to visit his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) in their farmhouse. On the drive going there, they recite morbid poetry to each other. When they reached the farm, Jake brought her to the barn first, and told her about their pig which just died after being infested with maggots. 

In the house, she had awkward conversations with Jake's strange parents, whom we see transition back and forth from normalcy to dementia. On their drive home in a strong blizzard, she and Jake got into even stranger situations as they bought ice cream to eat in the car, turned off the main road to look for a garbage bin, argued about the holiday tune "Baby It's Cold Outside" in a parking lot and went after a janitor working inside Jake's old high school.

From the very start, we know this was not going to be an ordinary movie. You immediately feel that this was going to be a movie with a lot of talking. There would be long conversations within the confines of a car. There would be a long exchange of poetic lines between Jake and her about very depressing topics in the car. At this point, things still made sense and I could still follow all the words they were saying, I thought.

However, the tone of the film changed when she met Jake's parents. The whole episode in the house were a jumbled-up collection of conflicting scenes and conversations despite the fact that these were all happening within the different rooms of the same house, supposedly within the same night. Everything they were talking about was all twisted and disturbing, I frankly could not figure out why these incoherent scenes were edited together this way.

The drive back to the city got more and more bizarre as the scenes and the conversations went along in the car, at the window of the ice cream shop and the high school premises. By then you have already been invested so much in the girl and Jake, but at what was supposed to be the climax, they were replaced by dancers doing interpretative contemporary ballet about them as a couple but this time, with the Janitor as a third party (huh?). 

By the time we reached that awards ceremony at the end, we really do not know what was actually happening anymore. We are left on our own to surmise what all of that meant. Was this whole thing someone's vivid dream, or maybe a someone's dying hallucination?  If you had been patient enough to go through the entire closing credits, there was a scene showing a car buried under a blanket of snow. By then, your brain will piece the whole thing together.

The whole film was one big cryptic puzzle. We never really knew how they met or how their relationship went or ended. We do not even know the girl's name, as we hear her being called Lucy, Louise, Lucia and even Ames. The ending was just as wide open to interpretation as it can be. There is that irresistible compulsion to connect all these disparate parts into your own cohesive whole to make sense of everything you've seen. You may even want to seek out Iain Reid's novel of the same title upon which this screenplay was adapted.

This type of film is definitely not for everyone. But they way the actors were so committed in their portrayals of their weird characters and how writer-director Charlie Kaufman assembled its oddly convoluted parts, this film still had a compelling charm about it. Like the previous films he wrote like "Being John Malkovich" (1999), "Adaptation" (2002) and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2002), Kaufman again presented the viewer with a challenging conundrum to figure out for themselves. 7/10. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

HBO: Review of BEN 10 VERSUS THE UNIVERSE: THE MOVIE: Thorough Throwback

October 10, 2020

The animated TV series "Ben 10" is the longest-running franchise on the Cartoon Network to date. From that classic series (December 2005- April 2008) spun off three succeeding series, "Alien Force" (April 2008- March 2010), "Ultimate Alien" (April 2010- March 2012) and "Omniverse" (August 2012-November 2014) all about Ben as a teenager. From 2016 to the present, there was a reboot series which brought Ben back to being a ten year-old 

The main story of the classic series involved ten-year-old Ben Tennyson discovered a mysterious watch-like device named the Omnitrix when he was on a family road trip with his Grandpa Ben and cousin Gwen. When Ben wore it, he was able to transform himself into 10 different alien beings with all sorts of superpowers which he used to fight alien villains, human criminals and even supernatural beings. 

There had already been four other Ben 10 films before this new one, all made for TV. The first one was "Ben 10: Secret of the Omnitrix" (2007) which combined the final three episodes of the fourth season of the series to make a full-length film. The second film was "Ben 10: Race Against Time" which was a live action version (2007), starring Graham Phillips as Ben 10. The third film was another live action film "Ben 10: Alien Swarm" (2009) based the "Alien Force" story, starring Ryan Kelley as teenage Ben. The fourth film was "Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens" which was a CG rendition of the original series featuring the original voice cast.

This latest film "Ben 10 vs. the Universe" is based on the 2016 reboot series. Team Tennyson had spotted a meteor about to collide with planet Earth. Ben was able to find a key which could unlock major abilities from his Omnitrix to make him able to fly into outer space to engage the meteor. However things did not go as planned as Ben was drawn into another dimension called the Null Void where Omnitrix creator Azmuth was, while the "meteor" landed on earth to release Vilgax who was on his quest for universal domination. 

