Monday, February 28, 2022

Review of SING 2: Bono's Blessing

February 27, 2022


In an effort to stage a show in the Redwood City, koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) got his old gang back together. They include mommy pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton). elephant Meena (Tori Kelly), and porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johannson) among others. Buster ended up promising wolf producer Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale) that he will put up a show featuring long-retired lion rock musician Clay Calloway (Bono).  

As Ash accompanied Buster to convince Clay to join their show, the others meet new friends who helped them in putting the show together.. Nooshy (Letitia Wright) was a she-lynx who helped Johnny in mastering his dance moves. Alfonso (Pharell Williams) was the elephant ice cream vendor who became Meena's inspiration. Porsha (Halsey) was Jimmy Crystal's spoiled daughter who needed a change of attitude.

It was great to see these delightful anthromorphic animals back together again since their first movie "Sing" (2016), which was about a singing contest launched by Buster Moon in an effort to save his old theater from being closed down. Music is very much part of the party again, with songs from current hitmakers,like Billie Eilish, The Weeknd, Ariana Grande and Shawn Mendez; as well as veterans, like Prince, Elton John, Steve Winwood and U2, in the mix. 

There were a number of serious entertainment issues tackled within the plot -- like nepotism (Crystal wants his daughter Porsha to be in the lead role), equal pay for all regardless of gender (from Johansson's character no less), and being forced to do something you are not comfortable with (jumping from a great height for Rosita, kissing a leading man for Meena). The previous film's message about following one's dreams is still very much in here. 

The story was a tad too complex for young kids and a bit too long for adults (almost two hours!). However, the animation of the musical numbers were all so colorful and cute. The songs really did the heavy lifting here to keep everyone in the audience of all ages entertained throughout. The big climactic conclusion of Buster Moon's production was as heartwarming as can be expected, with Bono's rich emotional vocals soaring high. 7/10. 



Sunday, February 27, 2022

Reviewing Films from the Japanese Film Festival Online 2022

February 27, 2022

From February 14 to 28, 2022, the Japan Foundation streamed a total of 20 Japanese films of various genres for free in 25 countries all over the world. (Apparently there was a first Japanese Film Festival Online was held across five continents and 20 countries from November 2020 to March 2021, but sadly I never knew about this.) The following are my thoughts about the featured films that I was able to watch: 

HAPPY FLIGHT (2008)

Director: Shinobu Yaguchi

In the first thirty minutes or so of the film, we see a slew of activity that went on behind the scenes before a commercial flight takes off from the airport. When the plane takes flight and encounters various problems with natural, mechanical, and human causes, the crew both onboard and on the ground all cooperate to ensure the passengers welfare.

These people all have their own little side stories to tell, mostly hilarious. In the midst of the comedy, you cannot help but feel the tension and drama of the situations as well. This is indeed everything you are curious about the airline industry but were too afraid to ask or too afraid to even actually know. As I take my next flight, I will definitely think of this movie again. 8/10.


IT'S A SUMMER FILM (2021)

Director: Soushi Matsumoto

High school girl and film buff Barefoot (Marika Itô) and her close friends Kickboard (Yumi Kawai) and Blue Hawaii (Kirara Inori) were planning to create the perfect teenage samurai movie. When she saw Rintaro (Daichi Kaneko), she knew she had her lead actor. She gathered a motley group of classmates to be her crew to shoot her dream film. 

This fun and charming teenage coming-of-age film will resonate with film buffs and filmmakers as they show how these passionate kids were creating their masterpiece with a phone and makeshift technicals. There was also an unexpected sci-fi twist which took the film into a totally different direction, and revealed a sentimental message at the end. 8/10. 


MIO'S COOKBOOK (2020)

Director: Haruki Kadokawa

As little girls, Mio and Noe were the very best friends. During a great flood, both became orphans and became separated from each other. 10 years later, Mio became a talented cook, while Noe became the high class courtesan Asahi. When Mio's egg custard dish became very famous, opportunity came for them to reunite, but Asahi's strict contract would not allow it.

The film may have been quite slow-paced and lengthy and the plot was rather predictable. It nevertheless had beautiful production design and costumes to bring us back to the charming past. The style of storytelling was heartwarming and elegant as executed by veteran director Haruki Kadokawa and acted by Honoka Matsumoto as Mio. 8/10. 


MASKED WARD (2020)

Director: Hisashi Kimura

Dr. Shugo Hayami (Kentaro Sakaguchi) was asked to take over the night duty at a long-term care hospital. That night, a mad criminal wearing a clown's mask came in with a female hostage Hitomi Kawasaki (Mai Nagano) whom he had shot. Hospital director Tadokoro (Masanobu Takashima) and his two staff nurses were acting very weirdly.

Even if the film's premise was highly unrealistic, but the slow, deliberately-paced Japanese treatment made it a tense suspenseful affair as Dr. Hayami slowly figured out what disturbing activities went on in this hospital. Events took place within the duration of one night, but it explained in detail all that really happened. 6/10. 


