Friday, April 30, 2021

VivaMax: Review of DEATH OF A GIRLFRIEND: Rashomon Redux

April 30, 2021

In a secluded section of a forest, a high-school teenager Christine (AJ Raval) was bound up with ropes, sexually assaulted, stabbed to death, and had her face burnt beyond recognition. The police took into custody and questioned three men who were picked up in the vicinity of the crime -- a forest ranger (Arnold Reyes) who was assigned to patrol that area, a farmer (Raul Morit) who grew exotic plants and her new classmate Alonzo (Diego Loyzaga) who walked with her to school daily. Each man was placing the blame on the other two.

The film was confined to only 3 locations. The main outdoor setting was that one section of a wooded area where Christine walked to school everyday. There would be repetitions of scenes there, with some telling changes depending on the point of view of the one who was telling the story.  There was an interrogation room where an unseen police investigator (Soliman Cruz) was conducting interviews on the three men. A third setting was Alonzo's bedroom, when he told the policeman about his texts to and dreams about Christine. 

AJ Raval debuted earlier this year in Darryl Yap's "Pornstar." In that film and then again here, Raval showed that while she was quite game to engage in gratuitous breast exposure and sex scenes, she was still very green in front of the camera, very self-conscious and awkward. Because of his heft and leg tattoo, Diego Loyzaga certainly did not look like a shy high-school virgin anymore. All his scenes needed suspension of disbelief. Veteran character actors Reyes and Morit were more believable in their shifting characterizations.

In telling his own story and screenplay for the screen, director Yam Laranas was very obviously influenced by the Japanese film classic Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" (1950). The witnesses related contradictory versions of how one heinous crime had been committed, any one of which could actually be true. Since each witness was also a suspect in this case, each one reduced his own degree of involvement in the hope that this would make them less suspicious, if not totally exonerate them. 

Kurosawa's intent in "Rashomon" was to present multiple truths and allow the audience decide on their own whose version they would believe. Kurosawa did not believe that he should dictate or elaborate on what actually happened. However here, before the film ended, it would seem that Laranas told us who really killed Christine and how that guy did it. But I guess it is still up to us if we should believe that or not. Laranas did not really stay true to Kurosawa's original philosophy of this now-familiar cinematic trope. 5/10. 

Netflix: Review of THINGS HEARD & SEEN: Secrets and Spirits

April 30, 2021

George Claire (James Norton) was accepted as a professor of art history in a small college in Saginaw in the Hudson Valley, so he moved his family, wife Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) and little daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger), out of New York City to live in a vintage circa-1800s house in the remote town of Chosen. While grappling with bulimia and loneliness, Catherine began to sense a spirit in the house after she found an old ring in the kitchen and wore it. She felt that the spirit was trying to warn her of something.

They would meet several new people as they adjusted in their new community. Mare Laughton (Karen Allen) was the real estate agent who sold them the house. Eddie and Cole Lucks (Alex Neustaedter and Jack Gore) were local boys who volunteered to do chore around the house. Floyd DeBeers (F. Murray Abraham) was the dean of George's college who had a fascination with the occult. Justine (Rhea Seehorn) was Catherine's new friend who first got sense that something was amiss in the Claire household.

Recent Oscar nominee (for "Mank") Amanda Seyfried did well to portray Catherine's vulnerability to deceit and her eventual realization of the web was trapped in. James Norton, I just knew as the randy dandy in HBO's ongoing series "The Nevers," really had a caddish vibe about him from the very start, you knew something was afoot as soon as you saw his face. It was great to see "Indiana Jones" actress Karen Allen and Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham (for "Amadeus") back in action, but their scenes could have been better written.

The build-up of the crime thriller aspect was very slow and deliberately complicated by details that did not really go anywhere. Some characters did not really even need to be there at all, only serving as confounding elements and red herrings (case in point, the character of student Willis, played by Natalia Dyer). The horror aspects were very subtle and basic only, mostly just dark shadows and creepy music. There was only one scene of a seance to show us an overt manifestation of the ghost, but even that did not go too far.

The story was based on a novel "All Things Cease to Appear" by Elizabeth Brundage, adapted for the screen and directed by the team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. It was a variation of a common plot about secrets and lies which reached a critical point and blew up in front of the people involved. With all the art (painting, piano, weaving) in the plot, I imagined that this could have been an eloquent novel. Berman and Pulcini tried to recapture this essence, but their cinematic interpretation fell short. 5/10.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021


April 26, 2021

Best Documentary Feature:


Directed by: Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed

In 2010, Craig Foster was free-diving in a cold underwater kelp forest at a remote location in False Bay, near Cape Town, South Africa. During one of his dives, he noted a special young octopus which had an unusual curiosity that caught his attention. For an entire year, Foster tracked her location and movements, eventually winning her full trust. They formed a bond of friendship with each other as the octopus not only allowed him to join her in her daily life activities, but actually had physical interact with him.

This 85-minute documentary had most lightweight topic among its fellow nominees which tackled health care fraud ("The Collective") to injustice in prison term sentencing ("Time") to the disability rights movement ("Crip Camp") to loneliness of life in a senior home ("The Mole Agent"). While the script had a tendency for cheesy melodrama, the simplicity and accessibility of its message may have actually worked to win favor from the Academy voters. Of course, the spectacular underwater photography of all the rich colorful variety of deep sea wildlife was irresistible in its beauty. 7/10.

Best Documentary Short Subject:


Directed by: Anthony Giacchino

Colette Marin-Catherine and her brother Jean Pierre were still teenagers when her family became involved in the French resistance movement against Nazi Germany in World War 2. Her brother was captured, incarcerated and subjected to forced labor in Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in Nordhausen, Germany. Now at 90 years old, Colette was invited by young historian Lucie Fouble to visit Nordhausen to pay tribute to Jean Pierre. 

This 24-minute documentary possessed first-hand trauma of someone who carried this wartime trauma for her whole life. This was going to be her first trip to Germany in her life. We fully expect that we would be going on an emotional roller-coaster as Lucie guided a vulnerable Colette through the actual places in the concentration camp where Jean-Pierre suffered as a 17 year-old prisoner of war. This was real-life drama at its most potent. 8/10. 

