Friday, October 29, 2021

Vivamax: Review of SA HABA NG GABI: Clumsy Chiller

October 29, 2021

One day, Jhermelyn (Kim Molina) went to work as a housemaid in a huge mansion to help out her cousin Neneng (Candy Pangilinan) who was already working there. That night, the chauffeur Nhoel (Jerald Napoles) drove home the owner of the mansion, Senator (Johnny Revilla), who was accompanied by a young woman Agatha (Andrea Barbierra). Meanwhile outside the house, the village was being ravaged by green-blooded zombies who were roaming the streets biting and killing everyone in their path. 

This horror-comedy was only 1 hour and 20 minutes long, but it still felt long. Despite the fact that the film had practically not much substance in it, there were even plenty of scenes that did not really need to be there at all. We did not need to see Jhermelyn say a long goodbye to her parents (Rolando Innocencio and Yayo Aguila), whom we do not see or hear from again for the rest of the film. We did not need to see the tour of the three living rooms of the house, since it did not really matter in the plot. 

Poor Kim Molina tried her best to keep Jhermelyn a grounded character, but the odds were really stacked against her with so many senseless situations and lines. One can only tolerate Candy Pangilinan's over-the-top shrill voice so much, but her Neneng just had to be a non-stop chatterbox spouting absolute nonsense. Jerald Napoles's lusty driver Nhoel did nothing much but play serial lover boy to all three female characters. Newcomer Andrea Barbierra still had limited improv skills, and simply could not keep up with the other three veterans.  

The "comedy" was more of annoying than funny. The actors seemed to only be making up their silly lines themselves and improvising gags on the fly, so most of them missed than flew. Furthermore, director Miko Livelo was not able to create enough creepy atmosphere for the horror aspect to work. The musical score and the editing did not build up any sense of dread, danger or suspense. The lighting of the scenes was very uneven, and there seemed to be a different color filter even in consecutive frames. 

There was no explanation and set-up at all as to why there were zombies. All we get is an inane TV bulletin from the Public Health Department where an incompetent official was advising the public not to call situation a zombie apocalypse, but a blessing to be able to see dead relatives again.  There was something about the blood turning green that came up towards the end, but it was just a throw-away line that did not make any sense. At least, the zombie make-up was quite good, so that deserves a point at least. 1/10. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

KTX: Review of IZLA: Zany Zombies

October 26, 2021

Badong (Paolo Contis) and Entoy (Archie Alemania) were two brothers working odd jobs for tips in a beach resort. They desperately needed more money to pay off major family debts. When Badong learned that his favorite sexy vloggers, the V-Sisters, were scouting for a major prank idea, he suggested that he could take them to Forbidden Island, fabled for being the home of deadly ninjas since the Japanese occupation. When the sisters accepted his offer, they were in for an insane adventure beyond any of their expectations. 

When the opening scene showed barbers telling ludicrous wartime tales about a mysterious island which had laboratories that created so-called "ninjas on call", or "ninja-call" for short (old green joke, groan) you immediately knew that you should not take this movie seriously. Badong and Entoy looking very silly while dancing on a river boat to the tune of "Kapag Tumibok ang Puso," set tone for the absurd. A news report about tourists missing while taking a tour to the forbidden island set the tone for danger. 

The diverse characters within the V-Sisters vlogging group gave director Barry Gonzalez a chance to take little potshots at various female vlogger stereotypes. Veronica (Isabelle Daza) was their serious leader constantly worried about their views and statistics. Valerie (Beauty Gonzales) was the cynical, jaded one. Venus (Ellise Joson) was the charming, bubbly one. Their crew were also as pretty and sexy as them: their producer Gina (Sunshine Garcia), their researcher Lani (Analyn Barro) and their mascot Abby (Aiko Climaco).

Paolo Contis, Archie Alemania and Beauty Gonzales kept the wacky comic energy going throughout. The ever-classy Isabelle Daza felt out of place in these lowbrow shenanigans. In fact, she and Ellise Joson were conspicuously absent in several scenes on the island. Analyn Barro (as the voluptuous and brainy Lani) even had more memorable scenes, with her "shaking the stone" and "reading Japanese" gags. Nino Muhlach was also in the mix as Mayor Aldrin, who knew more about the island than he let on. 

As the sex-obsessed Badong, Paolo Contis delivered most of the little raunchy one-liners, most of them actually worked, like the ones about booby traps or gold / bold. There were also a number of zombie visual gags that were so silly, you can't help but laugh out loud for their stupidity, like the "Chariot of Fire"-inspired racing bit, or that security guard zombie with the keys.  Of course, the ditzy girls were funny just by simply screaming and running around like crazy, as it was in all the zombie horror comedies that came before. 4/10. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

KTX: Review of WILL YOU MARRY?: Paranoid to Proposal

October 25, 2021

Honey (K Brosas) was a middle-aged single mother to her three children, Reese (Alwyn Uytingco), Toffee (Pio Balbuena) and Sweet (Elisse Joson). On her birthday, her children were shocked when she received a big bouquet of red roses. Pressed to confess, Honey revealed that she had met a Danish man Fritz Karlsen (Paul Lyderer) on a dating app and that he is inviting her to fly over to Denmark to visit him. Just to be sure, Sweet tagged along to accompany her mom to keep her from making a hasty decision. 

