Monday, May 23, 2022

Netflix: Review of A PERFECT PAIRING: Oenology in the Outback

May 23, 2022

Lola Alvarez (Victoria Justice) was a hard-working account executive for the L.A.-based wine-company Mythos, run by a slave-driver boss Calder (Craig Horner). After a painful betrayal from her supposed friend at work Audra (Lucy Durack) who claimed Lola's new business idea (previously shared by Lola to her in confidence) as her own, Lola had to make a major decision either to stay on at Mythos or strike out and start her own company. 

In her dogged determination to land a major up-and-coming Australian wine label owned by CEO Hazel Vaughn (Samantha Cain), Lola volunteered her services to work as a ranch hand (or "jillaroo") at the Vaughn's sheep station doing tough duties like mending fences to shoveling manure. Over the next two weeks, station manager Max (Adam Demos) slowly fell for Lola's perseverance and humor, and she with his air of mystery and philosophical quotes.  

Ever since she burst into the limelight in Nickelodeon's shows "Zoey 101" (2005-2008) and "Victorious" (2010-2013), Victoria Justice clearly had the charm and disposition to be a rom-com star. Now more mature at 29 years old, Justice was irresistibly cute in those scenes of Lola awkwardly trying to learn all the heavy chores at the sheep ranch. She was likewise at home in the light dramatic scenes as Lola balanced a new career and a budding romance.

Adam Demos played Max as a no-nonsense ranch manager, who kept a web of secrets about his past he was unwilling to share. Like how it was that Max was obviously falling for Lola, it was also not very subtle what the big mystery was about his real identity was. Coming from a daring series like "Sex/Life" (2021), it was not a surprise that Demos would also have shirtless scenes in this new film, although they were not really needed in story. 

With a title like "A Perfect Pairing," it was not really a big secret how the whole story would end. The flow of the story followed the typical rom-com formula. Girl meets boy, rough start, fall in love. One of them kept a critical secret which the other did not appreciate, so they split up. I need not say what happens next. Setting this familiar story on a scenic Australian sheep farm and a script enriched with posh vino-culture set it apart from the typical sorts. 5/10. 


Sunday, May 22, 2022

2 Mini-Reviews: FATHER STU and MEMORY: Difficult Decisions

May 22, 2022


Director: Rosalind Ross

Screenplay: Rosalind Ross

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) was an amateur boxer who lived in Montana with his mother Kathleen (Jacki Weaver). As the boxing was going nowhere, Stuart moved to Hollywood, where his alcoholic father Bill (Mel Gibson) lived, in the hope of becoming an actor. At his day job at the supermarket, he was smitten by the charms of Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). Before accepting him as a suitor though, Carmen wanted him to be a baptized Catholic.

From there, Stuart would face a major health crisis followed by another, even more debilitating one. After a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Stuart felt the calling to become a priest. His sudden decision did not sit well with Carmen, who wanted him to marry her, or his atheist parents who had long lost their faith when they lost another son in childhood. Despite resistance from Monsignor Kelly (Malcolm McDowell), Stuart staunchly pursued his dream against all odds.

This biopic was an old-fashioned melodrama at heart, spiced up by Stuart's profane language and commentary about Catholics and priesthood. Now 50 years old, Mark Wahlberg was obviously too old to play Stuart as a younger man (the real Stuart actually passed away at the age of 50). Anyhow, he nailed the dramatic moments here, and even underwent a major physical transformation. The moving ending surprise was beautifully executed. 7/10. 


Director: Martin Campbell

Screenplay: Dario Scardapane

Alex Lewis (Liam Neeson) was a senior assassin-for-hire. When he approached his target for his latest contract, he saw that it was 13-year old Beatriz (Mia Sanchez). He aborted his mission and instead went drinking in a bar, picking up a random woman to spend the night with. The next day, he learned that Beatriz was murdered anyway. However, because of his ongoing battle with Alzheimer's disease, he could not remember if he really did it or not.

Aside from Liam Neeson, there were a couple more familiar names in this B-action flick, both of whom I did not recognize right away the way they looked here. Guy Pearce, made up to look Mexican-American, played FBI agent Vincent Serra, who rescued Beatriz from her abusive father who prostituted her. Monica Bellucci, heavily made-up to look like Morticia Addams, played the business tycoon who hired Alex in the first place.  

For a film entitled "Memory," it was annoying how the Alzheimers of Alex did not have a more important role in the plot. Instead, we just see Alex being forgetful, which is not really a big shock because 70 year old man usually is, assassin or not. It was not common for Neeson to play an anti-hero, but of course it was no surprise that the ruthless hired killer Alex just so happened to have a soft spot for kids. 5/10. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Review of TOP GUN: MAVERICK: Soaring Speed Spectacle

May 21, 2022

After 36 years of decorated service in the Air Force of the US Navy, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell still held the modest rank of Captain, and was still involved in testing state-of-the art fighter jets. Upon the orders of his old rival then friend, now Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky, Maverick was unexpectedly assigned to train a group of brash young pilots to execute a dangerous mission to bomb a heavily-armed uranium facility within treacherous mountains within the unnamed enemy's territory. 

One of the pilots in Maverick's group is Lieutenant Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw. Rooster was the son of Maverick's best friend and radar-intercept officer Nick "Goose" Bradshaw, whose death Maverick always felt guilty for. Rooster also blamed Maverick for pulling out his application papers before, which delayed his entrance into the Navy. Meanwhile, Maverick got back in touch with an old girlfriend Penny Benjamin, a single mom who now owned the local bar where the navy pilots hung out. 

The first "Top Gun" film was the box-office champion of 1986, earning more than $176M in the US alone. It solidified Tom Cruise as a bonafide superstar and further bolstered the careers of Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards. Its soundtrack album was also a big hit, reaching 9 times Platinum. It contained the #1 hit and Oscar-winning song "Take My Breath Away" by Berlin and a couple songs by Kenny Loggins,  "Playing with the Boys" and "Danger Zone" (bars of which were heard in the opening scene of this sequel).

36 years after the events in the first movie, Maverick was a still a man who marched to his own drum, laden with emotional baggage. As probably only he could, the ageless Tom Cruise (now 59) can still manage to convincingly pull off both the daring and dangerous physical aviation stunts with Miles Teller and the younger actors, as well as the chaming, grinning boy-next-door love interest opposite Jennifer Connely (whose character Penny was actually mentioned in the first film). The scene with disabled Val Kilmer was a dramatic highlight. 

As Rooster, Miles Teller, with that mustache, looked uncannily like Anthony Edwards as Goose, hence we totally get Maverick's discomfort in having to be in the same room with him. Maverick and Rooster will have unbelievable close encounters with the enemy in the final act, but being a Hollywood blockbuster that this is, we suspend disbelief and cheer them on through all these. Among the other pilots, standing out were Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) being the only female, and Hangman (Glenn Powell) channeling the arrogance of Iceman.  

There were plenty of sentimental references to the first film, so it would be probably be better to give the original a revisit before watching this sequel, for better emotional connection with the whole story. Don't fret if you could not, because there were plenty of flashback cues to remind you of what happened, like singing "Great Ball of Fire" at the piano, or Goose's fatal ejection. The pilots playing touch football shirtless on beach was clearly a redo of the much-ballyhooed shirtless beach volleyball scene in the first film.  