Best Live Action Short Film:


Directed by: Travon Free, Martin Desmond Roe

A black graphic designer Carter James was trying to get home to feed his dog the morning after a first date. Unfortunately, he found himself trapped in a time loop in which had an violent encounter on the street with a white NYPD officer, Officer Merk. This meeting would invariably end in his death, no matter how he tried to change the circumstances. After 99 consecutive of these death scenarios, Carter finally confronted Officer Merk about their confounding situation.

This 32-minute short film may have prevailed over its competition mainly because of the undeniable timeliness of its story line. News about the excessive force experienced by black men at the hands of white police officers had been daily headlines lately.  This film so frankly reflected the senselessness and even the hopelessness of this present-day African-American crusade at this point in history. The urgency of its pressing message simply cannot be ignored anymore. 7/10.

Best Animated Short Film:


Directed by: Will McCormack, Michael Govier

A married couple found themselves drifting away from each other following the death of their 10 year old daughter. While they hardly spoke to each other, their shadows express their loneliness and need to reconnect.  One day, the daughter's shadow emerged from the record player playing her favorite song to engage her parents to relive memorable events in their life together as a family, from time of her birth to her final day.

This animated short film ran for only 12 minutes. It was mostly in black and white, with only certain important items appearing in color for emphasis.Those final five minutes recounting the day she entered her school for the last time and the last text message she was able to send out, were painful and heart-wrenching yet still hopeful. The emotional connection of the piece was very strong despite the simplicity of its artwork and brevity of its running time. 9/10.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

KTX: Review of MOTEL ACACIA: The Bed's Breakfast

April 24, 2021

Motel Acacia is located in an isolated snow-bound forest somewhere in Slovenia. The stern Caucasian motel manager (Jan Bijvoet) brought in JC (JC Santos), his son from a Filipina woman, to be his assistant. JC found the behavior of his father towards the first guest, a middle-aged man named Dee (Perry Dizon), to be very strange. The next morning, Dee was found consumed by the very bed he laid on, and JC was told to clean the mess up. 

JC would soon discover that the real function of his father's motel was to exterminate illegal immigrants who wanted to cross the border. His father connived with a desperate Filipina agent Angeli (Agot Isidro) to help him fulfill his quota of male guests to feed the monstrous creature that lived in the killer bed. However, if it were a female guest who lay on the bed, she would wake up alive, but she would be carrying a baby monster within her abdomen. 

The international cast gathered by Malaysian-born, Philippine-based director Bradley Liew was impressive. Santos, Isidro and Dizon are Filipino. Bijvoet is Belgian. Will Jaymes and Talia Zucker, playing the helpful couple James and Cathy, are Australian. Nicholas Saputra, playing the assertive guest Don, is Indonesian. Bront Palarae, playing the bearded guest Bront, is Malaysian. Vithaya Pansringarm, playing the elderly guest Sami, is Thai. 

The premise of this horror movie about this bizarre method of border control was actually quite original and interesting. The remote location and interior design of the building they chose to be the motel fit very well into the director's vision. The special effects of how the bed consumed its victims or the full-body rendering of the tree monster during the climax were not that shabby. The cinematography of both exterior and interiors scenes looked very good. 

The film started off as weird, yet oddly compelling. However, as the it went along, the shaky storytelling style simply went off the rails. Things started not making much sense as more guests entered to complicate the character motives and interactions. Continuity issues plagued the editing process. The actors themselves seem confused by what their characters were doing and saying. By the end, the film's point was lost as the closing credits rose to Agot Isidro's haunting rendition of Vincent de Jesus' eerie dirge "Tayo'y Maglagalag". 4/10. 

KTX: Review of DEATH OF NINTENDO: Teens in Transition

April 23, 2021

It was the early 1990s, there were recurrent brownouts, a series of earthquakes, and an impending volcanic eruption. Paolo Ortega (Noel Comia Jr.) was a boy in his early teens who was spoiled by his over-protective mother Patricia (Agot Isidro). He always had the latest Nike or Reebok basketball shoes and the latest game cartridges (like Mario or Zelda) for his Nintendo Family Computer system. Basketball heroes of that time were Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Magic Johnson. 

It was summer vacation, so Paolo spent his days hanging around with his three close friends, who like him all grew up without fathers. They were: Gilligan (Jigger Sementilla) and his tomboyish sister Mimaw (Kim Chloe Oquendo), kids of his mother's friend Maribel (Nikki Valdez); and Kachi (John Vincent Servilla), son of aging prostitute Shirley (Angeline Kanapi) and younger brother of popular Baldo (Jude Matthew Servilla). They were also often harassed by English-speaking local bully Jimbo (Cayden Williams).

Being a film about teens, young love was part of the mix. Paolo had a serious crush on pretty Shaira (Elijah Alejo). When he learned that Shaira wanted to go ghost-hunting in the cemetery on Good Friday, he readily agreed to go with her. This was despite his fear of the supernatural creatures from the stories of their housemaid Lina (Moi Bien) and knowing that his mother will never allow it. All the while, Paolo never noticed that Mimaw had her own crush on him. Noel Comia Jr. portrayed Paolo's confusion with remarkable restraint and insight. 

If that volcano that erupted was supposed to be Mt. Pinatubo, there were inconsistencies in time. Mt. Pinatubo erupted in June 1991, not during Holy Week. Magic Johnson's HIV diagnosis was only made public in November 1991. There were some songs played in the soundtrack, like "Informer" by Snow which was a radio hit in 1992 and "Jabongga" by Legit Misfitz, a rap duo from 1994, which were not yet on the airwaves in 1991. But to be fair, the filmmakers never really named the volcano.

Millennials who were kids during that time will surely wax nostalgic over the familiar props of the early 1990s. The title implied the transition from childhood to adulthood. For a more tangible symbol, the boys decide to undergo traditional circumcision together care of Mang Pido (Lou Veloso). Mimaw had her own epiphany about herself as a female person. While there was nothing too earth-shaking in terms of its plot, this simple slice of life, coming of age film charms with director Raya Martin's affecting retro look and atmosphere. 7/10. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

HBO GO: Review of MARE OF EASTTOWN (Pilot): World-Weary Winslet

April 21, 2021

Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) is a detective in her working-class hometown of Easttown, Pennsylvania. After making the winning shot of their championship basketball game 25 years ago, Mare earned the local nickname Lady Hawk and even had her jersey #23 framed. A number of her former teammates also stayed on in Easttown, like Lori (Julianne Nicholson) who was Mare's best friend, Beth (Chinasa Ogbuagu) whose brother was a thieving drug addict, and Dawn (Enid Graham) whose daughter Katie had been missing for a year.

