Tuesday, June 29, 2021

HBO: Review of NO SUDDEN MOVE: Hiking Up the Haul

June 27, 2021

It was 1954 in Detroit. Curt (Don Cheadle), Russo (Benicio del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin) were recruited by a guy named Jones (Brendan Fraser) for a seemingly simple job. Charley was to accompany an accounting clerk Matt Wertz (David Harbour) to his office to retrieve a classified document from the safe of his boss. While waiting, Curt and Russo held Matt's wife Mary (Amy Seimetz) and kids hostage in their house. 

However, things did not go exactly as planned which forced Curt and Russo to use their own wits and connections to discover the deeper story about that document that they were supposed to steal, as well as the masterminds behind the whole plot. As they uncovered more details and went up the corporate ladder of executives, their wives, mistresses and other gangsters, their initial contract price went from a mere $5,000 up a hundredfold.

The throwback retro style was evident from the first scene as the camera followed Curt walking along the streets of Detroit, and the opening credits were being flashed in big block red letters. The electronic jazzy musical score of David Holmes gave a tense gangster atmosphere from the get-go, setting the tone for the whole film. The costumes were in tune with the 1950s setting, dapper suits for the men and colorful swing dresses for the women, 

The stellar ensemble cast was led by Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro, both known for being reliable actors of broad range and versatility. They deliver the goods here with their expected efficiency in portraying their respective characters, Curt and Russo.  Both were at first satisfied to make a quick buck for 3-hour "babysitting" job, but later, they wised up to realize that there was so much more money to be gained by jumping up the ranks of contacts via a series of double-crossing transactions. 

It was good to see Brendan Fraser back on the screen, even with the added pounds.  Jon Hamm had always fit the mold of a police officer, in this case, he was Detective Joe Finney. Ray Liotta was born to play gangsters, and here he played was another one, Frank Capelli. Julia Fox, fresh from her breakthrough debut in "Uncut Gems" (2019), played Capelli's devious wife Vanessa. There is one more major star, unbilled on the poster, that made a surprise guest appearance as a corporate head honcho. 

Ed Solomon is best known for writing the "Bill and Ted" films and "Now You See Me" films. His dark sense of humor was very well-integrated in this clever caper as well. Director Steven Soderbergh unfolded his complicated story methodically here, gripping the audience from the start, and engaging them all the way through to the very end. To solidify his vision, Soderbergh also worked as cinematographer (as Peter Andrews) and editor (as Mary Ann Bernard). His storytelling style was so deliberately intriguing, only revealing the whole story with the card that came up after the final scene to explain the history behind it all. 8/10. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Netflix: Review of WILD LITTLE LOVE: Charged with Charm

June 26, 2021

Rich girl Sam (Andrea Brillantes) was the captain of the pep squad of the snobbish exclusive school Rosehill Academy. However, she was also notorious for being naughty prankster and a heartless bully to the less fortunate. To teach her valuable life lesson she badly needed, her dad Luis (Alfred Vargas) forced her to transfer on her senior year to a public school, the Philippine State University or PSU, his own alma mater. 

From her first day, Sam encountered much resistance from her new classmates, specially since she used to say harsh things about the PSU pep squad when she was still in Rosehill. However she met a poor but earnest boy, campus photojournalist Jake (Seth Fedelin), who tried his best to help Sam around the campus and adjust to the radically different way of life in PSU, as her father likewise curtailed all her privileges like credit cards and driver.

The scenario of a rich girl-poor boy romance is very old and familiar, a formula frequently rehashed in various films from all over the world since the silent era. There was "Titanic," "The Notebook," and even animated ones like "Aladdin" or "Lady and the Tramp." Of course, a number of interchangeable Filipino rom-coms have tackled this very same scenario starring possibly every teenybopper or young adult love team throughout the years.

The central conflict is very predictable so there wasn't really very much suspense about what was eventually going to happen. The good poor boy falls in love with spoiled rich girl and vice versa, of course, sooner or later, their wide financial gap was going to get in the way of their budding romance. Of course, parental intervention is inevitable, as per the usual plots of this sort. Being a rom-com, the fairy tale ending was pretty evident from the get-go.  

However, director Benedict Mique was somehow able to sprinkle this oft-told story with magic pixie dust that made it fresh and fun to watch. At first, Andrea Brillantes's Sam was a milder shade of bratty Marga from her "Kadenang Ginto" TV series, but there was something special with her sparkling chemistry with Seth Fedelin's charming Jake that made even the whole thing so enjoyable and winsome. Even with cliches and all, this will make you smile. 7/10. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

HBO GO: Review of GODZILLA VS. KONG: Titanic Tussle

June 23, 2021

In 2017, there was "Kong: Skull Island" (MY REVIEW). In 2019, there was "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" (MY REVIEW). The inevitable sequel to these two films would logically be a film that would bring these two titans together. 

