Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Warner TV: Review of SUPERMAN & LOIS (Pilot): Parenting Powers

February 23, 2021

Over the years, there had been a number of live-action TV series that dealt with Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938 for DC Comics. From 1952-58, George Reeve first took on the role for "Adventures of Superman." From 1988-92, John Haymes Newton and Gerald Christopher both getting to play the title character in "Superboy." From 1993-97, Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher headlined "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." From 2001-11, Tom Welling played the young Clark Kent for the young adult series "Smallville."

More recently, there had been various inter-related TV series featuring various DC comics superheroes  on the CW Network, the shared universe of which is called the Arrowverse. This media franchise includes (Green) "Arrow" (2012-20), "The Flash" (2014 to present), and "Supergirl" (2015 to present), among others. Superman and Lois Lane had made recurrent guest appearances in 6 episodes of "Supergirl." So now, time has come that these two popular characters again have their own spin-off TV series.

In this new series, Clark Kent (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch) are already parents of twin teenage boys, Jonathan and Jordan. Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) was the friendlier, more outgoing and athletic one. Jordan (Alexander Garfin) was the more introverted one, the one who had a troubled early childhood marked by difficult tantrums. 

A sad family event brought the family back to the Kent farm in Smallville. Clark caught up with his old friend Lana Lang (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who worked in a bank, and her husband Kyle (Erik Valdez), who was a fireman. Jordan had taken a fancy to Lana's older daughter Sarah (Inde Navarrette), who was then going though a tough phase herself. 

Tyler Hoechlin was charismatic as Superman and as Clark Kent, even if he did look too young to be a father of boys in their late teens. Elizabeth Tulloch's Lois Lane felt rather reserved, not (yet?) as assertive as she is known for. Jordan Elsass and Alexander Garfin are still getting their bearings straight as Jonathan and Jordan are bound to develop the most in the course of the series. Inde Navarrette is pretty and spunky, interesting to see what role her Sarah would play between the two boys.

The technical aspects of the series, especially the cinematography and production design, had the quality of feature films. The opening montage summarizing the well-known backstory of Kal-El and how he evolved into Superman was very well-executed. That recreation of Action Comics #1 cover of Superman (wearing his original suit design) carrying a green car may have been a fleeting moment, but it was rich with nostalgia. 

Clark had decided to withhold from his two boys the fact that he was Superman, not knowing whether one or both boys had inherited his superpowers. As they all lived in the same house, how Clark could have kept his identity a secret that long to his sons was hard to swallow. Even Lois's father Gen. Sam Lane knew it. Also, apparently superpowers do not come out at birth for half-Kryptonians, hence the additional plot thickener.

One can already get a sense that a major focus of this new series will be these angsty growing-up issues of the Kent twins. The way the story is going, it suggests a more domesticated Lois Lane, instead of the hard-hitting ace Daily Planet reporter she is more known for. However for action fans, a super-nemesis mysteriously known as The Stranger (Wole Parks) was also introduced in this pilot to keep Superman on his toes.


Catch the premiere "Superman & Lois" on Warner TV on Feb. 24, 2021 at 9pm. New episodes air every Wednesday at 9.50pm. A half-hour special, "Superman & Lois: Legacy of Hope," introducing the series will air right after the pilot episode at 10.15pm.

Warner TV is available in the following channels:

Cignal: 235

Sky Cable: 34 (SD), 197 (HD)

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Netflix: Review of I CARE A LOT: Guardian Grifter

February 20, 2021

Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) was a professional guardian for senior citizens with dementia. However, it turned out that Marla used her status as a legally-appointed guardian to confine her ward to a nursing home with no access to their families, later auctioning off their belongings to handsomely pay herself and her girlfriend Fran (Eiza Gonzalez). 

Upon advise from her accomplice Dr. Karen Amos (Alicia Witt), Marla's next target was one rich single woman with no known family named Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest). However, Ms. Peterson was actually the mother of a dangerous Russian mafia lord in hiding Roman Lunyof (Peter Dinklage). Marla's neat little guardianship scam was about to meet its match.