Mare lives with her mother Helen (Jean Smart), her teenager daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice) and her little grandson Andrew (Izzy King), apparently the son of a son whose story had yet to be told. She had been divorced from her husband Frank (David Denman), who ended up living just behind her house and was about to remarry a lady named Faye (Kate Arrington). One night in a bar, Mare met Richard Ryan (Guy Pierce), a writer with only one best-selling novel to his name, who may not be the one-night-stand Mare had in mind.

Meanwhile, there was a teenage single mother Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny) who was hoping to meet a better man for her. Her son just turned a year old but needed an expensive medical procedure, which both her father and the child's father were reluctant to help finance. Her ex also had a ill-mannered current girlfriend who was not above bullying Erin for texting him. By the end of the episode, Erin would figure in a grim incident which would be the central mystery of this limited series.

Of course, there is no more doubting Kate Winslet's commitment to playing real fully-rounded characters as she had done so in her previous films and TV work. Battle-scarred by her personal and professional losses, her Mare is tough, jaded and grumpy, at work, among her friends and even at home. While her close proximity to her ex-husband Frank provided comic sort of irony, while meeting Richard just may provide the much-needed romantic spark. An Emmy nomination for Winslet here would not be a surprise. 

So far, "Mare of Easttown" is poised to join the ranks of other acclaimed small town murder-mystery TV series in the past, like "Twin Peaks" to "Northern Exposure, "Fargo" to "Stranger Things." The pilot did just enough to introduce the main characters and their relationships, as well as to set-up the crime and the possible suspects who may be involved. The next 6 episodes promise to drag the viewer further into the murky depths of Mare's past and that of Easttown itself, before the crimes (satisfactorily, I hope) are solved by series' end. 7/10. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Netflix: Reviews of THE SOUL and RIDE OR DIE: Lengths of LGBT Love

 April 20, 2021


Director: Cheng Wei-hao

Screenplay: Cheng Wei-hao

Biotechnology magnate Wang Shih-tsung (Samuel Ku) had been brutally murdered in his elegant mansion. Prosecutor Liang Wen-chao (Chang Chen) had been assigned to handle the difficult case because of his seniority and experience, despite his currently critical health condition. His pregnant wife Pao (Janine Chan) was a member of his investigating team.

Wang's second wife Li Yan (Sun An Ke) testified that the murder was committed by Wang's unstable teenage son Tien-yu (Erik LIn), who had once promised to avenge the suicide of his long-suffering, depressed mother Tang Su-chen (Baby Zhang). Dr. Wan Yu-fan (Christopher Lee), Wang's trusted best friend who had developed a revolutionary technology of RNA surgery for cancer, was dragged into the case when his name showed up on the will.

At first, I thought this was going to be a typical horror movie about a restless soul getting revenge on those who wronged her. The initial scenes had horror tropes of dark stormy nights, bizarre religious rituals and scenes of demonic possession. However, as the story went on, it turned out to be a complex, thought-provoking piece of medical science fiction, with surprising prickly LGBT issues on the side.

The committed acting of the cast is commendable, especially that of Chang Chen who reportedly fast-tracked a loss of 24 lbs for this role for him to look as emaciated as a man dying of cancer. Writer-director Cheng Wei-hao displayed an assured and engaging storytelling style as he skillfully unfolded twist after twist up to the very end, making the whole 2-hour running time a most gratifying ride. 8/10. 


Director: Ryuichi Hiroki

Screenplay: Nami Sakkawa

One night, cosmetic surgeon Rei Nagasawa (Kiko Mizuhara) received a surprise phone call from Nanae Shinoda (Honami Satô), a girl she became obsessively in love with way back in high school. When Rei accepted Nanae's invitation to meet in her hotel room, she learned that Nanae was a victim of domestic abuse. Rei decided that she was willing to go kill Nanae's husband in order to avenge and rescue the first woman she ever loved. 

The two beautiful lead actresses have to be committed to their off-kilter roles. They gave it all with their realistic sex scenes in full frontal nudity, which just stopped short from being pornographic. Some supporting characters gave memorable scenes like that of Rei's current lover saying goodbye on the phone, and that of the taxi driver's style of soliciting sex. However, the actor playing Rei's brother was so just hammy in all his scenes, he came across as unintentionally funny.

The cinematography was beautiful, with some nice unexpected camera angles, and occasional shakiness to add grit. The choice of Western pop songs to accompany certain scenes was surprising. I particularly liked that gorgeous scene tracking the girls driving in their red BMW convertible across a long bridge spanning over calm blue waters, gracefully accompanied by the song "Shoot the Moon" by Norah Jones. 

This was based on a manga which could explain the graphic depiction of sex and violence. A daring heterosexual sex scene and a similarly daring lesbian sex scene served as the bookends to bolster the rather uneven middle section. At 142 minutes long, this was rather rambling movie about two mentally-disturbed women who cannot even describe what their relationship exactly was -- not really friends, not really lovers. 6/10.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

VivaMax: Review of KUNG PWEDE LANG: Explosive Expletives

April 18, 2021

Writer-director Darryl Yap is riding a major wave of productivity and controversy this first half of 2021 with three consecutive new projects released on the Vivamax platform this year. After "Paglaki Ko, Gusto Kong Maging Pornstar" in January and "Tililing" in March, here he is back again with a new series this time, entitled "Kung Pwede Lang." This one would be a "rant" series, the very form of genre that Darryl Yap built his career on.

Yap started gaining a name for himself by creating Vincentiments, a continuing series of viral short videos (more than 300M views) which invariably featured someone ranting about something in the harshest, most profane, most abrasive language ever. One of his most popular rant videos was "Jowable," which Yap had already been adapted into a full-length feature film -- his mainstream debut which had since become a sleeper box-office hit.

"Kung Puwede Lang" is about the Panting family who lived in a subdivision in Olongapo City. Seaman and game cock afficionado Paquito (Dennis Padilla) and home gardening businesswoman Princess (Rosanna Roces) had three children: the hirsute and jobless Prince (Robert Jbeili), the smart and pragmatic Precious (Carlyn Ocampo) and the perky and pink-haired Penelope (Loren Marinas).

