Saturday, January 30, 2021

Netflix: Review of THE DIG: Achievement in Archeology

January 30. 2021



In 1939, archeological excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) was hired by land owner Edith Petty (Carrie Mulligan) to conduct on the burial mounds found on her Sutton Hoo estate in Suffolk county. Soon, Brown uncovered what proved to be the hull of an ancient ship used probably by Anglo-Saxon royalty. Senior archeologist Charles Phillips (Ken Stott) learned of the discovery and took over the dig, bringing his own men in, including younger archeologists, Stuart Piggott (Ben Chaplin) and his wife Peggy (Lily James). 

This was a quiet period movie reminiscent of the Merchant-Ivory films which I missed a lot. The cinematography of Mike Eley was breathtaking as he took shots of the dig from all angles, using the sun effectively to create drama. The production design was meticulously true to the period, as well as the costumes and hairstyles, the locations and the vehicles. Gentleman as he was, Basil Brown was actually doing his dig wearing a tie and vest. Britain was about to be drawn into World War 2 at that time, so there were also war planes involved. 

As Brown, Ralph Fiennes was looking much older than his 58 years here, but this actor can really imbue his acting with a lot of quiet passion. Carrie Mulligan, fresh from her acclaimed performance in "Promising Young Woman" which may earn her an Oscar nomination, balanced her portrayal of aristocrat Pretty with spunk and conviction despite her delicate sickly constitution. British character actor Ken Stott was appropriately snooty and bossy as Phillips, serving the role of the mild antagonist in this generally genteel narrative. 

The story about the discovery of the Sutton Hoo archeological site with its intact ship burial with Anglo-Saxon artifacts was fascinating to learn about. It was interesting to see how archeologists like Brown and Phillips worked, and how they jockeyed for position to gain credit for discoveries. It was only unfortunate that the filmmakers felt the need to pad the story with a fictional love triangle between the Pigotts and Mrs. Pretty's cousin, Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn), which was such an unnecessary detour from the central drama. 7/10. 


Vivamax: Review of PAGLAKI KO, GUSTO KONG MAGING PORNSTAR: Carnal and Comical

January 30, 2021



Former sexy star Ara Mina's father was a famous director of classic bold Filipino films, a genre that had since dwindled in popularity with the rise of amateur scandal porn on the internet. Before he passed away, he told Ara that he was bequeathing to her a major percentage of his wealth in order for her to achieve his dream to make the ultimate modern skin flick masterpiece and launch a new Filipino sex goddess in the process. 

So Ara gathered up three other fellow sexy stars, Maui Taylor, Rosanna Roces and Alma Moreno, who made the screen sizzle during their respective decades. These ladies were supposed to help her with the practical aspect of her plan to achieve her father's deathbed wish -- to train a potential new sexy star all the kinky tricks of the trade they had learned and perfected during their heyday as film sirens.

Writer-director Darryl Yap went the sex comedy route again this time, following the footsteps of his first project with Viva Films "#Jowable" (2019), which became a sleeper box office hit and later, made it to Netflix. With a title as brazenly naughty as "Pornstar," Yap went all out to mine the local soft-porn genre for every aspect that he could make fun of. The viral online promotion of this film actually followed the same success formula it tackled in its story.

Yap's major casting coup of gathering sexy queens of the past, Alma, Osang, Maui and Ara, was big news. Later, there would be a lot of buzz created online on social media with some provocative photographs to whet audience interest. Earlier this January, the titillating trailer came out and immediately caught fire, quickly racking up 6M views in its first 2 days of release. The initial MTRCB rating of X certainly helped raise prurient audience expectations.

Upon watching the final film though, that trailer already revealed too much of its story and its best gags, even that singular boldest money shot. From the trailer alone, you can already see that the quality of the production design was rather low-brow pastiche. Ara's ranch was probably supposed to be the local Playboy Mansion with several decor as visual double-entredres, but the ambiance was more kitschy than glamorous. 

It was also apparent from the trailer that the "acting" of the actresses were over-the-top comic spoofs of themselves more than anything else -- Alma and her lousy English and political career, Rosanna and her weight gain and her sharp tongue, Maui and her diva attitude. While funny for a while, they became corny as the shticks kept recurring. Oddly, nothing much was brought up about Ara, nor did she do anything too wild or raunchy compared to the others. 

The young aspiring actresses, Rose Van Ginkel and Ana Jalandoni, were treated as brainless bikini bimbos as they obeyed their mentors' crazy instructions to the letter. The main young star being built up, Twinkle (AJ Raval), did not look like she really wanted to be there at all, with that nervous, uncomfortable look constantly on her face. The arc of her story was rushed and undeveloped, with too many blanks left unfilled. 

To bring the millennials up to speed, the four sexy movie queens of the past were each introduced with cards listing their distinguished filmography, along with a short history of the local sexy film industry. Several typical bold film tropes, like the wet t-shirt, the white camisole, the horseback riding, the licking of ice, the lusty moaning, were all there. The version shown on Vivamax is rated R-16. Curious what those supposed X-rated scenes were cut out, since they never really go near hardcore porn territory, as suggested in the title.  

However, the funniest moments of the film were actually those seemingly ad-libbed banter among the four main stars, more than the scripted jokes. Rosanna Roces ribbing Alma Moreno about her real-life partners were true off-the-cuff LOL moments. 2/10


Thursday, January 28, 2021

KTX: Review of YELLOW ROSE: Undocumented but Undaunted

January 28, 2021



"Yellow Rose" is a rare American film that starred breakthrough Fil-Am actress Eva Noblezada and Filipino international star Lea Salonga. We have heard about it since 2019 when it premiered in a Los Angeles film festival to favorable reviews. Fil-Am writer-director Diane Paragas had been working to bring this story about a familiar experience among the Fil-American community to the big screen for 15 years. Finally, it will premiere in the Philippines, streaming online on KTX and various other local online platforms. 

Rose (Eva Noblezada) was the 17 year-old daughter of Priscilla Garcia (Princess Punzalan), an employee in a motel in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. One night, when Rose went to watch a show in Austin with her friend Elliot (Liam Booth), Priscilla was arrested by immigration officers for being an illegal alien. Left to fend for herself, Rose went to meet and stay with a number of kind people who tried to help her get by -- her Auntie Gail (Lea Salonga), bar owner Jolene (Lilli Villari) and country singer Dale Watson (as himself). 