This is another European romp by writer-director Veronica B. Velasco, after "Nuuk" (2019) and "A Faraway Land" (2021). Like before, she brought us to picturesque places, like the stately Lerchenborg House and the quaint colorful houses of Nyhavn, where Hans Christian Andersen used to live. This time, the issue she tackles was about Filipina widows meeting European men online with the possibility of getting married to them, and how this type of romantic arrangement affect their grown children.  

The choice of K Brosas in the lead role of Honey was certainly an unexpected piece of casting. This of course meant that the film had to play to her forte, which is comedy of the comedy bar variety. However, the way the screenplay was written was not exactly funny. Those supposedly "funny" scenes of adult children displaying rude behavior putting their mother to shame are not funny at all, be it Toffee tipping the food table over at home or Sweet's disrespectful lack of any manners in Denmark.

Fortunately, K Brosas knew how to tone her usual strong personality to balance out the unlikable and over-the-top acting of the three young actors playing her children, which made first act of the film an unbearable chore to get through. The uncouth, immature behavior displayed by those bratty "kids" were very uncomfortable to watch because they were not kids anymore, but whining adults. As the film made a transition from comedy to suspense thriller, Sweet's boorish behavior was still just as annoying.

It is in the third act, that Velasco finally wielded her magic wand for melodrama. With the special participation of Anjo Ylanna as Honey's late husband Dindo, mother and daughter confront their own demons from their past to deal with the problems they faced today. Even if lowbrow slapstick comedy may not be her strong suit, this type of tearjerking drama is where Velasco really excels, with a nice scene to explain the seemingly incomplete title to boot. Brosas and Joson both step up their game without overdoing the waterworks.  5/10. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

IQiYi: Review of JIRISAN (Pilot): Mysteries on the Mountain

October 24, 2021

The pilot episode of any series can make or break it. The first episode should grab the attention of viewers right away with a concise setting-up of the plot and introduction of the characters. It should already show us the personalities and abilities of the characters and have a good idea about the mood and story of the series. If the maiden episode was too slow or too convoluted, it can be a turn-off. I had given up on a few series, even those with a great reputation, because of an uncompelling first episode. 

"Jirisan" is an original IQiYi production which will be premiering on the streaming service on October 23, 2021, with two episodes every week released on Saturdays and Sundays. A sneak peek of the first episode was granted to members of the press to promote the upcoming series. This is the current project by director Lee Eung-bok, who had earlier done famous series such as "Descendants of the Sun" (2016), "Goblin" (2016) and Mr. Sunshine (2018) and writer Kim Eun-hee, who created "Kingdom" (2019-present). 

The title Jirisan is Mount Jiri, the tallest mountain in mainland South Korea (the tallest one Hallasan is on Jeju Island). The series aims to immerse viewers in the natural beauty of the mountain to serve as a soul-healing experience. The first few scenes were montages introducing the mountain, its scenic spots and various activities, and also about the gallant park rangers on patrol duty, who also serve as the rescue team when there are reports of hikers who meet accidents or lose their way on the treacherous slopes. 

Gianna Jun as Senior Ranger Seo Yi-kang
(IQiYi publicity photo)

It was the first day at work of Kang Hyun-jo (Ju Ji-hoon) as a ranger at the Jirisan National Park. Because of an emergency call to rescue a lost boy during a raging storm, he was immediately thrust into work even without time to change into proper climbing outfit. He met his superior Seo Yi-kang (Gianna Jun Ji-hyun), with whom he shared the same fearless passion to serve and rescue even if it meant going against rules. Their close partnership and connection with each other would even go beyond physical realms. 

Gianna Jun Ji-hyun broke through early in her career, scoring lead roles right away in films like "Il Mare" (2000) and the iconic "My Sassy Girl" (2001). More recently, she was the lead actress in two acclaimed series "My Love from the Star" (2013) and "Legend of the Blue Sea" (2016). Ju Ji-hoon achieved fame in the series "Princess Hours" (2006), and in films like the two "Along With the Gods" films (2017, 2018).  Most recently, they were both in the cast of "Kingdom," Ju as the Crown Prince Lee Chang and Jun as Ashin of the North. 

Ju Ji-hoon as Ranger Kang Hyun-jo
(IQiYi promotional photo)

The supporting cast consisted of three easily-recognizable character actors. Dong Il-sun, famous for playing one of the dads on "Reply 1988" (2015) played by he head ranger Jo Dae-jin. The other members of the rangers team were played by the multi-awarded actor Oh Jung-se (as Jung Goo-young) for his roles in "When the Camellias Bloom" (2019) and "It's Okay not to be Okay" (2020); and Jo Han-cheol (as Park Il-Hae), played by  who just finished his latest role as a former one-hit wonder pop singer in "Hometown Cha Cha Cha" (2021).