The movie was full of appearances of various characters, both human and alien, which would really be a lot of fun for all loyal fans. Aside from Grandpa Max and Gwen, the other human characters include Phil Billings, Max's old friend who was a tech whiz, and Kevin Levin, originally an anti-hero bully who made his own "Anti-trix" who would later learn to team up with Team Tennyson to get closer to Gwen. Most of Ben's alien forms make an appearance, as well as several various aliens he had encountered in previous seasons. 

I was more familiar with look and tenor of the original series of Ben 10, and not familiar anymore with how it was in the 2016 reboot series. That is why I was totally surprised with how juvenile the artwork, how shrill the voice work and how seemingly "dumbed-down" the storytelling was for this new movie compared to the old Ben 10 I knew. Ostensibly, this reboot series was aimed for younger children, and despite the unfavorable reaction from old fans, it was still able to attract the loyalty of a whole new set of kids to make it last five years and merit this full-length film to boot. Colorful, fun and cheery, I am sure these newer kiddie fans would rate it higher than I did. 6/10. 

Netflix: Review of HUBIE HALLOWEEN: Sandler's Simpleton Shenanigans

 October 10, 2020

Just a year after he earned unanimous critical acclaim with his against-type performance in the harrowing drama "Uncut Gems" (Josh and Benny Safdie, 2019), Adam Sandler is again back with his usual gang of comic actors in his usual comfort zone genre -- the slapstick comedy. 

Hubie Dubois (Adam Sandler) was a dim-witted middle-aged man who lived with his sweet mother (June Squibb). He was frequently the butt of some cruel jokes and pranks by most of his neighbors, like Mr. Landolfa (Ray Liotta), Mr. and Mrs. Hennessy (Tim Meadows and Maya Rudolph) and his co-worker at the deli, Mark Mundi (Karan Brar).  However, his non-confrontational nature made him just take it all in stride. 

His one true love was his high school batch '84 classmate, Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen). She had once married another classmate, now local police officer Sgt. Steve Downey (Kevin James). They had one son Tommy (Noah Scnapp), who is now a freshman in high school and had a crush on a senior Megan (Paris Berelc). After their divorce, she adopted two more daughters Cookie and Danielle (Adam's real-life daughters, Sunny and Sadie Sandler). 

Despite being a major scaredy-cat, Hubie loved Halloween. He proclaimed himself Salem's Halloween monitor and would patrol his neighborhood to ensure that everyone is safe. This year, Hubie was especially wary because of the news of an escaped convicted murderer Richie Hartman (Rob Schneider). There was also a suspicious new neighbor Walter Lambert (Steve Buscemi) who might be a werewolf.

This is another one of those Adam Sandler films where he was playing a person demeaned by others because of his looks and odd behavior. However, he invariably had a heart of gold, and would eventually save the day and get the girl at the end. The formula is very familiar but it had worked for Sandler so many times before, since his early "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore" days, so he decided to revisit this theme one more time. 

The comedy can feel old and forced in several scenes. Sandler clenched his mouth to make a constipated face and conjured an unnatural vocal inflection which can get annoying.There was a running gag of people hurling various objects at him as he rode along the streets on his bicycle, which got old fast. He also had silly "shock" reactions to the various pranks people bully him with, which felt over-the-top fake. He also had a trusty "Swiss army knife" thermos, which was his equivalent of Batman's utility belt, which was corny. 

For me, the funniest moment was when they revealed who the person behind the velvety voice of radio DJ Aurora was. It was good to see Julie Bowen again, who also played Sandler's love interest (with similar initials VV) in "Happy Gilmore" (1996). The most touching scenes were those mother-and-son scenes between Sandler and 90-year old actress June Squibb, who gamely wore cringy gag t-shirts. For all his foolishness, Sandler also knew how to tug on your heartstrings. 5/10.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Netflix: Review of UPGRADE: Rejuvenating Revenge

October 8, 2020

The self-driving car carrying mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) crashed because of an electronics malfunction. Four men came to the accident scene, but instead of calling for help, their leader Fisk (Benedict Hardie) shot Asha in the chest, killing her instantly. Grey was shot to the back of his neck, but he survived. However, this injury left him to be a quadriplegic. 

