Sunday, January 30, 2022

Review of THE 355: Estrogen Espionage

January 29, 2022

An international groups of female secret agents, Mace (Jessica Chastain) of the American CIA, Marie (Diane Kruger) from German BND, Khadijah (Lupita Nyong'o) from the UK MI6, Graciela (Penelope Cruz) from the Colombian DNI, and Lin (Fan Bingbing) from the Chinese MSS, were brought together by circumstance to keep a crucial hard drive containing a top-of-the-line encryption program from getting into the hands of unscrupulous individuals. 

There had been several films about female secret agents, many of them starred A-list actresses kicking ass, from Angelina Jolie ("Salt"), Jennifer Lawrence ("Red Sparrow"), Charlize Theron ("Atomic Blonde") to Melissa McCarthy ("Spy"). But it was not so common to see a serious film with several big name actresses banding together as a group of spies. The numerical title "355" was the codename for female spies during the American Revolution

The ladies, all of whom had won their share of acting awards in their careers, figured in ruthlessly bone-crushing yet visually-graceful fight scenes.Three among the ladies of "The 355" have done action films before. Chastain already played CIA agents in "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012) and "Ava" (2020). Kruger had played a former intelligence officer in "The Operative" (2019). Nyong'o had also played a spy of sorts in "Black Panther" (2012).  

Playing Mace here added to the diversity of Chastain's roles this year, from "Scenes from a Marriage" to "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," both getting awards buzz. Kruger projected the most machismo in her action sequences. Nyong'o was a standout with her riveting screen presence as the smart and skilled Khadijah. Too bad Fan Bingbing's Li only showed up in Act III, but she certainly made the most of her shorter screen time.  Cruz did not get to see much action as Graciela was a psychologist on her first field mission, but she got more acting points. 

There were sexist remarks among their male antagonists, like "You were beaten by a bunch of girls..." and I guess these were inevitable for a film like this. Similarly inevitable were scenes of the ladies running and fighting in heels. The plot is admittedly very familiar already, even cliched. However, the chemistry among the women was very good and realistic, which made this globe-trotting action film quite engaging and even fun to watch. 6/10. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Vivamax: Review of DECEPTION: Melodramatic Miss

January 28, 2022

Movie star Rose Alcantara (Claudine Barretto) spent 10 years in jail for the charge of burning down her house, killing her husband, former stuntman Jericho de Jesus (Mark Anthony Fernandez), in it. Her personal assistant Roxie (Juliana Parizkova Segovia) put her four year old child Tom-tom up for adoption without Rose's knowledge and consent.

Upon release, she proceeded to stay with her estranged mother Olivia (Chanda Romero), with whom Rose parted ways before on money issues. While looking for Tom-tom at the Asilo Milagrosa orphanage, she learned that a certain Jonathan and Grace de Juan (Mayton Eugenio) had adopted her son, who was now as 7th grader Eric de Juan (Miggs Cuaderno). 

This new film by director Joel Lamangan is old-fashioned Filipino TV soap-opera melodrama made into a feature film. A mother goes to prison and her son gets adopted. A man who supposedly died in a fire, later reappearing with another look and identity.  How many times have we heard threadbare plots like this, yet here they are again.

The story was supposed to have spanned 10 years, but Claudine Barretto looked exactly the same before and after she got into prison. There was no hardly any subtlety as she went all out in her dramatic scenes as Rose. It may unkind to mention here, her unwieldy physical heft at present distracted from effectivity of her zealous yet misguided performance.

Mark Anthony Fernandez's face looked frozen in a perpetual annoyed grimace. His hair and make-up as Jonathan with the fake-looking beard and long hair with man bun, was utterly atrocious.He also had lines delivered in an awkward-sounding high-pitched voice, which made his over-the-top acting unintentionally comical. 

Can a child really be put up for adoption without the consent of his mother who is known to still be alive? Will a good lawyer really tell a client that she can legally kill her husband again since she had already served a sentence for his murder before? These and many more illogical plot holes boggle the mind as you muddle through the overcooked story.

That senseless scene of how Rose "rewarded" orphanage employee Del (Gerald Santos) for his help was so utterly embarrassing. It boggled my mind why Claudine Barretto allowed herself to do this demeaning scene? Why was a corny scene like this even included at all? It should have been edited out without any consequence to the story. 

This was supposed to have been the big reunion movie of former '90s love team Claudine and Mark Anthony. However, the roles do not really fit them well and they were made to do scenes that did not look for them. Director Joel Lamangan has been known to do melodrama well, but unfortunately for the fans of Claudine, this one was not one of his good ones. 2/10. 

Vivamax: Review of SILIP SA APOY: Valiant Voyeur

January 28, 2022

Ben (Sid Lucero) is a brutish usurer who beat his waif-like wife Emma (Angeli Khang) nightly before having his way with her. One day, an ex-con Alfred (Paolo Gumabao) moved in next door.  From a peephole, he looked directly into the bedroom next door and witnessed the sexual abuse Emma had to endure every night from her husband. At first, he only pleasured himself as he watched, until one night he simply had to have her himself. 

At first, this film had a vibe of Peque Gallaga's classic sexy drama "Scorpio Nights" (1985) with a peephole as the way the boy next door meets the girl of his dreams. However, this new film directed by Mac Alejandre had a story that went into a different direction, written by no less than master screen writer Ricky Lee. As expected, there was still a lot of sleazy sex and bloody violence as it had been in the Vivamax universe for most of last year. 