The series has 8 episodes in all, and so far the first 4 had been released. Each episode lasts around 30 minutes only. It starts with a tense moment where one of the members of the family will be provoked into launching a major invective-laden rant against the topic on hand. Only after the rant will the opening credits begin to roll with its perky theme music.The rest of the episode told about the comical events which led up to that rant.

The first episode "Biskwit" opened with the Panting family holding a wake for their departed grandfather, whose body just arrived home that day in a casket in a balikbayan box from the US along with "pasalubong" for everyone. The inaugural rant was delivered by no less Aling Baby (Dexter Doria), the wife of the departed, who was being pestered by an unpleasant insensitive neighbor (Jobelyn Manuel) who wanted a refill of her watermelon seeds. 

The second episode "Holy Wood" featured a rant by Princess about how unappreciated she felt by being a generally ignored housewife and mother. In the third episode "Role Model," it was Prince's turn to rant about being pressured to find work, but not being accepted because he lacked experience. In the fourth episode "Phoenix," the pattern changed somewhat -- no major rant, but Penelope was complaining how her dad loved his rooster more than her, then they had a protracted segment about how to cook tinola. 

Yap's rants are an acquired taste. While these rants do have their valid points, not everyone can stand or tolerate the shouty, over-the-top delivery of the impassioned monologue, with all those explosive expletives to further add shock value. Yap's monologues attract public attention precisely because they are delivered that way. They are meant to provoke thought and hopefully, action. Maybe it is a reflection of society's apathy to issues that exaggeration and hyperbole are needed to get basic social message across. 

Netflix: Review of FOUR SISTERS BEFORE THE WEDDING: Foundations of Family

April 17, 2021

This new film is a prequel to "Four Sisters and a Wedding" (2013). Four sisters, Teddie (Toni Gonzaga), Bobbie (Bea Alonzo), Angel Locsin (Alex) and Gabbie (Shaina Magdayao) who get back together at the house of their mother Grace (Coney Reyes) for the wedding of their youngest brother CJ (Enchong Dee) to his girlfriend of only four months, Princess (Angeline Quinto). As the ladies try to prevent the wedding from happening, wounds of past rivalries between them would get reopened. That catfight scene between Angel Locsin and Mocha Uson would eventually became an iconic social media meme. 

In the present, the four sisters were having a Zoom call with CJ who was having problems with his wife. They reminisced back in their student days when their parents Caloy (Dominic Ochoa) and Grace (Carmina Villaruel) were also facing a crisis brewing in their marriage. The girls, Teddie (Charlie Dizon), Bobbie (Alexa Ilacad), Alex (Gillian Vicencio) and Gabbie (Belle Mariano) got together to try to investigate what was going on between their parents. The girls also have their first bittersweet experiences with boys. 

The four young actresses (Dizon, Ilacad, Vicencio and Mariano) in the new film were really able to capture the essential idiosyncrasies of the distinctive characters originally portrayed by Gonzaga, Alonzo, Locsin and Magdayao in the first movie, respectively. The ditziness of Teddie, the confidence of Bobbie, the rebelliousness of Alex, the kindness of Gabbie -- it was all so uncannily similar, and so entertaining to watch. They each deserve praise for their comic timing as well as their skills in tearful drama, individually and as an ensemble. 

As Mr. and Mrs. Salazar, Dominic Ochoa and Carmina Villaroel were consistent and reliable as ever. Irma Adlawan played Grace's wealthy mother, who looked down on Caloy's ability to provide for his family. As the young CJ, teenage Clarence Delgado had certainly trimmed down from how we first knew him first as a child star. Cai Cortez played the young Tina Marie, the girls' driver (played by Cecil Diaz in the first movie), who brought in the wacky private detective Susiebeth Sanchez (Kakai Bautista) into the action. 

As Teddie's high school crush Jeremy, Jameson Blake was a good acting match for Charlie Dizon's Teddie. Joao Constancia played young rocker Chad (the cad played by Bernard Palanca in the first movie), the thorn between Bobbie and Alex ever since. Jeremiah Lisbo had good screen presence as Gabbie's conflicted crush JP. Pinky Amador (as Mrs. Linda Malvar) and 2016 Tawag ng Tanghalan finalist Gigi de Lana (as Love Mae Tete) played the suspects causing the problems in the family.

Writer Vanessa Valdez weaved the same magic that she wrote the script of the first movie as with this prequel.  The winsome mix of riotous comedy and melodramatic family drama in her writing style is clearly noted. The best moments were invariably towards the end when the escalating comic hijinks transition into genuinely touching and tear-jerking drama Filipinos love. This film can probably can stand alone on its own, but I feel it should be more meaningful to watch it after you have seen the first movie first. 6/10. 

Friday, April 16, 2021


April 16, 2021

With the Oscar Awards coming on April 26, 2021, Monday morning (Manila time), it is time for me now to make my fearless Oscar predictions.  (My Oscar predictions of previous years were posted on these links: 20202019201820172016201520142013).

This year the Oscar Best Picture will likely go to NOMADLAND as it dominated all the preceding awards already given out, like the Golden Globes and BAFTA. Here is how I would rank this year's 9 nominees for Oscar Best Picture based on my own personal opinions when I first saw them (not exactly based on probability that I think they will win):


Director: Aaron Sorkin

Nominations (6): Picture, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Song, Original Screenplay

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. 9/10


Director: Florian Zeller

Nominations (6): Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Production Design

Anthony Hopkins gave his best and memorable performance in recent memory as Anthony. With that final scene alone, his was a portrayal so fragile and vulnerable, it was heart-breaking to witness. If there was a film that fully immersed the viewer in the experience of dementia, this would have to be it. When the character Anthony was in a constant state of confusion and frustration throughout this film, so were we. Director Florian Zeller played with our minds as Alzheimers disease played with Anthony's. The remarkable technical precision of the film editing deserves the Oscar as it was integral to the whole viewing experience. 9/10


Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Nominations (6): Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Original Score, Original Screenplay, 

A major charm of this film was the relationship between Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) and David (Allan S. Kim). Things started out with a lot of resistance from little boy about this old woman who smelled like Korea. 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. 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.