One night, Godzilla went on a sudden rampage in the facility of Apex Cybernetics in Pensacola, Florida. Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), an engineer at Apex and voice of Titan Truth podcast, theorized that Godzilla must have been provoked to attack by a secret robotics project in their facility. A fan of the podcast, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), a daughter of Monarch scientists, went to help Bernie in his mission, with her nerdy friend Josh (Julian Dennison) in tow. 

Meanwhile, Hollow Earth researcher Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgaard) was offered by Apex owner Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) to retrieve a life force energy source located under the earth's surface. Lind contacts Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) in the belief that Kong can lead the way there through an entrance in Antarctica. Dr. Andrews had an adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a mute island girl who had learned to communicate with Kong with sign language. 

This film is really all about Godzilla and Kong fighting each other, and these were absolutely the best parts. The computer-generated images of the two Titans were very well-executed and seeing them in action together was exhilarating. The two first had an explosive brawl among a fleet of battleships in the middle of the Tasman Sea. Later, they clashed in an epic battle in the neon-lit streets of Hong Kong. When a fully-energized Mechagodzilla joined in the fray the next day, it was more than awesome.  

All the human characters were very noisy and annoying as they usually were in films like this, and the less seen of them the better. I wished there was no need for any significant human intervention that would affect the outcome of the major fights, but of course there was. It was human action that saved Kong from being smothered by a Hollow Earth creature, revived Kong when he had a cardiac arrest, and kept Kong from being drilled to death by a rotatory tail. It was clear that Kong needed humans just to survive this movie. 

Godzilla may be billed first in the title, but the script tended to favor Kong, which irritated me as I was rooting for Godzilla. Giving Kong the ability to communicate with a little girl was not fair play at all, as it would gain more audience sympathy. Anyhow, whoever you are rooting for, this is one of those movies that make you regret that you are not watching it on the biggest screen possible with the best surround sound possible. Grand spectacles like this need to be experienced in a movie theater, and we hope we can get that back soon. 7/10. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Review of A GIRL + A GUY: Carnal and Candid

June 23, 2021

Fiona Orozco (Alexa Miro) wanted to be a filmmaker, so she worked in a film production outfit under her bosses (Roeder Camanag and Donna Cariaga). While she was recovering from a bad breakup with her boyfriend Gio (Rosh Barman), Fiona casually hooked up with random strangers she met on vacation, or experiment with partners picked via dating apps.

Raf Tesoro (Rob Gomez) wanted to be a graphic artist, and was meanwhile working in an ad agency of his mother's friend (Marina Benipayo). Since he was also fresh from a breakup from his girlfriend Trixie (Sarah Holmes), it did not take too long for the charming Raf to attract and hook up with the other single ladies in his office. 

Something that surprised me very much with the promotional campaign of this film was its focus on the sex scenes, how the young cast were more than willing to shed their clothes. This certainly did not sound like the proper hype for the latest film of a respected director like Erik Matti who had acclaimed films under his belt, like "On the Job" (2012), "Honor Thy Father" (2015) and "Buy Bust" (2018). But then again, these were unknown actors in the lead.

Those who did watch it for the nude scenes will not be disappointed, as the attractive cast did show off a lot of skin, as well as other body parts not usually seen in mainstream local movies, while simulating sexual encounters. Matti surely could have done without these scenes with full frontal exposure, which were not entirely necessary for the story. Perhaps they were there more for the shock value so people would talk about the film, for the publicity. 

In this film, writer-director Erik Matti posited that in Gen Z, the mantra is now "sex precedes intimacy" -- an idea totally scandalous for the parents in Gen X'ers. Throughout this film, Matti did not shirk in showing how easily these young people have sex so casually it seems, even before knowing each other well. However, Matti never really delved into the deeper aspects of Gen Z beyond sex. Surely that sexual overdrive is not unique to their generation alone.

The two lead actors Alexa Miro and Rob Gomez had strong screen presence and have a future as serious actors. Despite what the title says, Fiona and Raf hooked up sexually with a number of different partners throughout the film respectively except each other, which was rather ironic. Their first scene together happened already midway in the film when Raf gatecrashed Fiona's birthday party and they had a profound conversation as strangers. This was their best scene together, and the best scene of the whole film for me.