Veteran Sid Lucero and newcomer Paolo Gumabao both gave intense animalistic portrayals of their respective characters. Lucero's sadistic mama's boy Ben was a demon beast personified, as effortlessly conveyed by his swarthy and hirsute face and body. Gumabao's Alfred was played as a valiant voyeur coming to the aid of a damsel in distress, but this man, who survived prison by being a pimp, was not going to be one-dimensional. 

It was unfortunate that nymphet Angeli Khang could not get a handle on her character, the woman caught in the middle of this sexual tug-of-war. Sure, she had a body to flaunt and she was daring to bare it all in front of the camera. However, her portrayal of Emma was very shallow and by-the-numbers. Her face was so vacant even in the scariest, most emotional scenes. A more experienced actress could have taken this character further

Director Alejandre went beyond the boldness of his last Vivamax bold film "My Husband, My Lover." His three main actors were practically naked for the entire first half of this film, engaged in all sorts of sexual acts. Gumabao had spanked his monkey in all of three of his films, and this time he even showed off the whole banana (likely a prosthesis). And so it goes, the sordid game of salacious one-upmanship continues on Vivamax. 4/10. 

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Netflix: Review of IKAW: Unlikely Union

January 27, 2022

Manila-based real estate agent Dee (Janine Gutierrez) went home to her hometown in Bulusan, Sorsogon to visit her Lola for her 80th birthday. When she went to purchase some coconuts, she met her high school batchmate Edong (Pepe Herrera), who ran a coconut farm he inherited from his late parents. Edong was smitten by the pretty Dee, but she was preoccupied with her job in Manila and her lola's health to pay him any attention.

Among the young actresses we have now, Janine Gutierrez stands out not only because of her patrician beauty and effortless elegance, but also her natural excellence in acting. She has been consistently been likable and sympathetic in all the movies I've seen her in. Here, she was in her element as an urban yuppie who could not fit into country living that well. The unexpected melodrama in the third act challenged her dramatic skills. 

Pepe Herrera went from stage success in "Rak of Aegis" to movie comedian (in films like "Ang Pangarap Kong Holdap" and most recently "Sanggano, Sanggwapo, Sanggago 2"). Despite his unconventional looks, he had also been been cast as an unlikely romantic leading man, in films like "Sakaling Hindi Makarating" (2016) with Alessandra de Rossi, "The Hopeful Romantic" (2018) with Rita Azul, and now this one. 

The supporting cast is composed of comedy veterans like Pilita Corrales (as Dee's Lola Dulce), Vangie Labalan (as Dee's Tita Carmen) and Archie Alemania (as Edong's best friend Manny. This is director Marla Ancheta's second feature film after "Finding Agnes" last year. Like its nondescript title, the material of "Ikaw" was not as substantive or as original as "Agnes". Ancheta had to do heavy-duty stretching to fluff out the simple story here.

This was an awkward love story between a Manila girl and a country bumpkin, a tale which had been told countless times since movies began. This very basic story here was only distinguished by the earnest charm and performances of the lead actors Gutierrez and Herrera. To be completely honest, the romantic chemistry between the two was rather iffy, it took all the stars' goodwill to convince us that this fairy tale could somehow happen. 5/10. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Review of F9: Absurd Adrenaline

January 26, 2022

Dom Torreto (Vin Diesel), his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and son Brian were living a quiet rural life after their last adventure defeating cyber-terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron).  However, dire circumstances force them to again face Cipher, who was now being held by rich megalomaniac Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) and Dom's estranged brother Jakob (John Cena), who were after the two halves of a powerful device called Project Aries, which could give its operator the ability to hack into any computer system worldwide. 

This is already the 9th installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, the direct sequel of "The Fate of the Furious" (2017). Aside from Letty, other members of Dom's family in on the action here were Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). Later on, we will also see more comebacking members, like Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Han (Sung Kang), as well as Sean Boswell (Lucas Black),Twinkie (Shad Moss), and Earl Hu (Jason Tobin), from "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" (2006).

As the 9th film, the pressure on this latest episode was to somehow supersede all the death-defying and physics-challenging motor vehicle stunts which had been executed by Dom and his crew to awe their fans in the past 8 films. One main gimmick in operation in multiple scenes this time was a powerful electromagnet system, one that is strong capable to pulling cars off the street. Later in the film, we even see Roman and Tej launching off into outer space in a makeshift rocketship using a Pontiac Fiero.

You can just imagine the innovative stunts team of this film during their brainstorming sessions as they come up with the most outlandish car stunts never ever tried before. There was an impossible one right at the start as Dom hitched a car on a rope to swing across a chasm. Later in Tbilisi, Dom was able to force a huge invincible 16-wheeler trailer truck called the Armadillo, to turn turtle and hit a flying drone shooting at him. Even Helen Mirren (as Queenie Shaw, Deckard's mother) had a crazy car stunt of her own with Dom as her passenger.

In one meta scene, Roman commented how he was amazed that all of them can repeatedly survive even the most terrible car crashes unscathed. They did just that over and over here, throwing out all the laws of physics, logic and human kinetics. Dom can literally pull a rock ceiling down on him and fall into a bottomless pit; or jump out of a burning flipping monster truck onto a concrete road, and still survive with no bones broken. This is escapist popcorn cinema people enjoy to watch on the big screen, and it certainly won't stop at 9. 7/10.  

