Saturday, July 31, 2021

Vivamax: Review of NERISA: Harrowing Humiliation

July 31, 2021

Fisherman Obet (Aljur Abrenica) rescued a mysterious woman Nerisa (Cindy Miranda) from drowning the ocean and brought her home to their island to be his wife. When Nerisa came, the neighbors all thought she was a mermaid who had caused their town's poor harvest of fish. One  day, Obet and his group were forced by desperation to steer their boats beyond the legal fishing grounds to find more fish, but were lost at sea. The distraught Nerisa was willing to do anything to bring him back. 

Lawrence Fajardo is best known for his two films set in Japan, "Imbisibol" (2015) and "Kintsugi" (2020). However, a review of his filmography showed that he had once directed a sex-drama film called "X-Deal" (2011) about a love triangle situation set within the confines of an apartment building in the city. "Nerisa," his second venture in the genre, transports an erotic story of sexual politics to a remote island where gossip and superstition held sway, while advocating against government apathy for the plight of local fisherfolk. 

One thing that set this film apart is its gorgeous cinematography (by Joshua Reyles) and Cindy Miranda is the arresting focal point of it all. The camera loved her from every angle and she effortlessly dominates the screen when she is on with her luminous presence every time. Director Fajardo highlighted not only her classical beauty, but also effectively drew out her natural acting talent, making Miranda as intriguing as her character was. This made all the harrowing, humiliating ordeal Nerisa experienced all the more difficult and infuriating to watch. 

There was a message of female empowerment here as the women knew how to talk back and fight back. Sheree Bautista played the fiercely independent village prostitute Joni, who stood her ground against the other women in the town who hated her. In a much improved, less self-conscious performance, nymphet du jour AJ Raval gamely played a supporting role as the virginal Lilet, who also narrated the story. Reliable veteran Elizabeth Oropesa played Segunda, who adopted Obet as her own son and was loyal to him to the very end. 

Aside from Bembol Roco's Badong who spoke against the foreign intruders, the menfolk in town were portrayed as beasts who treated their women as mere property. Aljur Abrenica's Obet was a tragic figure with a twisted character development. Neil Tolentino played pervert barangay captain Ito, while Lowell Conales and Chrome Cosio play his conniving drinking buddies. Guji Lorenzana was disturbing a corrupt Coast Guard officer who used his position to take advantage of women asking for his help. 

The script by Ricky Lee contained multiple lurid sex scenes and potentially exploitative material of sexual abuse, culminating in a stomach-churning sequence of violence. However, director Law Fajardo made sure "Nerisa" would not be just another soft-porn quickie by infusing his brand of cinematic artistry to elevate it, aiming to possibly achieve the level of "Scorpio Nights" (1985) or "Tuhog" (2001) in the future. There is a sense of irony in using an erotic film to transmit a message against misogyny, but this one does just that and delivered.  7/10. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

TBA: Review of SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT: Impetuous and Intimate

July 27, 2021

Marcello (Mattia Minasi) was a spoiled playboy attending meetings and doing errands for his dad, a famous soap opera actor in Italy, in Los Angeles. Half-Iranian, half-French Nassim (Neyssan Falahi) was a frustrated actor who gives martial arts training to get by. Christine (Cristina Rambaldi) was an installation artist working as a waitress in a cafe in Malibu. 

One day, the three of them met by random chance on the beach, and hit it off instantly. Thus began their beautiful friendship, which eventually evolved into a steamy menage a trois. Their unique relationship face challenges when other people get involved and each needed to face their own individual responsibilities in life.

"Show Me What You Got" is an elegant black-and-white art-house film by cinematographer and director Svetlana Cvetko. She followed these three attractive young people around, all of whom were at the crossroads of their lives, as they became close friends, then lovers. There was a female narrator who filled in the details and shared their thoughts to make things make more sense. The identity of this narrator was revealed at the very end, a very nice touch. 

The first half of this film was carefree and happy as the three lost souls immediately bonded with each other, opened up their feelings and became physically intimate. Everything seemed to come up roses at that time as they evaded real life commitments. As things get serious in the second half when tough important decisions needed to be made, the film strove to make everyone's story stick solidly and satisfactorily at the end. 

The main highlight of this film was really its gorgeous cinematography, with practically every scene looking like classy postcards in grey scale. The modern cityscape of Los Angeles, the beaches of Malibu, the desert at the Joshua Tree National Park and the quaint architecture of Marcello's hometown in Italy -- all served as picturesque backdrops. All three actors registered very well in black-and-white, especially the delicate beauty of Ms. Rambaldi.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Netflix: Review of BLOOD RED SKY: In-flight Infestation

July 25, 2021

Nadya (Peri Baumeister) and her child Elias (Carl Anton Koch) are boarding a plane bound to New York City, where she was scheduled to see a doctor for chemotherapy. Unfortunately, their airplane was held hostage by hijackers who wanted to demand a hefty ransom for their freedom. At one point during the flight, crazy hijacker Eightball (Alexander Scheerer) shot Nadya several times, and was presumed dead. When that act threw the plane into utter chaos, Nadya unleashed her true nature in order to save her son and herself.