ARISTOCRATS (2021)

Director: Yukiko Sode

After a sudden dumping and disastrous dates, Hanako Haibara (Mugi Kadowaki) finally met the man of her dreams, Koichiro Aoki (Kengo Kora), scion of a wealthy political family. One night in an exclusive party, Hanako's violinist friend Itsuko (Shizuka Ishibashi) noticed that Koichiro was being very familiar with another girl named Miki (Kiko Mizuhara).

A quiet drama that contrasts the lifestyles of two women: Hanako was rich and privileged but trapped in the restrictions of her class. Miki was poor and had to work to survive, but free to do whatever she wanted. Beautiful cinematography, thoughtful screenplay, restrained acting by the entire cast make this a memorable and reflective film. 9/10. 


HER LOVE BOILS BATHWATER (2016)

Director: Ryota Nakano

For the past year, Futaba (Rie Miyazawa) has been raising her 16-year old daughter Azumi (Hana Sugisaki) by herself after her husband Kazuhiro (Joe Odagiri) disappeared on them. One day, she was diagnosed to have terminal pancreatic cancer, and only given a few months to live. She needed to get her family organized and ready for her eventual departure.

This is a family melodrama with maternal abandonment as a common theme. The Japanese can really tell these stories to be very engaging, without feeling too sentimental. Writer-director Ryota Nakano certainly made us love every character here. Overall, this film was a bonafide tear-jerker, yet ironically I still considered feel-good and cathartic. 9/10. 


RASHOMON (1950)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Two men, a woodcutter and a priest, were seeking shelter in the ruins of an old city gate called Rashomon. There, they told another fellow the about the odd criminal case for which they were called as witnesses. A Samurai was found dead in the forest. His wife had been raped. The suspect was Tajomaru, a notorious bandit. But what really happened? 

This is a classic film by master director Akira Kurosawa about Truth and its various versions as dictated by self-interest. The magnetic Toshiro Mifune played his crazy bandit character over-the-top, in contrast with Masayuri Mori who played his Samurai character with restraint. Machiko Kyō had a distinctive look and compelling style as the Samurai's wife. 8/10.


THE GOD OF RAMEN (2013)

Director: Takashi Innami

Kazuo Yamagishi was the owner of the Taishoken ramen shop in Ikebukuro district in Tokyo, which usually had a two-hour long queue of loyal customers outside waiting for their turn to be served. This documentary followed his story from its humble beginning to his humble end. 

It tells about his generosity to share his recipe with his apprentices who could open their own branches without paying any franchise fees. It recounts his health problems which led to him being sidelined in the hospital for six months, and its major impact on his store. 6/10. 



RELIFE (2017)

Director: Takeshi Furusawa

Arata Kaizaki (Taishi Nakagawa) was a 27 year old lonely and jobless man. He was offered a chance to relive one year as a 17 year old senior high school in a medical experiment called ReLIFE. Back in his youth, he was able to get close to a select group of friends and even fall in love with the smartest girl in class Chizuru Hishiro (Yūna Taira).

The premise was interesting and the actors played it very cute. However, when you think more about it, how could this one year in high school actually change his outlook in life, especially since we don't know how his original high school days were? So after the experiment and you wake up the next day as an adult again, how can you readjust your life so fast? 6/10. 


UNTIL THE BREAK OF DAWN (2012)

Director: Yuichiro Hirakawa

Ayumi ( Tôri Matsuzaka) Ayumi assisted his grandmother (Kirin Kiki) to be the Connector, a person who can arrange for the dead to meet the living. They help a man who did not tell his mother that she was dying; a girl who may have caused the death of her best friend; a man who could not move on after his fiancee disappeared seven years ago.

This was a solemn film dealing with unresolved issues and regrets felt when someone dies. However, trust the Japanese to be able to tackle such a morbid topic with such engaging plotting, with no unnecessary heavy melodramatics. This was another beautiful reflective Japanese film about life and death, told with sincerity and respect. 9/10. 


UNDER THE OPEN SKY(2021)

Director: Miwa Nishikawa

Masao Minami was just released from prison after being incarcerated for 13 years for a murder for which he still believed he had been tried unfairly. He tried to fit in but with not much luck, owing to his past involvement with the Yakuza. Despite his volatile moods, he was able to make friends in his neighborhood who rooted for him to succeed.

It is the powerful, no holds barred performance by lead actor Kōji Yakusho as Masao Mikami that makes this a must-see film. Taiga Nakano as Ryūtarō Tsunoda, the TV director assigned to film his life story is also commendable. The topic of an ex-con trying to fit into society may be quite familiar, but again the unique Japanese cinematic perspective makes this one special. 7/10. 


ITO (2021) 

Director: Satoko Yokohama

Ito Soma (Ren Komai) is an awkward and painfully shy 16 year old student who decided that she wanted to have a part-time job working in a maid cafe, against the wishes of her strict professor father (Etsushi Toyokawa). Her kind co-workers Mr. Kudo (Ayumu Nakajima), single mom Sachiko (Mei Kurokawa) and anime artist Tomomi (Mayuu Yokota) all help her open up and come out of her thick shell. 