Director: Chloe Zhao

Nominations (6): Picture, Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing

This acclaimed film written, directed, edited and produced by Chloe Zhao was a meditative journey into  slices of real life in America's heartland. Zhao just wisely allowed real-life modern-day nomads to tell their own stories, documentary style. Gritty McDormand blended right in with the others, giving a performance so restrained but honest, with her heart out on her sleeve. This quiet film may not not for everyone as there was no solid plot, but the seemingly pointless, rambling nature of "Nomadland" had its own charm. A lot of scenes only had gentle music or even stark silence accompanying the images onscreen, but they were nonetheless magnetic and poetic. 8/10


Director: Shaka King

Nominations (5): Picture, Supporting Actor (2), Cinematography, Original Screenplay

In the late 1960s, young petty criminal William "Bill" O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) was propositioned by FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and to spy on its leader, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). This film effectively used the parallelism between the relationship of Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot with that of the charismatic Hampton and informant O'Neal. Daniel Kaluuya overwhelmingly owned this film as Hampton. Beside Kaluuya's effortless screen presence, the bland Stanfield could not connect even if the story was supposed to be about him. 8/10


Director: Darius Marder

Nominations (6): Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Original Screenplay, Sound

In a remarkable acting performance, Rhiz Ahmed became Ruben -- a tattooed ex-drug addict, a rock musician, a rebel, a hedonist. This film may not be perfect. It had very slow pacing. Ruben's character not exactly likable. However, this film impacted me in a different way as a professional who works with patients with hearing loss. It brought me into a deaf community and how they want to live a life where deaf is not a handicap. It made me aware of how the technology we advise them about may or may not actually help them. This immersive approximation of life as a deaf person is a valuable lesson in empathy. 8/10


Director: Emerald Fennell

Nominations (5): Picture, Actress, Director, Film Editing, Original Screenplay

Carey Mulligan went beyond her usual comfort in this gutsy and challenging role. Cassie was a totally different Carey 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. It clearly depicted the disadvantage women experience in real life, but ironically, it also showed how limited their options are to fight back. 8/10.


Director: David Fincher

Nominations (10): Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Director, Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design, Sound

Director David Fincher and his cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt captured the era beautifully, reminiscent of the black-and-white deep focus style by Welles's cinematographer Gregg Toland (unjustly snubbed by Oscar back then) for "Citizen Kane." The screenplay by Jack Fincher, David's father, was as witty and eloquent as its gregarious subject matter. For fans of "Citizen Kane" and golden age Hollywood as a whole, "Mank" is a definite must-watch. But for those who do not share this interest in vintage cinema, I'm afraid they may not share that sentiment. 8/10

***** My bets to win for each of the other categories:

Lead Actor: Chadwick Boseman ("Ma Rainey's Black Bottom") (MY FULL REVIEW)

Nominees: Riz Ahmed ("Sound of Metal"), Anthony Hopkins ("The Father"), Gary Oldman ("Mank), Steven Yeun ("Minari") 

Lead Actress: Viola Davis ("Ma Rainey's Black Bottom")

Nominees: Andra Day ("The United States vs. Billie Holiday") (MY FULL REVIEW), Vanessa Kirby ("Pieces of a Woman") (MY FULL REVIEW), Frances McDormand ("Nomadland"), Carey Mulligan ("Promising Young Woman")

Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Nominees: Sacha Baron Cohen ("The Trial of the Chicago 7"), Leslie Odom Jr. ("One Night in Miami") (MY FULL REVIEW), Paul Raci ("Sound of Metal"), Lakeith Stanfield ("Judas and the Black Messiah")

Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn ("Minari")

Nomineees:  Maria Bakalova ("Borat Subsequent Moviefilm") (MY FULL REVIEW), Olivia Colman ("The Father"), Glenn Close ("Hillbilly Elegy") (MY FULL REVIEW), Amanda Seyfried ("Mank")

Director: Chloé Zhao. "Nomadland"

Nominees: Lee Isaac Chung ("Minari"), Emerald Fennell ("Promising Young Woman"), David Fincher ("Mank"), Thomas Vinterberg ("Another Round")

Animated Feature: "Soul" (Pixar) Pete Docter, Dana Murray (MY FULL REVIEW)

Nominees:  "Wolfwalkers", "Over the Moon" (MY FULL REVIEW), "Onward" (MY FULL REVIEW),"A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon"

Animated Short: “If Anything Happens I Love You”

Nominees: “Burrow”, “Genius Loci”, “Opera”, “Yes-People”

Cinematography: “Nomadland" (Joshua James Richards)

Nominees: "Judas and the Black Messiah," "Mank," "News of the World," "The Trial of the Chicago 7"

Costume Design: "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (Ann Roth)

Nominees: "Emma.,""Mank," "Mulan" (MY FULL REVIEW), "Pinocchio"

Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher 

Nominees: Collective (MY FULL REVIEW), Crip Camp, The Mole Agent (MY FULL REVIEW), Time (MY FULL REVIEW)

Documentary Short Subject: “A Love Song for Latasha” (Sophia Nahli Allison)

Nominees: “Do Not Split” (Anders Hammer), “A Concerto Is a Conversation” (Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers), “Colette” (Anthony Giacchino), “Hunger Ward” (Skye Fitzgerald)

Film Editing: “The Father" (Yorgos Lamprinos)

Nominees: “Nomadland,” "The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Sound of Metal,” “Promising Young Woman”

International Film: "Another Round" (Denmark) (MY FULL REVIEW)

Nominees: "Quo Vadis, Aida?" (Bosnia and Herzegovina) (MY FULL REVIEW), "The Man Who Sold His Skin" (Tunisia), "Collective" (Romania),  "Better Days" (Hong Kong) (MY FULL REVIEW)

Live Action Short Film: “The Present" (Farah Nabulsi)

Nominees: “White Eye” (Tomer Shushan), “Feeling Through” (Doug Roland)“The Letter Room” (Elvira Lind) (MY FULL REVIEW), "Two Distant Strangers” (Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe)

Makeup and Hairstyling: "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (Mia Neal)

Nominees: "Emma." (MY FULL REVIEW), "Mank," "Hillbilly Elegy," "Pinocchio"

Original Score: "Soul" (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste)

Nominees: "Da 5 Bloods" (MY FULL REVIEW), "Mank," "Minari," "News of the World"

Original Song: "Husavik (My Hometown) ("Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga")  (MY FULL REVIEW)

Nominees:  "Io Si" ("The Life Ahead") (MY FULL REVIEW), "Fight for You" ("Judas and the Black Messiah"), "Hear My Voice" ("The Trial of the Chicago 7"), "Speak Now" ("One Night in Miami") 