But like the original film, the best parts of this film are the breathtakingly-fast and exhilarating flying scenes, all said to be done without the benefit of computer-generated effects. We see Maverick flying an experimental Mach 10 jet, an F-18 Super Hornet and even a F-14 Tomcat (for a nice throwback to the first film). He would also have dogfights against enemy jets, as well as evasive midair maneuvers against missiles. The superb cinematography and editing made it all look like Cruise was actually flying those planes even if he really wasn't. 9/10.   

Vivamax: Review of IKAW LANG ANG MAHAL: Absorbed in Art

May 21, 2022

Andrei Parabuac (Zanjoe Marudo) was a young documentarist from Manila who booked a month's stay at the colorful Honta de Balay in Sagada to do a film about the Puerto Antimano art scene using old-school analog technology. He planned to do interviews with the three legendary senior artists who worked there, namely poet Butch Alipato (Joel Torre), painter Patring Cordero (Lara Morena) and filmmaker Eric Salamanca (Ronnie Lazaro). 

On his very first night, Andrei immediately caught the amorous attention of Ingrid (Cara Gonzales), a film director and fellow resident at the Balay. The next day, Andrei met Lira (Kylie Versoza), a published novelist, who then invited him to attend a poetry reading party of her uncle Butch, with whom Andrei had an unpleasant first encounter earlier that morning. Andrei and Lira hit if off very well and soon get intimate. 

Director Richard Somes immediately set the mood of the whole film in an early scene when Andrei was being questioned by Lucrecia Debres (Evangeline Pascual) about his plans during his stay in her Balay. She represented the proud artistic community in Puerto Antimano and was very wary and defensive against pretentious outsiders, like Andrei, who may want to exploit the talented artists who thrived there. 

This film did not require the usual Parental Control PIN for mature content on Vivamax, so you might expect this to be a wholesome romance film. However, it turned out that there would plentiful artistically-executed sex scenes of Andrei with various women. The most ambitious one would be that open-air love scene set on a mountaintop, with multiple cameras catching all the intimate action from all angles. including overhead drone shots.

The film gave viewers an immersive experience of what it is like to be involved in a vibrant art community, especially with veteran actors Joel Torre and Ronnie Lazaro there with all the quirks of artist personalities. Zanjoe Marudo further proved his dependability in dramatic roles, and he clicked with Kylie Versoza as a romantic couple. As she was sensitively convincing as a fragile serious artist, this was Versoza's best performance as an actress to date. 6/10.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Review of DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA: Truths and Transitions

May 19, 2022

In 1928, Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) had inherited a villa in Southern France from the late Marquis de Montmirail, whom she met 60 years ago. Sir Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton), Tom Branson (Allen Leech), his new bride Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) and mother-in-law Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) visited it upon the invitation of Montmirai's son. 

Meanwhile, Downton had been leased out by Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) as the shooting location for a silent film directed by Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), starrring famous movie stars Myrna Dagliesh (Laura Haddock) and Guy Dexter (Dominic West). However, the shoot stalled when their sponsor pulled out midway because silents were falling out of favor. Barber then decided to shift to becoming a talking film instead, but it was not that easy.

Fans of the "Downton Abbey" TV series will undoubtedly be thrilled to attend this reunion and get updated with what was going on with the masters and servants they have learned to love over the show's 6 seasons, which ran from 2010-15, spanning the changing years from 1912 to 1925. In 2019, the first cinematic reunion was held, telling about events surrounding a visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Downton in 1927.

This new film got the beloved cast together once again, only to split them into two parallel stories. One story was happening in Downton with Lady Mary and staff excitedly witnessing the transition of movies from silents to talkies. The other one in another opulent villa in the French Riviera, with Sir Robert and family learing about yet another passionate romance in the past of the formidable but delightful Lady Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham. 

Of course, with the cast in full attendance we cannot really expect every character to have equal screen exposure. While it was fulfilling to see good things happen to Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), it was a tad disappointing that there wasn't much for John and Anna Bates here, or for Lady Merton Isobel Grey. Series creator and screenwriter Julian Fellowes did try to squeeze in a little something for everyone, and wrap things up with a bittersweet bow. 7/10.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Review of THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT: Celebrating Cool and Crazy Cage

May 15, 2022

Actor Nick Cage (Nicholas Cage) having difficulty connecting with his daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) and his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) because of his obsession with his career. He could also not get any good movie projects lately,  and was facing financial troubles. On the verge of retiring from show business, he accepts an invitation to make a one-time appearance as the guest of honor at a billionaire's birthday in Mallorca. 

When he met his host Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), Cage was at first annoyed and uninterested, but the two eventually hit it off very well with their common love for cinema. Later, Cage was informed by CIA agents Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz) that Javi was the main suspect in the kidnapping of a politician's daughter, and that they were recruiting Cage to be their informant on Javi's activities. 

Nicolas Cage was a superstar in the 1980s and 1990s with unforgettable films like "The Rock" (1996), "Con Air" (1997), "Face/Off" (1997) and "City of Angels" (1998), among many more. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995). Since the turn of the millennium, his career took a downturn as he was derided for roles in forgettable B-films like "The Wicker Man" (2006) and "Season of the Witch" (2011). 

Last year, Cage had a critically acclaimed performance in the film "Pig" (2021) and this was seen as a career breakthrough for him, returning to the A-list. His momentum is maintained with this new film, which had an interesting premise of Nick Cage playing a parody version of himself as a down-and-out actor whose career needed a serious boost. He portrayed himself tongue-in-cheek all the way here, and it was a joy to watch.

This film celebrates Nicolas Cage the actor, with random references to Cage's long filmography, like "Guarding Tess" (1994), "Gone in 60 Seconds" (2000), "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" (2001) etc. Having mature Nick Cage arguing with young brash "Wild at Heart"-era Nicky Cage about being an actor vs. a star was a stroke of genius. The buddy chemistry Cage had with Pedro Pascal, who played a Cage super-fan, was a lot of fun. 8/10. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Netflix: Review of SENIOR YEAR: Rebel the Rambunctious

 May 15, 2022

It was 2002, her senior year in high school, Australian immigrant Stephanie Conway (Angourie Rice) wanted to be prom queen. She was the captain of the cheerleading squad, and her boyfriend was school top jock Blaine (Tyler Barnhardt). This was much to the dismay of Tiffany (Ana Yi Puig) whom Stephanie beat to earn both prize distinctions. Unfortunately, her plans did not come to pass because of an accident which left Stephanie in a coma. 

In 2022, Stephanie (Rebel Wilson) suddenly woke up from her coma, now at age 37. However, her mental status was still stuck at age 17. Her close friend Martha (Mary Holland) is now the principal of their high school, while Seth (Sam Richardson), who had a crush on her before, is now the school librarian. Stephanie resolved that she would complete her senior year, and finally claim that crown of prom queen she knew she deserved.

The jokes in this film were quite familiar, as they seemed to have been done before in one version or the other in various high school comedy films in the past, from "Bring It On" (2000) to "Mean Girls" (2004), and yes, "Clueless" (1995). Even Rebel Wilson's style of comedy was quite similar to the three "Pitch Perfect" films (2012-17), which nevertheless was the same dorky, immature, sassy persona that endeared her to her fans all these years. 