This was quite a slow burn film with a very familiar coming of age story of a teenager rebelling against her elders. What set this apart from other films tackling the same topic was the unusual contrast of the modern Japanese phenomenon of maid cafes and the traditional musical instrument called the Shamisen, which Ito learned to play by ear from her grandmother (Yoko Nishikawa) and her late mother. 6/10. 


BREAD OF HAPPINESS (2012)

Director: Yukiko Mishima

Mizushima and his young wife Rie opened a little cafe and inn on a scenic hillside beside Lake Toya, in the village of Tsukiura on Hokkaido island. The tasty breads that Mizushima baked and the sumptuous meals that Rie cooked helped fix the broken lives of the guests who stayed with them -- Kaori who was dumped by her boyfriend, Miku whose mom had left her and her dad behind, and Mr. Sakamoto who was about to lose his wife.

This was a heartwarming little film that tackled some pretty serious topics which can move you to tears, yet it can still make you smile. It can inspire you about never giving up on the ever-changing fortunes of life. The wistful photography of the food made them look and taste so good as everyone was partaking of them, outwardly celebrating the "compagnon" spirit and inwardly healing their damaged and hurting psyches. 8/10. 


Friday, February 25, 2022

Review of UNCHARTED: Troublesome Treasure Tracking

February 25, 2022



Treasure hunter Victor "Sully" Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) was hot on the trail of Magellan's legendary lost stash of gold. He solicited the help of bartender / petty thief Nathan Drake (Tom Holland), who was the long-estranged brother of Sully's old partner Sam Drake, who had disappeared after they stole Juan Sebastian Elcano's diary. Sully was hoping that Sam may have left clues with Nathan which would point him to the treasure. 

Their adventure led them to encounter bad guys Salvador Moncada (Antonio Banderas), a direct descendant of the family who financed Magellan's expedition, and his ruthless mercenary hitman Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle). Along with Sully's contact Chloe (Sophia Ali), the three bickering treasure-hunters follow clues found in a old church in Barcelona, which led them to a map that indicated the gold to be found in the Philippines. 

The movie started with Nathan in immediate danger midair with his foot entangled on the straps bound around crates hanging out of a flying airplane. This opening scene alone tells us that the adventures here will be over-the-top and CGI-driven. We will feel like we are in a big-screen video game. This is after all the maiden cinematic venture of Playstation Productions, "Uncharted" being one of Playstation's most successful series.

The basic formula is practically similar to the recent Netflix heist film "Red Notice" -- three treasure hunters, two wisecracking male and one ass-kicking female, each do not completely trusting each other, tracking down clues in different countries to find a big treasure. Tom Holland (still on his "Spider-Man:No Way Home" high) and Mark Wahlberg take over from Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson, but Sophia Ali was no Gal Gadot.

The "Da Vinci Code"-like investigation in the church of Santa Maria del Pi had jargon that we should not over-analyze to enjoy. The best sequence had to be that grand climactic chase scene involved two helicopters, each with an ancient galleon suspended under it, flying over rocky islets in the open ocean, while the human characters were scrambling and fighting up and down trying to knock each other off -- just like a video game indeed. 6/10. 


Vivamax: Review of BAHAY NA PULA: Sadistic Spirit

February 25, 2022



Jane Legaspi and her husband Raffy visited their old American-era ancestral house in Pola, Oriental Mindoro before it gets dismantled and translocated to a heritage park called Mi Casa Filipinas. They saw an old gramophone in the living and tried to play it, but the music that played from the scratchy record revived the vile spirit of a sadistic Japanese soldier from World War II (Yoshihiko Tora) to go prowl around the house again.

The caretaker of the house was Aling Ising, a mysterious old woman with a big birthmark over her right eye, a loyal servant of Jane's family. She harbored certain dark secrets which made her more than a mere observer. Another side character was Roger, an ex-boyfriend of Jane who now worked for the mayor of Pola. His boss was not keen on allowing the sale of the house, so Jane resorted to asking for his help to get her papers through.

Julia Barretto has certainly graduated from teeny-bopper roles in her role here as Jane. She was pregnant here, with a quickly growing tummy. There was a scene of her topless while taking a bath using a dipper taken from above and behind. Barretto also had a scene asleep in bed seductively writhing in a short negligee. This scene was intercut with another scene of her being raped by a ghost. Barretto's face was not seen here, so it might not be her.

Xian Lim mainly played Raffy constantly on edge and stressed out, as his character was beset with legal problems and jealousy. Marco Gumabao's Raffy was just leading a laidback lifestyle as a civil servant, until Jane's unexpected return triggered long dormant feelings in him. Veteran indie character actress Erlinda Villalobos was right at home playing the creepy Aling Ising, lending any scene an uncomfortable vibe whenever she was onscreen. 

In telling his story, Brilliante Mendoza slowly panned his shaky camera to focus incidentally on various old photographs and close-ups of nameless people to effectively create an atmosphere of dread, with that understated eerie score. However, the entire opening sequence at the construction site and seeing those townspeople in their windows, all turned out to be all done only for style, but ultimately inconsequential to the story. 