With everyone harboring some amount of fear of flying in them, there had been so many thriller and horror films which had been set within the claustrophobic confines of an airplane. The most popular ones would be about airplane crashes ("Sully", "Final Destination") or hijackings ("Air Force One", "United 93"). Then there are those out-of-the-box ideas which may seem too bizarre on paper, but succeed onscreen, like "Snakes on a Plane." "Blood Red Sky" is one of those outliers -- just replace snakes with vampires.

Of course, vampire films have been a staple of the silver screen since the movies began, from the silent classic "Nosferatu" (1922) to the various incarnations of "Dracula," from "Interview with a Vampire" to "The Twilight Saga." Having a horde of vampire on a plane was such a good idea for a horror thriller, it is hard to believe that it was only now that someone like Peter Thorwarth thought about it for a movie. Aside from the classic vampire tropes of immortality and fear of the sun, this film adds medications that can keep their bloodthirstiness in check.

Peri Baumeister played the tortured mother Nadya with such palpable torment, torn between keeping her secret from her son or to just go full vampire mode to kill all the bad guys. Carl Anton Koch had good chemistry with Baumeister as mother and son.  Another main character is Kais Setti as a concerned friendly passenger Farid, who just happened to be a Muslim. Odd choice why Alexander Scheerer chose to play the sociopath Eightball as effeminate, but he was over-the-top violent and such a hateful character.

I watched this without knowing what it was going to be about. When the bad men made their intentions known, I thought it would just another plane hijack film. Nothing would have prepared me for what would happen next after Nadya had a revealed her terrifying secret in response to an emergency that put her and her son in life-threatening danger. This twist as one of the best, most unexpected surprises I had in a movie. The way director Peter Thorwarth revealed it was also so subtle at first, then it just hit you like a bolt of lightning. 8/10.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

KTX: Review of TENEMENT 66: Truant Temptations

July 24, 2021

Teban (Francis Magundayao) was an 18-year old petty thief who had just been released from prison. His elder brother Tony (Topper Fabregas) brought him and their cousin Ron-ron (Noel Comia Jr.) to live in an old apartment building. Their neighbor Lea (Francine Diaz) propositioned Teban to help her to steal a box of cash belonging to their grumpy old neighbor Tatay Nando (Lou Veloso). When an unexpected emergency came up that required a big amount of money, the desperate Teban had no choice but to agree. 

Writer-director Rae Red was met with critical acclaim for her debut feature film "Babae at Baril" (2019). Like before, she again examined the psychology behind criminality for her sophomore feature, this time focusing on the thought processes of delinquent teenagers while plotting and executing a crime unlike anything they had attempted before. This crime was underway even before the 30-minute mark, which meant that there was still an hour more to go to follow the aftermath of their foolhardy caper. 

Red made full use of the expertise of her talented tech crew: Pao Orendain (cinematography), Lawrence Ang (editing), Allen Roy Santos (sound) and Johann Mendoza (musical score) to transform what could have been a basic teenage crime scenario into an intense thriller with an atmosphere of over-the-top tension that occasionally approached the level of horror. Mikey Red's production design of calculated mess made the rooms and corridors more derelict and distressing than they probably were in reality.

All three young actors in the lead roles (Magundayao, Diaz and Comia) all did very well to look problematic as they brooded about the miserable condition of their lives. They may have thought of themselves as street smart, but the naivety, vulnerability and carelessness of their youth worked to heighten the sense of danger that emanated from the screen. 

The stressful performances of Jess Mendoza (as the grim sleazy Kulas) and Lehner Mendoza (as the slimy demented Jose) further added to the craziness of the mood. Ross Pesigan played Jayron, the boyfriend of Tony, as an LGBT nod. Theater actors Raffy Tejada and Martha Comia play Erning and Aling Joni, other neighbors in the building .

This film would give us pause and think seriously about how and why adolescents could commit crimes. Poor socio-economic status, is one factor. Teban had no income and was pushed to handle huge debts on his own. Parental neglect is another. Lea's father was not only negligent but also physically abusive towards her. The excitement of doing something risky and not getting caught is pure id, thrilling for any teenager. However, his superego may not yet be sufficiently developed to warn him about the consequences.  7/10. 

Netflix: Review of KINGDOM: ASHIN OF THE NORTH: Origins of the Obsession

July 24, 2021

In January 2019, a Korean mini-series "Kingdom" premiered on Netflix about a zombie infestation of Joseon during the medieval times. Written by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Kim Seong-hun, "Kingdom" was a meticulously mounted and elegantly shot period piece with lavish sets, costumes and makeup that effectively merged political maneuvering, medical mystery and zombie horror into one electrifying mini-series.

Season One started with unscrupulous court officials deciding that the deceased King should be secretly given the extract of a so-called "resurrection plant" to bring him back to life while waiting for the Queen Consort Cho (Kim Hye-jun) to give birth to a son. However, this concoction actually turned the King into a ravenous monster every night. The current Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) together with physician assistant Seo-bi (Bae Doo-na) investigation about King's mysterious ailment. 

Season Two, the Queen Consort was determined to hold on to power as she corralled pregnant women in the palace waiting for a boy to be born, even as the zombie infestation spread all over the country and even within the palace grounds. Meanwhile, Seo Bi discovered the cure for the zombie disease which they were able to use stem the further progress of the plague. The final scene was set seven years later in a remote northern town where a mysterious woman kept zombies stored in crates. 