From her film debut as Bond girl Miranda Frost in "Die Another Day" (2002) to her Oscar-nominated turn as Amy Elliot Dunne in "Gone Girl" (2014), Rosamund Pike was known for playing icy blonde femme fatales. In this latest project of hers as cold and ruthless con woman Marla Grayson, Pike assumed a high-camp version of this persona and played it to the hilt, complete with a sexy lesbian lover as her right-hand. 

From the get-go, seeing how she methodically milked her wards and skillfully manipulated the clueless Judge Lomax (Isaiah Whitlock, Jr.), I immediately did not like Marla. All the way to the end, Pike never let go of Marla's tough, fearless, street-smart character, no matter how unlikable she got. Marla never really had my sympathy at any point (and she was relentless), such was Pike's consistency in her twisted portrayal.

Marla was so well-played as a hateful character, I even tended to side with the sons who wanted to get their mothers back, no matter the violent means they resorted to. Macon Blair played the hapless Feldstrom, whose desperate frustration about his mother first clued us in on Marla's schemes. Peter Dinklage, of course, delivered the intense performance expected from him, as he dripped with imminent danger as a crime boss and devoted son Roman. I wished Dianne Wiest was made to do more as Ms. Peterson. 

With legal guardianship very much in the news these days with the "Framing Britney Spears" documentary and the #FreeBritney movement, this very black comedy got me really annoyed and fuming, almost to the point of wanting to shut my gadget off in disgust. But then, despite all its unbelievably hyperbolic events, writer-director J Blakeson made me hate crooked and wicked Marla so much, it still made me want to stick around to see if and how she will get her comeuppance, or not. However, I will not watch it again. 6/10. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

KTX: Review of HELLO STRANGER THE MOVIE: Critical Choices

 February 12, 2021

"Hello Stranger" was a BL series released on YouTube by Black Sheep Productions during the height of the trend last year from June to August, 2020. Class nerd Mico Ramos (JC Alcantara) and basketball jock Xavier de Guzman (Tony Labrusca) were assigned by their teacher Ms. Tina Moran (Meann Espinosa) to be partners in a class project. Throughout their online interaction during the quarantine, their initial resistance to each other soon gave way to friendship and later attraction. 

This movie sequel picked up a few months after the series left off. This time, the students were all at at a beach resort attending "Paniticamp," a required writing camp at a beach resort. Mico came with his gang, Kookai (Vivoree Esclito), Seph (Patrick Quiroz) and Junjun (Miguel Almendras), while Xavier came with his girlfriend Crystal (Gillian Vicencio). As luck would have it, Mico and Xavier become roommates, and the two boys were given a chance to rekindle their lost bond.

There were flashbacks to establish the situation between Mico and Xavier was that way, to bring fans of the series up to date with what had transpired in the interim. During the camp, Crystal and Xavier reach a critical point in their relationship, while Mico was swept up with a new acquaintance, his favorite gay writer Simon (Markus Paterson) who was serving as special mentor. Mico and Xavier now have to make important decisions about their own relationship between each other. 

Since the web series, Tony Labrusca was right at home playing Xavier, with his innate manly confidence effortlessly coming across the screen. Xavier was put through a major emotional wringer here in the sequel, and Labrusca stepped up to the plate for it. He fearlessly put his macho reputation on the line by bravely playing this confused character who found himself in a quandary between his girlfriend and the boy he had learned to love. 

The casting of Jollibee commercial model JC Alcantara as Mico in the web series was a big revelation. It was quite a gamble for a potential matinee idol like Alcantara with his wholesome good looks to accept a gay role as his first lead role. With its success and now with a sequel, looks like he will be identified with being Mico for a while. Looking forward for this young actor to expand his range further in future projects.