However, the nostalgia element of the late 1990s and early aughts, especially in the musical soundtrack, was irresistible. One of the highlights was a recreation of the Britney Spears music video for her hit song “(You Drive Me) Crazy.” You see all the 90's era posters on the wall in Stephanie's room and they will all bring back happy memories. There was even a surprise cameo from one iconic 90's star whose poster was also on Stephanie's wall.

This was a generally fun juvenile romp, with several digs to the current woke culture and the toxicity within social media. The performance of Chris Parnell as Stephanie's dear father Jim Conway was particularly affecting. It just disturbed me how the cause of Stephanie's accident were never even addressed again during the rest of the film and everything was just neatly swept under the rug. Stephanie did not really get justice for the 20 years she lost. 6/10. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Vivamax: Review of PUTAHE: Lissome Luscious Lasses

May 14, 2022

In the lazy island village of Isla Puerta, 16-year old Jenny (Ayanna Misola) lived with her strict father Abel (Ronnie Lazaro). She worked for the barangay captain Pompa (Shirley Fuentes) and carried on a secret love affair with boyfriend Ephraim (Massimo Scofield). Among the residents were kagawad Betong (Mon Confiado) and his wife Lalaine (Carlene Aguilar), the village prostitute Elise (Hershey de Leon) and soldier Capitan Cain (Jiad Arroyo).

One day, a mysterious beautiful woman named Euka (Janelle Tee) came to their island to establish an eatery featuring her own innovative recipes for seafood. She was popular not only for the delicious food she served, but also for the sexual favors she generously allowed her customers to partake in. Young Jenny was so mesmerized by Euka's allure that she would constantly spy on her activities. One day, she asked Euka if she could be her apprentice.

"Putaje" explored the coming of age of a lissome barrio lass into basal realities of life. Her teacher was a newcomer to their island, a woman twice her age who taught her the gustatory pleasures of food, as well as the carnal pleasures of sex. However, as in recent Viva films "Adan" (2019) and "Nerisa" (2021) of the same general vein, there is the inevitable incursion of blood and revenge into all the seemingly blissful picture. 

Ayanna Misola is barely out of her teens at age 20, but she looked mature for a 16-year old. Starting with smaller roles in "Pornstar 2" (2021) and "Siklo" (2022), she promptly gained leading lady status with her third film "Kinsenas, Katapusan" (2022). Now continues to strike while the iron is hot headlining this new film "Putahe." Right from the opening scene as she was pleasuring herself with a fish, you knew she was not going to be coy at all.

Janelle Tee is a beauty queen, earning the title of Miss Philippines Earth in 2019. Her first Vivamax project was also with Misola in "Kinsenas" in a much smaller role. This time, Tee is stepping into co-lead status with much more brazen exposure, and she had to do several more sex scenes with several more guys than Misola. She tried her best, but Tee still lacked experience and depth to deliver fully in such a rich and earthy role as Euka. 

The title of this latest Roman Perez Jr. film is playful as it literally denotes "viand," but also naughtily suggests "prostitute." It was too bad that there was more about whoring than it was about cooking. There was not much about the process of how Euka prepared her tasty treats, as in films like "Eat Drink Man Woman" (1994) or "Like Water for Chocolate" (1992). But with that lengthy sex montage and then some, those after the sex will certainly have their fill. 5/10. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Netflix: Review of ALONG FOR THE RIDE: Insomniacs Invigorate

May 10, 2022

Much to the disapproval of her mother Victoria (Andie McDowall), 18-year-old Auden West (Emma Pasarow) decided to spend time with her estranged father Robert (Dermot Mulroney) in the beach town of Colby, where he now lived with a much younger second wife Heidi (Kate Bosworth) and an infant named Thisbe. 

In Colby, Auden worked on the accounting of Heidi's botique, which was manned by three teenage girls, Maggie (Laura Kariuki), Leah (Genevieve Hannelius) and Esther (Samia Finnerty). It did not take too long for Auden to figure out that Robert was still very much more into the book he was writing than his family as he had been before. 

In one of the late night walks she took because of her insomnia, she met 20-year old boy Eli (Belmont Cameli) and struck up a friendship with him. Eli noted how Auden had been unable to experience the usual fun things that teenagers were supposed to be doing. On the other hand, Auden saw how a tragic past experience was keeping Eli from going for his dreams.

This was another one of those Netflix young-adult romances where the characters were portrayed by actors who were older. Belmont Cameli is 24 years old, and Emma Pasarow is even older at age 26. However, despite being in their first lead roles in a feature film, both Cameli and Pasarow looked good and did well in their portrayals, despite their awkward romantic chemistry and some unlikely things they were made to do (really, a food fight?).

I was more interested in the storyline about Auden's parents, who were played by two stars from 90s romcoms. Andie McDowall (now 64) played Victoria as the snobbish uptight mother, yet insecure in her confidence. Dermot Mulroney (now 58) played Robert as the brilliant yet clueless father who gave his daughters pretentious names and blamed everyone else except himself. 2000's star Kate Bosworth (now 39) played Heidi as cheerful and flaky young mother, yet dealing with hidden pain as well.

The cliche formula being followed in this film was very predictable. Two loners meet and hit it off quite well. Each one would push the other about something they are not ready to deal with, thus causing friction between them. However, by the third act, both of them realize that the other was just being a good friend trying to encourge them to get over an issue that was holding them back. It would have been nice if their insomnia was explored more. 5/10. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Netflix: Review of ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS: Games of Gumption

May 8, 2022

After escaping the deadly escape rooms created by the Minos Corporation in the first "Escape Room" (2019), Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) decide to drive to New York City to gather more evidence in order to report the shady organization to authorities. However, circumstances led them both to be trapped in a subway train car that suddenly uncoupled itself and hurtled down to the end of the track. 

There were four other people in the train car with them: Rachel (Holland Roden), Brianna (Indya Collier), Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel), and Theo (Carlito Olivero). They realize that they were all former survivors of a Minos escape room, and they had been gathered together again to play a new game. Aside from the electrified train car, they also had to escape a laser-trapped bank floor, a beach shack sinking into the sand, and a city street with acid rain. 

There was a brief introductory segment about the Zoey's session with her shrink. However, once she and Ben got to New York, director Adam Robitel did not waste any more time on exposition and dove right into the action. You have to admire the commitment of the actors for their over-the-top spirited portrayal of their characters being zapped by current, cut by laser, sucked in by sand, rained on by acid, or drowning underwater, all via CG effects. 

The escape scenarios here in this sequel were more improbable and much crazier than those in the first film. With all the running, crawling and jumping around, they seemed more exhausting for the participants in the film, as well for the audience watching. Since this was already a sequel, there are character/s you can guess will not die, unlike in the first film. Still it was fun overall, but you really have to check your logic at the door.

This version in Netflix is not the same version that was released last year, giving a different explanation about who was behind the games. I thought the first version was better thought out than this one. If there was one story of one of the new characters that I would like to see expanded into a prequel, it would be the game which cleric Nathan won over five more priests in a series of rooms that challenged their faith. Now that sounds interesting. 6/10. 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Vivamax: Review of DOBLADO: Doubling Down Dirty

May 7, 2022

Ronan (Josef Elizalde) followed the advice of his libidinous cousin Tommy (Jiad Arroyo) and became a member of El Gimikero, an online gentlemen's club run by Madame Alexis (Gwen Garci) and her husband Daddy-O (Kier Legaspi). Ronan chose Ishtar88 (Denise Esteban), a girl who resembled his ex and liked to do cosplay and role playing. 