This third installment was a feature-length special episode tracing the history of that mysterious woman seen the in final frame of Season Two. She was Ashin (Kim Si-ah / Jun Ji-hyun), born to a discriminated tribe called Seongjeoyain in the north. A perceived act of treachery by Ashin's father Tahab (Kim Roi-ha) caused his tribe to be raided and massacred by rivals. Ashin survived the attack because she was out looking for a legendary plant which she hoped could revive her dying mother. She grew up with revenge firmly on her mind. 

Shot with the same atmosphere of tension, intrigue and terror by director Kim Seong-hun, writer Kim Eun-hee expanded her mythology further backward in time to root out the very origin of how the resurrection plant became as widespread as it did causing the zombie apocalypse depicted in the first two seasons of "Kingdom." While the first half of the film was slow burn with a lot of expository talk, the second half, when the zombies came out and went into action, will definitely make series' fans very happy. 

These stories could probably have been told in flashbacks in Season Three, when Lee Chang and Seo-bi confront Ashin. However, they decided to tell Ashin's story separately to get it out of the way first. This move promises that the Season Three will only deal with the ongoing events, and not spend precious time on complex back stories. We now know exactly who Ashin is, why she was obsessed with the downfall of Joseon and understand how she came upon using the resurrection plant to put her plan of revenge into action. 8/10. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Netflix: Review of TROLLHUNTERS: RISE OF THE TITANS: Troubling Terminal Twist

July 22, 2021

From 2016-2020, there had been three related DreamWorks animated action-fantasy series released on Netflix under the name “Tales of Arcadia.” These were all based on the 2015 novel “Trollhunters” written by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Krauss.

The first one, “Trollhunters” (2016-18) was a 3-season-long (52 episodes in all) series about the adventures of the newly-chosen Trollhunter Jim Lake (Anton Yelchin / Emile Hirsch). together with his chubby best friend Toby Domzalski (Charlie Sexton), girlfriend Claire Nunez (Lexi Medrano) from Arcadia Oaks, California and their troll friends Blinky (Kelsey Grammer) and Aarghaumot (Fred Tatasciore) from Trollmarket as they fought off deadly threats both on the surface human world and the underground troll domains by the vicious Gumm-Gumm leader Gunmar (Clancy Brown) and his malevolent mistress Morgana (Lena Headey). 

The second one, “3 Below” (2018-19) was a 2-season-long (26 episodes in all) about two royal siblings from the planet of Akiridion-5, Aja (Tatyana Maslany) and Krel (Diego Luna) Tarron, who escaped to Earth together with their loyal bodyguard Varvatox Vex (Nick Offerman) on the Mothership (Glenn Close). This was after a renegade general Val Morando (Alon Aboutboul) staged a violent coup against their parents, the King and Queen, whose bodies they were trying to restore to life. They land in Arcadia Oaks, so the aliens assumed human forms and struggled to learn human culture in order to blend in. 

The third one, “Wizards” was a 1-season-long series (10 episodes in all) about Hisirdoux “Douxie” Casperan (Colin O'Donoghue), a young impatient and insecure apprentice of the master wizard Merlin Ambrosius (David Bradley). Together with his faithful cat Archie (Alfred Molina), he brought the Guardians of Arcadia together back to the castle of King Arthur (James Faulkner) at Camelot and relive the circumstances that led to the creation of the Trollhunter’s Amulet, Morgana’s turn to the dark side and the legendary battle of Killahead with the Arcane Order composed of Belroc, Skrael and Nari. 

This new film “Rise of the Titans” continued right from the ending of “Wizards” when the Arcane Order, frustrated over how humans were disrespecting the planet, were threatening to destroy the whole world by awakening their three powerful Titans in order for the earth to be reborn. However, Nari had a change of heart and decided to join forces with the Trollhunters, the Aliens and the Wizards to stand against the other two members of the Order, Belroc and Skrael (Piotr Michael). Jim and his friends need to protect Nari (Angel Lin) at all costs, and at the same time find a way for him to regain his powers as the Trollhunter. 

Like the entire series before it, this final movie still had all the frenetic action, heartfelt drama, along with awesome alien tech and wizard magic that made it an instant favorite from the very start. The rib-tickling comedy this time was mostly care of the dumb blond jock character Steve Palachuk. Knowing that it was Oscar Best Actor nominee for “Minari” Steven Yeun who had been voicing him all this time made him even funnier than ever. The artwork definitely leveled up with the degree of meticulous details done for the depiction of the three Titans of Fire, Ice and Nature. 

For those curious whether one can watch the movie even without watching the series, I’m afraid the answer is NO. This one does not work as a stand-alone film, as watching at least “Trollhunters” and “Wizards” are essential to be familiar and empathize with all the key characters from all the realms and get the flow of the ongoing story as well as the background mythology. Fans who had watched the whole franchise all the way through will find this film a worthy and noble finale, even as the vicious battles did not spare some well-loved characters from their morbid fates. 