Director Dwein Baltazar continued in the light spirit of Petersen Vargas's BL series. The beach setting with all the fun and games and the bright- colored costumes and sets created a relaxed atmosphere for the whole movie. Despite this carefree mood, the main character conflicts were faced squarely with frank and insightful confrontations between friends, between partners, and even with parents. The winsome chemistry between Labrusca and Alcantara made this one stand out from the other local BL pairings. 7/10. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Netflix: Review of NEWS OF THE WORLD: Tenacious Transporter

February 10, 2021

After the US Civil War, Capt. Jefferson Kidd (Tom Hanks) earned his living by going town to town reading news to a paying audience. One day en route to his next destination, Kidd saw an overturned wagon along the road and found a white girl wearing an Indian dress in there. She was unruly and difficult to deal with because she was scared and did not speak English. She now only spoke the Kiowa language of the Indian tribe who raised her after they killed both her parents.

When he learned that the girl's real name was Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zenger) and that she still had living relatives willing to take her in, Kidd reluctantly took it upon himself to bring her to them. Along the rough and dangerous way to her uncle's farm, they encountered all sorts of bad men, bad weather and bad luck. However, these series of misadventures eventually drew the two closer to each other, forging a strong partnership despite the persistent communication gap. 

Even if this was his first Western, Tom Hanks is undeniably a movie star. On paper, the occupation of being a news reader may have sounded like the most boring job ever. There was actually a character within this same movie even commented that he never knew such a job even existed. Anyhow, when Tom Hanks stepped up on that plate, he was totally fascinating as a news reader. So charismatic and eloquent, he had the audience in his hands, both those listening to him in the scene, and those who are watching him on the screen. 

Maybe because Hanks had this effect on his viewers seemingly so effortlessly, his lead performance is not catching too much awards buzz for Best Actor as it should. Instead the attention is hovering around his 12 year-old co-star Helena Zengel, who so far has found herself being nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and several other critics groups. She had a strong screen presence in this tough, physically and internally demanding role, reminiscent of Anna Paquin and Jodie Foster. 

Overall the film, directed and co-written by Paul Greengrass, had a generally leisurely pace (in contrast to Greengrass's previous Bourne films or his Oscar-nominated "United 93"), occasionally tightening up the tension in moments when Kidd and Johanna facing deadly perils from criminals that prowl the Wild West. The expansive cinematography of the Texas wilderness (by Dariusz Wolski) and the soaring epic musical score (by James Newton Howard) seem destined for awards recognition. 8/10

Netflix: Review of LITTLE BIG WOMEN: Forlorn Feelings

February 9, 2021

It was the 70th birthday of Mrs. Lin Sho-ying (Shu-Fang Chen). Her three daughters, whom she all raised on her own, were all with her in Tainan for the big party. The eldest daughter Ching (Ying-Hsuan Hsieh) was a dance choreographer. The second daughter Yu (Vivian Hsu) was a plastic surgeon based in Taipei. The youngest daughter Jiajia (Ke-Fang Sun) was the manager of the restaurant Sho-ying built from her humble spring rolls stand. 

On the same day, the family received news that her long-estranged husband Chen Bo-chang had passed away in a local hospital also in Tainan. In his final days, he was with Tsai Mei-ling (Ning Ding), his common-law wife of several years since he left Sho-ying and their girls to live in Taipei. Sho-ying claimed his body and proceeded to prepare a wake for him. During the course of the services, the sisters unearth long-buried issues about their parents.

There is always something that touches me about films about funerals because they will invariably show how the people left behind will take stock of experiences shared with the deceased, and that process can be very fascinating. Sometimes we may even exist with the same people for years, yet still only a few very specific events will stand out in our memory bank during a person's funeral. Shared secrets will be among these special memories.

As the title suggested, all the major characters were female. It was their emotional hang-ups, hidden frustrations and heavy guilt-trips that carried the film forward. Aside from Bo-chang, whom we only see in flashbacks, the only other male characters were incidental, like Yu's oncologist husband and Ching's new boyfriend and estranged husband. There was also Sho-ying's brother, who always reminded them of Bo-chang's sin against their family.