Matti showed how these impatient 20-somethings felt that they wanted to "grab life by the balls" as much as they could. So if things were not happening exactly as they envisioned, they will wish that the world to stop revolving so fast so they can catch up. When elders try to advise them about being more perseverant, they will just feel that they are being talked down to as if they were kids, and resent it all. Watching this film as a protective Gen X parent of sheltered Gen Z children, I dread the day they move out to face in the "real" world of now. 5/10. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Vivamax: Review of RECALLED: Amnesic Agitation

June 22, 2021

Soo-jin (Seo Yea-ji) lost her memory when she recovered from an accident. Her husband Ji-hoon (Kim Kang-woo) had to fill in all the details of her past. However, she began to see what felt like visions of future events involving people in their condominium building. In the following days, Soo-jin met up with a former colleague who confused her with stories about her and her husband that conflicted with those that Ji-hoon had been telling her. 

Koreans really excel in these crime-thriller with a psychological twist and this was another one of them. We see things in the point of view of Soo-jin and everything was being fed to us as it was being fed to her by Ji-hoon. We experience the same confusion she was feeling when she began seeing those prophetic visions. Her doctor dismissed these as hallucinations brought about most likely by her severe concussion, aside from all her medications.

However, as more conflicting details were related to her from other sources, we share in her curiosity and paranoia to find out more about this man who was calling himself her husband. This was especially when he would figure prominently in her visions, which made him more and more suspicious. As the police and neighbors get involved in her mixed-up reality and fantasy, we also do not know where the story is going to go. 

The psychologically-disturbed Soo-jin is played by Seo Yea-ji, who had recently just impressed viewers with her portrayal of another psychologically-disturbed author in the TV drama "It's Okay Not to Be Okay" (2020). Kim Kang-woo had such a good-boy aura about him as he played Ji-hoon, which made it more difficult to reconcile all those conflicting revelations about him in the course of the story. Sung Hyuk (as a neighbor hounded by a loan shark) and Yeom Hye-ran (as a director in an art school) provide effective support. 

For these crime thrillers to succeed, the revelation should delivered with such meticulous skill in order for the twist to work. In her impressive debut as director, Seo Yoo-min (who also wrote the script) did just that and more. Aside from navigating the complicated crime aspect (with its jumping back and forth in time) with solid logic, Seo also served the human drama aspect very well, as she explored the complex relationship between the two main characters with such sensitivity and heart. 8/10. 

Vivamax: Review of SANA ALL: Pursuit of Passion

June 22, 2021

Iyam (Meg Imperial) was the granddaughter and heir apparent of her Lola Ingga (Lita Loresca), legendary maker of the best rice wine called tapuey in Adams, Ilocos Norte. Iyam was unable to move on from being left behind by her boyfriend two years ago, and this was negatively affecting the taste of her tapuey. Lola Ingga and her cousin Timo (Pio Balbuena) believed she needs a new lover to regain the passion needed for making the best tapuey. 

In a resort in La Union, Iyam met a well-to-do Manila boy Syd (Arvic Tan), who had a mobile bar business with his best friend Joan (Andrew Muhlach). They met again when Syd and Joan ventured into Lola Ingga's store to taste her famous tapuey. Timo convinced Syd that it was their tradition that the tapuey-maker (in this case, Iyam) needed to be wooed so that she will be able to make the sweetest tapuey for them to buy. Syd took the challenge seriously. 

After bringing us to Fukuoka, Japan in his last film "Steal," director Bona Fajardo now introduced us to the rustic charms of Adams, a small 5th class municipality in northern Ilocos Norte with a population of around 2,000 residents, located just adjacent to the more popular beach town Pagudpud. The scenic beauty of Iyam's favorite mountain lookout spot (as seen in the film's poster) was captured very well on screen. He also chose to highlight a beach resort in Bacnotan, La Union to show off its surfing and party culture. 

Meg Imperial played it very seriously as Iyam, a girl still wallowing in bitterness about people who have left her behind in the past. Her leading man, newcomer Arvic Tan, had a good screen presence as rich boy Syd, but there were some scenes where he looked self-conscious. The other two young supporting actors Pio Balbuena and Andrew Muhlach looked more relaxed with their comedy scenes. However, it was Lita Loresca who stole her scenes with her naughty frankness and raunchy sense of humor as Lola Ingga. 