Production Design: “Mank” (Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale)

Nominees: "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom", "News of the World", "The Father", "Tenet" (MY FULL REVIEW)

Screenplay Adapted: "Nomadland" (Chloe Zhao)

Nominees:  "The Father," "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm," "One Night in Miami," "The White Tiger" (MY FULL REVIEW)

Screenplay Original: "Promising Young Woman" (Emerald Fennell)

Nominees:   "The Trial of the Chicago 7," "Minari," "Sound of Metal," "Judas and the Black Messiah" 

Sound: “Sound of Metal"

Nominees: "Greyhound" (MY FULL REVIEW), "Mank," "News of the World" (MY FULL REVIEW), "Soul" 

Visual Effects: "Tenet” 

Nominees: "Love and Monsters" (MY FULL REVIEW), "The Midnight Sky" (MY FULL REVIEW), "The One and Only Ivan", "Mulan"

Thursday, April 15, 2021

VivaMax: Review of SEOBOK: Saving the Specimen

April 15, 2021

Seobok (Park Bo-gum) is the first and only successful prototype of a human clone whose genes were entirely modified through genetic manipulation, rendering him an undying being. Named after a legendary servant seeking the elixir of immortality for his emperor, Seobok had bone marrow that produce stem cells with proteins which can cure any human disease. He also had brainwaves so strong that they can move objects around him when provoked.

When his developer was murdered, the specimen Seobok had to be protected at all costs. Min Ki-hun (Gong Yoo) was an ex-intelligence agent who had been called out of retirement to escort and ensure safe transport of Seobok to another facility. When their convoy was ambushed by American soldiers, Min had to use his skills to get Seobok out alive and bring him to safety, while dealing with the crippling effects of his guilt and his brain tumor. 

As written by director Lee Yoong-ju, "Seobok" was about the developing relationship between these two men on the run from people who wanted the specimen for their own ends. Ki-hun was the gruff and jaded older brother who had to keep his innocent and curious little brother in line, as they try to gain each others trust. The two lead actors both get into their characters with effective chemistry between them. While Gong went intense, Park shone in his restraint. 

Meanwhile, behind all this dramatic pursuit was the philosophical paradox of how death is what kept humanity alive and going as we know it now. As humans are the only species who are aware of their own mortality, fear of death gave life its meaning. With immortality, humans would lose this drive, only fostering greed.  Ki-hun and Seo Bok also argue about worthiness to live and the reasons why one wants to go on living. 

In true Korean cinema tradition, behind all its expensive-looking sci-fi special effects of the fancy hi-tech laboratory facilities as well as the violent displays of Seo Bok's powerful telekinetic abilities, "Seobok" is a thought-provoking personal and philosophical drama at heart. Hammy supporting actors aside, the film was carried by the magnetic performances of its two charismatic lead stars, making that concluding moment one of sheer poignance. 7/10. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

HBO GO: Review of THE NEVERS (Pilot): Tending to the Touched

April 12, 2021

It was London in the year 1899. A prescient and athletic widow Amalia True (Laura Donnely) and innovative inventor Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) were bringing Myrtle (Viola Prettejohn), a girl who can speak in a multitude of foreign languages, to the Orphanage. This place, sponsored by wealthy spinster Lavinia Bidlow (Olivia Williams), was home to many similar individuals who were called "Touched" because they gained unusual supernatural abilities since the fateful day of August 3, 1896. 

This one hour-long pilot episode gave a concise yet comprehensive introduction to the world of the Touched,  which became a pressing issue in London in the final years of the 19th century. At its core, it had the basic concepts of "The X-Men," mutants who were trying to fit into the world of regular people. The Orphanage was analogous to Professor X's School for Gifted Youngsters. We are also introduced to the two women who run its operations, the pragmatic Mrs. True and the optimistic Penance, and get an overview of their skills. 

There were also some "Touched" who use their powers for evil purposes, and we got to meet a few of them, like the mentally-unstable and murderous Maladie (Ann Manson) and her minion Bonfire (Rochelle Neil) who can throw balls of fire. We were introduced to their mayhem when Maladie interrupted a performance of the opera "Faust" by slitting the neck of the actor playing the Devil. We intuit that they were also collecting Touched themselves, by abducting Mary Brighton (Eleanor Tomlinson) whose song can freeze the Touched.

There were also regular humans who were worried about the presence of the Touched among them, and the most prominent one of these was Lord Massen (Pip Torrens). There was an interesting conversation between Amalia and Massen before the start of the opera which effectively summarized the underlying plot conflicts of the series and suggested the direction where the next five episodes will go. In an earlier scene, Massen actually classified the Touched along with "women, immigrants and deviants," setting up its social message.

This is the latest project of director Joss Whedon, and from "Buffy" to the "Avengers," we know that he can tell stories about people with supernatural powers. The Victorian setting gave the overworked Mutant story a different twist, with a rather maudlin color palette and a lot of steampunk designs. There was a side plot about the Ferrymen Group run by the depraved aristocrat Hugo Swan (James Norton) which can go either way. So yes, I am still curious to see how the rest of the series will go. 7/10. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

VivaMax: Review of STEAL: Capricious Caper

April 11, 2021

Hiyasmin (Meg Imperial) was Filipina who worked in a bar in the city of Kitakyushu in Fukuoka, Japan. She was close friends with her fellow bartender CM (Ella Cruz) and her tomboyish cousin Mitch (Jennifer Lee). One night at work, she helped Platinum (Nathalie Hart), a fellow Filipina whom she saw being bullied on the street by a man.

One day, Platinum propositioned the girls to steal a bag full of money that belonged to her abusive Japanese husband Hideo (Guji Lorenzana) from a billiards place. Desperate for cash themselves, the naive ladies accepted the offer against their better judgement and enter the dangerous world of ruthless gangsters.

The four actresses all had good rapport with each other, and all had their distinct personalities to distinguish one character from the others. They were all energetic, game for action and their Japanese lines. However, the humor tended to fall flat when the girls go into over-the-top mode in their acting, becoming too noisy than funny. Meg Imperial stood out from the ensemble as she was able to keep things serious and believable as Hiyasmin. 