This film showed rich Chinese family traditions about death. There were contrasts about austere Buddhist prayers and flashy Taoist ceremonies. Amidst modern realities like signing divorce papers, treating breast cancer and taxi karaokes, there were persistent ghosts of the past. However, writer-director Joseph Chen-Chieh Hsu opted to rely more on narrated stories, showing only a few chosen flashbacks. Admittedly, these blanks can be frustrating. 7/10.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Netflix: Review of SPACE SWEEPERS: Stuffed Space Spectacle

February 8, 2021

The year is 2092, the CEO of the UTS company, James Sullivan (Richard Armitage), is creating a controversial alternative human habitation on planet Mars. Meanwhile, the planet Earth is a polluted mess along with the space around it, now littered with debris of broken-down satellites and spacecraft. International space junk collector crafts compete against each other to get the best pieces of scrap metal to sell to earn dollars for survival.

The Victory was one such craft, with a rag-tag all-Korean crew composed of Capt. Jung (Kim Tae-ri), Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu), the robot Bubs (Yoo Hae-jin), and their pilot Kim Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki). The child Dorothy (Park Ye-rin) a.k.a. Kot-nim, wanted by authorities for being an android bomb, found her way onto their ship. In their efforts to keep Kot-nim safe from capture, they discovered a sense of noble heroism they never knew they had.

From the first action sequence of several spaceships going after a piece of space junk, we immediately see and hear the ambitious scope of this South Korean film in terms of high-tech science fiction special effects and the multilingual international cast (even some Filipino!). Honestly though, I did not exactly find it easy to get into its groove. There was so much going on and so many characters, the story was not clearly established until after the first hour.

Like many previous hit Korean films like "Miracle in Cell No. 7" or "Train to Busan," there was also a cute adorable child character here to serve as the emotional center amidst the violence and the chaos going on around. Korean filmmakers know how a child in peril can bring out the humanity in even the most jaded adults in the most topsy-turvy of situations. They went for this familiar trope once again here as main course, peppered with fart jokes aplenty. 

I think this film was more of a showcase of the state-of-the-art visual effects in Korean cinema than anything else. It was proof positive that they can now match Hollywood in creating the cinematic illusion of adventures set in outer space for the big screen. Even with all that audacity in the setting and scope of the story, the use of items like paper money and pastel crayons, unlikely to exist anymore by 2092, betray some lack of imagination. 6/10.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Netflix: Review of THE YIN-YANG MASTER: DREAM OF ETERNITY: Bolstered by the Bromance

February 7, 2021

Four priests from the four temple schools, Masters Qingming (Mark Chao, in white), Boya (Allan Deng, in black), Longye (Jessie Li) and Hongruo, were summoned by the Empress to the Imperial City to revive the Guardian spirits against the evil Serpent spirit who had been reincarnated. However, when the elderly master Hongruo died unexpectedly, the Empress, via her representative Princess Changping (Olivia Wang), named her confidante, Master He Shouyue (Wang Duo), high priest of the Imperial Palace, to replace him in the mission.

From the trailer, it was apparent that this would be one of those Chinese historical wuxia fantasy films, but I did not expect this would be this spectacular. You can clearly see the budget in the lavish sets, ornate costumes, hairstyles and make-up, for which the filmmakers clearly spared no expense. That Imperial Palace alone was expansive and gorgeous and they made sure you believe everything was real by having people walking in the background. The city built around the palace was likewise remarkable with all its elaborate little details. 

Granted the visual effects were obviously computer-generated and can be cheesy (especially those magical "Doctor Strange"-like circular portals), but the fineness of the graphic quality exceeded my expectations for a Chinese production. This film was replete with numerous spectacular supernatural creatures and battles, like hair demons, spirit servants, mystical weapons, tracking tadpoles, moving puppets, and of course, the humongous giant Serpent on whose very body the masters were fighting to save the whole world. 

The six main characters both good and evil were played by attractive young actors and actresses, whose looks were enhanced by their flowing costumes and flawless make-up. The rapport and chemistry between the two lead actors Mark Chao and Allan Deng undoubted added to the entertainment value of this film. The writer-director Guo Jingming naughtily injected some kind of bromance element between Qingming and Boya, something which surely can elicit thrills with their female fans. 