The love story itself is quite simple, about a girl trying to move on and taking a risk in love after being abandoned by an ex. However, the film used an elaborate prank concocted as a device for Syd to court Iyam in "traditional" ways like chopping wood, which was rather absurd, but then hey, this was not a high-brow comedy after all. However, there was also a thoughtful scene where Iyam talked about privileged city folk and their condescending ideas about country folk and rural life, which provided a ironic contrast to the proceedings. 5/10. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Netflix: Review of RUROUNI KENSHIN: THE FINAL: Vicious Vendetta

June 19, 2021

I watched the first "Rurouni Kenshin" film in 2012 (MY REVIEW) and had since been hooked. The two next films in the series were both shown in 2014, one subtitled "Kyoto Inferno" (MY REVIEW) and the subsequent one "The Legend Ends" (MY REVIEW). This current title subtitled "The Final" is the fourth and concluding installment, while a fifth was released at the same time in Japan, a prequel subtitled "The Beginning."

Kenshin Himura (Takeru Sato) and his gang of friends from the first three films are all still here. They were: fencing instructor Kaoru (Emi Takei), street fighter Sanosuke (Munetaka Anoki), doctor Megumi (Yu Aoi), young boy Yahiko (Kaito Oyagi), and police chief Hajime Saito (Yosuke Eguchi). His recent allies from the third film, Misao (Tao Tsuchiya) and Aoshi (Yusuke Iseya) from Kyoto, also drop in for a fantastic fight scene.

Violent attacks have been launched against various neighbors and friends of Kenshin by a gang of crazy warriors and their army of minions. It turned out that the terrorists were all under the instruction of one bitterly angry young man named Yukishiro Enishi (Mackenyu Arata) who held Kenshin responsible for the death of someone very precious to him. So much was his wrath that Enishi not only wanted Kenshin to suffer but everyone around him as well.

Even though it had been seven long years since the last RK film, once one sees the familiar cast of characters, you will remember all their memorable idiosyncrasies, as well as the basics of the continuing story. Notably, the explosions had bigger firepower this time around. One of the bad guys even had an automatic cannon and machine gun appended to his right arm which he can shoot at will wreaking widespread damage. 

Kenshin vs. Enishi was a study in contrasts. Takeru Sato as Kenshin was more of the calm, generally laidback sort, only accelerating into rapidfire action when provoked into a sword fight. Meanwhile, Mackenyu Arata's Enishi was jacked up all the way, explosive when fighting, intense even if he was only brooding. Enishi and his mad allies looked like emo boy band jocks but in full Edward Scissorhands hairstyles and facial makeup. 

The sword fights were still the highlight of this film more than any other action sequence. All the fights of Kenshin and all the bad guys he encountered were perfect in choreography and execution. Of course the climax would be the spectacular one-on-one match-up of the two main combatants Kenshin and Enishi, which was visually ironic -- balletic in form and grace despite all its bloody violence and destructive force. 

Quiet as it was, the serene ending was emotionally satisfying as it closed this saga. With the flashbacks about Kenshin's relationship with Tomoe (Kasumi Amimura) and how he got his distinctive "X" scar on his left cheek, we already get a foretaste of what is to come in the next installment "The Beginning". That next episode also promises to show Kenshin's days as the assassin Hitokiri Battosai, a past that haunted him well after his retirement. 8/10. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Netflix: Review of FATHERHOOD: Unplanned Upbringing

June 19, 2020

IT guy Matthew Logelin (Kevin Hart) and his wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) just had their first baby Maddy. Unfortunately tragedy struck the very next day leaving Matt to be a single father. As he struggled to find his bearings, he had the support of his mother Anna (Thedra Porter), and Liz' parents Marian (Alfre Woodard) and Mike (Frankie Faison). However, against everyone's expectations for him to fail, Matthew decided to raise Maddy up by himself. 

This was a very typical drama about a man suddenly thrust to becoming a first-time father on his own. However, since the star was a subdued Kevin Hart in the central role of Matthew, the film took the lighter route. He had two loyal but oddball friends, Jordan (Lil Rel Howery) and Oscar (Anthony Carrigan), and an understanding boss Paul (Paul Reiser). He was given another chance at love with Lizzie (DeWanda Wise), whom Maddy sweetly called Swan.

Most of Maddy's infancy days mostly focused on poop and diaper problems more than everything else, to fit in with Hart's brand of comedy. However, the situation got much brighter when spunky and adorable little Melody Hurd took over as school age Maddy. The chemistry between Hart and Hurd was the centerpiece of this bittersweet film. Admittedly though, shortcuts were taken to leave out most of the terrible twos and trying threes.