The screenplay by Enrique S. Villasis told a slice of life of Filipinas living in Japan as overseas workers, the instability of their financial situation there and how they cope. The crime aspect of the script was rather simplistic, with some holes in the planning. The reasons why they were pushed to commit crime ranged from the familiar (someone back home needed a kidney transplant) to the absurd (owing one million yen playing pachinko at the arcade).  

Director Bona Fajardo told the story of this first-time caper with a wacky playful spirit. He went back and forth in time to keep certain details kept in suspense as the events unfold in the present. It may be visually confusing, but he had the idea of using Filipino actors for Japanese characters. There were some Japanese actors, but just in comic bit roles. The director's execution was awkward and uneven, but the girls' charms can somehow still get viewers engaged in the action and the fun. 5/10.

KTX: Review of GENERAL ADMISSION: Spinning Scandals

April 9, 2021

Katja Majarais (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) was the star member of the Daisy Ocho, a group of sexy dancers on a crass noontime TV show Tawag ng Tanghalian. One day, she had her period while dancing on air, causing a red stain to be visible on her white costume. Katja's misfortune was the red-hot topic being tackled on mass media and social media. Her rival dancer Rose (Angelica Bianca Lapuz) even circulated a cruel gif of that awkward moment.

A famous fortune teller Madame Nora (Vangie Labalan) made a prediction on air that someone Katja loved will die in 24 hours. Was Madame referring to her boyfriend Carlito Sicat (JC de Vera), a once-popular child actor wanting to make a comeback? Rival TV talk show hosts Teri Miranda (Nanette Inventor) of "Tsismis 24/7" and Danny de Leon (Archie Adamos) of "Blgar Teleradyo" scramble to generate controversial content out of the situation.

Together with guest panelists psychology professor Dra. Wilfreda Limpin (Angelina Kanapi)  and celebrity vlogger Tom Young (Bryan Sy), the hosts spin scandalous generalizations from pure speculations and silly exaggerations. They manipulate interviews with their leading questions, and put words into the guests' mouths. They even employ camera crews to follow subjects around and hidden cameras to catch sensitive moments. 

So from a simple case of an embarrassing red stain on white shorts, the issue had spun off wildly into false accusations.of child abuse, secret affairs, pregnancy, abortion, homophobia, HIV, sexual harassment, and human rights violations. There were rallies from women's groups and LGBT groups, all taking advantage of the spotlight to highlight their advocacies. When someone was actually shot in public in the end, even more salacious confessions came out.

This smart black comedy was written by Dustin Celestino and directed by Jeffrey Hidalgo (who also appeared onscreen as a malicious TV director) as a commentary on the TV business nowadays, highlighting the callousness, the insensitivity and the ruthlessness of it all. Everything was about the sponsors, the money, the audience response, the ratings. Their focus was on sensationalizing the issues, and not the actual truth of the content. It also showed how celebrities have become prisoners of their own public personas. 6/10. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

NETFLIX: Review of THUNDER FORCE: Match for Miscreants

April 10, 2020

In March of 1983, blast of cosmic rays from outer space. This radiation caused genetic mutations that gave certain sociopathic people special powers which they unfortunately used for evil, gaining them the nickname Miscreants. Ever since she was a child, genius Emily Stanton buried herself in her studies, always focused on her dream to fight these Miscreants who caused the death of her parents. She only had one friend who protected her from bullies, her best friend Lydia, her direct opposite both physically and in attitude.

Fast forward to the present, Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) grew up to be a crane-operator at the container facility, while Emily (Octavia Spencer) grew up to be the super-scientist. When Lydia came to pick Emily up for their reunion, her mischief caused Lydia to be accidentally injected with the super-strength serum that Emily invented to give super powers to regular humans. Along with Emily who took the pills which can cause her to be invisible, the duo faced the challenge of the Miscreants as the Thunder Force.

The Miscreants were led by a man running for mayor of Chicago calling himself "The King" (Bobby Cannavale). Laser (Pom Klementieff) was a violent, hot-headed Miscreant who can throw blue destructive lightning bolts, very far from her calm quiet MCU superhero Mantis. The Crab had crab claws for arms but no clear powers that I noted, but the fact that this rather silly Miscreant was played by a big name Jason Bateman, you could predict that he will have more to do than just petty theft in a supermarket. 

Octavia Spencer is more known for her dramatic roles in acclaimed films like "The Shape of Water" (2017), "Hidden Figures" (2016) and "The Help" (2011) where she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Here as Emily, Spencer underplayed to further contrast herself from the bombastic McCarthy, or did she just phone it in on purpose? In contrast with the single Lydia, Emily had family to further interact with, a loving grandmother Norma (Marcella Lowery) and a similarly bright daughter Tracy (Taylor Mosby).

Just like in "The Heat" (2013), Melissa McCarthy's Lydia was a brusque, foul-mouthed, uncouth character, the absolute opposite of her regimented, straight-laced partner made for good old-fashioned comedy trope -- the odd couple. It was practically an exact remake of that absurdly successful winning formula. However, in comparison, the writing of the jokes here were not as sharp or as funny as they were in "The Heat." McCarthy's jokes here felt like lazy ad libs, were generally lame and corny, falling flat most of the time. 4/10.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Netflix: Review of SISYPHUS: THE MYTH: Megalomaniac Match-up

April 8, 2021

In 2020, Han Tae-sul (Cho Seung-woo) was a genus engineer and tech magnate, the CEO of the Quantum & Time Corporation, which he ran together with his friends Eddy Kim (Tae In-ho) and Dr. Kim Seo-jin (Jung Hye-in). Kang Seo-hae (Park Shin-hye) was an elite soldier from the post-apocalytic 2035 sent back to the present to stop Tae-sul from inventing an innovative piece of time-travelling technology which would trigger a nuclear war on October 31, 2020, one that would wipe Korea off the map. 

Though the corridors of time, Tae-sul and Seo-hye evaded threats from the Control Bureau under Mr. Hwang (Choi Jung-woo), the Asia Mart tech crew under Mr. Park (Sung Dong-il) and Han Tae-sul's arch nemesis since childhood, Seo Won-Ju, codenamed Sigma (Kim Byung-chul). Tae-sul got reunited with his elder brother Han Tae-san, whose death 10 years ago still made him feel guilty. Seo-hae got reunited with her beloved father (Kim Jong-tae) and late mother (Lee Yeon-Soo). 