Monday, January 24, 2022

Netflix: Review of MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR: Pre-war Pressures

January 24, 2022

In 1938, German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler laid claim on the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia, which raised serious concerns about peace and order in Europe. German diplomat Paul von Hartman (Jannis Niewohner) was part of an anti-Hitler resistance movement within Germany. When he gained possession of a damning transcript about Hitler's megalomaniacal plans of world domination, he knew he had to do something. 

Paul's close friend at Oxford, Hugh Legat (George Mackay) worked as the personal secretary of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons). Still traumatized by the tragedies experienced in the recent Great War (World War I), Chamberlain was pushing for his agenda to maintain peace, so he was elated when Hitler agreed to meet him, along with PM Mussolini of Italy and PM Daladier of France, in Munich to resolve their issues.

When we watch a film about World War 2 like "Schindler's List" (1993) or "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), it is usually about the war when the hostilities were already ongoing. It is a uncommon to encounter a film that centered on the unstable state of peace in Europe right at the brink of World War 2. It was interesting to learn that there were indeed efforts to arrest Hitler's heinous plans before they went on any further, albeit fictionalized in this case

Of course, Jeremy Irons owned the screen every time Chamberlain was on. He played the amiable British PM with natural dignity and noble idealism, as the film explained what was going on in his mind when he sought for that extra signed document assuring peace with Hitler. In reality, this was a source of derision for Chamberlain, as it seemed that he was willingly deceived by Hitler, but he was portrayed in a very positive light here. 

The scene when Paul and Hugh arguing loudly about Hitler in a crowded Germans bar was too melodramatic. The scene when Paul "secretly" met Hugh to slip him secret papers while seated beside German officers was too unbelievable. But overall, the story was very well-told by German director Christian Schwochow with careful attention to period details in the production design. It will make you want to read more about this moment in history. 7/10. 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Review of THE KING'S MAN: Alternative Annals

January 21, 2022

"The Kingsman" was a 2012 Marvel comic book series about a fictional UK-based secret service organization created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. In 2015, it was adapted into an action-comedy film "Kingsman: The Secret Service" by Matthew Vaughn, starring Colin Firth and Taron Egerton as veteran agent Harry and new recruit Eggsy. Following its success, a sequel "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" came out in 2017, about a case where Harry and Eggsy had to collaborate with their American counterparts, the Statesman.

This new film in the franchise is a prequel about how the Kingsman came to be in the turn of the 21st century. Following the tragic death of his wife Emily to a sniper's bullet during a Red Cross mission to South Africa during the Boer War in 1902, British aristocrat Orlando (Ralph Fiennes), the Duke of Oxford, recruited their their driver Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and nanny Polly (Gemma Arterton) to organize a secret spy network of servants dedicated to prevent violent conflicts from ever happening in the United Kingdom and its empire. 

In the mid-1920s, Oxford's organization was on alert as a Great War (later to be known as World War I) was brewing following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which happened in the presence of the pacifist Oxford and his idealistic son Conrad (Harris Dickinson). Investigation revealed that assassin Gavrilo Princip was a member of a secret group led by the mysterious Shepherd, who was plotting to isolate Great Britain from any Russian and American military aid during the war.

Matthew Wilde's imaginative integration of real historical figures in a plot of international intrigue was the best part of this prequel. The most interesting detail was the relationship of George V, the Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Czar Nicholas of Russia (all played by Tom Hollander) as cousins. Nicholas was under the hypnotic influence of the mad mystic monk Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) for Russia to withdraw from the war, while the US government was wary of a sex reel of Pres. Woodrow Wilson being seduced by Mata Hari. 

The serious historical set-up took some time which may disappoint fans expecting the fun, light-spirited action-comedy of the first two films. Conrad's entire "1917"-like sequence in the battlefield was well-shot, but felt out of place. The CGI-enhanced fight sequences of Oxford against Rasputin at the Russian Christmas party and against Shepherd at his mountain-top lair were over-the-top but entertaining. The post-credits scene suggests a World War II scenario next, but they should really go back to Harry and Eggsy again soon. 6/10.   

Friday, January 21, 2022

Vivamax: Review of REROUTE: Dire Detour

January 21, 2022

Musician Dan (Sid Lucero) and his girlfriend bank manager Trina (Cindy Miranda) were on their way to visit Dan's hometown town of Morinda. However, there was a roadblock on the main highway because of a military operation, so they were forced to take a long detour. Unfortunately, their car broke down on a remote road where there was no phone signal. Desperate, they asked help from a man who walked out from the woods.

The man, Gemo (John Arcilla), was a former military man who was now the caretaker of the private property where Dan's car broke down. He brought them to his house where he stayed with his wife Lala (Nathalie Hart) who nervously followed his every command. Gemo radioed for help, but there was no mechanic coming right away. Upon conversation over dinner, Gemo reacted oddly upon hearing Dan's full name. 

Even without saying anything, John Arcilla's Gemo automatically evoked a palpable sense of danger the very first time he appeared onscreen carrying a dead animal on his shoulders. As Dan, Sid Lucero gave a very natural portrayal of a hot-headed slacker who was wont to take shortcuts. As Trina, Cindy Miranda, who had worked with Fajardo before in the sexy drama "Nerisa" (2021), further proved that she had acting talent to match her pretty face and body. 