Ishtar88 is Jaira, a college student by day. Ronan and Jaira got along so well that their relationship soon became serious. However, one of her disgruntled customers Mr. L (Mark Anthony Fernandez) turned out to be the father of one of her classmates. He began to use this information to blackmail her to do things beyond her set boundaries.  

After being introduced in "Kaliwaan" just a week ago, Denise Esteban immediately got to become the leading lady this week. In contrast with her illiterate victim character before, Esteban gets to play it sophisticated and confident as Jaira, someone who can get her men to obey her limitations (at least at first). She may not be as voluptuous as the other Vivamax sirens, but she is as bold and fearless as the rest of them in showing off skin.

In a major career move since his start as a housemate on "Pinoy Big Brother: Teen Edition" back in 2008, Josef Elizalde unexpectedly became the newest stud in the Vivamax stable just last March in the film "X-Deal 2." His fair skin and white-collar look set him apart from the other guys rotating in the leading man slot. The character development of his vanilla Ronan may be corny, but it did give Elizalde a chance to show off some acting range.

Mark Anthony Fernandez is already becoming the go-to bad guy in Vivamax. Gwen Garci is once again in one of her loud, high-strung roles as a lesbian mama-san. Kier Legaspi is still rusty after years of showbiz inactivity. Jiad Arroyo, ex-member of the band The Juans and contestant of TV noontime show pageants, makes his Vivamax debut. Katrina Dovey was given her introductory showcase as Jaira's fellow call girl Pinky. 

This was again one of those typical Vivamax sexy offerings with a violent twist. This is GB Sampedro's fourth film in this streaming service. He had light sex comedies "Kaka" and "Crush Ko si Curly" last year.  The tone of his newer films got significantly darker this year, with "Kinsenas, Katapusan" and now this new one. Coincidentally (or maybe not), both films involved lusty liberated school girls wearing seductive uniforms.  4/10. 

Recap and Review: SINEPIYU 2022

May 7, 2022

Sinepiyu is an annual film festival organized by FEU Film Society which began in 2007. This festival encourages aspiring filmmakers from Far Eastern University and other schools in the Philippines to tell stories on social realities. The theme this year is "Ibayo" (Beyond), representing courage, resolve and perseverance to tell stories despite adverse weather and strong waves encountered in the journey of life.  

There are a total of 30 finalists in four main categories of short films in Sinepiyu's 14th year this year: All-Tamaraws (11), Interschool Narrative (9), Interschool Documentary (5), and Interschool Experimental (5). They are being streamed for free on the website of the Film Development Council of the Philippines. There are also physical screenings being held at the Cinematheque Centre Manila.

The 11 finalists in the All-Tamaraws Division covered a wide range of genres and topics. There was suspense-horror -- "A Stop Over" (Jayven Manzano, 19 minutes) about a group outing gone wrong. There was coming of age -- "Pempem at ang Bomba Magazine" (Migs Ruallo, 19 minutes), with wacky Dada Garcia as a 15 year-old girl who found a girlie magazine in her schoolbag. There was fantasy -- "If I Could Give You the Moon" (Francis Tavas, 19 minutes), a silent short about a boy meeting the moon in human form.

Four were dramas about families. "Letra" (Jillian Marie Bolayog, 17 minutes), featuring cute little tyke TG Daylusan and his thick long mane of curls in the lead role of Kokoy, who was trying to write a letter to get through to his aloof father Mikko (Rey Mangabat) who had just returned after a long absence. "Tanda" (Julie Marx Barriga, 17 minutes) was light dramedy about an old man Juanito (Angel Roxas Dazo, Jr.) suspicious about his wife Teresita (Rosario Charing Atun) and her activities outside their home. 

Two were about young women and their folk healer fathers, but with vastly different stories. In "Kris+ina" (Jessy Doydora, 19 minutes), Ka Virgilio (Francis Mata) was trying his best to rid his ailing daughter Kristina (Precy Villota) from the unwanted attention of a kapre.  On a much darker tone was "On the Shepherd's Warning" (Lily Gomes, 19 minutes) about the disturbed daughter (Jeanette Jamora) of a man (Jun Nayra) who conducted secret healing rites for sick women. The work of cinematographer Imran Aquino here was commendable.

Four had a political theme. "Tanawing Pinta" (Edel Torres Hembrador and Samantha Maceda, 9 minutes) was a pointedly direct metaphor about a certain first lady. "arKibo" (Vhannie Dacumos, 13 minutes) was about the deep dark secret of a senator running again for office. "Soils of Corruption" (Carl Mendoza, 14 minutes) was about a presidential assassination as it was being discussed by two priests. "Ilo" (Serafin Emmanuel Catangay, 15 minutes) started as a sci-fi thriller about alien abduction, until the ending revealed who the aliens were.

Two of 9 finalists in the Interschool - Narrative category had a Martial Law theme: "An Amomonggo sa Aton" ("The Monster Among Us") (Vinjo Entuna, 16 minute) a motion graphics short about the Escalante Massacre in Negros Island in 1985, and "Gapos Sa Kadenang Walang Kandado" (Dan Versoza, 6 minutes) about a mother visualizing scenes of torture as she listened to tapes of her daughter talking about her difficult thesis work. 

"Top Fans" (Vien Dimaculangan, 19 minutes), a satiric comedy about a retrenched writer (John Christian Magpantay) who became a paid social media troll during the pandemic.  "Bulawan" (Gold on the Ground) (Jermaine Tulbo, 12 minutes), began lightly as a poor farmer (DMs Boongaling) and his son (Nathaniel Molina) dig for gold that came out from a 2030 eruption of Mt. Apo, but things turned dark when the police arrived, ordering them to stop. 

"Mundong Walang Katiyakan" (Vahn Pascual, 10 minutes) was about a middle-aged gay couple dealing with early-onset dementia. "Lilibeth" (Shai Colanse, 16 minutes) was about a teenage couple (Rhythm Joy Alolor and Lean Gabriel Bustillos) dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. "Haan Ta Nga Mataengan Nga Aggidan" (We Won''t Grow Old Together) (Mike Cabarles, 10 minutes) was about a teenage boy and the old woman who adopted him when he was abandoned as a child. 

"My Mother's Bicycle" (Gabriel Carmelo, 14 minutes), about a daughter dealing with her mother's death, was most remarkable because it was filmed in scenic rural Uzbekistan and featured an Uzbek actress Zebo Raximova in the lead role. The other standout in this set is "Cut/Off" (Von Victor Viernes and Sean Russell Romero, 12 minutes) with Vince Aseron giving an intensely moving portrayal of Chris, a closeted gay young man who had a vibrantly colorful drag queen persona struggling to come out. This could contend for Best Director and Best Actor. 

There were five finalists in the Interschool - Documentary category. Two of them were intimate personal stories of young men and their mental health issues. "A Puff of Misery" (James Magnaye, 15 minutes) was about Wayne Austin Tagulao, a introverted paranoid young man who survived a suicide attempt, and his supportive mom Celeste. "Disorder" (Calvin A. Ponteblanca, 19 minutes) was about a day in the life of a young man working on his film thesis as he dealt with various medical conditions. 