And then there is the prickly ending. I certainly never expected the whole saga to end that way. For a while, I just stared slack-jawed at the screen, not sure what I thought about it. I did not know whether I liked it or not. At first glance, it seemed quite neat as it intended to restore some sort of order and to prevent certain deaths. However, the more dwelt on it, the more it felt wrong as it somehow sort of nullified everything we had been following faithfully for the past five years. It was just that major of a shocking twist that totally came from left field. I was stunned and troubled by it.  8/10. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Netflix: Mini-Reviews of FEAR STREET Trilogy: Crushing a Curse

July 17, 2021

PART ONE: 1994

Shadyside, Ohio was the so-called the murder capital of the United States. There had been a series of murders there over the years perpetrated by regular people who seemed very unlikely to be killers. Local legends say that these killers had been possessed by a witch Sarah Fier who cursed the town before she was executed three centuries ago. Meanwhile, their neighboring town of Sunnyvale had always been blessed with wealth and progress. 

The story dealt with teenager Deena Johnson (KIana Madeira), her younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), her good friends Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger), and her ex-girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), whose family had just moved to Sunnyvale. One night, the kids were involved in a bus accident where Sam got injured and hospitalized. Since then, the witch and all her minions all went after them to kill them.

This film had a throwback vibe like "Scream" (1996) and "Chopping Mall" (1986). The prevailing atmosphere was youthful and vibrant because of the soundtrack of 90s pop songs. The twist about Sarah Fier and the real target of her murderous spree was quite cleverly written. There was one extraordinarily gruesome kill with a meat slicer in the supermarket, but the rest were relatively tame by today's excessive standards. 6/10. 

PART TWO: 1978

In the first film "Fear Street 1994," siblings Deena and Josh meet a certain C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), a woman who apparently survived a previous rash of murders in Shadytown perpetrated by a young man possessed by the malevolent spirit of witch Sarah Fier. They interviewed her to find out how Ms. Berman was able to escape death, and possibly get a clue on how to break the curse that afflicted Sam. 

Ms. Berman told her story about how she and her sister (Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd) were at Camp Nightwing that year 1978, when one of their friends Tommy Slater (McCabe Slye) suddenly began wielding an axe to kill Shadyside kids. The Berman sisters and their frenemy Alice (Ryan Simpkins) scramble to figure out the entries in Sarah Fier's diary to break the curse before more people die.

Unlike in the first film mostly set in the various colorful locations within a mall in 1994, the setting of this part 2 was limited to the grounds of Camp Nightwing, the various cabins there and some underground tunnels the kids discover. There was only one main killer the whole time who only used an axe, so not much variety in kill techniques. I did like the unexpected twist reveal at the end about the identity of Ms. Berman. 7/10. 


This final installment of the Fear Street film series brings us all the way back to 1666 during the time when Sarah Fier was accused to be a witch and was hanged for it. Deena (Kiana Madeira) relived Sarah's harrowing experience when she reunited Sarah's severed hand with her body at the end of Part 2, and finally discovered who exactly was responsible for the curse that befell Shadyville since then.

The 1666 part was a straightforward Pilgrim-time witch hunt story (with a lesbian side plot). The second half brings us back to 1994 at the Shadyside Mall when Deena and her friends plot to put an end to the curse using what she learned from her travel back in time. Not much new slasher scenes this time around, mostly just quick montages of gory scenes already seen in the two previous films.

This was a tidy ending episode that tied up all the loose ends about the 300 year old curse that plagued Shadyville with misfortune and death. The young lead actors Kiana Madeira (as Deena and Sarah Fier) and Olivia Scott Welch (as Sam and Hannah Miller) still had campy acting styles in both their 1994 and 1666 characters, but their characters were consistent with the youth-oriented spirit of the series (the original book series was by R.L. Stein after all). 7/10. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Vivamax: Review of THE OTHER WIFE: Destructive Denial

July 16, 2021

It was the pandemic, so Ronnie (Joem Bascon) requested his doctor wife Janis (Lovi Poe) to take a break from her job and go on a vacation with him in his old beach house. They were having a rocky time in their marriage with suspicions of Ronnie having an affair, so Janis decided this was a good opportunity to work things out between them.  However, unexpectedly, Ronnie also invited his childhood friend Luisa (Rhen EscaƱo) to join them.

At first, Janis kept on telling herself that she was okay with the arrangement. However, as the days passed on, Luisa became more and more overt in her intrusive behavior. From cooking Ronnie's favorite food or giving Ronnie a massage, Luisa also used the shower in the master bedroom and borrowed her clothes to wear. These things heightened Janis's suspicions that her husband was having an affair happening right under her very nose. 

In the challenging central role, Lovi Poe portrayed the insecure Janis with increasing internal torment and distress with every her subsequent scene. Through her, we also experience the gamut of conflicting emotions and hallucinations that haunted the poor woman. During the conversations with her brutally-frank friend Anna and in those crazy climactic confrontation scenes, Poe had to dig deep through her entire acting arsenal as Janis went from self-denial, self-deprecation to self-destruction. 

As Ronnie, Joem Bascon basically just needed to play it suspicious the whole time, and he had no trouble with this mission to keep us guessing whether his character was faithful or not. From her last film "Adan," we know that Rhen Escano was not shy to show skin, but this time as the titular "other wife" Luisa, she also got to show off her acting skills. Escano had to look innocent yet be a seductress at the same time, playing the same scene two ways to confuse viewers about her intentions. 