As seen in the trailer, there were sex scenes here but they were actually not needed in the story. I suspect they could even just be shoehorned in so it would fit into the successful Vivamax "sex-sells" formula. To Fajardo's credit, these sex scenes of Lucero and Miranda, who both photographed very well in black and white, were actually very well-blocked and edited to look realistically sensual without being too blatant or sleazy. 

Director Law Fajardo told this suspenseful story (with screenplay by his "Mahjong Nights" collaborator Byron Bryant) in elegant black and white, with director of photography Joshua A. Reyles. Scenes in dark cramped places or those shrouded with fog were lit so well that we can always see what was going on. Those dramatic long range shots and overhead drone shots had excellent cinematic aesthetic sense. 7/10. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Review of HOUSE OF GUCCI: Gaga Goes Gaga

January 19, 2022

In 1978, trucking firm clerk Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) met the shy law student Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a party. Recognizing the famous surname and knowing this was her way out of her present blue collar existence, Patrizia never let go of Maurizio anymore until they eventually get married, even it this was against the objections of his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) who owned 50% of the Gucci Fashion House. 

The family dynamics was made more interesting by Rodolfo's brother Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) who owned the other 50% of the fashion house, and his foolish son Paolo (Jared Leto) who believed that he had the talent for designing haute couture. When she got pregnant, Patrizia was able to get Maurizio back into the Gucci business by gaining Aldo's favor. She later pushed Maurizio to be more active in the company as she plotted to gain controlling interest. 

This sensational new film by veteran director Ridley Scott is a tale of family drama and business politics based on a 2001 book "The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed" written by Sara Gay Forden. Gucci of course is a world-renowned Italian luxury fashion brand, so this juicy tale of greed, scandal and crime that brewed among its rich and famous owners during the 1980s is an irresistible one. 

The ensemble cast assembled for this project was also quite irresistible for film fans to miss. The primary actors are all had an Oscar pedigree as nominees or winners, all with their own unique versions of the Italian accent. The flashy and passionate Lady Gaga was a natural to play the seductively confident Patrizia. With his nerdy glasses and stiff posture, Adam Driver played Maurizio with social awkwardness and stilted business sense. 

Those scenes shared by cinema icons Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino with their contrasting attacks on their characters, the icy cold Rodolfo and the warm effusive Aldo respectively, were riveting to watch. Disappearing behind his radically altering hair and make-up, Jared Leto played it to the peanut gallery with his slapstick comic portrayal of Paolo. Selma Hayek also got a piece of the action as the psychic Pina whom Patrizia ran to for advice. 

The social-climbing and gold-digging antics of Patrizia were the standard staples of melodramatic soap operas. With Lady Gaga playing it with high camp, with no subtlety for her ulterior motives, these scenes were both fun and cringey to watch. She totally possessed this film with her charisma, holding her own alongside her illustrious senior co-stars. The build up to the ending though was rather abrupt and felt anti-climactic in execution. 7/10. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Vivamax: Review of SISID: Marine Melodrama

January 18, 2022

Marine biologist Jason Abante (Paolo Gumabao) and his wife Abby (Kylie Versoza) just celebrated their 7th wedding anniversary. The day after, they had to drive down to Pola, Oriental Mindoro, where Jason worked with the local government to protect the ocean from pollution brought about by the mining company operating there. Local boy Dennis (Vince Rillon) was assigned to be Jason's assistant on his mission.

Acclaimed film director Brillante Ma. Mendoza is known for his festival-fare indie films, like his Cannes offerings "Serbis" (2008), "Kinatay" (2009, for which he won Best Director) and "Ma Rosa" (2013, for which Jaclyn Jose won Best Actress). He just had his first commercial feature last year with the Vivamax film "Palitan", billed as a GL (girls love) film. This year, he is back with his second Vivamax project, this time billed as a BL (boys love) film.

These two guys aren't exactly boys anymore, but young men already. They were not frankly homosexual either, as both were involved with their respective female partners. Jason had his wife Abby, while Dennis had his girlfriend Tanya (Christine Bermas). Out of the blue and with no warning, secret desires were suggested by a helpful massage for an arm cramp and a playful picture-taking session with a coconut during a stopover on a deserted island. 

It was strange how Director Mendoza decided to execute the key scene of their first sexual encounter to have no build-up. At first, the two were just alone in the boat in their scuba suits minding their own business. Then suddenly, they were face to face and passionately kissing each other, all this happening without a single word being said. By the next scene, both were in their birthday suits and straddling each other, as if they've done this all their lives. 

When it came to the dramatic scenes, Gumabao and Rillon actually did creditably well with the roles they were given, their awkward sex scenes notwithstanding. However the characters of Versoza and Bermas were stuck with very common Filipino melodrama tropes -- a magnanimous wife dying of cancer, and a country lass whose secret was betrayed by a bout of morning sickness. As always, Irma Adlawan stood out as Dennis' pragmatic mother. 