"Gising Sining" (Ruka Azama and Mel Perez, 19 minutes) was a more typical documentary about Filipino revolutionary street artists stirring the sociopolitical pot with their art. "Private Tomas" (Maxine Angelique Munoz, 8 minutes) introduced Tomas Mateo Claudio, a young man who emigrated to the US, served in WW1 and died in battle, celebrated as a hero in Morong, Rizal. "Two Women and the Rock Garden" (Mike Cabarles, 8 minutes) was about two long-estranged sisters who reunited in their family's beach resort in Bolinao, Pangasinan. 

There were five finalists in the Interschool - Experimental category. The most accessible one was "Panaghoy ng Taong Ulul" (Bradley Jason Pantajo, 9 minutes), showing a guy reciting Hamlet's soliloquy while taking a shower. The others, "Salamin" (David Edrick Jimenez Collado, 6 minutes), "It's Bristle Time" (Aron Barrameda Abad, 5 minutes), "Lungkot" (Redsh Alba, 5 minutes) and "The Past is Far Behind Us" (Juan Antonio Saavedra, 4 minutes), were bizarre abstract works with seemingly random mixes of footage, graphic images, music, lighting and sound effects.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Review of DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS: Diving into Darker Dimensions

May 3, 2022

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wong (Benedict Wong) rescued a teenage girl being chased down the streets of New York by a one-eyed giant octopus. She was America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who was being pursued because of her unique ability to travel through alternate universes, collectively called the Multiverse. 

When he noted that the monster was a product of witchcraft, Strange sought the help of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who was then still mourning the loss of her two sons, Billy and Tommy. However, this friendly visit revealed a bigger, darker plot that would send them hurtling across different dimensions in time and space. 

That was just a "tip-of-the-iceberg" introduction to this 126-minute exhilarating roller-coaster ride through a spectacular CGI extravaganza of a movie (especially in 3D IMAX). Like other Marvel films, there were a lot of frenetic action scenes, some heavy drama and occasional slapstick comedy. This one added horror to the mix, with some gruesome kills and startling jump scares, shocking scenes which made the audience gasp out loud.  

As we have already seen in the Avengers and his own stand-alone film, Benedict Cumberbatch really fit the character of Doctor Strange like a glove. In this sequel, Cumberbatch took on more versions of this character as they existed in other earths within the multiverse -- flawed, sinister or zombiefied. His relationship with his ex-lover Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) was likewise revisited. 

We already saw her range of talent in the Avengers films and specially in her "Wandavision" TV series, but Elizabeth Olsen really went through a wringer of emotions for the story arc of Wanda / Scarlet Witch in her heart-wrenching quest for motherhood in this sequel. We get to see the full extent of Scarlet Witch's superpowers here, and they can be quite scary, and even gory (certainly not for small kids, despite the generous PG rating). 

Director Sam Raimi returns from a 9-year break from film directing since "Oz the Great and Powerful" (2013) and he comes back strong. He told a complex fantasy story bringing characters into different universes with different versions of themselves in a way that engaged the audience and made sense. His expertise in the horror genre, from films like "The Evil Dead" (1981) and "Drag Me to Hell" (2009), fit right into the dark story. 

It would be best if you watch this film after you've seen two 2021 Disney+ series "Wandavision" and "What If," but I think you can still get the general flow of the story even if you did not. There were rampant rumors of cameos and some were teased in the last trailer. It is really best if you watch without any idea of who these guest stars would be. These scenes were met with loud cheers during our screening, and most probably in yours too. 9/10. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Vivamax: Review of KALIWAAN: Trading Torture

April 29, 2022

Working student Boogie Alcantara (Vince Rillon) lived with his parents and younger siblings in their small bakery. One night, he severely injured a guy Raji (Juami Gutierrez) whom he saw romancing his masseuse girlfriend Monica (AJ Raval). His frantic mother Belen (Irma Adlawan) immediately brought Boogie to her brother, policeman Marlon (Mark Anthony Fernandez), with the hope that he can help Boogie out in his present predicament. 

It turned out that Raji was the son of a Muslim family headed by Mohammed (Julio Diaz). The aggrieved father immediately sent his elder son Ahmed (Raion Sandoval) to go look for Boogie. Meanwhile, Boogie was hiding out in the house of Marlon's brutish right-hand man TJ (Felix Roco). Both camps went at each other's throats on a round robin of escalating threats and intimidation, eventually blowing up into an inevitable mess of bloody carnage. 

The very first scene right off showed a sadistic Mark Anthony Fernandez and his men inflicting brutal torture on a helpless naked woman (Cataleya Surio) who had her hands tied up over her head. From this opening scene alone, we are immediately warned that this film was not going to shirk from nudity and gore. And as promised, we will get exactly that gratuitously graphic display of sex and violence that Vivamax is known for.

Ever since his Vivamax debut in "Siklo" (2022), Vince Rillon is on a roll portraying regular guys who were thrust into various sexually-stimulating situations with various voluptuous women. This time Rillon gets to cavort with the original Vivamax princess, AJ Raval, who now has to step up her own game as the Vivamax stable of nymphets is now teeming with several other ladies who are just as willing to bare and more. 

One of these promising sirens is Denise Esteban who gets a top billing on the poster, despite having a role that is secondary at best, even not entirely necessary. She played the role of as TJ's illiterate younger sister who was apparently being abused without her full understanding, a pitiful character who was there to show Boogie's sense of compassion. That final scene of hers holding a white teddy bear was a haunting one. 

The name of Brillante Mendoza may be seen above the title, but he is the producer here, not the director. He handed the reins over to Daniel Palacio, who told Boogie's harrowing tale in a brisk engaging manner with interesting camera angles, only interrupted with extraneous sex scenes for that Vivamax branding. Its main distinguishing aspect was its extreme torture violence which is definitely not for the faint at heart. 5/10. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Review of THE BAD GUYS: Correctional Caper

 April 28, 2022

In Los Angeles, anthropomorphic animals lived with the human population. The debonair thief Mr. Wolf led the gang called the Bad Guys, who terrorized the city with their crime sprees. His mates included his grumpy best friend Mr. Snake, the child-like disguise expert Mr. Shark, the crazy hothead Mr. Piranha and and tech hacker wiz Ms. Tarantula. They lived a life of crime because people all looked at them as villains anyway. 

One night, the Bad Guys gatecrashed an event with philanthropist and goodness advocate guinea pig Prof. Rupert Marmalade IV, planning to steal the Golden Dolphin trophy to be awarded him by governor fox Diane Foxington. Their plans miscarry, and they end up being arrested However, Marmalade interceded and offered to conduct an experiment to prove that he can convert the Bad Guys into good.

The artwork by the artists from Dreamworks Animation was very interesting to observe and study. The main animal figures were three-dimensional, how they still had that old-fashioned two-dimensional look with regards to the details. The hair and facial features of Wolf and his gang looked like they were hand-painted on, in contrast with Disney-Pixar which generally have animals with fluffy wavy fur. The action sequences were also frenetic and exciting.

The voice cast was very entertaining to listen to. Sam Rockwell (as Wolf) had a genuine rapport with Marc Maron (as Snake), as well as easy chemistry with Zazie Beetz (as Diane). Awkwafina's Ms. Tarantula was practically a stereotype of having the female member of the gang be the hacker. Anthony Reyes as the rambunctious Piranha gets to belt out the catchy theme song "Good Tonight" in a lively party scene.  