Director Prime Cruz told this familiar story of a marriage on the brink of a breakdown as a sexy psychological thriller, with elements of horror in the editing, musical score and sound design. Cruz kept us piqued the whole time about what was real and what was only in Janis's paranoid mind. With small household items like soap, hairbrush, ribbon, scissors, Cruz provoked our sensibilities with the weirdness of the whole situation by putting us into Janis' fragile point of view. The whole final sequence could have been shorter though. 6/10. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Netflix: Review of MY AMANDA: Friendship in Flux

July 15, 2021

Even if they called each other silly pet names like Fuffy and Fream, TJ (Piolo Pascual) and Amanda (Alessandra de Rossi) had a close friendship which had remained platonic for all these years. They enjoyed lazy nights just lounging together on a hammock looking up at the stars, talking about their wacky experiences together. They had their respective romantic relationships with other people, but they remained each other's constants in their lives. 

The film began with a sci-fi feel as the screen was awash in bright twinkling stars, those in the sky above TJ and Amanda the night before she was about to take a major step in her life. This was the first of many conversations between them that we will be listening in on. TJ's voice would be heard as he shared his thoughts about Amanda and their unique friendship -- perhaps excerpts from the book Amanda wanted him to write about them. 

Unlike the dour and serious characters he had in most of his previous films, Piolo Pascual was uncharacteristically loose and light-hearted in this role as TJ. Here he was always with a naughty smile as he joked about Amanda's lack of friends, breasts or singing talent. Whenever Amanda teased him about taking their friendship a level further, TJ always had a quick, witty comeback retort to dash her hopes. 

Alessandra de Rossi did not only play the lead character Amanda, she also wrote the original screenplay, was one of the co-producers, and most remarkably, this was her directorial debut. You can sense Alessandra's fingerprints all over this film, with all her quirkiness seen in the humor and language of the script, the choice of songs (Chaka Khna's "Through the Fire"), or the hamster Pancho that TJ had as a pet. 

TJ and Amanda were only friends in this film and not lovers, so romantic chemistry between the two leads is not really a must. A close friendship between two people with an 8-year age gap may not be that realistic in real life, but Pascual and de Rossi were clearly comfortable in their cheerful banter, and this registered very well onscreen. The movie may be quite talky, but de Rossi skillfully kept the mood so enigmatic, you'd follow it all the way to the end. 8/10. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Upstream: Review of FATALE: Impactful Indiscretion

July 13, 2021

Former basketball superstar Derrick Tyler (Michael Ealy) ran a successful sports management firm in Los Angeles with his best friend Rafe Grimes (Mike Colter). However, despite the financial success of his business, his marriage to real estate agent wife Tracie (Damaris Lewis) was beginning to feel like it was on the rocks. 

One day while in Las Vegas for a business trip, Derrick hooked up with a random woman Val (Hilary Swank) in a nightclub and had a one night stand with her. The next morning, Derrick never would have imagined that this carefree act of sexual indiscretion was about to lead to a  crazy series of events that would turn his charmed life upside-down. 

After her two Oscars for Best Actress for "Boys Don't Cry" (1999) and "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), Hilary Swank did not exactly get any more film roles that courted critical acclaim since then. Frankly, it would not be too easy to name another movie she had starred in aside from these two. Here, Swank did what she could in the title role of the femme fatale even if it did not exactly fit her, and despite the screwed-up things her character had to do. 

Michael Ealy had been in films for 20 years already, but this was the first time I had seen him in a lead role. His bright blue eyes, which were called "Steph Curry eyes" in the film, prominently stood out because of his dark skin. He had the challenge of playing the unfortunate Derrick, a millionaire in a tight situation because of his terrible decisions, but sadly, Ealy could not deliver this character convincingly. 

By the scene when Derrick began making his move on the seductive stranger, strong vibes of the '80 erotic psychological thriller "Fatal Attraction" (Adrian Lyne, 1987) will immediately come to mind for most Gen X members of the audience. Aside from a nifty surprise about Val's job and a side plot involving her estranged family, the formula of the former film was just about followed to a T, right up to that famous fake-out shock ending. 6/10. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Vivamax: Review of SILAB: Toxic Triangle

July 9, 2021

Ana (Cloe Barreto) was a rich girl from the city who just married Emil (Jason Abalos), an OFW from a fishing island village, after waiting for him  raising their son for seven years while he worked abroad. In their wedding night, as Emil was fast asleep dead drunk, Ana saw and got attracted to Rod (Marco Gomez), Emil's friend from Qatar and best man at their wedding, walking out of the sea after his solo night swim.

And so starts the latest sex drama feature film from veteran director Joel Lamangan, telling the story of this dangerous love triangle which threatened to drive the three people involved into self-implosion. All three have their own rabid psychological demons that gnawed at their sanity and threatened interpersonal relationships. and terrible secrets from their past that they are desperately trying to escape from. 

Jason Abalos has had an auspicious breakthrough in the indie film "Endo" (Jade Castro, 2007). While he remained a staple in telenovelas, but it seemed he did not get more memorable film roles anymore. His role here in "Silab" probably did not exactly challenge his talents as an actor as he seemed to just be coasting along territory familiar to him. Being the veteran in the main cast, Abalos was still able to convey well the emotions required of his troubled character Emil, even if he was not really the main focus of the story. 