With Mendoza's signature style of having his camera simply following characters with their routines, the whole first hour practically passed with hardly any progression in the story. There was a strong pro- environment message, with the graceful swimming pawikan closeup that opened the film and the town hall meeting confrontation between fisher folk and mining executives. This worthy advocacy sort of fortified the threadbare central love story. 5/10. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Review of THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS: Neo's Nostalgia

January 17, 2022

Senior game developer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) has designed a very popular video game called "The Matrix" based on his own vague memories of his own past as Neo. When he stopped taking the blue pills given by his therapist (Neil Patrick Harris), he confused dreams with reality, even as he met a woman named Tiffany (Carrie Ann Moss) in a coffee shop, whom he sees as Trinity from his game. 

Anderson's interactions with a woman named Bugs (Jessica Henwick) and a new Morpheus (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) drew him back into a new Matrix as Neo, visiting a settlement of human survivors from the Machine War and reuniting with Trinity. Agent Smith (Jonathan Groff) fought to stop Neo from his plan for liberation. Ultimately, Neo would come face to face with the big mastermind known as the Analyst. 

Released in 1999, "The Matrix" by the Wachowskis (then brothers Larry and Andy, now sisters Lana and Lilly since 2010) was one of the most influential sci-fi action-adventure movies of all time, acclaimed for its innovative digital visual effects and martial arts action choreography (we can still see the "bullet time" effect up to now). This led to two sequels, "Reloaded" and "Revolutions" (both released in 2003), also video games and comic books. 

Knowledge of the first three films would greatly help in appreciating this new meta sequel, only by Lana Wachowski going solo this time. Story picked up 60 years since the events in the last Matrix movie, so details from the original trilogy would be referenced, which will delight loyal fans. Aside from Reeves and Moss, Jada Pinkett-Smith is back as Niobe and Lambert Wilson as the Merovingnan. The absence of Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving was felt.

This should have worked so well because it was mostly fan-service and nostalgia, designed made to make Matrix fans happy, even with clips from the older films to remind us of key moments. However, it could feel rather bloated at 2 hours and 28 minutes, especially with a slow-paced first two acts with much exposition for viewers to get their bearings. By Act 3 though, the pace and the action definitely picked up, ending with a glorious flourish. 7/10. 

Apple TV+: Review of THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH: Starkly Stylized Shakespeare

January 16, 2022

The first time I watched any full version of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" was a 2015 film version by Justin Kurzel starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Since then, I had already been able to watch a couple of stage versions of the play as well. Therefore, the story and the characters were now familiar to me which helped a lot as I watched this new film version, which was also in Shakespearean prose and verse. 

Macbeth was a Scottish nobleman who fought for King Duncan. After winning a bloody battle, Macbeth and his compatriot Banquo encounter three witches who tell their futures. Macbeth will become King of Scotland, while Banquo will become the father of a line of kings. When his wife Lady Macbeth learns of the prophecy, she exhorts her husband to kill Duncan in order to fulfill it. With this deed done though, Macbeth's very sanity unravels with his greed and guilt.

Since the story is expected to be well-known to audiences already, director Joel Coen (on solo flight this time, not with younger brother and directorial partner Ethan) decided to devote more of his effort on cinematic techniques to set his version apart from all other previous film versions that have been made before his, by masters like Orson Welles (1948), Roman Polanski (1971) and Akira Kurosawa (adapted into Japanese as "Throne of Blood," 1957). 

In sharp black and white, with glaring light in a square-ish aspect ratio of 1.19:1, Coen used a bizarre sense of imagery with some creative shots and angles care of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. These unique choices by Coen fit right into the story's morbid tale of greed and madness, novel to behold and interesting to study. A remarkable decision Coen made was to have a single actress Kathryn Hunter play a contorted version of the iconic three witches.

Being in his 60s, Denzel Washington is grizzled and grey here, as so was Frances McDormand, much older than other cinematic Macbeths and Lady Macbeths. Aside from further showcasing the range of these two already multiple Oscar-acclaimed actors, their advanced ages gave the story an air of urgency that pushed these two aging characters to desperately go for their ambition while they still can, murder or be damned. 

Aside from Washington as Macbeth, the key character of Macduff, whom the witches warned Macbeth about, was also played by a black actor, Corey Hawkins. This was was a wise casting decision, given that they had chosen to diversify the race of the characters. However overall, while visually stunning, the starkness of the grayscale palette and the simplicity of the set design somehow made the whole film feel emotionally cold and distant. 7/10. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Vivamax: Review of HUGAS: A Wanton Waste

January 14, 2021

Al and Liezel were young members of the bank robbery gang of Boss Dencio. The two lovers wanted to get married and break away from the gang, One day, some of their gangmates were ambushed and killed by members of a rival gang. Dencio decided to show their activities down and left Al in charge of their spacious hideout. Wanting a change, Al decided to convert the warehouse into a car repair shop. 

The movie started in a place where sexy women were washing cars. But no, this movie was not about a car wash at all. There were scenes of robbing money in a bank, but no, this was not a movie about money laundering as well. Ironically, this had to be the one Vivamax sex film where there was no prominent sex scene set in a shower or a pool. It was only at the very end, when Al delivered his final line when the title "Hugas" would make some sense.

Sean de Guzman is back in a lead role as Al, a former pest exterminator turned gang executioner. When he gets philosophical, he would talk about blindsides of various insects, as to presage a blindsiding that was going to happen to him later in the movie. However, there was no background info to show why it was easy it was for him to kill people, as it was for him to squeeze in a not-so-quickie with the bank teller in the cash room (no vault).