The protagonists of this animated film are literal "bad guys" as the title clearly says. However, the screenplay by Etan Cohen, based on the children's book series of the same title by Aaron Blabey, gave this bunch of crooks a story arc that promised path towards redemption which makes it appropriate for young viewers to watch with their parents. The twisty way the story unfolded and its biting sense of humor made it quite engaging for adults as well. 8/10.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Vivamax: Review of HABANGBUHAY: Interrupted by Illness

April 22, 2022

Bea (Ellise Joson) was a pretty, privileged social media influencer with her popular makeup vlogs. JR (McCoy de Leon) was their houseboy, an orphan who grew up with his grandmother and his pet dog. As per the formula these cinematic love stories usually follow, they started hating each others guts, but eventually, they do fall in love. However, as fate would have it, a serious health condition would make this relationship a very challenging one. 

Young adult love stories complicated by a disease suffered by one of the partners has been a familiar trope in films. From "Love Story" (1970) to "Dying Young" (1991), from "A Walk to Remember" (2002) to "The Fault in our Stars" (2014), audiences have wept over these sets of star-crossed lovers who found love in one person, only to realize that this love will end in sadness because one of them is suffering from an incurable illness.

Unlike the previously named film that dealt with cancer, the illness tackled in this film was CVID (Common Variant Immune Deficiency), a rare primary immunodeficiency disease with no known cure which makes the patient easily susceptible to various infectious diseases. So this film was somewhat more akin to "Five Feet Apart" (2019) which dealt with cystic fibrosis, a condition that also made patients prone to deadly lung infections.

Ellise Joson really went to town with this role of Bea, literally running the gamut of human emotions, from ecstatic joy to extreme depression, from being spunky and vibrant, to being wan and powerless. As JR, McCoy de Leon had a very easy chemistry with Joson, convincing us about the sincerity of their love story. However, that this pairing was between a rich spoiled princess and a shy illiterate houseboy was admittedly not too easy to swallow. 

Giving JR his own mental health issue and traumatic backstory in Act 2 was an interesting development, but this did not really matter anymore by the final act. The story arc of Yayo Aguila as Bea's overprotective mother Lily was just too predictable. Even if they tried complicating her story by having her be separated and at odds with her ex-husband Bernard (Lander Vera-Perez), this also did not really go anywhere significant.  

Running for almost two hours, director Real S. Florido took his time to tell a familiar story, with writers Jon Versoza and Paolo Valconcha including all the usual twists in their script. I liked those scenes when Bea and JR were seen together even though there were apart in reality. Cinematographer Lee Briones-Meily did some great work with those beautifully-shot scenes about their camping trip on Mt. Tala.  6/10. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Review of THE LOST CITY: Rough and Risky Romance

April 21, 2022

Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) was an author of best-selling steamy romance-adventure novels featuring a dashing fictional hero with long flowing blond hair named Dash. To drum up sales for her latest book entitled "The Lost City of D," Loretta's publicist Beth (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) organized a book tour together with the book's very popular cover model Alan (Channing Tatum), an activity the reclusive Loretta was very reluctant to do.

However, Loretta was abducted by an eccentric tycoon Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) who knew Loretta's academic background in archeology. He wanted her to translate an ancient piece of parchment that revealed the location of the legendary headdress called "Crown of Fire," which Loretta mentioned in her book. As the police were not helping, Alan sprung into hero mode, recruiting mercenary Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt) to help him get her back.

Sandra Bullock really has magic in portraying roles like this, as she has done before in films like "Miss Congeniality" (2000) or "The Heat" (2013). For practically two thirds of this film, she was awkwardly dressed in a body-hugging, fuchsia, sparkly-sequined catsuit. She did not care that that outfit looked very silly on her, and that is what we love about her. Those frenetic chase scenes where Bullock was tied to a chair were simply hilarious.

Channing Tatum was a natural in this "himbo" role, even more so than he was in "Magic Mike" (2012). From his filmography, we know he can do rough and tumble action scenes, but the ones here in were flavored with physical comedy. He also got to display his seductive dancing skills here in a Latin-flavored number with Bullock. The start was not smooth, but the romantic chemistry between Tatum and Bullock actually became quite good and convincing. 

Daniel Radcliffe notches up yet another weirdo character in diverse his list of roles as the main villain Fairfax. Oscar Nunez was quite funny in his short role as the cargo plane pilot who was smitten with Beth. However, the best parts of this film were those few minutes when Brad Pitt dazzled the screen with his luminous star power as the action hero Jack Trainer. While Pitt was onscreen with Bullock, we even forget that Tatum was her real leading man. 7/10.  

Saturday, April 16, 2022


April 16, 2022

This sequel opens with a scene where Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen taking over from Johnny Depp) met in a restaurant. In their intimate conversation, Dumbledore told Grindelwald "I was in love with you." This scene essentially confirmed and laid down as canon that Albus Dumbledore was indeed gay, something author J.K. Rowling already revealed back in 2007. I guess this was the biggest secret in the title.

The central story of this third installment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise was Albus Dumbledore trying to prevent Grindelwald from being elected as the Supreme Wizard. This focus on political maneuverings were not too interesting for me, even boring to put it bluntly. If you did not watch any of the previous two films, you will not understand this film at all. However since this movie is being shown during a heated presidential election period, you will see metaphors about candidates as you interpret them. 

Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), his brother and auror Theseus (Callum Turner), his No-Maj friend baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Ilvermorny Charms professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams) were basically relegated as side characters. Newt and Theseus jailbreak scene may have been funny at first, but simply took too long. Goldstein sisters Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Tina (Katherine Waterston) were barely there at all.

But since this is "Fantastic Beasts," there had to be one in there playing an important role in the story. Here it was a rare deer-like Chinese creature called a Qilin. In the wizarding world, a Qilin was used in the election process because it can see who among the candidates was pure of soul and would kneel and bow in front of him. Grindelwald's plot was to kill the baby Qilin and reanimate it by black magic in order for it to choose him to win the election.

At 142 minutes, the film was too long for a plot confused by multiple extra subplots, like those about Aberforth Dumbledore (Richard Coyle) and Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller).  Like the previous installments, it was the special effects that kept the movie afloat, except those parts where Grindelwald's nameless minions were easy cannon fodder. Mikkelsen matched Law's charisma as his nemesis, but I believe Johnny Depp could still have done Grindelwald better.  5/10. 

Vivamax: Review of 366: Resisting Recovery

April 16, 2022

June (Bela Padilla) and her boyfriend Pao (JC Santos) were traveling in Istanbul, together for the first time after several years of being apart in a long-distance relationship after he migrated to the US. One night, June wanted something to eat so Pao drove out to buy food for them. When June woke up the next morning, she found out that Pao was in a fatal car accident and realized she was going to have to face the future by herself. 

Their mutual friend, June's next-door neighbor, chef Marco (Zanjoe Marudo), had been their loyal go-between, helping Pao and June with various small favors. After Pao's death, Marco challenged the depressed June to break out from her grief and move on with life, heal and forget, giving her 365 days to do so. To help her do this, Marco graciously agreed to do the various things Pao and June never ever got to do together. 

Bela Padilla is one of the best young actresses around these days, consistently giving her audiences characters they can easily identify with and connect with. In two of these films, "10,000 Tula Para Kay Stella" (Jason Paul Laxamana, 2017) and "Vodka, Beers and Regrets" (Irene Villamor, 2020), Padilla was paired with JC Santos. Even if Santos was only in a few scenes here in "366," we clearly see their onscreen chemistry again. 