Overall, this fantasy adventure film was very engaging once you get into its initially convoluted drift and get all the characters all figured out. Despite the complex multilayered plot and 132-minute running time, every subplot seemed to have been clearly resolved and you hardly feel the time ticking away, such that you'd still be wanting a sequel by the end. This film was not all magical battles and monsters, there was a light sense of humor in the proceedings, as well as an angle of time-tested romance to spice things up. 7/10. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Netflix: Review of MALCOLM & MARIE: Affirming Arguments

February 6, 2021

Film writer and director Malcolm Elliot (John David Washington) and his girlfriend Marie Jones (Zendaya) just came home from a successful premiere of Malcolm's latest film. Marie casually brought up that she was disappointed that Malcolm failed to acknowledge her during his speech. This remark launched an argument that would last the whole night through. Things further went south for the couple when the first critic's review came out.

The film itself looked great, beautifully shot in crisp black and white, and lit to aesthetic perfection so shadows were all in the proper places. The jazzy musical score sounded so smooth and fine, giving off an atmosphere of sophisticated noir.  Malcolm was in a natty black suit and tie, while Marie in a slinky sparkly sexy gown with a bare midriff. However, all this stylish elegance was setting us up to witness an intensely hurtful verbal tussle which would engulf the couple all night long.

Malcolm is a film director, an artist who always did things according to his own vision. As such, he is very sensitive to criticisms about him and his work (see how that critic's review got him so riled up).  Malcolm could have simply apologized to Marie to reassure her that he cared, but instead he bullied her for making that comment.  He got so over-the-top when he is angry, even cruelly revealing details of past love affairs to prove his point. 

Marie felt that the film's flawed female character was based on her own battle with drug addiction. She was a relentless masochist here, constantly bringing up her insecurities when their argument seemed to have already calmed down, to burn Malcolm up all over again. This caused the story to just keep repeating itself up and down, rebuttal after rebuttal, in a tiresome pattern making the 106 minute runtime feel so long. 

Maybe it was on purpose that Washington and Zendaya did not have much onscreen chemistry with their clashing acting styles. Washington was very theatrical as Malcolm, big movements, loud yelling (seen during his outdoor tantrum scene and the review reading scene). Zendaya, in her most mature and daring role, was more internal in her attack on the role of Marie, communicating mostly with her facial expressions and restrained line deliveries. This was maybe why her performance had more awards buzz than Washington's.

Couples do clash and argue, and it is never a situation anyone would like to be in with the person they love. An argument is borne out of a defensive decision to act on differences, instead of just agreeing to disagree. One can be so passionate about his opinions enough to confront his partner for having contrary ideas. Combustible temperaments do lead to more explosive fireworks, as what transpired here in this claustrophobic two-hander. 6/10. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Netflix: Review of RAKENROL (2011): Effusively Energetic

February 5, 2021

Odie (Jason Abalos) and Irene ((Glaiza de Castro) had been best friends since their high school all the way to their college days. While their classmates were all into pop music, they both were rabidly obsessed fans of the local rock band scene. One day, when she heard a song Odie composed for her, Irene convinced Odie that they should form a band themselves. Together with their favorite ex-punk rocker now barista Mo (Ketchup Eusebio) on lead guitar and explosive school bully and father-to-be in denial Junfour (Alwyn Uytingco) on drums, they became the Hapipaks.

Aside from the four main characters, there were a host of supporting actors who added to the fun. Matet de Leon played herself who presented herself to be the group's manager. Jun Sabayton played Mo's housemate who called himself Yagit when he was steeped into his bizarre fascination with the visual arts. Ramon Bautista played their inimitable outlandish music video director Flame Tigerbl├╝den. Diether Ocampo played against his usual type as self-absorbed, narcissistic band frontman Jacci Rocha. Even real-life rockstar Ely Buendia had an inspirational cameo.