Coming fresh from her Tony-nominated performances in Broadway shows like "Miss Saigon" (as Kim) in 2017 and "Hadestown" (as Eurydice) in 2019, this was Eva Noblezada's first film project. She played Rose as a typical teenager, sometimes rebellious, sometimes bratty. She argued against her mom's strict rules, but she was still in touch with her Filipino roots. Noblezada was very natural and comfortable as she went through Rose's ordeal, especially when she wrote and sang country ditties, like her pleading solo "Square Peg."

It had been such a long time since either Princess Punzalan and Lea Salonga had been in a movie, so it was great to see them back in action, even in supporting roles. Punzalan's Priscilla was a regular Filipina mother, very protective of her child, bearing her difficult predicament on her own. Salonga's appearance as Auntie Gail was even shorter, but she did not miss the chance to sing a snippet of a Filipino classic song, which I hoped would have been a full-fledged duet between Salonga and Noblezada. 

All the American characters, Dale, Jolene, Elliot and even Elliot's immigration lawyer cousin Aleta Peacock (Susan Myburgh), were all very supportive of Rose, which seemed idealistic, but quite refreshing to watch. There was even an unexpected moment of kindness from a young immigration police officer. Noblezada's songs with Dale Watson all sounded very radio-friendly, like "Circumstance," "Quietly into the Night" and the finale number "I Ain't Goin' Down," which conveyed Rose's course of action.

The film is only about 90 minutes, but there were times when the pacing slowed down and the story felt repetitive. There were two very similar scenes with Rose leaving a benefactor's house in an impulsive huff, both of which did not feel like the right thing that should've happened. However, Noblezada's sincere performance, the well-performed catchy country songs, and the different approach to the oft-tackled undocumented alien story, still managed to make things engaging despite these little lags in story-telling. 7/10. 


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Netflix: Reviews of I'M NO LONGER HERE and THE ENDLESS TRENCH: Healing in Hiding

January 27, 2021

I'M NO LONGER HERE


Director: Fernando Frias

Writer: Fernando Frias

In Monterrey, Mexico, a 17 year-old young man named Ulisis (Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño) was the leader of a gang called "Los Terkos." He and his friends passionately loved and celebrated cumbia music and dance. Ulisis cut and colored his own hair into his own unique design and dressed in his own brand of loose baggy clothes. 

When Ulisis got into conflicts with a rival gang, his mother pulled connections to smuggle Ulisis into the USA. He wound up in Brooklyn, New York, where he found temporary work cleaning the roof deck of an old Chinese man, whose teenage granddaughter Lin (Angelina Chen) tried to befriend Ulisis. The language and cultural barrier made it difficult for him to fit it. 

This story was told back and forth in time, from the time Ulisis was still in Monterrey and when he was in Brooklyn. However, at first, it was challenge to get into the groove of the film, because of the confusing choices of editing that did not make it too engaging to watch in one sitting. This caused me to pause my viewing several times, only to be continued on another day, and this took a number of days. 

The central character of Ulisis was not too likable for me, as well as the lazy gang lifestyle he led. However, you really have to admire his tenacious passion for his own unique musical and dance culture that made him eschew all others, resulting in a difficulty to adapt. Maybe it was this cultural pride it espoused that caused it to be chosen as Mexico's submission to the Oscars, instead of the much better "Identifying Figures." 6/10. 



THE ENDLESS TRENCH

Directors: Aitor ArregiJon Garaño, Jose Mari Goenaga

Writers: Luiso Berdejo, Jose Mari Goenaga

It was the year 1936, the start of the Spanish Civil War. In Andalusia, a young tailor named Higinio Blanco (Antonio de la Torre) made critical comments against the government of Gen. Franco. When he learned that soldiers were looking to arrest him, he began hiding himself in a secret compartment in his house where he lived with his new wife Rosa (Belen Cuesta).

For the next several years, the Fascist regime intensified. His vengeful neighbor Gonzalo foiled an escape plan. Rosa was arrested for not revealing his location. She gave birth to a son, and he had already grown up to be a young man. Franco announced an amnesty for political crimes. Even through all of these events, Higinio still staunchly remained in hiding. 

The title described the ordeal I had trying to finish this film. The pace of the film was so slow and the running time was so long that it took me several days to be able to finish the whole thing because of repeated pausing. Because Higinio was only in one cramped space most of the time, things felt claustrophobic and static, and the audience completely felt how he did as his only version of the world outside came from a peephole. 

Both Antonio de la Torre and especially Belen Cuesta gave very passionate performances as their characters aged more than thirty years going through their respective versions of hell. In contrast to the seemingly interminable first two acts, the final act was strong as it brought us into Higinio traumatized psyche as he decided whether to finally come out of hiding or not. The directors (3 of them!) made sure we felt precious time passing by. 6/10.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Review of ASSASSINS: Patsy Perpetrators?

January 25, 2021



On February 13, 2017, two young women were caught on CCTV cameras as the primary suspects in the death of one Kim Jong-nam at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The victim was the eldest son of the late North Korean president Kim Jong-Il, and estranged elder half-brother to current president Kim Jong-un.

The two girls apparently went up to Kim and proceeded to smear an unknown substance on his face, before running off. Kim was dead within an hour. The mysterious substance turned out to be laced with a deadly neurotoxin. If the girls were proved to be guilty of this murder, they faced the death penalty by hanging.

Honestly, I never even knew an assassination like this even happened in 2017. At the start, I thought I was watching a work of fiction, but these events all turned out to be true-to-life. One girl Siti looked like a Filipina, but turned out she was a spa masseuse from Indonesia. The other girl Doan was an actress from Vietnam. Both girls came to Kuala Lumpur seeking greener pastures, only to be involved in this harrowing experience.

The documentary was told mainly in English, with various testimonies in Malay, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Korean, as it explored and expounded on several aspects of this multi-layered story. Not only was this a about a complex crime and controversial court case, there were also social-economic commentary, as well as the fascinating intrigues of international espionage, with even a political back-channeling angle on the sidelines. 