AJ Raval played it fearless this time as tough firearm-toting Liezel. But as was expected of her, she was also fearless in doffing off her clothes at a snap when she and Sean got into a huddle, which happened multiple times here. Matching AJ in the bosom-baring department was Cara Gonzales as Dianne, the girlfriend of Boss Dencio, played by Jay Manalo, the original Totoy Mola himself, who was a bit more modest now with age.

Familiar character actors play Dencio's gang members like Soliman Cruz (as the religious Boyong) and Bob Jbeili (as the stuttering James). Joko Diaz had a short appearance as Dencio's nemesis Dido, as the two discussed gang business and personal debts over a lunch of noodles. Director Roman Perez Jr. tried to inject some stylistic ideas in his shots, lighting and blocking, but frankly, there wasn't really much substance or story going on here. 2/10. 

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Review of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME: Fulfilling Fans' Fantasies

January 8, 2021

After his secret identity as Spider-Man was revealed to the world, the life of Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and those of his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned Leeds (Jason Batalon) were thrown into a serious mess. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) agreed to cast a spell so no one will remember that he was Spider-Man. However, Peter's constant interference caused the spell to get corrupted, thereby summoning everyone who knew Peter from other dimensions to enter his current world. 

With this script written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, director Jon Watts was able to even supersede the other two very popular and profitable Tom Holland Spider-man films he had previously helmed, namely "Homecoming" (2017) and "Far for Home" (2019). The very inventive scenario set up the possibility of bring back into this current series any character from the very rich and diverse Spider-Man cinematic universes over the years. And believe me, they definitely brought back a lot of surprise goodies for us fans. 

Tom Holland's dorky portrayal of Spider-Man had been a fan-favorite ever since his first appearance in "Captain America: Civil War" (2016). He goes all out here with the energetic action and cheesy humor he's known for. We understand him for those wishy-washy moments that nixed Dr. Strange's first spell, or his sincere idealism to reform villains which further complicated all plans and even led to a painful tragedy. Holland always projected that certain vulnerability which made us all want to sympathize with him and root him on. 

As was already seen in the trailers, several villains from Spider-Man films past once again reappear to wreak their havoc onscreen -- Green Goblin from "Spider-Man" (2002) played by Willem Dafoe, Doctor Octopus from "Spider-Man 2" (2004) played by Alfred Molina, Sandman from "Spider-Man 3" (2007) played by Thomas Haydn Church, Lizard from "The Amazing Spider-Man" (2012) played by Rhys Ifans, and Electro from "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (2014) played by Jaime Foxx. Seeing them trade wicked wisecracks was a lot of fun. 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!] The best surprise of all came at around an hour and a half into the film when Andrew Garfield (of the Marc Webb series) and later Toby Maguire (of the original Sam Raimi series) made their much-rumored-about guest appearances. And mind you, these were by no mere cameos. These two actors stayed on interacting and fighting bad guys along with Tom Holland up to the climactic battles. More special were those sentimental references back to their own series which brought in a lot of tear-jerking dramatic moments. 

This very entertaining movie is fan-service taken to the highest level. There were cheers when the special guest characters appeared, and with every cute or nostalgic memories they were sharing about their past histories. There were also cheers during the midcredits scene and the postcredits scene with more exciting surprises coming up next in the MCU. For Filipino Spidey fans, there is even the additional excitement of hearing lines in Tagalog. This was such a fun film with a well-plotted story and so full of heart, as only Marvel can deliver. 10/10. 

Friday, January 7, 2022

Vivamax: Review of SIKLO: Fervor of Fantasy Fulfillment

January 7, 2021

Pastor Boy (Joko Diaz) lived in luxury, power and crime, surrounded by his security led by his son Rocky (Andrew Muhlach). He was called Guro by his congregation, a church founded by his parents, Amang Pablo (Joonee Garcia) and Inang Martina (Alma Moreno). Despite having a sex-starved wife Amanda (Rob Quinto) at home, Guro also kept a beauty queen mistress Samara (Christine Bermas) on the side 

Ringo Sebastian (Vince Rillon) was an OFW forced home by the pandemic. To make ends meet with the pregnancy of his live-in partner Sarah (Ayanna Misola), he became a motorcycle delivery boy under the Siklo app. One day, Ringo delivered items to Sam's house and helped her with her plumbing. When Guro's men saw Ringo come out of Sam's house, violence and tragedy ensued. 

As Ringo, Vince Rillon does not really have a movie star glow about him. He looked like a regular Juan de la Cruz motorcycle delivery boy we see everyday, with wiry build almost scrawny, unkempt "jologs" haircut and massive eagle tattoo that occupied his whole chest. When he friskily frolicked with those sexy women onscreen, this was fantasy-fulfillment for all the ordinary Joes in the audience who thought they'd never get a chance. 

Among the nymphets in the Vivamax stable, Christine Bermas is a standout with her expressive eyes and dusky beauty. As Samara, she looked smart and confident, a woman who knew what she wants. Beyond her daring to bare, Bermas displayed a promising acting range in her portrayal of this mysterious mistress. Ayanna Misola and Rob Quinto were also blessed with beautiful faces and curvaceous bodies, both deserving of more future projects

Joonee Gamboa positively owned the screen whenever his character of Amang was on. He was always given a divine glow befitting Amang's reverential status, even when the things he was doing was not exactly holy. Alma Moreno knew she had a meaty role here as Inang, so she heartily accepted it despite having to play the mother of a very hefty Joko Diaz, whose character celebrated his 50th birthday. 