The other two angles in the triangle are newcomers Cloe Barreto and Marco Gomez. Ana and Rod were actually the meatier, more demanding roles to play compared to Emil. Unfortunately, Barreto and Gomez were still too raw to tackle them adequately. There were several scenes where the camera caught them with totally blank expressions on their faces even if the scene was asking for more emotional connection. They dared to bare their bodies, yes, but they need to work harder to hone their acting skills more if they want to last in the industry. 

The whole production had a distinct 80s-90s throwback feel when several sleazy bold and ST films, particularly those set in remote rural locations, ruled the box office. Lotlot de Leon and Chanda Romero do their best in their maternal roles. While the cinematography had artistic ambitions, because of the haphazard editing choices, viewers would have to do their own connecting the dots to figure out the sense of the illogical sequence of scenes, or the puzzling progression of the characters' psychiatric deterioration that led to that grisly finale. 2/10. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Netflix: Review of SAINT MAUD: Elegiac Epiphany

July 7, 2021

Maud (Morfydd Clark) was a newly-converted and very pious Roman Catholic young woman who worked as a private palliative care nurse. Her latest patient was 49-year old Amanda Kohl (Jennifer Ehle), a dancer and choreographer, who was suffering from stage four lymphoma of the spine, which rendered her paraplegic and terminally ill. 

Maud thought Amanda's artist friends, particularly her lesbian lover Carol (Lily Frazer), were not good for her. However, in return Amanda regarding Maud with mockery and disdain, eventually dismissing her from service. This led Maud to go down a dark lonely road of physical and psychological self-destruction, borne out of her extreme religious fanaticism.

Morfydd Clark's performance of Maud was incredible achievement in acting. Clark actually transformed into this mentally-disturbed woman who was experiencing the horrors of a guilt-tormented soul. She only spoke very little, and if she did, she was speaking with God. Maud's prayers, from her fervent adoration of His glory, her desperate questioning of His purpose for her to her perceived understanding of her divine mission, served as the film's narration. 

Aside from being intensely contemplative and psychologically demanding, this role was also a very physically exhausting one for Clark, . Maud was inflicting wounds on herself -- her hands and her feet, all symbolizing of her psychiatric breakdown from a traumatic past experience. Maud's climactic confrontation scene with the bedridden Amanda was truly horrific, and we see it all transpire from Maud's distressingly distorted point of view. 

This dark and depressing British indie film may not be for everybody, but it was certainly a triumph for writer-director Rose Glass in her feature film debut. With Glass's inspired choices in cinematography, editing and musical score, even the most mundane scenes were all shrouded by a tense atmosphere dripping with a sticky sense of claustrophobic discomfort. That final scene on the beach was glorious and ghastly at the same time! 8/10. 

Netflix: Reviews of 3 Korean Films: "CHEER UP MR. LEE," "THE 8TH NIGHT," and "I"

July 7, 2021


Director:  Lee Gae-byok

Writer: Kim Hee-jin, Jang Yoon-miLee Gae-byok

Cheol-soo (Cha Seung-Won) was a tall, handsome and buff, but intellectually deficient. He found out that he has a young daughter named Saet-byeol (Um Chae-Young), that he never knew existed, and she had leukemia. One day, Saet-byeol snuck out of her hospital room to take a bus ride to Daegu for a secret mission. Catching her at the bus stop, Cheol-soo went along with her for the long road trip. Father and daughter have misadventures as they get to know each other better.

Korean cinema had already explored the relationship between a mentally-slow man and his little daughter in the hit film "Miracle in Cell No. 7," a comedy on the surface, but an emotional tearjerker at its core. I really have to admire Koreans for being able to conjure up these unexpected mixes of disparate film genres in one movie. This one also a gangster angle and a disaster angle.

It was a bit too wacky at first, but the likable characters hook you in for the whole ride, capping it with a dramatic flashback that tied everything in. As simpleton Cheol-soo, it was hard to believe that Cha Seung-won was the same actor who played the sinister gang kingpin in "Night in Paradise" (2020). Then 12-year-old, Um Chae-young was impressive as the ailing cancer patient Saet-byeol. Her never-say-die spirit certainly gave the film an inspirational boost. 7/10


Director: Kim Tae-hyoung

Writer: Kim Tae-hyoung

2500 years ago, Buddha gouged out the two eyes of the great evil monster that tormented humans. One was a black eye buried in the mountains. One was a red eye buried in the desert. An anthropologist found the stone box containing the red eye. Now time has come for it to go looking for the other eye by infiltrating seven pre-selected hosts until it reaches its final host, the virgin shaman.

Before he died, the guardian monk Ha-jeong (Lee Eol) ordered his young apprentice Cheong-seok (Nam Da-reum) to seek the exorcist Jin-soo (Lee Sung-min) so that he can find and kill the virgin shaman before the red eye reached her. Meanwhile, police detectives Kim Ho-tae (Park Hae-joon) and his partner Dong-jin (Kim Dong-young) are investigating the series of mysterious grotesque murders happening the past six nights.