The progression of the main story was interrupted by long unnecessary details, like the house tour by the Casa Manila guys, the argumentative man at the municipal hall, and Raffy's troubles with malversation of government funds, just to fluff up the haunted house story. I would have appreciated it better if Mendoza told us more about the Japanese soldier and the Flipina girl who loved him. That should have been the heart of the story. 4/10. 


Review of KING RICHARD: Deeply Determined Dad

February 24, 2022




Sisters Venus and Serena Williams took the tennis world by storm in the 1990s, both becoming superstars in a sport not typically identified with African-Americans. They had a dominant vibe and attitude all their own, always aggressive, brimming with confidence. Their parents Richard Williams and Oracene "Brandy" Price were there to lend their support for their every game. This film tells the story of how Richard brought up his two champions. 

Despite having to contend with the dangers in the violent streets of Compton, California, Richard Williams always believed that he had two tennis champions in his house. He worked tirelessly and fearlessly to get the training they needed to get ahead in their game, and actually succeeded in getting them trained by Paul Cohen (coach of John McEnroe and Pete Sampras) and Rick Macci (coach of Jennifer Capriati). 

Richard worked his daughters very hard when training them, which bothered some of his neighbors. But he also emphasized that they have to always be humble when they win. He was very concerned about the possibility of his daughters getting burned out early in their youth, and made the controversial decision to pull them out of Juniors tournaments even when they were on a roll, and even if this brought him in conflict with Cohen and Macci.

Richard Williams seemed to be a strict, closed-minded father and coach. He was pushy and demanding while promoting his daughters to various coaches, yet he would interfere with the coaches' training style when they clashed with his. However, Will Smith's goodwill as an actor rubbed off on his portrayal of Richard, making him look like the ideal father. There could not have been a better choice of actor who can make irritating quirks seem charming.

As Brandy, Aunjanue Ellis made for a strong mother figure, generally supportive of Richard's high-flying plans, but unafraid to voice out her opinions to the contrary. 15-year old Saniyya Sidney had to learn how to play tennis first to play Venus, and nailed the on-court action and off-court drama required of her. Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal played top-notch tennis coaches who were too good to be true in tolerating Richard's rather rude intrusiveness. 

The story was well-ironed out neatly to showcase the main subject Richard in a flattering light, Venus and Serena as well. Everyone was respectful and obedient, agreeing to watch "Cinderella" to learn a life lesson, cool well kept in the face of obvious gamesmanship (by Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario no less!). This biopic by Reinaldo Marcus Green is very well-made in the old-fashioned sense, everything seemed too perfect to be true. 7/10. 



Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Netflix: Review of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2022): More Murderous Mayhem

February 23, 2022




A group of rich millennials led by entrepreneurs Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore) bought the rights to whole ghost town of Harlow, Texas to develop it as the site for trendy businesses. One day, they went on an inspection tour of the place and get it ready for presentation to their investors. Accompanying Melody was her younger sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) who was still recovering from a traumatic experience of her own. 

They had a heated argument with an old woman Ginny who claimed that she still had a deed for the old orphanage where she and her "son" lived. She collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital, but died en route. Her "son" went amuck and killed everyone in the police car. He then carved out the skin of his mother's face and put it on like a mask. He walked back to his home in Harlow with the sole intent to kill everyone else he blamed for his mother's death.

As I was not a fan of slasher films, I've never seen any of the previous "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" films, not the original nor any of its reboots and sequels. The first 1974 film by Tobe Hooper is considered a seminal work of gore horror. It spawned sequels in 1983 (also by Hooper),1990 and 1996. It was rebooted in 1983 and 2013 (presented in 3D). There were prequels in 2006 (TTCM: The Beginning") and 2017 ("Leatherface"). 

Essentially a sequel of the 1974 film, there was a TV news report at the start which summarized what transpired back then. This new one pretty much followed the usual gory formula, with each character getting stalked and set up for some really gruesome kills. The most memorable scene which set it apart from others should be that massacre of hipsters in a party bus bathed in blue lighting. A survivor even comes back to try to get revenge. 

The encounters between Leatherface and the two sisters (not really a spoiler) were actually all quite well-executed suspense sequences, as long as you keep your disbelief suspended. However, the ending was a real head-scratcher. Just when you thought our heroes have successfully escaped from all the bloody mayhem, there just had to be another shock to send us off, as well as set up for yet another sequel. 5/10.


Saturday, February 19, 2022

Review of GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE: Spengler's Scions

February 18, 2022



Former Ghostbuster Egon Spengler had succumbed to a heart attack while trying to capture a violent ghost in Summerville, Oklahoma. His estranged daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) had just been evicted from her apartment in Chicago, so she decided to move into her late father's farmhouse that she inherited, with her two children, slacker teen Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and science nerd Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). 

Phoebe discovered ghost traps and other old Ghostbusters paraphernalia in the farm. Together with her new friend Podcast (Logan Kim), she was able to track the ghost to the foundry of town founder Ivo Shandor (JK Simmons). Meanwhile Callie and Phoebe's science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) get possessed by the spirits of the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper, paving the way for the resurrection of malevolent god Gozer (Olivia Wilde).