Padilla had also spread her wings to writing screenplays, and she had also been recognized for her excellence in this aspect of moviemaking as well. Her first screenplay was "Last Night" (Joyce Bernal, 2017, which told the story of two depressed people (Piolo Pascual and Toni Gonzaga) who met while planning to commit suicide in adjoining hotel rooms. Death and romance also play major parts in this latest work of hers.

To complete her transition into a cinematic triple-threat, Padilla also makes her debut as a feature film director with this film. Her vision was very artistic and poetic, and, with the help of cinematographer Pao Orendain, she was able to execute some memorable scenes. The most remarkable one for me was that with the camera rotating around a static June in the foreground while the blurred background was moving in blurred fast-forward behind her.  

As the film was about someone who cannot move on from a major loss, it was inevitable that its pace was also very slow to burn. Scenes do get to feel repetitive and melodramatic as they spun around June's inability to forgive herself. This gloomy situation was saved by the sincere performances of Padilla (that breakdown scene after the mobile phone mishap was intense) and Marudo (who played a character too good to be true, yet still felt real). 6/10. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Netflix: Review of THE IN BETWEEN: Afterlife Angst

 April 11, 2022

Tessa (Joey King) was recovering from a vehicular accident involving her and her boyfriend Skylar (Kyle Allen). Skylar did not make it alive, and this caused Tessa to be all messed up. One day, she began experiencing unusual paranormal phenomena involving her photography equipment, the mobile phones at the examination site, and the GPS system in her car. Tessa is convinced that Skylar was trying to get through to her from the "in-between".

While the present storyline dealt on the ghostly manifestations of Skylar to Tessa, the evolution of their love story was told in flashbacks. It all began in a movie house featuring a double-feature of classic films per month. Tessa was watching a screening of French film "Betty Blue" (1986) but there were no English subtitles. Multilingual jock Skylar sat down beside her and offered to translate for her line by line. 

The best scenes of this film include the rowing competition scene, the driving scene (where their theme song "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS was first heard) and the rowboat scene at the lake. The romantic chemistry between Joey King (age 22) and Kyle Allen (age 27) were best felt during these carefree, happy moments. They may not really be the main points of the story, but their cinematography and musical score were very well-executed. 

On the other hand, the supernatural aspects of the story were awkwardly told. I guess we cannot really expect too much logic from paranormal story elements, but these were not that well-translated on the screen. These scenes were only saved by the sensitive performance of Joey King and the perky energy of Celeste O'Connor (who we first met in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" last year) as Tessa's best friend Shannon. 

There were some quotable meditations about love. Tessa's photography had artistic flair. Tessa's difficult childhood and her adoptive parents she never really connected with was another emotional pivot. The medical aspect about Tessa's literally broken heart was a bit too melodramatic and unconvincing towards the end. Tessa's climactic decision may be seem puzzling one given what she had gone through to get to that moment. 6/10. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Vivamax: Review of GREED: Warped by a Windfall

April 8, 2022

It was a very bad time for farmers of a poor barrio as their crops were not thriving. People were so desperate for food, they even grabbed food scraps from dogs. Upon the coaxing of their friend Dadong (Epy Quizon), young couple Kichi (Nadine Lustre) and Tomi (Diego Loyzaga) agreed to spend some of their meager budget to buy a lottery ticket for a chance to win the big cash prize in order to get away from their pitiful state of impoverishment. 

Kichi and Tomi's lone ticket won the big jackpot prize. They decide to hold off for one month before claiming the money they won. They gave Dadong a made-up reason and then left to live in another village run by a religious cult led by Manong the Elder (Raul Morit) and his shy wife Nori (Krissha Viaje). When Dadong eventually figured out that his two best friends had deceived him, he swore that he would get his share of the money he felt he deserved. 

Winning a big windfall of money in a lottery is such a life-changing experience, it is bound to also be a bountiful well of drama for the people who win it and get rich overnight. While it could be very exciting to plan how one is going to spend the new-found cash, security becomes an inevitable concern as one becomes very paranoid about people around them who may all want to get a share of this unexpected treasure. 

There had already been a classic local film, "Misteryo sa Tuwa" (1984) by Abbo Q. dela Cruz, which tackled moral and social issues surrounding the sudden gain of money. Instead of winning in a lottery, a family gained access to a bag of money which literally fell out of the sky in the form of an airplane crash in the mountains of Lucban, Quezon in the 1950s, and all hell broke loose among the unscrupulous politicians and military men stationed in that area.

Yam Laranas scaled down the concept of "Misteryo sa Tuwa" to concentrate more on intimate interpersonal relationships. With its over-the-top climax and bizarre ending, it showed how even just the mere prospect of money can pit even the best of friends against each other, and transform the kindest and most religious of people into monsters. Lustre and Quizon can look forward to acting nominations for their impassioned performances. 6/10.

Amazon Prime: Review of DEEP WATER: Miserable Marriage

April 7, 2022

Engineer Vic Van Allen (Ben Affleck) was only middle-aged but he can already afford to retire because of the money he earned developing a microchip that had been used for combat drones. However, his marriage with his much-younger wife Melinda (Ana de Armas) was not smooth-sailing. To save the marriage, he allowed her to engage other men for sex in an open arrangement. However, before long, Vic began to feel jealous and insecure.

When Melinda engaged in an affair with a much younger guy Joel Dash (Brendan C. Miller), Vic just happened to mention that he had been responsible for the death of a previous boyfriend of Melinda's who had gone missing a week ago. When Joel took the hint and left town, Melinda turned her attention to pianist Charlie De Lisle (Jacob Elordi). One night, Melinda, Vic and Charlie were all together at one pool party, and tragedy was afoot.

This story was adapted from a 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith, who was also responsible for other best-selling books which had also adapted into popular films, like "Strangers on a Train"  and "The Talented Mr. Ripley."  "Deep Water" had already been adapted into the French film "Eaux profondes" (2002) by director Michel Deville, starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert. There had also been a 2-episode German TV movie about it  in 1983.

Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas play the Van Allen couple, always at odds with each other, pushing each other's buttons and limits. Both are not particularly likable, so there is no one you would root for to prevail. Affleck was a weird wooden sort, raising snails and threatening men for a hobby. De Armas was no doubt sexy, but her Melinda was stuck in a monotonous seduction mode. Terry Letts was annoying and predictable the nosy friend Don Wilson. 

The director is Adrian Lyne, a veteran director coming back from a 20-year hiatus. During his heyday, he came out with famous films like "9-1/2 Weeks" (1986), "Indecent Proposal" (1992), "Unfaithful" (2002) and "Fatal Attraction" (1987) for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Directing. He is back in his erotic psychological thriller drama element here in "Deep Water," but this new one was heavy-handed and had no subtlety. 5/10. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Review of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2: Carrey Carries

April 5, 2022

Following the events of the first film, Sonic the Hedgehog still lived in Green Hills, Montana with his adoptive family Sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his veterinarian wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). Wanting to be of help to other people, he would sometimes sneak out to fight crime in the city. However, Tom advised him that he was still too young for these activities and that time will come when his powers will be of great benefit.

While on the Mushroom Planet, Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) encountered and teamed up with a strong alien Echidna named Knuckles who was in search of the powerful Master Emerald on Earth. Meanwhile, Sonic teamed up with a young alien fox named Tails to try to reach the Master Emerald first in its location in the snowy mountains of Siberia. Ultimately all of them crashed through the ring portal into the wedding of Maddie's sister Rachel in Hawaii.