Kim Jong-nam had been in self-imposed exile in Macau, China with his family for over a decade. He was perceived a legitimate threat to power, whether he liked it or not, so his assassination had suspicious implications. Director Ryan White had a rich and interesting story to tell, and he was able to capture all the dramatic twists and turns of this case and presented it with clarity and heart. 8/10.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Netflix: Reviews of HAPPY OLD YEAR and A SUN: Fractionating Families

 January 21, 2021

HAPPY OLD YEAR

Director: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Writer: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Jean (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) wanted to convert their old family house into a modern office with a minimalist design. However, their house needed serious radical decluttering to clear out all the stuff gathered all the years. At first, it was easy for Jean to just throw anything away, much to the annoyance of her mother (Apasiri Chantrasmi). However, Jean soon found it difficult to get rid of items associated with ex-boyfriend Aim (Sunny Suwanmethanont) or her estranged father.

This was a film that anybody who was ever involved in a process of decluttering their office or house would easily identify with. Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo became a household name when her book and resultant TV series inspired people to discard old items which do not bring them any joy anymore. Admittedly, no matter how easy Kondo made it look, it was never easy to simply throw old stuff away as sentiments would get in the way.

At a languid 2 hours long running time, the drama felt a little too stretched out for such a simple premise. There were no clear answers to the question on selfishness that the film constantly brought up. Who was being selfish -- the one who wants to get rid of the item? or the one who did not want to get rid of the item? There are usually two or more people involved for every item. Even if you think it was insignificant, that may not be the case for the other person. This was certainly thought-provoking stuff. 7/10. 


A SUN

Director: Mong-Hong Chung

Writers: Chang Yaosheng, Chung Mong-Hong 

Driving instructor Chen Wen (Chen Yi-wen) and his wife make-up artist Qin (Samantha Ko) had two sons. Their older son A-Hao (Greg Hsu) was the good kid, handsome, kind and smart. The younger son A-Ho (Wu Chien-ho) was the troublemaker, in juvenile detention for being involved in a crime, and an unwed father. A sudden and totally unexpected tragedy threw their lives into a major crisis, causing them to genuinely connect with each other.

All the actors did their job so fluidly as an ensemble which was sort of ironic because they are playing a family with estranged emotions. Chen, Ko and Wu were mostly underplaying their respective parts, but they were all so strong in the deceptive simplicity their portrayal. Liu Kuan-ting, the actor playing A-Ho's violent friend Radish, had a screen presence that dripped with imminent dread, totally gripping the second half of the film in fearful tension.

This family melodrama will hit close to home with many Chinese (or maybe any Asian) family.  Parents (especially the father) and children are not particularly expressive with their emotions, preferring to drown themselves in their work than bond. This would go on until a major event will shake everyone's sensibilities to its core. The plotting and the dialogues were done with so much emotionally resonance, tears will be inevitable right down to its final revelations. 8/10


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

3 Mini-Reviews of MARTIN EDEN, ANOTHER ROUND, BACURAU

January 19, 2021

MARTIN EDEN

Director: Pietro Marcello

Writers: Maurizio Braucci, Pietro Marcello, based on the novel by Jack London

Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli) was a poor uneducated sailor who wanted to be a writer. Despite repeated rejections from magazines and publishers, Martin persisted to write and submit his stories and essays. He met a rich girl Elena (Jessica Cressy) who was fascinated by Martin yet aware of his lower social station. While Martin was very much in love with her, she ultimately decided to break up with him. 

Martin met an old man Russ Brisenden (Carlo Cecchi), a socialist who influenced Martin to become more passionate about politics and individualism, which eventually led to his success in his writing career. However, despite his resultant fame, Martin still had so much anger and bitterness for life.

I was surprised to learn after watching this film that this Italian film was actually based on a 1909 novel by American novelist Jack London, whom I knew better for his Gold Rush adventure stories like "White Fang" and "Call of the Wild." Writer Maurizio Braucci and co-writer/ director Pietro Marcello brought this story of crossing the class divide from the US over to Italy with uneven results. 

The film certainly looked very good, with the beautiful Italian vistas, as well as its attractive lead actors, however the pace was a little too slow. The English subtitles may have lost some of the passion and sense of the Italian speeches Marinelli was delivering. The Italian language sounded so good to the ear, so poetic despite being so angry, I wished I was conversant in Italian to appreciate this more. 7/10


ANOTHER ROUND

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Writers: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are close friends since their youths. They were now employed as teachers at Copenhagen school, in history, soccer, music and psychology, respectively. All of them were going through a midlife crisis, with things going rough in both their home life and careers. 

When Nikolaj turned 40, they talked about trying out the theory of psychiatrist Skårderud about the benefits of a blood alcohol content of 0.05. The minimal alcohol intake worked wonders at first as they started getting popular with their students, as well as their wives. Later on, their strict rules would be broken, and things would go out of hand.

I have to disclose that I am not fond of alcohol nor of watching people go drunk. I was about to give this film up when they were being drunk in school and even pointed out to kids that it was alright to drink. Something very bad did happen at one point, however, they were still drinking even after this event. So if there was a moral lesson in all this, it felt half-baked to me.

Mads Mikkelsen though was really the main reason to watch this film. He thoroughly captured the essence of a man who desperately wanted to recover the passion he'd lost, spiraled out of control and had to rebuild. His triumphant dance at the finale exhilaratingly signified that his zest for life is truly back. Now that was a great ending. 7/10. 


BACURAU

Directors: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

Writers: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles

Bacurau was a small remote village in the mountainous area in Brazil that suddenly disappeared from the map for no apparent reason. It was also being harassed with water issues as the river had been dammed up, so they had to resort to water rationing. Their current mayor Tony Junior (Thardelly Lima) who was seeking reelection was no help, and was probably even involved in the problem.

When female elder of the village Carmelita passed away, her estranged granddaughter Teresa (Barbara Colen) returned home for the funeral, something the old village doctor Domingas (Sonia Braga) was not too pleased about. However, when a mysterious group of outsiders materialized to terrorize the town with violence, the residents of Bacurau had to stand firm together in order to protect their village and fight for their survival.

This film was like two different films in one. The first half was like a familiar socio-political drama. With the mayor acting against his constituency yet still brazenly campaigning for their votes, this part was something we have seen variations of before. However, the second half came from totally out of left field to shock us. With a group of foreigners led by Michael (Ugo Kier) who came for a hunting expedition, this was unexpected craziness. 