The potential for action was pushed with all the precarious rock climbing stunts, done even at night or in inclement weather. The potential for potent drama was already shown by their encounters with an emotional relative. As the story jumped two years later by the end of the episode, and we see the present situation of the characters, a different, more mysterious plot dimension was laid out. This surely struck my curiosity on how the story will proceed from there, and I will definitely watch on, some scenes with obvious CGI notwithstanding. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Vivamax: Review of HOUSE TOUR: Raunchy Robbery Romp

October 22, 2021

Olympian archer and gold medalist Franco Cy (Rafa Siguion Reyna) and his wife actress Gabby Dizon (Sunshine Guimary) posted online a house tour of their vast Greek-inspired estate overlooking Taal Lake. A gang of four plot to break and enter into this house to steal the P100M cash stashed in the main safe. They are brothers Markus (Mark Anthony Fernandez) and Raymond (Diego Loyzaga), techie expert Buddy (Marco Gomez) and their muse, Ellie (Cindy Miranda). 

This latest film from Viva brings together the studio's two sexy, statuesque nymphets, Cindy Miranda and Sunshine Guimary. This time, their sexy romps are integrated within story of a double-crossing crime caper situation, all set within the confines of an elegant mansion. The film also devoted significant screen time on its commentary about social media fame whoring. It talks specifically about "phrogging," or secretly trespassing and living in someone else's house and vlogging about it. 

While both Miranda and Guimary are definitely visions of beauty on the screen, it was apparent that each had her own respective forte in acting. Miranda does very well with serious drama. As the jaded and ambitious Ellie, Miranda emotes effectively with her face, so her quiet contemplative scenes were her best. On the other hand, Guimary is very much at home with physical comedy. As bimbo starlet Gabby, she effortlessly bubbles with energy and humor, and she knows how to use her gifts to her best advantage. 

Diego Loyzaga's Raymond was pretty much just brainless muscle but with a sentimental streak. The way he was staring at Ellie, it was quite obvious she would also get it on with him, even if she was his brother's girl.  Marco Gomez's quiet Buddy unexpectedly developed to be most interesting character in the story, and the one with the most daring sex scenes. Despite his billing, Mark Anthony Fernandez's Markus was actually in the film for the first 20 minutes only, but of course that was enough time for a sex scene with Ellie.

Director Roman Perez, Jr. (fresh from two recent sexy projects "The Housemaid" and "Taya") knew well to treat his outlandish scenario not so seriously, but as a broad farce. Since the mansion was already a scene of a heinous crime, it was unlikely that anyone can still remain living inside it. The police had to be treated as mere comic relief to waive that issue off. The morally-questionable ending is problematic; but if there could have been more cooperative interaction between Ellie and Gabby, Perez could have pushed the envelope some more for female empowerment and poetic justice. 4/10. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Netflix: Review of MY NAME: Infiltrative Identity

October 21, 2021

Teenager Yoon Ji-woo (Han So-hee) heard her estranged father Yoon Dong-hoon (Yoon Kyung-ho) being shot to death outside the door of her apartment. Driven by rage and guilt, she sought the help of her father's friend and gang boss Choi Mu-jin (Park Hee-soon) to help her seek revenge. After training her to fight, Choi sent her to infiltrate the police department under a false name as a narc in order to kill the policeman behind the murder of her father.

The career of beautiful 26-year old actress Han So-hee is on quite a roll with three consecutive lead roles in major TV series. She landed lead roles in "The World of the Married" (2020) and "Nevertheless" (2021), as young women in various romantic predicaments. This transformative role of Ji-woo in "My Name" is her most physically brutal and exhausting role so far, pushing Han's acting chops and versatility even further than ever before. 

Park Hee-soon played Choi Mu-jin, an impeccably-groomed, cool-as-a-cucumber drugs kingpin who can be both benevolent and ruthless. Kim Sang-ho played Cha Gi-ho, the chief of the narcotics department who knew more than what he was saying. Chang Ryul played the crazy goon Do Gang-jae who can't accept that he was beaten in a fight by a girl. Ahn Bo-hyun played Jo-wee's police partner, whose discernment could be clouded by concern.  

Those realistically-painful, bone-crushing, blood-splattering hand, knife and gun fight scenes were staged in various backdrops, from messy gyms and gambling rooms to elegantly-furnished condos and offices. The lighting, camera work and editing of these fights were very done in a way that made them look so brutal and deadly. I have to admit though that Ji-woo was obviously favored to win her fights no matter how impossible the odds were against her. 

Revenge plots have been a familiar staple in TV drama series. "My Name" gives its basic revenge story one twist after another because it was based on secrets and lies built upon older secrets and lies. I cannot say that the ending was not entirely predictable, the series remained engaging to watch, as all the protagonists and antagonists were instrinsically- flawed, making their intentions, plans and next steps unpredictable. 7/10. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


October 19, 2021

The Bascos were a Filipino-American family who lived in Pittsburg, California. The eldest brother was Darius, nicknamed Dayo (Derek Basco), the reliable one. The second brother was Dante, nicknamed Danny Boy (Darion Basco), the dark one. The third brother was Douglas, nicknamed Duke (Dante Basco), the lucky one. The youngest brother was David (Dionysio Basco), simply David, the funny one. 