Majority of this film was devoted to the adventures and misadventures of the kids -- Phoebe and Podcast, Trevor and diner waitress Lucky (Celeste O'Connor)-- as they eventually figured out what Egon Spengler had been up to all these years. The events depicted were not exactly dissimilar to any of the film versions of R.L. Stein's juvenile horror books -- generally fascinating discoveries and lighthearted fun, but with a real sense of dread and danger. 

That these kids were encountering ghosts like the original Ghostbusters (Slimer-like Muncher, mini Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men, Terror Dogs Zuul and Vinz Clortho) and were using vintage Ghostbusters gear (ghost traps, proton packs, Ecto-1) was very exciting to see for fans. Nostalgia has really been the flavor of the 2021 film season, following "F9," "Matrix: Resurrections," "Halloween Kills," and "Spider-Man": Far from Home."

There was a cameo by Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) and a sneaky inclusion of the line "Who you gonna call?". However, the ultimate nostalgic reconnection came iwhen all the original Ghostbusters -- Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Warren Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) -- were firing proton streams side by side with the spirit of Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis digitally recreated) in a very heartwarming reunion. 7/10. 



Friday, February 18, 2022

Vivamax: Review of BOY BASTOS: Vulgar Virgins

February 18, 2022



Felix (Wilbert Ross) was an engineering student who was always pre-occupied with sexual thoughts and enjoyed drawing "hentai" or Japanese pornographic cartoons, which earned him the notorious nickname of "Boy Bastos" (or Boy Sleazy). However, in reality, he was still very much a virgin in the literal sense, along with his two crazy close friends Garfield (Andrew Muhlach) and Layno (Bob Jbeili).

Felix had a Bible-quoting girlfriend Cathy (Jela Cuenca) who surprised him by inviting him to have sex on her coming birthday, which was causing him a lot of stress. In addition, Felix was also preoccupied with his new pretty substitute Biology teacher Ms. Katey Quinto (Rose Van Ginkel), who turned out to be the visitor who would be temporarily staying at his house because their mothers were good friends. 

I learned that this "Boy Bastos" was actually referred to a supposed "trending Internet sensation in the early 2000s," something which I had completely no idea about. Anyhow the references to various pop culture items during that time were quite memorable, like the very slow speed of the internet connected by phone modems, "scandal" videos for download at computer shops, or using fresh lumpia instead of the apple pie of "American Pie" (1999).

After roles in other Vivamax sex comedies last year like "Shoot Shoot" and "Crush Kong Curly," Hashtag Wilbert Ross finally gets his own title role as Boy Bastos. He was probably giving this role his all to prove his worth as a comedian, but his range was still quite limited, even if the character was admittedly a shallow and foolish one. The green jokes of his co-actors Muhlach and Jbeili were landing more than those of Ross's were. 

Rose Van Ginkel had to fight through unflattering makeup, while Jela Cuenca felt exploited in a thankless role. Director Victor Villanueva, whose breakthrough was the multi-awarded black comedy "Patay na si Jesus" (2017), executed a screenplay by Joma Labayen and Jose Marquez Basa chock-full of dirty jokes and sleazy situations, and tried to end it on a positive philosophical note, but with lame, unconvincing results. 2/10. 


Thursday, February 17, 2022

HBO Go: Review of PEACEMAKER: Paradoxical Pacifist

February 17, 2022




After his shocking murder of Rick Flag in "The Suicide Squad" (2021) for which he incurred serious injuries, Peacemaker (John Cena) is forced to join the A.R.G.U.S. black ops squad dubbed "Project Butterfly," with a mission to eliminate a race of aliens who had intentions of world domination. These butterfly-shaped parasites enter through bodily orifices of their human hosts to gain control of their brains. 

Under the leadership of Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji), who answered directly to none other than A.R.G.U.S. leader Angela Waller (Viola Davis) herself, the members of his team were suspicious of each other at first. They include: veteran agent Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), technical support John Economos (Steve Agee) and neophyte operative Waller's own lesbian daughter Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks).

With each episode, we will get to know more about the past of Christopher Smith, the man behind Peacemaker. He had a traumatic childhood living with his sadistic, white supremacist father Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick), who also was super-villain White Dragon. Aside from his pet eagle named Eagly (in delightful CGI), Peacemaker also had a sociopathic human sidekick who called himself Vigilante (Freddie Stroma).

Also under the direction of James Gunn, this 8-episode mini-series also carried the same brand of Rated-R language, violence, gore and humor as the "Suicide Squad" reboot, with the currently requisite racial and LGBT inclusivity. Fearless and shameless John Cena was able to get under the skin and emotions of this ironic character who was not averse to perform acts of extreme violence to fulfill his mission to preserve peace. 

Unlike the opening credits of other series, this one was very irresistible to watch and re-watch in full every week as the deadpan cast awkwardly danced to the catchy song “Do Ya Wanna Taste It” by Wig Wam. The way the twists and turns were revealed in every episode were very entertaining and engaging. There were even exciting guest cameos in the final episode that kicked the rating up one full point. Certainly looking forward to the next season! 8/10.