All the characters here were bizarre of behavior, very typical of indie films. Most of the actors were unknown, but there were a couple of familiar faces in there. The first scene of veteran actress Sonia Braga (whom I would always remember in "The Kiss of the Spider Woman") was a wildly emotional public rant at a funeral. German actor Udo Kier was right up his alley playing another memorable over-the-top antagonistic character. 6/10. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Netflix: Review of OUTSIDE THE WIRE: Compassion for Collaterals

January 16, 2021



Making a crucial call in battle, drone pilot Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) disobeyed a direct order which caused the death of two marines.  He was sent to work with Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie) in an army camp in the Ukraine countryside which under the threat of terrorist Viktor Koval (Pilou Asbæk). Before they left to deliver vaccines and put Koval out of commission, Leo revealed to Harp that he was no ordinary soldier.

From the get-go, there were already remote-control weaponized drones and giant robots called Gumps in action, this was a sci-fi war movie. It still felt like a number of war movies where American soldiers play the savior of an oppressed country against crazy terrorists. However the scenes were made more somewhat more interesting with the addition of state-of-the-art artificial intelligence technology, including humanoid androids who incredibly possessed more emotions than real humans. 

Anthony Mackie is very familiar with this role of a super soldier, as his most famous role of Sam Wilson in the "Avengers" series was such a soldier. Mackie also played a soldier in his major role as Sgt. J.T. Sanborn in Oscar best picture winner "The Hurt Locker" (2009), where his portrayal was critically-acclaimed. Here, Mackie still played well being bad-ass with style. He knew he was stronger, faster and smarter, and he sealed that with a rogueish smirk. 

Damson Idris played Lt. Harp as a cold and calculating soldier who only kept his eye focused on achieving the mission, without due regard to the human collateral damage it would entail. Of course, the tables would turn on him later on a much bigger scale to teach him vital lessons of trust and compassion. Harp's character went from cocksure triggerman who only cared about stats to selfless hero who truly cared about others, but that was not really surprising.

In the endgame, the film went autopilot into very familiar suspense tropes in B-movies that involved a nuclear bomb poised to destroy the USA and a countdown that would go down the wire up to the final seconds. Of course there will be one final debate between protagonist and antagonist about the ethical phisophies behind high-tech weapons of war while the clock was precariously ticking down to zero. 5/10.


Friday, January 15, 2021

Amazon Prime: Review of ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI: Champions Convene

January 15, 2021



Cassius Clay had just been crowned the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World by unexpectedly beating Sonny Liston in Miami. After the fight, Clay celebrated his victory at the spartan Hampton House motel where his close friend and mentor, the Nation of Islam activist Malcolm X, was booked. Joining them this night of February 25, 1964, were two other friends, popular rock and roll singer Sam Cooke and football hero Jim Brown. 

The four actors playing these four lead characters formed a formidable acting ensemble, which probably made director Regina King's job a dream come true. This was a talky film, with hardly any action aside from those two fights in the boxing ring in the first thirty minutes. It depended heavily on the performances of the four main actors to bring the script to vital life and they all nailed their parts perfectly. There was electric chemistry between the four, like they had long been best friends for real. 

Eli Goree had Cassius Clay's famous brash bravado down pat both in and out of the ring. He also displayed his inner naivete when it came to his planned transition into Islam. Tony-winning "Hamilton" star Leslie Odom Jr. had the silky voice of Sam Cooke. His impassioned performance of "A Change is Gonna Come" alone was already worth an Oscar award. Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown was the most subdued of the four, but his first scene with Beau Bridges 10 minutes in was the most shocking and painful.

British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir in a most sensitive and complex portrayal. Of the four, he had the most hard-hitting comments about how his friends were using their celebrity status in light of the African-American experience of that day. He believed that being famous, they should actively fight for the rights of their fellow blacks from their respective areas of influence. He was not averse to ruffle feathers to express his mind even among his friends, making for some highly tense situations. 

Kemp Powers conjured up the fictional discussions of four African-American icons in his 2013 play, which he adapted himself into this screenplay. All four men were successful and influential in their own fields, yet were all still victims of the racial segregation which oppressed African-Americans that time. Kemp skillfully made each man debate civil rights issues from their respective careers and experiences in life, making for lively, heated and thought-provoking conversations. 8/10. 


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Netflix: Review of THE WHITE TIGER: A Servant's Salvation?

 January 14, 2020



Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) grew up in a poor village, but his burning ambition made him leave his family to go find his fortune in the city. Because of his glib tongue and charming country bumpkin ways, he applied and was accepted to be the driver of the American-bred son of a rich Hindu family, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas), who treated him like family.

However, one fateful night, just when Balram thought he did his masters a great service, they repaid him with a detestable act of cruel treachery instead. This painful event triggered in Balram a serious evaluation of how he was being treated and how dispensable he was to them. Relying on his wits and daring, Balram staged his bold plan to emancipate himself out of the "rooster coop" he was trapped in.

26 year-old Adarsh Gourav certainly broke through into widespread recognition with his star-making lead performance in this film. Even if he shared the screen with Bollywood superstars Rao and Chopra-Jonas, Gourav took this challenging bull of a role by the horns and rode it triumphantly all the way from the gutter to the peak. He imbued this flawed character with a winsome charisma that made viewers root him on to achieve his dream.

Since the film began with Balram as a rich entrepreneur narrating his harrowing rise to his present situation, we knew he would overcome his poverty at one point. Throughout the film, we were just waiting for that climactic turning point to happen, the event which would change his fortune forever. The build-up to that critical moment had very engaging, with its darkly comic yet entertaining approach to the serious message. 

However, I was shocked when that climactic turning point came. To be completely frank, I did NOT like it at all. Are the filmmakers telling us that only with such harsh radical action can a poor man ever hope to cross the chasm between the social classes over to the other side? Has the world already reached that level of desperate cynicism where honest labor and perseverance don't matter anymore? I would like to think it should not be the case. 7/10. 



Amazon Prime: Reviews of SMALL AXE, TIME, SYLVIE'S LOVE

January 14, 2021

SMALL AXE

Small Axe is an anthology of five films by writer-director Steve McQueen about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s. I was only able to watch the first two films for now.

The first film is "Mangrove," after a curry restaurant established by Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) in Notting Hill in 1970. All the Caribbean immigrants gather there for the good food and fellowship. However, the police led by PC Frank Pulley (Sam Spruell) did not like these gatherings and would conduct three violent raids on it. 