The Dayo episode was a comic romp with a hint of underworld danger. To earn extra cash to fulfill a bold expensive promise he made to the family, Dayo went to find a job from his friend Berto (Joey Guila), who sent him to bring a fighting cock to a foul-mouthed gangster Nicky Chang (Joseph Jitsukawa) and his goons. It was the presence of their Lola (Iluminada Monroy) and her trusty bottle of Vicks Vaporub that steal the scene. 

The Duke episode was like a fantasy romance drama. Duke had an unexpected reunion with his gorgeous ex-girlfriend Anna (Solenn Heusaff) in Manila. The two bonded as if the 15 years that had passed was just yesterday. They even met Tirso Cruz III in a funeral they crashed in an Intramuros church they visited. Since they were both married now, whether they fall into the temptation of going all the way or not was the big question.

The David episode was a brief comic interlude, as he was the weird and uninhibited one after all. While hanging around the food before a family party began, David saw a mysterious woman (Crystal Kwon) at the other end of the table. The two began a bizarre courtship ritual of sorts, as they use various items of food on the buffet to make one naughty sexual innuendos to the other, ranging from mild suggestive to outright blatant. 

The Danny episode was the most touching one of the four. After a bad breakup, Danny mostly kept himself locked in his room, wallowing in misery while immersed in strange dissonant electronic music that he would compose on his computer. One night, he became text mates with a woman on the new dating app and they agree to meet up. Despite a literal load she was carrying at present, Danny found Teresa (Liza Lapira) a kindred spirit and soul mate. 

The stories were narrated by a female voice, whose identity would be revealed only at the very end as a surprise. She was introducing to the American audience the idiosyncrasies of Filipino-Americans as a people, how their family dynamics were, and how they loved karaoke, cha cha and gambling. We local Filipinos will also learn about the lives of Fil-Ams who speak with an American twang and are fully integrated into American way of life. 

When you look at the end credits, this film was really a family affair. Aside from the four Basco brothers you will see more Bascos among the cast and crew. That the four were brothers in real life can be felt in their scenes together. Those meal time scenes that the brothers were together with their parents Aida and Darius were the best ones for me. The "fabulous" in the title refers more to the real Basco brothers, not really their film versions. 6/10. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Netflix: Review of HOMETOWN CHA-CHA-CHA: Refreshing Rustic Romance

October 17, 2021

Pretty and idealistic dentist Dr. Yoon Hye-jin (Shin Min-a) had always held herself in high regard, both as an individual (she was fond of buying expensive dresses and shoes) and as a professional (she knew when to fight for her dignity as a dentist). One day, she boldly called out the malpractice of her boss which led to her being sacked from work and shunned by other clinics in Seoul. When she visited the laidback seaside rural town of Gongjin and found out that they had no dentist there, she decided to set up her private practice there. 

Hong Du-sik (Kim Seon-ho) was the popular jack-of-all-trades in Gongjin, the man who was willing to take on all sorts of odd jobs. Despite being an engineering graduate from a prestigious university, he held no definite job title. He busied himself daily by making, fixing or delivering random things for minimum wage per hour and taking care of the elderly, earning himself the nickname of Chief Hong from his thankful neighbors. He had one day-off a week to go surfing, and on one such day, he met Hye-jin at the beach bringing the fancy shoe she had lost. 

Aside Hye-jin and Du-sik, we are also introduced to the various townspeople of Gongjin and their own personal stories. Kim Gam-ri (Korea's National Grandma Kim Young-ok) was one of three grandmas Du-sik cared for. Oh Cheon-jae (Jo Han-cheol) was a one-hit wonder pop-star from the 90s, who now owned a coffee-shop, raising his rebellious teenage daughter and K-pop fan, Ju-ri (Kim Min-seo), by himself. Jo Nam-sook (CLOY's Cha Chung-hwa), owner of the Chinese restaurant, was the town chatterbox and gossip queen.

Hye-jin's landlord Yeo Hwa-jeong (Lee Bong-ryun) owned the raw fish restaurant. She was divorced and had custody of her smart son I-jun (Ki Eun-yoo) Her ex-husband Chang Yeong-guk (In Gyo-jin) was a town official who was still pining for his first love, teacher Yoo Cho-hee (Hong Ji-hee). Grocery owner Ham Yun-kyung (Kim Joo-heon) and her husband Choi Geum-chul (Yoon Seok-hyun) had one spirited daughter Bo-ra (Go Do-yeon) and another baby on the way. Choi Eum-chul (Kang Hyung-seok) was a shy policeman who caught the attention of Hye-jin's assistant Pyo Mi-seon (Gong Min-jeung) for his "Hong Kong movie star" looks. 