The legend about the monster's eyes reuniting was interesting as the backstory of this horror thriller film, as was the Buddhist meditation cult for suicide survivors. Not really scary, but the special effects of what the red eye did to its victims could be startling and creepy. The central relationship between Jin-soo and Cheong-seok was the heart of this film, with Nam Da-reum and his innocent face drawing audience sympathy. 7/10


Director: Kim Hyun-tak

Writer: Kim Hyun-tak

A-Young (Kim Hyang-Gi) had to move out of the orphanage she grew up in when she reached the age limit. She had to support herself with odd jobs while taking up courses on teaching preschool children. Her latest job was a babysitter taking care of a fussy baby Hyuk for a single mother Young-Chae (Ryoo Hyoun-Kyoung), who worked every night as a hostess in a karaoke bar.

This was an intimate look at the state of poverty in South Korea, about young people who can barely make ends meet, the relationships they have and the decisions they make. It was not so common to see what happens to those who outgrow the orphanage, and here we see how A-young and her friends were faring in their lives. A-young's serious perseverance at her young age was very admirable.

On the other hand, we also see the sad life of a young mother Young-chae, and her relationships with her female boss at the bar where she worked and a shady woman who sold babies in the black market. Watching her series of stressful misfortunes was enough to affect the viewer's own mental health. It was good to see Kim Hyang-gi after the two "Along with the Gods" films.  One thing though, the baby playing little Hyuk was too cute and cuddly to be convincing as malnourished. 7/10

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Amazon Prime: Review of THE TOMORROW WAR: Fighting for the Future

July 4, 2021

One day, American soldiers from the year 2051 suddenly materialized on the field during a World Cup match. Their leader announced to the global audience that the earth was being overrun and the human race practically decimated by deadly alien monsters called Whitespikes. They need the help of this present generation to help them eradicate the enemy. Soldiers and later drafted civilians were sent to the future to join the fight. 

One of those drafted was high school Biology teacher Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), so he had to leave his wife Emily (Betty Gilpin) and little daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). After making the jump into the future setting, Dan used his background as an ex-Green Beret to lead his fellow civilian draftees through their missions under their female mission commander and scientist with whom he shared the same family name, Col. Forester (Yvonne Strahovski). 

The science fiction concept of the future asking help from the past to prevent their total annihilation was a very interesting one. Of course, since there is time travel involved, it ran the immense risk of plot holes about altering the whole course of history. The scriptwriter added the detail that those chosen to be sent into the future should have been dead by that time. However, when they had to bring a tech invented in the future to try and kill the aliens in the past, all logic is thrown out. But I guess we are not supposed to think too hard. 

The best thing about this film was its lead actor Chris Pratt, who carried the film squarely on his shoulders. He had that assured heroic carriage that dominated the screen. We simply knew he would pull through despite all the odds )and all of the aliens) going against him, be it a gunfight in the streets of Miami Beach or the thick snow in the Russian polar cap. He also had that aura of kindness and unselfishness that made us root for him all the way, which also served him well in the sentimental family scenes.

There were some corny story elements (really, a high school volcano expert?) or cliche action scenes (letting go and falling into the abyss below again?), yes. This is really as popcorn as it gets. However, the heartwarming scenes of Dan with his daughter Muri was very cleverly woven into the story as its beating heart. This essential aspect distinguished "The Tomorrow War" from being just one of those generic, forgettable CGI-heavy alien invasion films we've seen over and over before. Also, J.K. Simmons in a film is always a major plus. 7/10. 

Review of LOCKDOWN: Driven by Desperation

July 3, 2021

Danilo "Danny" Asuncion (Paolo Gumabao) was retrenched from his job at a hotel in Dubai and was sent back to his home in Cavite after only two months because of the Covid-19 pandemic. When his invalid father Gener (Jess Evardone) was rushed to the hospital, their finances became even tighter than it already was, with no job opening in sight. 

Since Danny was desperate for cash by any means, his close friend Lito (Paul Jake Paule) recommended him to Mama Rene (Jim Pebanco), a gay madame who ran a cyber stud business for foreign customers. Even if Danny was repulsed by the things he was being made to do, this was the only thing he could do to settle his family's debts.

Director Joel Lamangan and writer Troy Espiritu (who also wrote socially-aware films like "Ma' Rosa" and "Alpha: Right to Kill") set Danny's family drama within the spectre of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. From the first scene, we see all the Covid precautions being taken in communities -- quarantine centers, face masks, bunny suits, social distancing, guest restrictions in hospitals. We also see its effects on businesses, employment and on personal plans, like weddings. Problems about financial assistance from the LGU was also mentioned. 

As Danny, newcomer Paolo Gumabao showed promise as a sensitive dramatic actor, especially in quiet scenes like the one at his father's hospital bedside, or those with his mature fiancee Luz (Max Eigenmann). That said, there were also some acting choices which did not feel consistent given Danny's age of 27, street-smart demeanor and prior history as a gay escort, like his disgusted reaction during his first visit to Mama Rene's place, or his grovelling manner during that encounter with the police colonel Ramon Suniga (Alan Paule).

Having films shown via online streaming seemed to have made filmmakers to be bolder when it came to nudity. This year alone had several local films which capitalized on their actors revealing their privates, from Lamangan's own "Anak ng Macho Dancer" in January, to Erik Matti's "A Girl + a Guy" in June. As this film dealt with gay cybersex dens, Gumabao and his co-actors boldly bared it all, perhaps more than what is absolutely necessary in my opinion. This movie may not sit well with the super-straight, ultra-conservative types.  