Matt had strong positive family support, a luxury not all single dads had on their side. As the doubting mother-in-law Marion, Alfre Woodard can surely be intimidating with her eyes alone. You know she meant well, but she was brutally frank in her lack of confidence about Matt's abilities as a father, as how most mothers-in-law probably would about their sons-in-law. Thankfully, their conflicts never went all out histrionic, as both stayed civil with each other.

Released in time for Father's Day, this heartwarming film directed and co-written by Paul Weitz, adapted from the 2011 memoirs of the real life Matthew Logelin (a white man interestingly), paid tribute to all single fathers out there who go beyond themselves and their insecurities to raise their children on their own and do well. Having to develop and nurture maternal instinct from scratch, responsible single fathers were a rare tougher breed of men who deserve more recognition than they get.  7/10. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Netflix: Review of WISH DRAGON: Amiable Aladdin Adaptation

June 15, 2021

As children, neighbors Din (Ian Chen) and Li Na (Alyssa Abiera) made a pinkie promise with each other to be friends forever. 10 years later, Din (Jimmy Wong in English, Niu Junfeng in Chinese) is a college student who still lived with his mother (Constance Wu) in their small apartment with her small food stall, while Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) is commercial model who lived in a mansion with her ever-busy father (Will Yun Lee). 

One day, Din delivered food to an old man who gave him a little jade teapot. The teapot turned out to be home for a wish dragon Long Zhu (John Cho in English, Jackie Chan in Chinese) who can grant his master three wishes. Din wanted nothing more than to use his wishes to reconnect with Li Na, but ruthless gangster Pockets (Aaron Yoo) and his two minions were after him, trying to get the teapot for their boss. 

This was clearly the story of Aladdin and his Genie transposed from Agrabah in Arabia to Shanghai in China -- a peasant boy gaining three wishes from a magical creature. This pink and fuzzy Wish Dragon also had his own rules: no time travel, no killing people and cannot make two people fall in love. There was a marked difference from the rules of Robin William's Genie, something that did matter in the plot in the end, as it would turn out. 

Aladdin's poor boy-rich girl love story was also cleverly updated to the modern milieu and state-of-the-art technologies, but the part where our hero used a wish to make a flashy first impression still remained. The perspective of family relationships was a welcome and heart-warming aspect of the story. The neighborhood dynamics in Din's working class community was also delightful and sentimental, in contrast to the artificiality of Li Na's high society.

The best thing about this colorfully vibrant Chinese adaptation of Aladdin lore by Sony Animation was the story of the Wish Dragon himself. This was something the Genie was never really given in the Disney version. I truly appreciated his back story before he became the Wish Dragon, as well as the parts after he was released from his 1000 year sentence of granting wishes by the Pipa God (Ronnie Chieng). 7/10. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

HBO Go: Review of TENET: Riveting Retrograde Running

June 12, 2021

A CIA agent, who later called himself the Protagonist (John David Washington), was part of a team on a mission to recover a cache of plutonium-241 from a siege at the Kiev Opera House. He was told that he was working in an underground organization which aimed to avert World War III by studying bullets with futuristic nuclear technology which made them have "inverted" entropy, or traveling backwards in time.

As the metals in the bullets came from India, he met with Indian arms dealer Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia), who directed him to Russian billionaire Andrei Sator (a chilling Kenneth Branagh) who can somehow operate his destructive plans from the future. To get to Sator, he had to get in contact with his estranged wife, art dealer Kat Barton (the elegant Elizabeth Debicki), whom the ruthless Sator held hostage with her past errors in judgement. 

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

This was very technically-polished film in terms of its cinematography, film editing and Oscar-winning visual effects, which created much cinematic excitement, like the scene of men using bungee cords to launch up and run up a building, that visually-astounding scene of a freight airplane carrying a load of gold bars crashing through an airport in Oslo, and those mind-boggling scenes of people, cars and aircraft going forwards and backwards in time within the same time frame, be they fist fights in a cramped warehouse corridor, or a daring heist and car chase on a highway in Tallinn, or an army operation in an arid desert in Northern Siberia. 

To say that the plot was complicated is putting it lightly, especially with all the globe-trotting (Kiev-Mumbai-London-Oslo-Amalfi Coast), unfamiliar theoretical physics jargon in the dialogue, and watching the future overlapping with present all within the first hour of this 2 hour and a half film. Even if I appreciated with the great visuals and the concept of the temporal pincer movement on the first watch, I only understood things better the second time around with the subtitles, still not totally mind you. I watched it a third time, and it was actually completely watchable -- it was that fascinating. 8/10. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Vivamax: Review of ANG BABAENG WALANG PAKIRAMDAM: The Purpose of Pain

June 12, 2021

Anastasia "Tasha" Quingquing (Kim Molina) had CIP or Congenital Insensitivity to Pain, a rare neurological condition that made her not feel any physical pain nor pleasure. On top of that, because of her mother's aversion to tears and drama, Tasha secondarily developed an incapability for any form of emotional expression since she was a child. She now worked as an employee at a pharmaceutical company selling pain killers. 