Young technological inventor Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) helped Grey overcome his severe physical disability by incorporating a powerful multi-purpose chip called STEM into him. With time, Grey realized that STEM did not only enable him to regain his mobility of his arms and legs, but it even gave him extraordinary abilities he never had before. With his new-found abilities, Grey resolved to avenge the brutal murder of his wife.

At first glance, this would seem to be just another film about a vengeful husband hunting down the killers of his beloved wife. So many films have done this story, from "Death Wish" to "John Wick." However, in this film, the very common premise was made more interesting by the introduction of futuristic AI technology conceived to make the hero more than capable to fight back against the people to did him wrong. 

Originally, Grey had the final say about what he wanted STEM to do. However, as he proceeded with his plan for revenge, major changes needed to be made on STEM's programming to avoid detection. When STEM went rogue, that was when the film became more conceptually interesting because at this point, the AI was released from Gray's mental control. This gave rise to a conflict of man versus machine over the man's body and actions. 

There were some clever ideas to make the villains technologically powerful as well, with shotguns incorporated in their arms or the deadly metallic micro-bugs in their sneeze. However, despite all the high-tech devices, there was an unmistakable B-movie vibe throughout this Blumhouse film, especially with the hammy performances of the largely unknown cast. The ending by writer-director Leigh Whanell was a surprising uplift. 7/10. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Netflix: Review of AMERICAN MURDER: THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR: Chilling and Cruel

 October 5, 2020

On August 13, 2018, Shanann Watts was dropped off at her home in Frederick, Colorado at around 2 am from the airport by a friend. However, the next morning, she was not answering any of her texts and calls. When her friend went to check up on her, it seemed that Shanann and her two toddler daughters Bella and Ce-Ce had disappeared. Her husband Chris was called to come home from his workplace, and he was shocked by the loss of his family. However, it increasingly seemed that something more sinister had transpired.

This true-crime documentary had been put together by Jenny Popplewell from available footage from home surveillance cameras and police body cameras. Shanann herself was very active on social media and loved to document various moments of her life on video, further providing Popplewell with a trove of intimate family scenes and conversations. Shanann was also the type who would send lengthy text messages in which she frankly expressed her innermost frustrations to Chris as well as to her girlfriend Nickole.

Shanann met and married Chris when she was at her lowest, getting over a divorce and being treated for a difficult disease. We see their blissful wedding video and the happy family videos they led as a couple and as parents, which Shanann shared online. She also shared that she was now pregnant with their third child, whom they hope would be a boy. In the course of their five year-marriage, Shanann was the dominant one, while Chris accepted his submissive role -- an arrangement not entirely alien to other marriages.

However, behind Shanann's ideal media facade, things were not that perfect as can be expected. Shanann did not have a smooth relationship with her in-laws, especially her mother-in-law. She clearly emphasized to her husband that he should defend his family, not his parents. She was also not averse to discussing about her marital sex life with her best friend. The director seemed to be setting up all of these issues to build up to a possible explanation to the final scenario that would ensue.

The heinous crime documented on this film was so difficult to accept because it was true-to-life and we actually get to meet everyone involved. The manner in which the crimes were committed was so heartless, especially since everything about it seemed so uncalled for.  There was an attempt of the perpetrator to create an alternate false situation which made it even more chilling and cruel. The most unlikely suspect can still turn out to be the guilty person. Too bad it was not entirely made clear what the immediate rationale for the crime was, it felt like too great a jump of logic that was not anything more behind it. 6/10.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Netflix: Review of THE BOYS IN THE BAND (2020): Humor, Hedonism and Hostility

 October 1, 2020

In 1969, there was an off-Broadway play by Matt Crowley that was considered a theatrical landmark for being the first to dare tell a frank story about the lives of male homosexuals. After its 1-1/2 year run onstage, the play went on to have a film adaptation in 1970, directed by William Friedkin, who would later be nominated for Best Director Oscars for "The French Connection" (1971) and "The Exorcist" (1973). 

For the play's 50th anniversary in 2018, there was a revival on Broadway directed by Joe Mantello that went on to win the Tony that year for Best Revival of a Play. The cast of this revival production was notable because they were all actors who are openly gay. This year, Ryan Murphy (again!) brings back the director and the actors of this revival to make a new film version of this play to be streamed on Netflix, starting September 30.