The cute character designs, infectious energy and juvenile humor that made the first film a big hit in early 2020. This time around there are two more aliens whom Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) interacted with. The kind brainyTails (voiced by Colleen O'Shaughnessey) was a furry fox with two tails that helped it fly. The hot-headed Knuckles (impressively voiced by Idris Elba) was the last of the Echidnas, nemesis of the Owls who took care of Sonic. 

Fans of the SEGA game and its various adventures will recognize several details included or referred to in this sequel -- from the Robotnik's giant Death Egg monster to the Sonic's Tornado Plane, or references to the Mushroom Hill zone or the maze-like Labyrinth Zone. There were plenty of amusing and surprising references to both DC and Marvel comics, like Sonic's idol Batman, to a mention of the Winter Soldier and the Multiverse. 

With his maniacal, over-the-top performance, only one Jim Carrey can manage out-perform the adorable animated characters and actually carried the film on his shoulders. On top of his outlandish costumes and his crazy handlebar mustache, Dr. Robotnik had that his wry and wicked sense of humor which made us laugh out loud. Count on Carrey to get away with a few quick naughty zingers for the amusement of the parents in the audience. 6/10. 

Monday, April 4, 2022

Netflix: Review of THE BUBBLE: Queasy Quarantine

 April 4, 2022

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the sixth installment of the popular "Cliff Beasts" film franchise, subtitled "Battle for Everest: Memories of a Requiem," was being shot in a "bubble" as the cast and crew were confined in a luxurious hotel in England. The director was indie filmmaker Darren Eigan (Fred Armisen), while the executive producer was Gavin (Peter Serafinowicz) who had to answer to ruthless studio executive Paula (Kate McKinnon). 

All the former actors were gathered for this sequel, including lead actor Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny), his ex-wife Lauren van Chance (Leslie Mann), inspirational author Sean Knox (Keegan-Michael Key), and Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan) who was making a comeback to the series after opting out of the 5th installment. The two new cast members were Oscar-winning actor Dieter Bravo (Pablo Pascal) and viral Tiktok sensation Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow). 

Judd Apatow is most known for comedies he wrote and directed like "The 40-Year Old Virgin" (2005), "Knocked Up" (2007) and most recently "The King of Staten Island" (2020). This latest one is a satire that poked fun at neurotic movie people observing the elaborate COVID-19 precautions at the height of the pandemic. The story was inspired by the real-life bubble situation under which "Jurassic World 3:World Dominion" was shot last year. 

The heavy-handed, dark, raunchy, drug-laced and even violent comedy can be hard to bear as it ran for a rather lengthy 126 minutes. Apatow gathered a dizzying cast of 20+ actors who had no qualms portraying exaggerated parodies of stereotypical showbiz tropes, the film crew who had to deal with their annoying diva behavior and the hotel employees who had to serve them hand and foot. The humor is mostly flat and tiresome, trying too hard to be funny.

There behind-the-scenes with the mo-cap guys standing in for the flying dinosaur monsters were funny, but even these felt repetitive soon enough. The Tiktok dance number at the beginning was funny, but they did not really need to repeat it again towards the end. To salvage some smiles, there were celebrity cameos to perk up the mood, including Beck, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daisy Ridley, John Cena and John McAvoy. 3/10. 

Sunday, April 3, 2022

HBO GO: Review of MOONSHOT: Missing the Magic

April 3, 2022

It is the year 2049. Walt (Cole Sprouse) was working as the assistant of Gary, the robot barista at the college cafeteria. His main ambition since he was a child had been to go to Mars, influenced by his admiration for pioneering astronaut Leon Kovi (Zach Braff). He had been applying for the Kovi Industries Student Mars Program for more than 30 times already, but his applications were repeatedly rejected. 

Sophie (Lana Condor) was currently working on her thesis which aimed to solve the world's waste disposal problem using plants. She was on a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend Calvin (Mason Gooding) who was had been working on Mars for some time now. Walt convinced Sophie to buy a ticket to Mars despite her fear of flying, and then used her access to the departure area to stow away on her rocketship.

Despite the title, the Moon has nothing to do with this story, but maybe "Mars-shot" did not sound too good. The futuristic setting was quite interesting with all the pseudo-science jargon can be fun. However, these cannot really disguise the very familiar young-adult romance story that it stood on. The story of how two polar opposites were at odds with each other at first, then eventually end up caring for each other was formulaic and quite predictable. 

Cole Sprouse and Lana Condor were quite good in their portrayal of their respective characters. Sprouse was actually quite charming as the dorky loser type Walt who did not really care that he was being ignored by others as much as he wanted to go to Mars. Condor was credible as a brilliant young scientist Sophie who knew that she may need to sacrifice her own career ambition for love. 

However for a love story, the romantic chemistry between Walt and Sophie was not convincing at all. It felt like it would have been better if they just stayed friends at the end instead of lovers. Condor's Sophie actually had better chemistry with her long-time boyfriend Calvin, while Sprouse's Walt had better chemistry with the pretty Ginny (Emily Rudd) on whom he had a big crush and followed to Mars. 5/10. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

Vivamax: Review of ISLAND OF DESIRE: Erratic Execution

April 1, 2022

Martha de Jesus (Christine Bermas) had just given birth to a stillborn baby girl and was very depressed. Her husband Carlo (Rash Flores) had been cold to her and was fooling around with his mistress. Her mother Lourdes (Tabs Sumulong) had dementia, did not recognize her and kept on looking for her missing sister Aurora (Sheree Bautista). After consulting with her psychiatrist Dr. Rose Yulo (Andrea del Rosario), Martha and Carlo got into a car accident.

The scene shifted to a rural hospital in Nilapakan town. Martha was the new nurse assigned by the Regional Health Unit Office to bring a suitcase full of medicine for indigenous people to the health center of Isla Bato. She was brought to the island by boatman Rolly (Massimo Scofield). She hitched a ride on the motorcycle driven by Leloy (Sean de Guzman) to reach the clinic where she was met by the midwife Tess (Jela Cuenca).

This latest film by the prolific veteran director Joel Lamangan straddled the worlds of painful reality and nightmarish fantasy between life and death. Religion is very much part of the story. There was an ardent preacher (Rolly Innocencio) on the bus Martha rode on the way to Nilapakan. On Isla Bato itself, there was a fanatical cult practicing disturbing baptismal, healing and funeral rituals led by their crazed Ama (Jim Pebanco). 

The story was there but the execution did not deliver. It only ran 1-1/2 hours long, yet the pace felt plodding. The scenes were unnecessarily prolonged and were peppered with awkward lines of dialog . For example, Martha still had to ask the bus conductor where the hospital was when she was dropped off right in front of the hospital. Martha also had to ask Leloy if he was sure he brought her to the clinic when it was clearly written there above the clinic door. 

It was unfortunate that Bermas could not rise above the mire of this film, with all its problematic production design, costume and hairstyle choices, not to mention all the medical inaccuracies. Cuenca and de Guzman looked very bored. Flores was notably wooden.  The sex scenes here were unimaginatively shot and looked unflattering for the actors. These were not really necessary and felt forced into the story for the sake of the Vivamax brand. I only saw an island, but no desire. 2/10.