Review of WEST SIDE STORY (2021): Spielberg's Striking Style

February 16, 2022



It was the mid-1950s in Manhattan's Upper West Side district, which was about to be torn down to be developed into the new Lincoln Center. Two rival gangs ruled the streets -- the white Jets led by Riff (Mike Faist) versus the Puerto Rican Sharks led by Bernardo (David Alvarez). One night at a local dance, Tony (Ansel Elgort), Jets co-founder just out on parole, met Bernardo's sister Maria (Rachel Zegler), and they both fell in love at first sight. However, their respective gangs simply could not allow this union, leading to violent tragedy. 

"West Side Story" was originally conceived as a stage musical by choreographer and director Jerome Robbins, transporting the story of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" to the world of feuding teenage gangs on streets of New York City, with a book by Arthur Laurents and music by Leonard Bernstein. The lyrics by icon Stephen Sondheim, then only in his mid-20s. The original 1957 Broadway production ran for more than 700 performances and won 2 Tony awards, including Best Choreography for Robbins.

In 1961, the stage musical was adapted for the big screen, with directorial credits shared by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. This film won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and a special one for Robbins' choreography. Tony and Maria were played by Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood, with their singing voices by Jimmy Bryant and Marni Nixon. Bernardo and Anita were played by George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, both winning Oscars for their supporting turns. The soundtrack album remained at #1 on the Billboard album charts for 54 weeks. 

The 1961 film and soundtrack album had been an integral part of my youth. I could say that I knew the order of the scenes. the ebullient dance choreography, and the beautiful songs by hearts. I have to admit that ever since news came out that Steven Spielberg will be coming out with a remake, I already had my mind made up that it may not be a good idea. Even then, as a lover of musical theater and films, of course I had to go watch it. I wanted to see what Spielberg could still do to improve what I thought was already a perfect film.

The triple-threat performances were generally excellent -- Rachel Zegler (only 17 years old in her film debut) as a more outspoken Maria, Ariana DeBose ("The Prom", "Schmigadoon") as proud Anita, David Alvarez (Tony Award winner at age 14 for "Billy Elliot" in 2009) as passionate Bernardo and Mike Faist ("Newsies," "Dear Evan Hansen") as toxic Riff.  Rita Moreno is back in a new role as Valentina, widow of Doc, who gets to sing a stripped-down version of "Somewhere". Ansel Elgort did not work for me as Tony. I did not feel that he had romantic chemistry with Zegler nor much sincerity from his flat performance overall.

Aside from ethnic accuracy, it was great that the new actors all sing their own songs. The best song and dance number for me in this new version was "America" when Spielberg decided to bring the dancing out into the streets in full sunlight, rather than confined in the rooftop at night in the original. The dancing prowess of DeBose and Alvarez was really spellbinding there, like that of Moreno and Chakiris were in the original. I was distracted by the changes in the order of "Cool" before the rumble and "I Feel Pretty" after the rumble. (But I would later find out that these were their original placements in the 1957 stage version.) 

The crudeness of language and depiction of violence were more disturbing in this new version.The character of Anybodys was portrayed as trans instead of a tomboy, and her part during Anita's assault scene was better executed  It felt odd how the Spanish lines did not have subtitles, but I get why Spielberg did this for "respect". While watching this remake, the scenes, dances and singing of the original film were replaying themselves in my mind. While admittedly with some striking cinematographic choices and bold directorial decisions, this remake still could not match the original for me. 7/10. 


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Review of BLACKLIGHT: Faithless Feds

February 15, 2022



After a successful political rally, popular human rights activist Sofia Flores (Melanie Jarnson) was murdered by a discreet hit and run. Her despondent boyfriend FBI agent Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) went against his original orders and decided that he should tell reporter Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman), who had been following the career of Flores, the dark and disturbing truth that he knew about her death. 

Black-ops agent Travis Block (Liam Neeson) was ordered by the FBI director Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn) to stop Dusty from spilling the beans. When Dusty was also killed, Travis and Mira began to work together to get to the bottom of things and set things straight. When Travis's daughter Amanda (Claire van der Boom) and granddaughter Natalie (Gabriella Sengos) goes missing, the stakes were raised much higher.

Ever since Liam Neeson became an action star in 2009 with the sleeper box-office hit "Taken" at the ripe old age of 56, his career was given a second wind. "Taken" had sequels in 2012 and 2014. Aside from that he had "The Grey" (2012), "Non-Stop" (2014), "Run All Night" (2015), "The Commuter" (2018), "Cold Pursuit" (2019), "Honest Thief" (2020), "The Ice Road" (2021), among others. This year as he pushes 70, here comes another one. 

I can't blame you if you cannot exactly differentiate the plot of one from the other as there are common tropes in them. The character of Liam Neeson invariably had some sort of elite military or secret agent training which gave him extraordinary skills. There was usually a family member or two whose safety gets threatened that pushes Neeson's character to spring into rescue action mode. Both of these were also here in "Blacklight."