Michael (Jim Parsons) was hosting a party that night at his apartment. This was to celebrate the birthday of his friend Harold (Zachary Quinto). The guests included Michael's current partner Donald (Matt Bomer), African-American librarian Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), designer Emory (Robin de Jesus), Math teacher Hank (Tuc Watkins) and his boyfriend Larry (Andrew Rannells). A male escort "Cowboy" (Charlie Carver) was there as Emory's gift to Harold.

However, Michael's old college friend Alan (Brian Hutchinson) suddenly showed up at Michael's apartment unannounced. Married and very conservative, Alan was uncomfortable at the conversations he was hearing at the party. He was particularly averse to Emory's florid effeminate behavior such that he lashed out in a fit of violence. This unfortunate incident led to reopening to old secrets and frustrations among the guests, especially when Michael started a game of making a telephone call to admit feelings of love.

Parsons delivered his lines with the same cadence as his famous Sheldon character, Michael also being pushy and domineering. Quinto's Harold was all cynical, jaded and aloof with age. Bomer's pained face reflected Donald's inner conflicts. Washington's Bernard repressed passion under his mild exterior. de Jesus' Emory was scene-stealing because of his campy, unabashed flamboyance. Rannell's Larry was very flirty in contrast with Watkins' strong and stoic portrayal of Hank (Ranells and Watkins are a couple in real life). Carver was enjoying his dumb himbo Cowboy. Hutchinson's Alan was a big question mark all the way through. 

Having been all part of the Broadway production, the actors obviously had command of their respective characters and easy rapport with each other. This made the ensemble work impressive and fluid in interpreting Matt Crowley's snappy lines. LGBTQ people will probably be able to relate more to the challenges in these characters' lives and relationships, even if this was set pre-AIDS crisis, 50 years ago. 

Since all the scenes were only confined in one setting, the emotional tensions in that apartment do percolate to uncomfortable degrees, even vicious during that toxic phone game. The material may be not be easy to process for those still uninitiated with the libidinous lingo and dramatic dynamics among gay men. 7/10


If you want to watch the original 1970 film: click on this LINK. Both films followed Crowley's script very faithful, and so both were very similar to each other. It was up to the performances of the actors to give their respective characters their distinct individual personalities. The 2020 version depicted the flashbacks as the guys reminisced about their past. We also see what the fellows did after the party broke up with a montage accompanied by a sax solo. 

Netflix: Review of EMILY IN PARIS: Fitting In with the French

 October 1, 2020

By sheer luck, Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) was offered to go to Paris by her Chicago company to work with Savoir, a premiere French marketing firm of luxury brands. Emily accepted the post even if she did not speak any French, nor had any experience in fashion and cosmetics. Upon reaching her office, she immediate met the resistance of her immediate boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) who considered Emily's American style to be mediocre to hers.

Fortunately, Emily had better fortune in the friends she meets outside work. There were Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), the handsome young chef who lived one floor below her flat, and Camille (Camille Razat), the friendly art gallery hostess and champagne heiress. In the park, she met Mindy (Ashley Park), a Chinese nanny and singer who was hiding from her father who wanted her to take over their business in Shanghai. 

In the course of her work at Savoir, Emily would be involved in major business deals with perfume scent designer Antoine Lambert (William Abadie) and French fashion icon Pierre Cadault (Jean-Christophe Bouvet). Emily would also have some romantic dalliances with various French men, like philosophy professor Thomas (Julien Floreancig), champagne tour guide Timothee (Victor Meutelet), and businessman Mathieu (Charles Martins). 

This show had a vibe of "Sex and the City," but transported from New York to Paris. The cutesy ensembles of Emily is reminiscent of those quirky dresses worn by Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) in the 90s series. Like Carrie, Emily is also surrounded by chic fashion and debonair men, and yes, sexual escapades. The novel element this time is the social media aspect, so we get to see Emily's witty Instagram posts of her Paris experiences, which would lead her to more adventures and sometimes, misadventures.

Lily Collins gave Emily a wide-eyed, easily-relatable fish-out-of-water persona, which we all want to root for.  There was a lot of statements made about the French people -- work and business ethic, their attitudes towards women, their pride for their language, fashion, food and wines. The beautiful settings were colorful cityscapes, trendy cafes, fashion events -- everything we want to see in Paris. There are 10 episodes in this series, but each episode is less than 30 minutes each, which makes for easy popcorn binging for any rom-com fan. 7/10.