At her office party, she won tickets for two to experience three extreme tourist destinations around the country. Knowing how she was no fun as a companion, her friends all did not want to go with her. So, Tasha just invited a random stranger she met that night -- Ngongo (Jerald Napoles) a man with a bad case of hypernasal speech due to his cleft lip and palate, who needed money to go visit his sick sister in Bohol, one of the destinations in her ticket. 

Because of the condition of her character, Kim Molina impressively went through practically this whole movie without a single expression on her face. Even if she did the nerve-wracking Drop Tower at Enchanted Kingdom in Laguna, jumped the scary Plunge (said to be the highest bungee jump in Southeast Asia) at the Danao Adventure Park in Bohol and rode the exhilarating Ultralight Plane at the Angeles City Flying Club in Pampanga, her stoic blank face did not move a bit, showing impressive focus and commitment to character. 

Jerald Napoles had the uneviable task of having to deliver all his lines in a barely intelligible hypernasal voice. Admittedly the film did make his nickname and disability a device to elicit laughs, which will be offensive for sensitive viewers. However, it also took up the cudgels for everyone who had to go through a childhood of bullying and abuse because of their congenital deformity and speech impediment, and vent their lifelong frustrations. Napoles had some pretty serious lines to say and the way he stayed true to his character was remarkable. 

Tetchie Agbayani played Tasha's strong-willed mother. Cai Cortez played the neurologist who had to talk tough to make Tasha recognize the danger of her condition. The child actresses who played the young Tasha and the Ngongo's ailing sister both gave heartwarming performances. However, Petite and Chad Kinis (as Tasha's two brutally frank frenemies at work) and Candy Pangilinan (as the gossipy owner of a neighborhood store) had annoying noisy scenes that went on a bit too long for my comfort. 

Writer-director Darryl Yap continues his prolific 2021 streak with Viva Films after "Pornstar," "Tililing," and "Kung Pwede Lang," coming up with another thought-provoking topic for his latest movie. The inability to experience pain may sound like a good thing, but pain actually serves to warn us of further injury. Emotional numbness, Yap's own hyperbole for Tasha's affliction, was over-the-top, but it works in this one because of the chemistry of the Kim-Je loveteam. For Kim Molina, the sleeper success of "Jowable" (2019) was no fluke. 6/10.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Netflix: Review of TRESE: Focus on Filipino Folklore

June 11, 2021

Of all the anime series debuting on Netflix this year, this must be the most high-profile, highly-promoted, and highly anticipated one of all -- well, at least among Filipinos here and abroad. This new Netflix original anime series "Trese" is based on a popular Filipino graphic novel book series of the same title by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, which first saw print in 2005 and had been reprinted multiple times over the years. The adapted screenplay was written by Zig Marasigan, Mihk Vergara and Tanya Yuson. Directors were Jay Oliva, Tim Divar, David Hartman and Mel Zwyer

Interest for this anime was further bolstered by advanced publicity announcing the participation of Filipino star Liza Soberano, headlining the Filipino voice cast in the central role of Alexandra Trese. Furthermore, it is also remarkable that well-known Filipino-American actors like Shay Mitchell (as Alexandra), Jonjon Briones (as Hank), Nicole Scherzinger (as Miranda), Darren Criss (as Marco) and Lou Diamond Phillips (as Mayor Santamaria) lent their voices for the English dialogue track. 

Alexandra Trese was a young woman who was called on to investigate crimes attributed to supernatural causes. Armed with her trusty kris dagger Sinag, she was called in by the police to track mysterious events which involved such creatures of Filipino mythology like man-eating aswangs, half-horse tikbalang, and baby-like tiyanak. Other beings also seen include the white lady of Balete Drive, the Nuno, the duwende, lightning beings, wind sprites, zombies, werewolves and the main antagonist Datu Talagbusao, the god of war.

Alexandra was the daughter of Anton Trese, the lakan who forged an alliance between the human and supernatural world, and his wife Miranda, a babaylan or folk shaman. Her current team include twin brothers named Crispin and Basilio (after Sisa's sons in Jose Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere"), her two dapper demigod sidekicks; and Hank (who looks exactly like Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao), bartender of the Trese family nightclub called the Diabolical. She also had a personal fire spirit Santelmo, who lived in her Nokia 3210 cellphone. 