Sure, this was another one of Vivamax's exotic array of erotic entertainment, but this new one directed by Roman Perez Jr. actually had a strong story and a well-thought-out screenplay with wicked and twisted plotting by Ronald Perez (his very first). Having one of ubiquitous motorcycle delivery boys as a protagonist was an inspired idea. Some problems experienced by these hardy pandemic frontliners were put to fore -- but could have been more though. 

Setting the story in a fictitious cult called "Samahan ng mga Alagad ni Amang" is quite provocative. The juicy lines at the film's eventful third act was campy and over-the-top as only Alma Moreno and Joonee Gamboa could deliver them, totally showing their neophyte co-stars how it should be done. This was an auspicious first feature of the new year for Vivamax, which now finally features a parental control PIN for their films with mature content. 7/10.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

VIU: Review of STILL: Music with Millennial Messages

January 6, 2021

Daloy Himig was a music camp for young musicians located in a remote area in Mindoro island. With the unexpected announcement of the pandemic quarantine restrictions in March 2020, the young people could not go back to their homes. Mentor Kulas (Christian Bautista) continue their activities to keep the students' spirits up during the lockdown, but his fellow mentor Annette (Bituin Escalante) had more pragmatic concerns.

One night, grad school researcher Sab (Gab Pangilinan) and her childhood friend Laura (Julie Anne San Jose) snuck out of the Balay house at midnight to hitch a ride with Sab's boyfriend back to Manila. Three other workshoppers -- cheerful Iggy ( Mike Shimamoto), eccentric Tugs (Abe Autea) and transgender Leigh (Lance Reblando) -- got wind of their plans and joined their secret escapade. They get to know each other more while waiting for their ride to arrive. 

This is how the Viu original Filipino musical drama series "Still" begins, eight 50-minute episodes telling stories about millennial (and middle age) angst in songs, set against the grim backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. The show was created by Pat Valera (who wrote hit musicals "Dekada '70" and "Bagong Buwan"), with Giancarlo Abraham and Nicco Manalo. Direction is by Treb Monteras II (director of acclaimed film "Respeto"). 

Musical director Matthew Chang and his team of writers crafted songs that summed up each episode. Theme song "Still" asserts one's presence. "Bagong Mundo" was about coping in a new normal. "Mundo, Umikot Ka" and "Muli" are about friends supporting each other. "Matatapos Din" was about not forgetting how to love despite all troubles. "Paalala Para sa 'Yo" reminds us of our importance in the world. "May Liwanag" is about the love we all have within us. "Tuloy Ka Lang" encourages us to move on in our own paths. 

Julie Anne San Jose (Asia's Limitless Star), and Gab Pangilinan (Philippine Theater's It Girl) both at their brooding best in the lead roles. A force to reckon with, Bituin Escalante was so effortless as the ever-serious Annette. In contrast, Christian Bautista's Kulas bubbled with optimism despite his insecurity. Shimamoto, Autea, Reblando, and Gabby Padilla (as the snooty snitch Debbie) did not back down from the singing and acting challenges.

The first episode introduced us to all the main characters and their individual quirks, with more details about their private lives (Sab's boyfriend Joe, Laura's mother Celia, Kulas' and Annette's friend Jaime) revealed in the next episodes. The mood may frequently be gloomy, but the songs uplift with positive message. Overall, the scripts spoke to young people about pressing issues that matter to their generation. 

Monday, January 3, 2022

Netflix: Review of THE SILENT SEA: Marooned on the Moon

January 3, 2021

The Space and Aeronautics Division of Korea sent a mission to revisit the ill-fated Balhae Lunar Research Station on the moon, five years after all its crew perished in a major radiation accident. Under the leadership of Capt. Han Yun-jae (Gong Yoo), the team was composed of engineers, a physician and  Dr. Song Ji-an (Bae Doona, an astrobiologist. Their mission was to retrieve a container of a secret research sample whose exact nature was left confidential.

En route to the moon, there was already a critical malfunction that caused their craft to make an emergency crash landing on the moon. Then with all communications down, they had to hike several kilometers towards Balhae with their oxygen supply rapidly depleting. There were casualties in the crew from Day 1 on, either due to a mysterious creature prowling in the station, or a mysterious disease that makes the victim vomit volumes of pure water. . 

The first four episodes set up the urgent situation of a worldwide water crisis, a problem for which this lunar mission was going to address. In the approach taken by director Choi Hang-yong, the viewers are kept in the dark as to the true nature of the Balhae tragedy and what this mystery sample that the crew was supposed to recover. In so doing, viewers will feel the distress, frustration, and fear of the unknown as the crew members felt them. 

This first half of the series was most compelling in terms of its interesting premise. The most impressive aspect was really their production design of the spacecrafts, space station and the spacesuits. This is definitely the most sophisticated, most realistically detailed sci-fi I've seen in a South Korean production. Some laws of physics and biology may have been glossed over in the execution for suspense purposes, but the look and atmosphere was topnotch.

By the second half of the film, they had already come face to face with the intruder. The crew needed to know how to get to know more about this intruder and figure out how to manage its threat or value to them. By this time, as the suspense thriller aspect petered down, drama took over as Dr. Song reminisced about her sister who died in the Balhae disaster. An internal conflict between the crewmates added action to the final episode.