There was a third party who came in Episode 7 in the person of successful TV variety show director Ji Seong-hyeon (Lee Sang-yi), who came to Gongjin to shoot his latest project. He was Hye-jin's friend at the university who now took this as his second chance to declare his long-time admiration for her. While he proved to be a worthy rival to Du-sik by being helpful in the community and even gaining the favor of Hye-jin's father (Seo Sang-won) and stepmother (Woo Mi-hwa) when they came to visit in Episode 9, we can easily predict his fate.

This K-drama was 16 episodes long, with new episodes every Saturday and Sunday. At first each episode was an hour long, but later on, they became longer at an hour and twenty minutes or so. However, these episodes were very light-hearted and delightful, never feeling too serious or heavy at any time, so the series was a breeze to follow or binge-watch. There were entire episodes with nothing but humorous sweet-nothings between Hye-jin and Du-sik (like Episodes 11 and 12) which could make any cynical viewer smile. 

While everything was generally bright and positive, there was one dark aspect that was merely suggested throughout the first 13 episodes, the secret where Du-sik disappeared to for 5 years after graduating from the university before returning to Gongjin. Despite his sunny personality, it seemed Du-sik suffered from disturbing nightmares and declined jobs involving living things (like taking care of the kids' hamster). It was only after a frustrated Hye-jin confronted him about it at the end of Episode 13 that it will finally be revealed in more detail. 

Thanks to the bedimpled charms of Shin Min-a and Kim Seon-ho, the winsome chemistry between their two mismatched characters was quite irresistible. They were able to project giddy teenage romantic feels even when both actors (and characters) are already in their mid-30s. Kim Seon-ho, in particular, just came from his very popular breakthrough role as Han Ji-pyeong in "Start Up" (2020), and he parlays more of that good-boy goodwill here in "Hometown" where his fans expect him to finally win the girl he deserves.  

Episode 14 turned serious with deep conversations about love and commitment, understanding and forgiveness. It was skillful how these themes were woven into relationships of several characters, not only Hye-jin and Du-sik. Episode 15 brought back terrible ghosts of one fateful night in Du-sik's past to stir up and clear up the air at the same time, only to leave us in tears which went on up to the start of Episode 16. By the second half of the finale, through blatant pizza ads and even a cute Squid Game reference, we would smiling all over again. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Vivamax: Review of SARAP MONG PATAYIN: Crazed Catfish Caper

October 15, 2021

Homely gay pest exterminator Noel (Lassy Marquez) has a willing accomplice in his best friend architect Krista (Ariella Arida) in his perverse habit. He uses her attractive photographs for him to meet, seduce, drug and molest unsuspecting men who use the dating application. Their present target is handsome gym rat Yael (Kit Thompson). The two kinky friends never suspected what their latest escapade had in store for them. 

Writer-director Darryl Yap is back again with his 12th film project, his 9th for this year alone.  Every time a Darryl Yap film comes out, there is bound to be some controversy preceding it as he chooses to tackle one triggering topic after the other -- from pornography to mental illness to skin color and the like. This new project goes after an unscrupulous modern dating activity borne out of the anonymity of social media -- catfishing. 

Catfishing is a deceptive practice where someone pretends to be someone else in order to meet new people on an online social networking site. In this movie, gay predator Noel, fully aware of his ugly puffy facial features, resorts to using the glossy model-like photos of his BFF Krista to attract his male victims online. Yap created a new dating app here called Course, which offered a choice between Inter (physical) or Intra (virtual) sexual experiences. 

Kit Thompson was able to expand his range into more off-kilter roles like Yael, who suffered from an abusive childhood. Lassy Marquez was very scary realistic as Noel, as he gleefully ravished the unconscious Thompson. I felt bad that Ariella Arida's character Krista was really very badly treated, both in the story and by the camera, despite that this was Arida's feature film debut. Her shower scene was so unappealingly shot with dim light and terrible angles, in contrast with how Thompson's shower scene was shot with a lascivious gaze.

Frequent Yap collaborator Bob Jbeili played the role of Emman, a mousy mobile phone repair man working outside Yael's gym. Marion Aunor channeled Billie Eilish in her featured song number as Nirvana. The requisite angst-ridden Yap monologue was delivered this time by Tart Carlos, in the character of Yael's sadistic Tiya Salve. Yap also used a multi-colored silent Greek chorus of sorts (Leslie Lacap, Faith Medina and Bea David), dancing and haunting in drug-addled nightmares.

This purposefully offensive film definitely went beyond the limits of good taste to depict perverse depravity onscreen. The sexual abuse progressively went downhill from hungry groping to outright rape. Unlike what the tagline says, there seemed to be no doubts cast as to whether these heinous acts committed under the influence of drugs actually happened or not. The extreme levels of salaciousness and violence here was also beyond anything Yap tackled before. This is certainly not for everybody. 2/10. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Vivamax: Review of SHOOT! SHOOT!: Mischief-Mongering

October 8, 2021

Jack (Andrew E.) is a middle-aged aspiring actor who lived with his parents Ricardo (YouTube comedian Tatay Rick Balonzo) and Digna (Tabs Sumulong), and his younger, better-looking cousin Pong (Hashtag Wilbert Ross). His girlfriend Liwayway (Sunshine Guimary) is a dim-witted, two-timing, gold-digging bimbo and wannabe model. His best friend Anghelita (AJ Raval) is a pragmatic tomboy who owned the local car wash.