This was a coming-of-age film that brimmed with youthful zest and joy. From the get-go, the infectious and effusive energy of Abalos and de Castro drew you into their lives and never let go as you root for them to achieve their common dream together. With Odie's unrequited secret love for Irene at its emotional core, this trippy, happy-go-lucky film by writer-director Quark Henares (co-written by Sandwich guitarist Diego Castillo) brought the audience into the underground rock music scene as it followed the Hapipaks and the rocky launch of their career, with all the crazy weirdos they encountered along the way. 7/10. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Review of THE LITTLE THINGS: Dubious Details

February 4, 2021

Kern County deputy sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) went to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for evidence in a murder case they were working on. Deacon used to serve there as a detective, so this was also a reunion with his former colleagues as well. At that time, the biggest ongoing unsolved case was the serial killing of women, all stabbed to death and had their bodies posed. Deacon noted that the style of the killer was similar to another series he was unable to solve in the past.

The current lead detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek) allowed Deacon to tag along in the investigation. Clues soon led them to suspect Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), a bizarre repair shop worker who professed to be fascinated with crime stories. Clever and sneaky, Sparma was able to evade all efforts of the detectives to get him to confess his involvement with the murders. Frustrated, angry and convinced of Sparma's guilt, Deacon and Jimmy resort to rather unconventional procedures to get that elusive confession.

This was a casting coup featuring three Academy Award winners -- Washington, Malek and Leto. Washington's Joe Deacon was grizzled and overweight here as his character had spiraled into mediocrity following a failed investigation in the past. Malek's Jimmy Baxter was supposed to be a hotshot upstart, eager for the camera, but oddly he did not really project a telegenic personality. Leto had really settled into these weirdo sociopath characters, as Sparma was just like the Joker without the makeup. 

Overall, this was nice throwback to 90s crime drama movies. Maybe not exactly to the level of other serial killer thrillers like "Se7en" or "Zodiac," but maybe their lesser cousins like "Kiss the Girls" (1997) or Denzel's own "The Bone Collector" (1999). The crime scene set-ups were not that creepy or memorable. The pacing felt too slow midway in its overlong 127 minute run time. Some scenarios were very unwieldy, not the least of which were all those holes in the desert dug up by a single person. 

However, that whole ending sequence will definitely make you think. After following all the events in more than two hours, do we actually know the murderer is or not? Have we judged the three main characters correctly? 6/10. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Netflix: Review of PENGUIN BLOOM: Avian Assurance

February 1, 2021

Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) led a very active lifestyle. She was wife to photographer Cam (Andrew Lincoln) and mother to three hyperactive boys. She was a hospital nurse by profession and a surfer in her spare time. However, one fateful day while on vacation in Thailand, Sam had a freak accident that caused a severe spinal injury that left her hemiplegic from the hip down and wheelchair-bound. 

Since then, Sam withdrew from her usual family activities and would rather stay in bed. One day, the boys brought home a young magpie with an injured wing, calling it Penguin because of its black and white color. Initially annoyed with the bird's noisy ruckus, Sam eventually formed a close bond with the bird as it healed and vice versa, inspiring Sam to move on with life beyond her difficult disability. 

With Naomi Watt's character suffering a severe injury during a vacation in Thailand, it called back to my mind a previous movie of hers, "The Impossible" (J.A. Bayona, 2012), where Watts also played a character who suffered severe leg injuries when she got caught in a tsunami surge also in Thailand. This new one however, did not dwell too much on the events in Thailand however, and focused on the aftermath of the injury back home in Australia.

Watts was undoubtedly a very good actress here, in a physically-challenging role not entirely new to her. She got all Sam's pent-up emotions on her face most the time and she knew when to release them at just the right moments. The novelty of this role for Watts was having to work very closely with a magpie, a truly impressively-trained animal. Seeing the bird's long sharp beak so near her face made me nervous, but these two really had chemistry.

This was clearly an inspirational type film and the sweepingly dramatic musical score made sure we don't forget it. You somehow knew how the story would run its course, with Penguin's healing serving as the metaphor of Sam's own healing. Despite being treacly sweet and predictable, it did not fail in its aim to project heartwarming serving of hope. Do stay on for the closing credits and see beautiful photos of the real Sam and Penguin taken by the real Cameron Bloom. 6/10.