The activists in the area, including Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) and Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall), organized a rally, which did not end peacefully. The Mangrove 9, as they were called, were tried in court of Judge Edward Clarke (Alex Jennings) for inciting a riot and affray. 

This was a powerful film about racial tension in London, and how these brave activists fought the system to the extent of defending themselves in court. This came out in very close proximity to another courtroom drama about social injustice "The Trial of the Chicago 7," and similarly, the intense screenplay and the ensemble performance were very commendable. 8/10

The second film is "Lover's Rock," which was set in a single night at a house party in West London in 1980 where Franklyn (Micheal Ward) and Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) first met each other. Apart for certain scenes of conflict, there was not much story being told in here, however, that was not really the main point of this. 

The best moments of this film were the communal dance raves to 70s hit dance songs like "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas, and the uber-sensual "Silly Games" by Janet Kay (which lasted long after the record stopped playing). They were shot beautifully in tight close-up, capturing the charged-up exhilaration of those all-too-fleeting moments. 7/10


TIME

Sibil Fox Richardson was a middle-aged businesswoman and mother of six boys. Twenty years ago, pushed by financial desperation, she and husband Robert committed armed robbery at a local bank and were arrested for their crime. While she was out in a little over 3 years, her husband got a sentence of 60 years in the Louisiana State Pen.

This documentary used original footage combined with home videos to good dramatic effect. Mrs. Richardson struck me as quite the convincing salesperson, both in her business and her advocacy to get her husband out earlier. To her credit, she was able to raise her boys by herself, even when left to her own devices. She definitely knew how to play up the drama in her life purely to her advantage. 

However, granting that her husband seemed to have gotten an excessive sentence, she also conveniently left out some very important details. What dire situation pushed them to resort to armed robbery? What actually happened during the robbery? She was not averse to self-aggrandizement as she likened the prison system to slavery and she was the abolitionist. These aspects did not sit too well with me. 5/10


SYLVIE'S LOVE

It was the 1950s in Harlem, New York. Jazz band saxophonist Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha) met the striking upper-class debutante Sylvie Parker (Tessa Thompson) who was tending her father's record shop. Sylvie was already engaged to marry a rich guy Lacy, but she still fell for Robert's blue-collar charms. However, Sylvie gets herself pregnant just as Robert's band landed a gig in Paris.

The very premise of this film was pure melodrama. In its 2-hour running time, writer-director-producer Eugene Ashe milked every known soap-opera playbook about secret sacrifices done in the name of love. There were progressive aspects, like Sylvie landing the post of a TV show producer, but most of the other story details were rehashed old-fashioned cliches. 

The period production design, jazzy musical score and songs, and nostalgic cinematography were all very good. The actors were attractive and did well in their roles, despite what their characters were made to say or do. Ultimately, the problem was in the story itself, hardly generating any excitement as one familiar trope followed another. 5/10



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Netflix: Review of LUPIN: Inspired by an Icon

January 13, 2020




Arsene Lupin was a classic literary character in French fiction, described as a gentleman wearing a top hat and monocle, who was also a smooth and crafty thief. His exploits were described in a series of books written by Maurice Leblanc back in 1905, and since then, he would also be featured in various other media, like films, television, stage plays and comic books. This classic character had been resurrected in this new limited series on Netflix. 

Teenager Assane Diop (Mamadou Haidara) was a big fan of Arsene Lupin even since his father Babakar (Fargass Assande) introduced the books to him. One day, his father was accused by his employer, the millionaire Hubert Pellegrini (Herve Pierre), of stealing a valuable necklace of diamonds. Forced to sign a confession, Babakar then committed suicide by hanging in his prison cell. 

25 years later, this very same necklace had been recovered by the Pellegrinis, and it was up for auction at the Louvre.  Still inspired by the Lupin books, Assane (Omar Sy), now a young man with multiple physical, mental and technical skills, set into motion an elaborate plan to steal the necklace and finally be able to exact his revenge on the people responsible for his father death, while driving the police crazy in the process. 

Omar Sy's portrayal of Assane was charismatic and winsome, very fitting as he embodied his personal idol Arsene Lupin. Sy had good chemistry with Ludivine Sagnier (as his ex-partner Claire) and Etan Simon (as his son Raoul), the angle which gave this series its heart. Of course, you'd have to suspend your disbelief that a 6'3" hulk like Sy can easily slip through any form of security without being seen or that he could be a master of disguise, but that is part of this series' charm. 

This first season only had 5 episodes of only about 40 minutes each, so this was an quick and easy binge. With how the Ep. 1 set up the heist at the Louvre, one will really be drawn into the incredible story, especially as the revenge angle eventually came into fore. The momentum really got going with the Ep. 3 featuring corrupt policeman Dumont (Vincent Garanger) and Ep. 4 featuring crusading journalist Fabienne Beriot (Anne Benoit). Even if Ep.5 turned out to be a rather predictable cliffhanger, it set up for a Season 2 we are eagerly waiting for. 8/10. 


Reviews of PALM SPRINGS, PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, WILD MOUNTAIN THYME

January 13, 2020

PALM SPRINGS

Directed by: Max Barbakow

Written by: Andy Siara

On November 9 in Palm Springs, Nyles (Andy Samberg) was attending the wedding of Tala (Camila Mendes) and Abe (Tyler Hoechlin). At the reception, Nyles bonded with Tala's sister, Sarah (Cristin Milioti). Suddenly, an angry man named Roy (J.K. Simmons) began shooting Nyles with arrows. Nyles ran into a cave with a mysterious light. Sarah followed him and was sucked into a vortex. When she woke up, it was the morning of November 9 all over again. 

This film uses the same time loop device famously used in films like "Groundhog Day"(1993), "Source Code" (2011), "Edge of Tomorrow" (2015) and "Happy Death Day (2017). Despite being a very familiar trope, "Palm Springs" still managed to make the whole thing very entertaining, thanks to the comic charms and chemistry of the two lead stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. Their rapid-fire witty banter was just too good.

Director Max Barbakow wisely saved some important game-changing details and quirky background characters, dropping them at strategic times, without negatively affecting the repeating sequences of the story. The supposed quantum physics solution to their quandary was admittedly a stretch, but by then you simply want Nyles and Sarah to get their lives back on track and finally find happiness together. 8/10.


PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

Written by: Emerald Fennell

Directed by: Emerald Fennell

Cassie Thomas (Carrie Mulligan) was a socially-aloof coffee shop employee. Her best friend Nina committed suicide after she was raped by their med school classmate Al Monroe (Chris Lowell) in front of his cheering friends. Since then, Cassie had been on a mission to punish everyone involved in that terrible incident, as well as all sexually abusive men in general. Upon learning about Al's upcoming wedding, Cassie put her plans on revenge into action. 

Carrie Mulligan went beyond her usual comfort in this gutsy and challenging role. Her most memorable roles had been in period films, like Daisy in "The Great Gatsby" (2013), Bathsheba in "Far from the Madding Crowd" (2015), and of course her breakthough Oscar-nominated performance in "An Education" (2009). Cassie was a totally different Carrie Mulligan as she simmered with pent-up anger the whole film, just waiting to blow up.

The production design of this film was purposefully all in multi-colored pastel shades in contrast with the dark tone of the film. The direction into which this story of revenge went was not predictable and very well told by writer-director Emerald Fennell, in her auspicious feature film debut in both capacities. It clearly depicted the disadvantage women experienced in real life, but ironically, it also showed how limited their options are to fight back. 8/10. 


WILD MOUNTAIN THYME

Written by: John Patrick Shanley

Directed by: John Patrick Shanley

The Muldoons and the Reillys were neighboring farmers and close friends living and working in the Irish countryside. Since she was a little girl, the spirited Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) had long harbored a love for awkward Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan), which remained unrequited. One day, Anthony's rich American cousin Adam Kelly (Jon Hamm) came to buy their farm and win Rosemary too. Only then did Anthony wake up from his inactivity. 

It was very refreshing to see Christian Grey himself Jaime Dornan act like a total dork here beside the confident and radiant Emily Blunt. He even had a scene rehearsing proposal lines in front of a donkey, which was very funny in its silly irony.  Their relationship reached a tense climax when they were caught indoors together during a sudden storm and an exasperated Rosemary had no choice but to confront Anthony about how he felt about her. 

The whole film was just a pleasant little slice of Irish rural life with all the beautiful rolling green landscape to see and variations of brogue accents to hear. Ever magnetic, Christopher Walken (as Anthony's father Tony) can always steal every scene he was in. It may have taken more than an hour and a half before telling us if Anthony and Rosemary will end up together, but it certainly immersed viewers in the charming lifestyle it showcased with pride. 6/10.  



Friday, January 8, 2021

Netflix: Review of PIECES OF A WOMAN: A Momentary Mother

 January 8, 2021



On the night of September 17, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) went into labor. She had long planned to have her baby delivered at home. Her midwife Barbara was at that moment indisposed, so she sent another midwife Eva (Molly Parker) in her stead. Martha's labor was long and difficult and the baby was in distress, so Eva called for an ambulance. Martha was still eventually able to give birth to her daughter. After only a few seconds, the baby suddenly stopped breathing.

Such were the tense and harrowing first thirty minutes of this film which Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó shot in a single long shot, conveying all the excited anticipation of the coming baby, the nervous concern about the new midwife, the painful exertion of the labor, the uncomfortable dread of the protracted delivery, until the incomparable anguish of its outcome. This should count as one of the best scenes of childbirth in the history of cinema.

This film began with such a high powerful peak, everything that followed felt like they were struggling to keep up. Following the terrible tragedy, Martha kept her grief to herself and withdrew from the people around her. She became cold to her blue-collar partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf) who struggled in vain to restore their connection. She was at odds with her imperious wealthy mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) who was adamant that the midwife should be thrown into jail for negligent malpractice. 

Kirby, who had already won awards for playing Princess Margaret on the TV series "The Crown," attracts awards attention again with her performance here. After that exhausting childbirth scene, Kirby also had several long wordless scenes in which only her face and body language conveyed her inner pain and guilt as she went around her daily routines. Her final monologue in court was delivered with unexpected restraint.

Chronically troubled actor LaBeouf delivered a sensitive sympathetic performance of his flawed character Sean. Perhaps being of lower social standing than Martha, Sean's opinions were not really taken seriously. From the start, we already see how Elizabeth looked down on Sean by buying Martha a car. LaBeouf wisely chose to underplay his part to good effect. 

With her juicy monologue in Act 3, 88 year-old Burstyn courts Oscar attention again 20 years after her nomination for "Requiem for a Dream" in 2001, which came 20 years after her nomination for "Resurrection" in 1981. Because of their 50 year age gap, it would have been more realistic if Burstyn played Kirby's grandmother than her mother.

When she adapted her own play into this screenplay, writer Kata Weber may not have been able to completely shake off the theatricality of certain scenes. However overwrought some scenes may be, they were able to squeeze out memorable performances from these three main actors. Even as we followed Martha's 8-month ordeal during the film's 128 minutes, Mundruczó and Weber still left a lot of Martha's frame of mind and motivations as blanks for us to fill for ourselves. 7/10. 


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

My Top 20 Most Read Reviews on ABS-CBNNews.com for 2020

January 4, 2021

My very first review published on ABS-CBNNews.com came out June 6, 2013. That was a largely negative assessment of the Will and Jaden Smith disaster called "After Earth."  I never dreamed that I could reach the 100-mark in less than a year's time after that. 

And now 7 years later, the number of my articles that appeared on ABS-CBNNews.com have gone up approaching 1000. I am humbled and very thankful for my editor's continued trust and confidence in my opinion writing about movies. Because of the pandemic restrictions, there have been no plays and concerts since March 15, 2020. I did begin writing about series streamed on Netflix and Amazon Prime instead, even K-dramas.

Quarantine notwithstanding, there had still been more than 100 reviews of mine that appeared on ABS-CBNNews.com. Popular 2020 titles which I thought would make the list, like Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit" and "The Crown Season 4," Oscar favorites like "The Trial of the Chicago 7" or "Mank," or my first forays into K-drama reviewing like "It's OK Not to Be Okay" and "Start Up," did not. 