When a viral rumor went around that Jack was going to be a billionaire, all the women in Barrio Manilaw were practically throwing their daughters his way to seduce him to marry them. The townspeople were also pressuring Jack to help them recover their properties which had been mortgaged to the local gambling lord Joker (a different-looking Juliana Pariscova, not in drag) to cover for their gambling debts.

There were sexy girls wearing tanktops and short shorts in the neighborhood all hovering around Jack (and Pong too). Anghelita's carwash had three curvy employees Marie (Angelica Cervantes), Paula (Angel Arcega) and Petra (Deberly Bangcore), and what's a carwash setting for if there won't be a requisite wet t-shirt water fight? These three girls also went "digging holes" with Pong for treasure one night which left the young man totally exhausted. 

There was Sabel (Shaine Vaszuez) who did not mind climbing mango trees even when there were boys sitting underneath. There was Carla (Quinn Carillo), owner of the local eatery who frequently argued and made up with her fickle husband. Even Liwayway's mother Aling Marina (Sheree Bautista) had a scene with only a towel on, a scene director Al Tantay graced with his own cameo to be the recipient of her off-cam full frontal. 

Al Tantay and Andrew E updated a formula that worked for them back in the 1990s for their two recent films together, namely "Sanggano, Sanggago't Sanggwapo" (2019) and "Pakboys Takusa" (2020). Apparently, their mix of low-brow "bro" humor of the green, brown and slapstick variety, with a bevy of willing sexy girls at their disposal, had been quite successful, so here they are again having another go at it. 

The whole thing was still silly, shallow and predictable, but overall, this one somehow felt more light-hearted and good-natured than the other two. Maybe it was because Andrew E. was on his own here (not in a raunchy gang) and his character Jack was never shown aggressively pursuing or taking advantage of the girls (even if Pong was), so the double-entendre jokes did not come across as too misogynistic (even if they were at their core). 3/10. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

HBO Go: Review of REMINISCENCE: Sultry, Steamy and Sodden

October 5, 2021

In a future time, half of Miami is submerged underwater. Nick Bannister provided a service which allowed people to revisit a cherished past event realistically via holographs, a business he ran with his assistant Watts. One night, a beautiful client named Mae came in wanting to find her lost keys, and Nick fell hard for her. When Mae suddenly went missing one day, Nick went through literal hell as he obsessively searched for her.

Even if the setting was in the future with a piece of science fiction machinery playing an central role in the plot, the formula of post-World War II era noir film are all right there. Hugh Jackman was the alpha male investigator Nick, and Rebecca Ferguson was the gorgeous femme fatale Mae, the two essential characters of a classic noir, like Bogart and Bacall in "The Big Sleep" (1946) or MacMurray and Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity" (1944). 

Aside from his trench coat and his five o'clock shadow, Hugh Jackman had that requisite cynical world-weary attitude and the obsessive investigative drive in his eyes. Rebecca Ferguson was paired with Jackman before in the film "The Greatest Showman" (2017) as operatic diva Jenny Lind. While her songs as Lind were dubbed by another singer, it was Ferguson's sultry singing voice we hear as slinky lounge singer Mae.  

Completing the languid and steamy noir atmosphere were the classy production design and glamorous costumes. The flooded streets of Miami looked good, but not really integral to the plot. Nick's voice-over narration of his story was tended to be overly melodramatic with poetic metaphors. Standing out in the supporting cast were Thandiwe (formerly spelled as Thandie) Newton played Nick's devoted assistant Watts and Daniel Wu as bilingual gangster Saint Joe. 

However, the storytelling style by director Lisa May turned out too convoluted, tedious and boring, more style than substance. The pacing of the middle section lagged so badly, it failed to be gripping, wasting all the build-up in the first act. The final act was basically a prolonged exposition of what Mae really did based on the memories of the unmemorable antagonist (Cliff Curtis) in order to justify Nick's ultimate course of action. 6/10. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Netflix: Review of DIANA: THE MUSICAL: Sensational and Sad

October 3, 2021

The life story of Diana, Princess of Wales had been told and retold in countless forms -- in newspapers and tabloids first, then books and documentaries. She was also the subject of television movies and series ("Diana: Her True Story" in 1993, and "The Crown" Season 4 in 2020) and feature films ("Diana" in 2013 with Naomi Watts, and "Spencer" in 2021 with Oscar-touted Kristen Stewart). The fascination about her remains strong up to now.

It did not seem too farfetched then that a stage musical be written about her irresistible story.  "Diana" the musical had music and lyrics co-written by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro (who also wrote the book). It was first developed in La Jolla Playhouse at the University of California in San Diego in 2019, and was already supposedly Broadway-bound by 2020 but the pandemic hit. Last summer, it was announced that this show will finally be opening on November 17, 2021. 