The opening scene of Episode 1 already showcased the spectacular artwork with a glittering nighttime scene of the city with its skyscrapers lit up by bright incandescent light bulbs and neon billboards. The next scene of an MRT train stalling on its tracks and the passengers alighting to walk to the nearest station was only the first of many places in Metro Manila that Filipinos will recognize and smile about through out the series, like Camp Crame, Quiapo, the New Bilibid Prison, the ABS-CBN building and the Meralco building.

There was also several scenes with social commentary. In Episode 1, there was a statement against corrupt megalomaniac politicians like Mayor Sancho Santamaria. In Episode 4, there was a statement against abusive policemen who use "fighting back" ("nanlaban" of EJK notoriety) as an excuse for their brutish behavior, like Officer Reyes. Other episodes highlight other activities going on around the city, like rich kids drag racing along Ortigas, fans fawning over movie stars or gamers grumbling slow internet speed. 

Aside from effectively using Filipino folklore as the foundation of a solid story, "Trese" will surely delight Filipinos over its references to Mariang Makiling, Choc-Nut or the Novanians. The Filipino dialogue was more authentic with the slang and profanity, but the English cast did try to give a Filipino flavor to their accents. At only six episodes and about 30 minutes per episode, this is a very quick and easy binge. Hopefully, international viewers will appreciate Filipino culture and talent more after this significant exposure on the Netflix platform. 9/10. 


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Netflix: Review of LAW SCHOOL: Complex Convolution of Cases

June 9, 2021

Yang Jong-hoon (Kim Myung-min) is a former prosecutor who was now a professor of criminal law at the prestigious Hankuk University Law School. He was very strict, used unorthodox methods in teaching law and made very difficult exams, earning him the nickname of "Yangcrates" from his students. One day, he became the prime suspect in the murder of a senior professor Seo Byung-ju (Ahn Nae-sang), who was found dead in the lounge. 

There was a group of law students who were also in the vicinity of the crime scene, and were thus included in the investigation. Class topnotcher Han Joon-hwi (Kim Bum) was Prof. Seo's nephew, and the beneficiary of his will, which gave him a good motive for wanting Seo dead. Kang Sol A (Ryu Hye-young) was challenged both financially and scholastically as a law student, but was very active in social justice cases. 

Kang Sol B (Lee Soo-kyung) was an A-student involved in a plagiarism case. Seo Ji-ho (Lee David) bore a grudge against a prosecutor because of his father's suicide. Yoo Seung-jae (Hyun Woo) was a medical doctor turned law student, involved in a hacking case. Jeon Ye-seul (Go Yoon-jung) was physically abused by her boyfriend. The other members of their study group were Min Bok-gi (Lee Kang-ji) and Jo Ye-beom (Kim Min-seok).

Being complex and heavy, this series would not be an easy one to binge. Even if we just watched two episodes a week, the legal manipulation twists and turns of the multilayered, multi-branched story involving numerous characters at a time were not always easy to understand fully at all times. This was specially true in the first 10 episodes, where the slow pace may be discouraging for some to follow through, or too fast to comprehend the issues. The earworm theme song "X (It's Driving Me Crazy)" can be so appropriate. 

It seemed too ideal to be true that these law students were given so much access into police investigations and court proceedings, where they were actually able to express opinions during actual cases. Many scenes required suspension of disbelief given the boldness of the students' behavior when they were addressing their professors, prosecutors like Jin Hyeong-u (Park Hyuk-kwon), public defenders like Park Geun-tae (Lee Chun-hee) or even politicians like Assemblyman Ko Hyeong-su (Jung Won-joong). 

Aside from Kim Myung-min, the other senior actors playing the teachers were all convincing as law professors, especially Kim Eun-sook (Lee Jung-eun, memorable as the housekeeper in Bong Joon-ho's "Parasite") a judge-turned-professor who teaches civil law. While Kim Bum, Lee David and Lee Soo-kyung actually looked like smart law students, Ryu Hye-young felt miscast -- both as the whiny Kang Sol A, and later as Sol's fierce twin sister Erica. 