Here is the list of the 20 most popular movie reviews on ABS-CBNNews.com which carried my byline for the year 2020:


20. Hindi Tayo Pwede (LINK) Posted at March 7, 2020

19. The Devil All the Time (LINK) Posted at September 19, 2020

18. Lingua Franca (LINK) Posted at November 28, 2020

17. All the Bright Places/Tune in for Love/Twin Murders (LINK) Posted at June 6, 2020

16. Japan Sinks (LINK) Posted at July 19, 2020

15. Operation Christmas Drop/Midnight at the Magnolia/Christmas Made to Order (LINK) Posted at November 14, 2020

14. The Platform/The Occupant/Mark of the Devil (LINK) Posted at April 12, 2020

13. Spenser Confidential/6 Underground/Fractured (LINK) Posted at March 17, 2020

12. Aswang (LINK) Posted at July 11, 2020

11. Beauty Queens (LINK) Posted at July 18,2020


10. Metamorphosis (LINK) Posted at August 28, 2020 at 06:04 AM


9. The Last Days of American Crime/365 Days/Intuition (LINK) Posted at June 13, 2020 at 06:34 AM


8. The Grudge (LINK) Posted at January 20, 2020 at 04:39 PM

7. The Old Guard (LINK) Posted at July 11, 2020 at 06:35 AM



6. On Vodka, Beers and Regrets (LINK) Posted at February 7, 2020 at 01:12 PM


5. Bad Education (LINK) Posted at May 21, 2020 at 06:00 AM



4. The Next 12 Days (LINK) Posted at May 23, 2020 at 06:21 AM


3. Kim Ji-Young Born 1982 (LINK) Posted at February 15, 2020 at 07:21 AM


2. The Call of the Wild (LINK) Posted at February 22, 2020 at 10:55 AM


1. Fan Girl (LINK) Posted at December 26, 2020 at 09:35 AM 



Monday, January 4, 2021

Review of MINARI: Acclimatizing in America

January 4, 2020



The title Minari refers to an herbal plant originating from East Asia, with scientific name Oenanthe javanica, commonly known by a variety of names, like Chinese celery, Japanese parsley, or Korean minari. It is plant that is easy to raise, because when you harvest the leaves to use in cooking, they grow back out again. This hardy vegetable is the metaphor Korean-American writer-director Lee Isaac Chung used to tell his own personal story on film.

in the 1980s, Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Yeri Han) Yi were a immigrant couple from Korea. They first settled in California where they worked classifying chicks by sex at a hatchery. They had two children, pre-teen Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and spirited tyke David (Alan Kim). But Jacob had a bigger American dream in mind, so he upped and moved his family to an old trailer home in an empty field in Arkansas start a farm of their own from scratch. 

Monica missed the city life, and was concerned about how far their farm was from any hospital, a concern since little David had a heart condition. One day, they welcomed Monica's mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) in from Korea to live with them to help around the house. Forced to share a room, David did not think that Soon-ja, with her impish demeanor and sharp tongue, was not behaving like a typical grandmother should. 

From there, a tale of resilience and adaptation by the Yi family was told both from the homefront and from the community around them. Jacob reluctantly accepted help at the farm from an eccentric old man Paul (Will Patton), who had some unusual tics and religious beliefs, but was very handy on the field. They attended a Christian church nearby and gained some new friends. However, challenges continue to hound the family that forced tough decisions.

A major charm of this film was the relationship between Soon-ja and David. Things started out with a lot of resistance of little boy about this old woman who smelled like Korea. At first, David would correct her broken English ("I am not pretty, I am good-looking!") or pull some naughty pranks on her (like replacing her tea with something nasty). But later, grandmother eventually won her grandchild over when they bonded while planting minari near a water hole.

The pace is slow and there is a lot of talking (in Korean, so you need to read the subtitles), so this film will not be for everyone. The experience of the Yi family trying to make it in America had definitely not been a bed of roses, every small gain it seems would meet head-on with adversity.  However, once you get into the Chung's frame of mind and immerse into Jacob's fighting spirit and determination to succeed, then this film will also win your heart. 8/10.


Sunday, January 3, 2021

MMFF 2020: Review of PAKBOYS TAKUSA: Silly Stupid Sexy Schtick

January 3, 2020



Ever since his film debut, rapper Andrew E had usually been involved in ensemble comedies with other comedians, surrounded with scads of sexy girls all mad about them. His first movie was "Humanap Ka ng Pangit" (Ben Feleo, 1990) based on his hit rap song. Andrew E starred with Jimmy Santos and Keempee de Leon as his brothers, with Nanette Medved, Carmi Martin and Gelli de Belen as the ladies crazy in love with them. 

His latest film was the sex comedy "Sanggano, Sanggago't Sanggwapo" (Al Tantay, 2019) with Janno Gibbs and Dennis Padilla, co-starring with Louise de los Reyes, Cindy Miranda, Sanya Lopez and other pretty young ladies running after them. This film must have struck some kind of financial success such that Viva Films decided to green-light and bankroll a spin-off starring the same three comedians and even more sexy girls.

Dentist John (Andrew E), photographer Justin (Janno Gibbs), stand-up comic Bruno (Dennis Padilla) and tattoo artist Drake (an out-of-place Jerald Napoles) were a group of close friends who shared the unmitigated obsession for pursuing sexy young ladies even when they were already very much married. Despite their age or the way they looked, these four men were always inexplicably irresistible to the opposite sex. 

Their respective wives Ariana (Ana Roces), Selena (Angelu de Leon), Miley (Maui Taylor) and Katy (Marisa Sanchez) were always very suspicious about their husbands' extra-curricular activities. But even if they were already caught red-handed, the guys could always seem to get away with their indiscretions using their expertise in coming up with brazen alibis which the wives always fell for, no matter how lame, bizarre or crazy these excuses were.

Aside from the four leading men, there were a couple more supporting characters who similarly espoused the same brand of machismo. Smooth-talking convenience store owner Bernardo (Leo Martinez) was their master in the art of being dirty old men. Over-compensating criminal millionaire Boss Joko (Gary Lim) was the jealous boyfriend of model Natasha (Nathalie Hart). This very retro "Chicks to Chicks" schtick where the actors have fun "chancing" on their sexy female co-actors clearly still lives on up to now.

It was very obvious how director Al Tantay was trying so hard to work around the apparent absence of Ana Roces in several scenes. A body double was used with her face turned away from the camera, then shifting to Roces in a cutaway close-up. This was first seen when the wives were leaving for a retreat, then at the song and dance scene at the beach. During the climactic parlor games scene, Roces'a Ariana was supposedly giving birth, so Hart's Natasha had to take her place playing the stupid sexually-suggestive games.