During the pandemic, filmed stage productions of hit Broadway shows have been released on streaming sites, like "Hamilton" (2020) and "Come from Away" (2020). The director of "Diana" (both stage and film) is the same Christopher Ashley who won a Tony for "Come from Away" in 2017. But in a bold marketing move, this filmed version of "Diana" was released on Netflix first a full month  before its Broadway premiere. Whether this strategy will work to increase their ticket sales remains to be seen. 

Jeanna de Waal may look a bit too mature to be teenage Diana in the first few scenes, but she soon settled in quite well as a very good Diana with pretty and expressive face, and a strong belting singing voice, the right fit for both upbeat and ballads. She captured Diana's frustrations and indignation about her fruitless efforts to save her marriage and being blatantly abandoned by her husband for a mistress. Her best song was her last ""If (Light of the World)" about her dreams which never reached fruition. 

Roe Hartrampf and Erin Davie played the inseparable soulmates Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, both portrayed here as being pretty cold and heartless towards Diana. Of course, these characterizations were any surprise for a show about the idealistic soul whose life they lay in despair and ruin. It was unbelievable as both these personalities are still very much alive, yet their roles in Diana's short life are villified over and over again.

Judy Kaye played two very distinct scene-stealing roles, the imperious mother-in-law Queen Elizabeth II and the flighty funny Barbara Cartland (Diana's favorite writer who became her step-grandmother).  Kaye opened the second act as Cartland with a racy song introducing the sexy royal riding instructor in "Here Comes James Hewitt." Towards the end of the show, she sang Queen Elizabeth's soaring stately song about her life as "An Officer's Wife."

Some members of the ensemble played supporting characters who get their own featured numbers, like Gareth Keegan as James Hewitt (in adulterous quartet songs like ""Him & Her (& Him & Her)" and "Just Dance") and Bruce Dow as Diana's butler Paul Burrell (gleefully singing feckity-feck about "The Dress"). Others were Holly Ann Butler as Sarah Spencer, Zach Adkins as Andrew Parker-Bowles, and Nathan Lucrezio as author Andrew Morton. 

The costume department recreated some of Diana's most famous outfits, like the red Christmas sheep sweater (1981), her green and white polka dot maternity dress (1982), and that slinky off-shoulder "revenge dress" (1994). The blue dress she wore when she shook hands with the AIDS patient Graham (Chris Medlin) was not the same, but he did point out its errant white collar. There were a couple of theatrical magic moments of "blink and you'll miss it" costume changing, the best one involving her iconic wedding gown itself. 

There were some campy scenes like a shirtless James Hewitt on a mechanical bull and an actual Diana v. Camilla confrontation catfight. The style of the songs were a little old-fashioned, complete with neat little rhymes at the end of each line. For example, the name of Camilla was notably rhymed with "Thrilla in Manila" in one song and "Godzilla" in another. The song numbers were entertaining and some lyrics carried a healthy dose of British wit, but no song was quite so immediately memorable after the first listen. 6/10. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Netflix: Review of MIDNIGHT MASS: Catholic Conundrum

October 2, 2021

Crockett Island was home to only 127 inhabitants. It only two ferries a day that connected it with the mainland. One day, substitute priest Fr. Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater) arrived in town. He was filling in for elderly Monsignor Pruitt who had been taken ill on his Holy Land tour. From his very first Mass, Fr. Paul immediately displayed uncommon passion to his evangelical mission, gaining the admiration of loyal churchgoers.

Writer-director Mike Flanagan took his time to introduce us to the people on the island. There was the Flynn family, Ed (Henry Thomas), Annie (Kristin Lehman) and teenager Warren (Igby Rigney), whose eldest son Riley (Zach Gilford) was just released from prison. There was the Scarborough family, Mayor Wade (Michael Trucco) and Dolly (Crystal Balint), with their wheelchair-bound daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone). 

There was the new Muslim sheriff Omar Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi). There was Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabelle Gish), who lived with her old mother with dementia, Mildred (Alex Essoe). There was Erin Greene (Kate Siegel), the schoolteacher who was single and pregnant. And lording it over the entire community as its self-appointed moral guardian, there was the fanatical zealot Beverly Keane (Samantha Sloyan). 

Each episode of the series was named from Biblical books: Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations, Gospels, Acts of the Apostles and Revelations. Since Fr. Paul's arrival, strange things began happening on the island, from the carcasses of cats on the beach to the inexplicable events happening to residents. These mysteries would peak in the midnight mass for the Easter Vigil, when big secrets of resurrection were revealed to the town. 

Flanagan gave all the major characters their own lengthy philosophical monologues. Some of these slow speeches may come across pretentious and unrealistic.  Hamish Linklater's Fr. Paul Hill was very sympathetic and his words as he delivered them sounded genuinely inspirational. The other memorable performer was Samantha Sloyan, whose hateful Bev Keane will be long remembered as one of the most despicable characters on TV ever. 