The usual formula was followed to faithfully here that you never felt Neeson was ever in any real danger even as he faced a powerful enemy. As his weakness, Neeson's Travis had to deal with family issues, as his daughter Amanda kept telling him to lay off the paranoia about safety (quite unreasonable and disrespectful of her, if you ask me). The action sequences were pretty standard B-movie quality with nothing memorable to set this one apart. 4/10.


Monday, February 14, 2022

Review of MARRY ME: Offhand Obligations

February 14, 2022



Superstar singer Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) was all set to marry her boyfriend fellow singer Bastian (Maluma) on the stage of their major joint concert to the tune of their latest hit song together "Marry Me." However just as Kat was getting dressed in her elaborate wedding gown for the ceremony coming up next, someone posted an incriminating video online showing Bastian canoodling with someone else that immediately went viral.

Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) was a regular strait-laced math teacher and coach of their school's math competition group. He was divorced and was single dad to his 12-year old daughter Lou (Chloe Coleman). One night, his colleague, gay guidance counselor Parker (Sarah Silverman) gave him and Lou tickets to go watch Kat's concert with her. As a desperate Kat broke down on stage, she asked Charlie to go up onstage to marry her. 

The very premise of this film was totally unrealistic. Imagine a tearful Kat telling her audience about how she was only in love with an idea of who she wanted that person to be. In a major non-sequitur, she then wanted doing something different for the first time. Upon catching a glance of an unsuspecting Charlie in the audience carrying a "Marry Me" sign and Kat told him yes, she would marry him. What can be more absurd and illogical than that?

That initial part of the plot was really very hard to swallow. Fortunately, there was rom-com veterans Jennifer Lopez ("The Wedding Planner," "Monster-in-Law," "Maid in Manhattan") and Owen Wilson ("Wedding Crashers," "How Do You Know," "Marley and Me") to save the day. Cheesy as it may seem, they actually succeed to charm audiences into believing that such a far-fetched relationship could actually happen. 

This movie was almost totally Lopez's show, as Kat explored the whole range of her emotional roller coaster as she faced a life of extreme popularity without earning critical acclaim or finding genuine love. Kat was the one who faced the challenges, while Charlie just acceded to her decisions. Lopez was totally in her element her as she was playing a meta version of herself and how she may be yearning for a simple life away the klieg lights. 6/10. 


Friday, February 11, 2022

Vivamax: Review of THE WIFE: Unlikely Understanding

February 11, 2022




Mara (Louise de los Reyes) and Cris (Diego Loyzaga) had a serious snag in their marriage when Cris had an affair with his college friend Lee (Cara Gonzales). An apologetic Cris tried his best to appease an inconsolable Mara to no avail. One day, he suddenly received bad news from their doctor (Lander Vera Perez) that he had cancer and had to receive treatment. Upon hearing the bad news, Lee suddenly showed up at their doorstep, offering to help. 

Denise O'Hara got her start in showbiz as a writer for Judy Ann Santos and Piolo Pascual's soap opera TV series "Sa Piling Mo" (2006). She would later be head writer of more successful TV dramas like "Maria la del Barrio" (2011-12), "Mundo Man ay Magunaw" (2012) and "Please Be Careful with My Heart" (2012-14). She later transitioned into films, co-writing with Joseph Israel Laban for indie films like "Purgatoryo" (2016) and "Baconaua" (2017). 

The first film which she wrote by herself was "Mameng"  for the Cinemalaya film festival in 2018, which was also her debut as a feature film director. She won the Gawad Urian award for Best Director for this film, and her screenplay was also nominated. In 2019, she wrote and directed "Tayo Muna Kahit Hindi Pa Tayo" for the CinemaOne Originals film festival. This present project "The Wife" is the third film which she had both written and directed.

This story was told from a female character's point of view. The martyr wife is a common character in Filipino melodramas, either in film or on TV. What makes this Mara different from other martyr wives was that she was not quiet about her suffering at all. Living up to her name, Mara means "bitter" in Hebrew), she was very vocal about her anger to Cris with her daily emotional outbursts. She was never going to let him live it down -- until the Big C intervened. 

When Mara was at her wits' end about her difficult situation, here comes Lee with her offer to help care for Cris. This was the main crux of the story -- how an unlikely cooperative partnership grew between two women who were supposed to be mortal enemies. The premise was good, but unfortunately, the execution was unsatisfactory. You knew where progression of the script was heading, but the way it took to get there was unconvincing.

Owing to the awkward exchange of dialogue during this key part of the film, the chemistry of de los Reyes and Gonzales never really gelled in a genuine friends. Maybe it was the relative inexperience of Gonzales as an actress, or maybe it was the way her character was written, but Lee's sincerity was suspect. An actress of more depth and experience was needed to be able to effectively transition this challenging character from foe to friend. 

For those curious, yes, there were gratuitous sex scenes, with breast exposure for both actresses here, while Loyzaga kept his pants on. But these prurient scenes were only peripheral, not front and center like the typical Vivamax feature for the past year. Since this film was written and directed by women for a female audience, these sex scenes were rather surprising, especially since they were not even really necessary to be there at all.  4/10. 