The humor in this movie was crude, green and unsophisticated, appealing to the basest of male instincts. The gags were misogynistic with a capital M, insulting women's intelligence, taste and abilities. It is really a big question mark how a backward, vulgar, morally incorrect film can be included among the entries of the Metro Manila Filmfest.  Then again, only in a socio-political climate such as we have now could a film with this brand of comedy have ever fulfilled the festival criteria of being "reflective of the Filipino sensibilities." 1/10.


Saturday, January 2, 2021

MMFF 2020: Review of ISA PANG BAHAGHARI: Atoning for Abandonment

January 2, 2020




Back when they were in high school, Reynaldo "Rhey"Torrecampo (Migs Almendras) and Illuminada "Lumen" Sanchez (Maris Racal) were best of friends. Rhey was an admirer of basketball jock Domingo "Dom" de los Santos (Albie Casino), who in turn was in love with Lumen. Rhey loved the two so much that he whole-heartedly volunteered to take care of  Lumen while Dom trained from 1979 to 1981, and later, when he worked as a seaman abroad. In 2001, Dom's ship sank at sea near Mexico and he was assumed to be dead by everyone. 

Twenty years later, Dom (Philip Salvador), very much alive, suddenly came back home. He first went to see Rhey (Michael de Mesa), now working as a hairdresser and a drag performer. After explaining what happened during his very long absence, Dom asked to be brought to Lumen (Nora Aunor), now a cripple working on dried fish in a seaside town, so he can beg for forgiveness for abandoning her and their three children, namely Andy (Zanjoe Marudo), Peter (Joseph Marco) and Dolly (Sanya Lopez), all of whom now led troubled lives.

With Heaven's Best Entertainment Productions producing and Joel Lamangan directing, I could not help but suspect that "Isa Pang Bahaghari" was going to be a retread of Heaven Best's most successful film, "Rainbow Sunset" (2018). In both films, there were three senior characters involved, one gay in love with a straight male who was married to a straight female who was also a friend of the gay. The plotlines and their social statuses were not the same of course, but there was also a terminal disease involved somewhere in there.

Having Nora Aunor as Lumen was of course the best draw of this film, and, as always, her passion can sear through the screen. Philip Salvador did his earnest best with his meaty role as the repentant Dom, even though his sob-story remained unconvincing and sketchy to the very end. It is just too bad that both of them were given lines which tended to be cliche, repetitive and unmemorable. As Rhey, Michael de Mesa played being gay effortlessly, and had a sense of humor singing Filipino folksongs in his drag trio. 

The casting of Racal, Casino and Almendras seemed too random, as they looked nothing like their older counterparts Aunor, Salvador and de Mesa. However, those little touches of color in their black and white flashback scenes were a nice touch. Marudo, Marco and Lopez fared a little better acting-wise but their subplots (drug pusher bum, guy falsely accused of rape, beer-house GRO single mom) were already very familiar tropes in local soap operas and movies.  

As one can assume with the synopsis, anyone who watches Filipino dramas can already somehow predict how the whole story was going to run. Of course, initially it was expected that Dom was going to encounter a lot of bitter anger and resentment from Lumen and the three children. Before the movie ended, it was expected that the walls of resistance were eventually going to break down, all the individual problems will be solved, and the whole family will get back together again. 

However, screenwriter Eric Ramos and director Joel Lamangan still had some surprises dropped along the way. One is the character of Cenen Espejo, a  high school friend (Dave Bornea) who was now a wealthy bus tycoon (Lloyd Samartino). Another was a revisiting of a past sordid incident during a drunken stupor and the revelation of what really happened. But they saved the most incredible and most shocking surprise at the very end. Some people will call that ending bizarre or absurd or contrived or ridiculous, and I won't blame them. 5/10. 



MMFF 2020: Review of SUAREZ, THE HEALING PRIEST: Idealistic Inspiration

January 1, 2020



As a teenager, Fernando (Jin Macapagal) discovered that he had the ability to heal when a cripple (Gina Pareno) stood up and walked after he prayed over her. He went on to graduate Salutatorian from his local high school, and Chemical Engineering in Adamson University. However, much to his father's dismay, Fernando still followed his dream to become a priest. 

As Fr. Fernando Suarez (John Arcilla), he established a healing ministry which gained wide popularity by word of mouth of his people he was able to help. With the help of Bishop Antonio Palang (Dante Rivero), Suarez established the Missionaries of Mary Mother of the Poor on the remote island of Ilin in the diocese of Occidental Mindoro. 

He eventually gained plenty of wealthy sponsors who helped him build his church and provide basic utilities to the poor community of Ilin. However, at the same time, he was also gaining a lot of enemies among Catholic church leaders who wanted to stop his healing sessions. There were even attempts to ruin his good name. 

Director Joven Tan created a simple melodramatic biopic narrative about the life of Fr. Suarez, with some testimonials of successful healing. If the storytelling had been straightforward and basic, this film had been entertaining to watch because of the numerous famous actors and actresses on board to play supporting and cameo roles throughout his film. 

Tan used an investigative television show "Truth Be Told", with host Alice Marcelino (Alice Dixson) and her reporter Robert (Marlo Mortel), to tell the story. There were also flashbacks of the younger Fr. Suarez in his barrio of Butong in Batangas, with his parents (Rita Avila and Ricardo Quan), and with high school friend Sonia (Michelle Vito).

There was a revealing inside look into one meeting of bishops who were discussing about Fr. Suarez and his healing masses and activities. While there were those who supported him (Leo Martinez and Jon Achaval), there were also those who were very vehemently against him (Joonee Gamboa and Noel Trinidad). 

One of the reasons for the bishops' resistance was the controversial testimony from Canadian priest Fr. Jeff Shannon (Troy Montero), who allegedly witnessed Suarez bring a person back to life. Another major blow against Suarez was the damaging accusation of impropriety levied on him by a young man whose parents were played by Rosanna Roces and Allan Paule. 

This film was a pleasant watch overall, but a little too earnest, too defensive, too idealistic. The whole production had the vibe of a religious program on television, even ending with an uplifting healing prayer from the real Fr. Suarez himself. This film was made for inspiration, and for Catholics looking for some in these difficult times, "Suarez" gave some. 5/10.