Catholic rites, traditions, beliefs and philosophies are very much integral to the plot of this quasi-horror series. For practically every episode, there was a beautiful Catholic church hymn being sung to accompany scenes. For a Catholic viewer like me, it was unsettling, and even upsetting, to hear Bible verses being inaccurately cited and sanctimoniously manipulated (by Bev Keane specifically) to promote and justify bloody horrifying beings and events. 6/10. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Netflix: Review of THE GUILTY: Intensely Involving

October 1, 2021

Officer Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) was a hot-headed, arrogant 911-operator of the LAPD Communications serving Los Angeles area. During one very busy night duty, he received a distressed call from a woman named Emily Lighton who had been abducted in a white van. Minutes later, he received a call from a six-year old girl who might be Emily's daughter, describing how her daddy just took her mommy away with a knife. 

This tense drama never left the 911 call center where Joe worked. The whole thing was practically a one-man show for Jake Gyllenhaal as he was the one face we see as Joe fielded calls from various distressed callers during one stressful night shift while mountains of LA was ablaze with forest fires. Once Joe heard Emily's pitifully plaintive voice though, he got obsessed with helping this particular woman caller, even it went beyond his duty. 

Gyllenhall possessed the screen with sheer passion and electricity. His Joe was so highly-strung and emotionally labile, it was painful to watch him go through a hell of a night duty. His stress-induced asthma was already acting up. He was set to testify in court the next morning in a case that might get him in jail. His marriage was also in shambles as he is estranged from his wife Jess and kept away from his daughter whom he missed like crazy. 

Those voices we hear on the phone -- Emily (Riley Keough), her husband Henry (Peter Skarsgaard), little Abby (Christina Montoya) -- we never see their faces at all, but this made the film all the more compelling, as the full story of that family slowly unfolded for Joe, and for us. Joe also talke to policemen outside to help him, Sgt. Bill Miller (Ethan Hawke), his ex-partner Rick (Eli Goree) and the CHP Dispatcher (Da'Vine Joy Randolph). 

This riveting thriller was skillfully directed by Antoine Fuqua, from a screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto adapted from a 2018 Danish film of the same name (which I have not seen yet). This had considerably less action than Fuqua's famous works like "Training Day" (2001), "Olympus Has Fallen" (2013) and "The Equalizer" (2014), but excitement remained intact all the way through. This was Gylenhaal's show through and through, and he powerfully delivered as only he can. 8/10. 

Vivamax: Review of ANG MANANANGGAL NA NAHAHATI ANG PUSO: Morphing Monsters

October 1, 2021

Fil-Italian exchange student Giuseppe (Marco Gallo) needed to finish his final project about Filipino mythology in order to graduate. A strange gay man with garish makeup and huge headdress named Gudong (Chad Kinis) convinced Giuseppe to go with him to his home in Siquijor where he lived with his siblings Gimo (McMuah), Ging-ging (Lassy Marquez) and Giniper (Aubrey Caraan), whom he claimed were all mythical creatures.

This film is prolific writer-director Darryl Yap's 10th film project overall, and his 8th for this year 2021 alone. It opened with a scene set in the year 2067 where an old woman (Gina Pareno) was sitting in a pyramidal hut with a round window in the middle of a grove of trees. It then transitioned back in time to the year 2019 to the same hut owned by a famous babaylan or fortune teller named Guinta (Teresa Loyzaga) about to tell an optimistic Giniper her future. 

Each creature was introduced. Sigbin was a foul-smelling hairy hybrid of goat and dog, with big ears, whiplike long tail and hooves facing backwards. Magindara is a fresh-water creature with long mossy hair and a fishy tail, who lured victims with her dizzying song. Tiyanak is a shapeshifting baby who victimized people fooled by its innocent crying. Manananggal can separate her upper torso from her legs, the sprout wings to fly off and seek her victim.

Marco Gallo's Giuseppe had quite a challenging dramatic character arc to ride and he nailed it in most part, showing much improvement from his brief role in Yap's "Gluta" earlier this year. Having three gay comedians as supporting characters meant some gay-baiting humor, all at the expense of Gallo's Italian good looks. There was some awkwardness in the climactic confrontation scene when he went a bit over-the-top with the shouting. 

Audrey Caraan also takes on her biggest role to date here as the titular confused manananggal, Giniper. The arc of her character was more predictable -- a poor abandoned girl who felt obligated to help her adoptive brothers with their criminal schemes out of gratitude. This time with Giuseppe, love and conscience got in the way. Caraan still needs some more acting experience to rid herself of tics that do not come across naturally onscreen.

Aside from Siquijor's beautiful waterfalls and beaches, some of its famous dishes were featured like Basoy, Tinuluang Manok and Saang (spider conch) sa Alat, all richly prepared with anti-aswang ginger and garlic. Despite the potentially tourism-damaging story of swindlers preying on clueless tourists, this film promotes the culture of this mystical province which worked hard to overcome its creepy reputation to become a tourist paradise. 6/10.