Gong Yoo was authoritative as their alpha-male leader Capt. Han. He seemed cold at first, but it was not too much of a stretch that he would show his heart sooner or later. Bae Doona had a more restrained role as Dr. Song, but as she was in "Kingdom," she could figure things out credibly.  It took time to get used to Kim sun-young as a medical doctor, after seeing her as a gossipy auntie in "Crash Landing on You" and "When the Camellias Bloom." 

I could not help but think that the eight episodes could have been trimmed down to four, or even just a single movie. There were very many crew members to begin with, so they had to die one by one, until we get left with a few survivors at the end. This caused some repetition of scenarios which could be edited down further if they wanted to. The ending remained to be unsatisfactory because it left very pertinent issues hanging in the air. 7/10.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Vivamax: Review of SANGGANO, SANGGAGO'T SANGGWAPO 2: "Gamol" Guys and Game Gals

January 2, 2021

Andy (Andrew E.), Johnny (Janno Gibbs) and Dondon (Dennis Padilla) were working as sales agents for the Milky Way Insurance Company. Being the ladies men that they were, they have the sexy female agents Anna (Rose Van Ginkel), Karen (Stephanie Raz) and Nina (Ali Forbes) in their lustful sights. Their boss Travis (Jon Achaval) and team manager Gustavo (Pepe Herrera) are not amused with the trio's poor performance, so fired them accordingly.

Desperate for jobs, they hook up with their secretly gay old friend Rico (Juliana Parizcova Segovia) who had bought Bonggaceous Resort with his earnings abroad. One weekend, the whole staff of Milky Way showed up at the resort for their team building activity. The trio immediately got busy to reconnect with their respective girls, while Gustavo kept trying silly schemes to get a chance to have a go with the girls himself. 

Andrew E, Janno Gibbs and Dennis Padilla and director Al Tantay have reunited with a naughtier sequel to their 2019 surprise hit film of the same title (which is also remembered to be the final screen appearance of screen legend Eddie Garcia). These four actually already had a reunion last year with "Pakboys Takusa" for MMFF 2020. There's likely a big demand for their comedic formula, so here they are back with a vengeance.

For those who had not seen the first movie (like me), the film wasted no time to introduce us to the foolishness of three silly heroes with literally toilet gags at urinals. When they arrived very late at the office, they dove under the girls' desks when the boss came to check. Of course, this gave the boys a clear view of the girls' colorful underwear, which of course the director made sure naughty viewers also had a generous peek at them. 

In the first scene they introduce Rico, two GROs lose their bras as they try to escape his hissy fit. The supple Van Ginkel and Raz even had topless make out sessions with middle-aged Andrew E and Gibbs, certainly wish fulfillment for male viewers who gleefully identify with the "gamol" guys (urban slang coined by Andrew E. meaning "gross" or "disgusting"). Even director Tantay had a cameo in a manual breast size estimation scene. 

All the usual sex comedy tropes are there -- Divine Aucina as homely Mayka to make fun of unattractive girls, Juami Gutierrez as the himbo Adonis to poke fun at handsome airheads. Call it exploitative or not, there must really be an audience for raunchy films like this, no matter how old and lame the jokes and gags are, so they keep on being made. As proof, this sequel immediately made it to #1 on Vivamax the day after its release. 1/10. 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Netflix: Review of THE LOST DAUGHTER: Obsessive Observation

December 31, 2021

British literature professor Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) went to Greece on a summer holiday. While she was on the beach, she finds herself obsessively observing an attractive young woman Nina (Dakota Johnson) with her headstrong little daughter Elena (Athena Martin). This made her recall her younger self in her 20s (Jesse Buckley) raising her own two daughters Bianca and Martha (Robyn Elwell and Ellie Blake). 

Colman's 48-year old Leda looked like a mild-mannered academic at first glance. However, this film slowly revealed that she carries heavy psychological baggage within her over the years. These painful issues mainly revolved around her tumultuous relationship with her daughters when they were little girls, triggered back to life by seeing the seductive Nina and her Elena. More disturbing details would further unravel as Elena's doll went missing. 

It was fascinating to watch Colman and Buckley's consistent portrayals of Leda at two ages in her life.  Colman's Leda displayed some testy behavior that did not seem to fit the usual profile of a respectable woman of her age and stature. It was only upon meeting Buckley's young Leda through flashbacks can we understand Colman's Leda's breakdown upon meeting Nina, seeing how they shared the same dilemmas when it came with their daughters and men. 

True to her provocative name from Greek myth, Leda was a woman of passion. While Buckley's young Leda had a husband Joe (Jack Farthing), she was also drawn to the intellectual genius and masculine confidence of  fellow professor Hardy (Peter Skarsgaard). On her vacation, Colman's middle-aged Leda can still attract her share of male admirers, like elderly villa manager Lyle (Ed Harris) and young working student Will (Paul Mescal). 

This female-centric film had an all-female creative team behind it, with Maggie Gyllenhaal on her debut as feature film director and screenplay writer, adapting the novel of Italian writer Elena Ferrante. Gyllenhaal approached the drama with palpable suspense, with gorgeous images were captured by Helene Louvart. Colman, Buckley and Johnson all turn in excellent internally-complex performances of their flawed characters. 7/10.