What was most remarkable about this series was its high-tech science fiction premise, not a common topic in K-dramas. It had ambitious scenes of major production value which they pulled off very well considering that this was TV. In Episode 1, Tae-sul was already trying to avert a commercial passenger airplane from imminent crashing. In Episode 9, there was a sequence of even more massive scale -- the destruction of Seoul by a continuous hail of nuclear warheads.

There were several elaborate action scenes to keep the adrenaline of the viewers pumping. In Episode 3 when Tae-sul and Seo-hae outrun a horde of assassins in and around the Busan Convention Center. In Episode 4 when there was an exhilarating scene of flying drones chasing a car as it navigated along narrow city streets. There would be plenty more such fight and chase scenes as the series went on, but for me, nothing really matched the complexity and excitement levels of those two.

Park Shin-hye felt miscast as Seo-hae. She was generally so aloof and cold, uninteresting with little emotional connection to the very end. Her romantic chemistry with Tae-sul was also rather weak. Seo-hae's contemplative scenes by herself or those conversations she had with her father Kang Dong-ki (Kim Jong-tae), felt very repetitive. Even the subplots of characters connected to Seo-hae do not play out too well, like restaurant boy Choi Jae-Sun (Chae Jong-hyeop) who loved her, or new Control Bureau recruit Jung Hyun-gi (Go Yoon), who hated her.

It was the megalomaniacal Tae-sul vs. Sigma rivalry which were the most interesting storyline, especially as it became more fleshed out only in Episode 13. The backstory of Seo Won-ju was a deep hole of physical and mental abuse since childhood into young adulthood, which led him to become an evil mass terrorist, which Kim Byung-chul played with wicked glee. Han Tae-sul was an annoying, narcissistic, self-centered, billionaire tech genius but at least Cho Seung-woo still managed to give him a modicum of charm and heart. 

It was not really too easy to get into the story at first with all the jargon used to describe the "uploading" and "downloading" of people, or the mechanics involved in such time travels. A plot-line about time-travelling, while interesting, can really result in several plot-holes when put under close scrutiny. Characters from the future went back to change events the past. There came a point when there were too many characters going back and forth in time, it eventually became difficult to follow all the little details in the flow of the story clearly. 

Characters were allowed to co-exist with their younger selves in the same scene or even in one single location. They were not only there to observe (like in emotional Episode 11), but they were also able to actively intervene with the ongoing events (like in the finale Episode 16). It made for very good drama, even if they seemed against rules of quantum physics. However, with such a broad futuristic palette at its disposal, this series promoted themes of guilt and regret, giving it a generally downcast mood, which may not be easy to binge. 6/10.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Netflix: Review of CONCRETE COWBOY: Breaking In the Boy

April 3, 2021

Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) was such a recalcitrant juvenile delinquent that his mother Amahle (Liz Priestley) finally gave up. She decided to drive him from Detroit to Philadelphia to deliver him to the doorstep of his estranged father Harp (Idris Elba). On his first night there, Harp brusquely let him sleep on a couch in the living room which he shared with a spirited horse.

It turned out that Harp was one of a small group of urban cowboys who lived and worked in the old horse stables that remain to exist within the city. Cole tried to learn the cowboy trade and even learned to break a wild stallion, but unfortunately, he also hung out with a local drug pusher Smush (Jharrel Jerome) he knew from before. 

19 year-old actor Caleb McLaughlin (from Netflix series "Stranger Things") had a strong feature film debut in the central character of Cole. Aside from his emotional scenes with his parents, that scene cleaning out the stables was physically exhausting. As Harp, Idris Elba had fewer scenes than expected, but he made his presence felt whenever he was on, especially in that quiet scene when Harp was telling Cole the story how he was named.

One of the best scenes was that honest scene where Harp and his friends like Nessie (Lorraine Toussaint) and Rome (Byron Bowers) were talking about their lifestyle as urban cowboys around a bonfire felt very sincere and real. This was even more impressive when I learned that the other cowboys there were non-professional actors, like wheelchair-bound Paris (Jamil Prattis) whose screen presence matched the pros. 

When the cliche storyline of a typical coming-of-age of a rebellious African-American teenager became apparent from the very start, this film did not seem promising at all. When there was a side plot about the drug trade introduced, the worse the outlook became. However, when the story focused on the life, history and plight of the city cowboys of Philadelphia, that was when the film came to life. 6/10. 

Netflix: Review of VOICE OF SILENCE: Mute Morality

April 3, 2021

An unlikely team of a religious old bachelor Chang-bok (Yoo Jae-myung) and his young mute assistant Tae-in (Yoo Ah-in) worked as the clean-up crew for gangsters. One day, their boss unexpectedly assigned them to take care of an eleven-year-old kidnapped girl Cho-hee (Moon Seung-ah) while the ransom was being settled. They kept her in Tae-in's remote hovel where he lived with his much-younger sister Moon-ju (Lee Ga-eun). 

With the little girls present among gang members doing their dirty job, the overall premise can be very uncomfortable, but the mood was kept mostly light and (darkly) comic to diffuse this disturbing vibe. The fate of the girl Cho-hee may be uncertain, but given the personalities of Chang-bok and Tae-in were basically that of good people forced into this life of crime by poverty, we are somehow reassured by trusting that she will be kept safe by these men.

This was another Korean film where heartwarming moments were again so well-woven into the most unsentimental of situations. Cho-hee's scenes with Moon-ju, of older sister teaching a younger sister good manners and housekeeping skills were very sweet. Chang-bok's kind treatment of Tae-in as the son he never had that also felt uplifting despite the desperate and depressing conditions they existed in.

Yoo Ah-in ("The Throne," "Burning," "#Alive") again displayed broad acting range with his wordless portrayal of the mute simpleton Tae-in. He only used his face and body to get the heart to shine through this gentle man involved with criminals. There was a sense of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" here, with Yoo Jae-myung ("Stranger," "Life," "Itaewon Class") playing Chong-bok as George, with Tae-in as the clueless Lennie under his wing.

By the 11th hour, there was a late night encounter with a police officer that led to another kidnapping attempt in the morning which confused the flow of the story unnecessarily (for me at least). Just when you thought you had predicted exactly how that the ending would go, writer/director Hong  Eui-ieong (in her feature film debut) still managed to throw us a curve ball and surprise us with her sense of justice and morality. 7/10.