Upon reaching Episodes 14 and 15, the main culprit was basically already known. It was just a matter of how his guilt can be proven so he can face the music. The Episode 16 finale however, the wrap-up of the series felt rushed and anti-climactic. While the virtues symbolized by Lady Justice in the school lobby were generally upheld, this series seemed to have bitten off more than it can chew with its complex convolution of cases and advocacies. 6/10. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Netflix: Review of SWEET & SOUR: Premised on a Prank

June 8, 2021

Overweight nerdy engineer Jang-hyeok (Lee Woo-je) was admitted in a hospital because of Hepatitis B. His nurse in charge was cute and perky Da-eun (Chae Soo-bin). Hyeok liked Da-eun and would do various favors and errands for her during his admission. Afterwards, Da-eun also reciprocated the feelings and became his girlfriend. When Da-eun gifted him with a pair of running shoes, Hyeok promised he would lose weight to keep up with her. 

Jang-hyeok (now played by Jang Ki-yong) did lose the weight, and was now a slim and handsome executive. He was promoted so he had to drive through horrendous traffic from his house with Da-eun in Incheon to his office in Seoul everyday. However, it turned out that the job required a lot of overtime, which he had to spend with his new partner Bo-yeong (Krystal Jung). This tough arrangement would lead to a difficult strain in his relationship with Da-eun. 

The story was quite a typical story of a sweet love story turned sour, hence the descriptive title. Hyeok and Da-eun had a very good romantic relationship going. However, along with Hyeok's progress in self-confidence and career opportunities came challenges that he never expected he would get in between him and Da-eun. Having limited experience on love, Hyeok had no idea how to handle things properly, causing the whole thing to teeter on the brink.

The way the scenes unfolded onscreen, that critical transition of old Jang-hyeok to the new Jang-hyeok was smoothly and logically done, raising no questions about the use of another actor. Chae Soo-bin had very good chemistry with both these actors who played Jang-hyeok, hence we were all rooting for their relationship. Krystal Jung's Bo-yeong was ruthlessly ambitious but boorish in behavior, so she was clearly painted as the antagonist. 

However, by that climactic scene at the airport, this film was really all about how the director Lee Gye-byeok succeeded to fool us big time. He had just perpetrated one major case of cinematic prank, and we are all the willing victims. That major revelation can really be very annoying, especially if you had been seriously invested. But thanks to his storytelling skill and the actors' charms, we can still manage a wry smile at the deception we all fell for. 6/10.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Netflix: Review of SWEET TOOTH: Hell for Hybrids

June 6, 2021

The US was being ravaged by a deadly epidemic called H5G9 for 10 years now. At around the same time the disease blew up, the babies being born during this chaotic time were part-human, part-animal hybrids. As the relationship between the hybrids and the epidemic remained unclear, humans feared them and a ruthless group called the Last Men hunted them down. There is still no known cure for the epidemic.

During the onset of the epidemic, a deer-boy hybrid male child named Gus (Christian Convery) was brought by his father Pubba (Will Forte) to a makeshift home in the forest to hide him and raise him there for safety. One day 10 years later, Gus met an ex-football player Tommy Jepperd (Nonso Anozie), who reluctantly agreed to help Gus find his mother Birdie (Amy Seimetz) whose last known location was in Colorado. 

Meanwhile, there was also a young woman named Aimee Eden (Dania Ramirez), who turned an abandoned zoo into the Preserve, where she kept some hybrids safe, including a female pig hybrid named Wendy (Naledy Murray). There was also a Dr. Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) who had been keeping his sick wife Rani (Aliza Vellani) alive using experimental meds given him by Dr. Bell (Sarah Pierse), who had a terminal illness herself.

The series mainly followed Gus and Jepperd's adventures and how they overcome initial differences to develop a genuine connection with each other. Gus's adorably innocent appearance can immediately trigger us to be protective of him, even if he can be delightfully annoying sometimes. They would encounter a group of adult-hating teenage rebels called the Animal Army, who aimed to rescue hybrids. This Army was led by a tough girl named Bear (Stefania LaVie Owen), who would later also decide to join Gus on his journey.

It may take some time to build its fictional state of the world, but the premise about a viral epidemic that caused apocalyptic changes (called the "Crumble") in human life and society can grab attention because of its timeliness. There are several scenes where we can hear familiar paranoid reactions and arguments about quarantine regulations, which we also hear currently. The series depicted an unsuccessful governmental response which led to lawless anarchy, which can make us reflect on what is going on around the world now. 

When there are theories being floated that the cure for the Sick could be derived from the hybrids, they became prey for heartless hunters like General Abbot (Neil Sandilands), regardless that that these hybrids were only innocent children ten years old and below. This was an extraordinary emotional touchstone which can grip our attention and compassion up to the very end. The final sequence promised more stories to come from the situations writer- director Jim Mickle had set up in the eventful 8 episodes of this first season. 8/10.