Aside from the timely pandemic setting though, the story of Danny and the depravity he needed to do to earn the much-needed cash is a very familiar one. This had been the usual basic plot of several films in the past about prostitutes, both females and males, like Lino Brocka's "Macho Dancer" (1988) or Brillante Mendoza's "Masahista" (2005). Now that he has shown off his all, it is now up to fate to decide whether Paolo Gumabao will go the way of Alan Paule and Coco Martin in terms of critical acclaim and longevity of acting career. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Vivamax: Review of GLUTA: Championing Her Color

July 2, 2021

Angel Cabagin (Ella Cruz) has been chosen to be the candidate of the College of Tourism in the Miss Fairtown University Pageant 2021. She was an unexpected choice because she is an indigenous Aeta girl with dark skin, curly hair, flat nose, and 4'4" height. Ever since she was a child, Angel knew she was not pretty in the typical sense, but she has embraced to love her own color, and was excited and confident to join the pageant. 

Angel lived with her uncle Tsong Goliath (Juliana Parizcova Segovia), who worked as a janitor at Fairtown to raise her. He who had always been living in insecurity, not only because he was an Aeta, but also because he was a closet homosexual. He knew the risks Angel faced if she pushes through with joining the contest, and was afraid to let her join, fall flat on her face and receive flak for her boldness and skin color. 

Of course, there are people working against Angel's pageant dreams, led by Lovely Perfecto, the candidate from the College of Business Arts, and her two bitchy friends, Desire (Jobelyn Manuel) and Alexandrei (Michael Catindig). They even connived with Angel's crush Bambino (Marco Gallo), planning to prank Angel big time on pageant day. Will Ella cave under their cruel bullying, or will she continue Tourism's 7-year winning streak?

This production had received a lot of negative reactions even before its showing, following the announcement that it was going to be Ella Cruz who will play the lead role of the spirited Aeta girl, Angel. In the film industry all over the word, there is now a call for authenticity in casting roles of minorities, real minority actors should play them. In the 2016 film 'Paglipay" (MY REVIEW), a true-blue Aeta farmer Gary Cabalic was boldly cast in the lead role, and he wound up winning the Best Actor award in that festival. 

Controversial choice or not, Ella Cruz gave an effective and winsome performance as Angel, even if she had to have that darkening make-up all over her body or wear that wig of messy curls on her head. Cruz was able to convey her strength of character borne out of years of bullying, and the doubts she faced now that her pageant dreams were coming true. Casting a real Aeta girl as Angel is ideal, but being the lead character in a Vincentiments comedy of brazen language and over-the-top delivery, an inexperienced actor may not cut it. 

The film opened with a particularly harsh scene where a religion teacher (Cristina Gonzalez) berated young Angel that a dark-skinned girl like her cannot play an angel in the Christmas program. Yes, there were brutal name-calling against Angel, but these are wicked words we hear in real life spoken to refer to dark-skinned people. In all of his prior projects, including the four before this one this year alone, writer-director Darryl Yap's style is to shock his audiences to make a point, and I believe he did quite well here in that regard.  6/10. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Netflix: Review of MOMMY ISSUES: Mess with Mother

July 1, 2021

22-year old Katya (Sue Ramirez) moved in with her boyfriend Migo (Jerome Ponce) after she accepted his wedding proposal. This caused her over-protective mother Ella (Pokwang) to be hysterical as she opposed Kat's decision. The amiable matriarch of the family, Fenny (Gloria Diaz), tried her best to mediate between her daughter and her grand-daughter. 

Meanwhile, a rich Korean businessman Mr. Kim (Ryan Bang) made a multi-million peso property purchase from Ella's real estate company. However, much to Ella's surprise, Mr. Kim began to invite her out to dates and later admitted that he was in love with her. When Katya found out about her mother's budding love affair, it was her turn to be hysterical against it.

Gloria Diaz can really play these wealthy, progressive matrons like Fenny with ease, as she had done in many romcoms and telenovelas before. She was very relaxed in her portrayal of the extravagant, gossipy yet doting grandmother, like this was her second nature. Even if the role seemed very familiar for Ms. Diaz, it never felt like she was phoning it in. 

Sue Ramirez is certainly one of this generation's best actresses, and her turn as Katya was quite passionate and sympathetic, as she is known for. Even if Katya's developments in the latter half of the film did not seem consistent with the Katya in the first half, Ramirez was still able to sell it convincingly, without needing to resort to be over-the-top to be funny. 

Pokwang as Ella was given the brunt of the comedy work in this film, and she was not subtle about it at all. Everything she did was loud from the get-go, as hysterical as hysterical can get, doing anything for a laugh. When Ryan Bang's Mr. Kim came into the picture with her, their raucous slapstick routine went double-time, with many gags becoming rather raunchy. 

At 90 minutes, this film went along on a quick pace. The plot is not complex, so you could probably predict most of the events well before they happen. If you look beyond the slapstick schticks (which can be annoying), you will still enjoy the witticisms writer-director Jose Javier Reyes had to say about prickly mother-daughter relationships. 5/10.