HBO Go: Review of KIMI: Paranoid Panic

February 11, 2022



Kimi is the name of a built-in voice-controlled personal assistant developed by Amygdala, much like Siri is for Apple or Alexa for Amazon. Bradley Hasling (Derek DelGaudio), CEO of the Amygdala Corporation, states that the difference between Kimi and the other AIs is that there is a human component that monitors Kimi for its continuing improvement of service. Angela Childs (Zoe Kravitz) is one of those human tech workers

While reviewing the random data streams of Kimi to spot service errors to correct them,  one day, she hears a disturbing stream that sounded like a woman being assaulted. In order for her report to be addressed, she needed to meet her superior Natalie Chowdry (Rita Wilson) in their headquarters to submit her evidence. However, Angela is agoraphobic, so going out is a big problem. However, there are even bigger problems up ahead.

Zoe Kravitz gives an arresting performance as Angela, with all her little quirky mannerisms brought about by her mental health issues. Physically waifish and delicate, Angela tried to be cold and distant to protect herself emotionally. The Covid-19 pandemic even added further to her feelings of anxiety and dread that prevented her from venturing outside. She likes her neighbor Terry (Byron Bowers) from across the street, but could not go out to meet him. 

Writer David Koepp also wrote big blockbuster Hollywood films such as "Jurassic Park" (1993), "Mission: Impossible" (1996), and "Spider-Man" (2002), all of which evolved into major franchises. However, his more recent output had not been too successful, with Razzie fare like "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull" (2008), "Mortdecai" (2015) and "The Mummy" (2017). His work here on "Kimi" is lower key, but it was a solid story for acting and action. It had elements reminiscent of Koepp's previous work on "Panic Room" (2002).

Steven Soderbergh's debut film "Sex, Lies and Videotape" (1989) won the Palme D'Or at Cannes. In 2001, he competed with himself at the 73rd Academy Awards, being nominated for Best Director for two separate films "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic" (for which he won his Oscar). This pandemic, he still came out with interesting films like the experimental "Let Them All Talk" (2020), period thriller "No Sudden Move" (2021) and now "Kimi." 

The introductory buildup of Angela's world was a slow burn as Soderbergh used camera movement for audiences to feel her intense paranoia in Hitchcock tradition. The chase scenes in along narrow building corridors and on the streets of Seattle were nerve-wracking. The climactic showdown in the apartment may be a bit over the top, especially with Devin Ratray (better known as Buzz McCallister from "Home Alone") there in a guest role, but it was executed with masterful editing for maximum suspense. 7/10. 


Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Review of DEATH ON THE NILE (2022): Murders Most Melodramatic

February 8, 2022


Jacqueline de Bellefort introduced her handsome but penniless fiance Simon Boyle to her wealthy friend Linnet Ridgeway. However, it would turn out later that Simon dumped Jackie and had married Linnet instead. So when the newly-married couple went on a grand honeymoon in Egypt, the rejected Jackie stalked them the whole way, even booking herself on a cruise of the Nile on the river boat Karnak, on which the Doyles were also booked. 

One night, there was a murder onboard the boat, someone had been shot at close range on the forehead. When famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot began to investigate, every other passenger on the cruise with them seemed to have a reason to kill the victim, who it turned out was not exactly the congenial type. A couple more murders were still to be committed before Poirot was able to finally piece together the complex plot. 

In the original 1978 film version of "Death on the Nile" directed by John Guillermin, Peter Ustinov played the inimitable Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, taking over from Albert Finney who played Poirot in "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974). Just like first film, the murder had been committed in a confined location (this time a river boat). It also had an impressive array of actors playing the suspects for the murder of Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles). 

The all-star cast included Bette Davis (as the grand dame Marie Van Schuyler), Maggie Smith (her stern nurse Ms. Bower), Angela Lansbury (flighty romance author Salome Otterbourne), Olivia Hussey (her anxious daughter Rosalie), Jack Warden (the defensive Dr. Bessler), George Kennedy (the unscrupulous Atty. Andrew Pendleton), Jane Birkin (Linnet's maid Louise), Mia Farrow (Jackie), and Simon MacCorkindale (Simon).

In this new film remake, Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) was investigating the case of Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). Simon (Armie Hammer) was her husband, Jackie (Emma Mackey) her friend, and Louise (Rose Leslie) her maid. Some characters had the same names but different relationships. Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) was now Linnet's godmother, with Ms. Bowers (Dawn French) her nurse. Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okenedo) was now a blues singer, while her niece Rosalie (Letitia Wright) was Linnet's close friend. 

There were also characters whose names and relationships with Linnet were changed. The lawyer character is now Linnet's cousin Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Faizal). The doctor character is now Linnet's ex-fiance Linus Windlesham (Russell Brand). Instead of David Niven's Col. Race, the role of Poirot's friend went to Bouc (Tom Bateman), who was also in the previous case on the Orient Express. Bouc brought his artist mother Euphemia (Annette Bening) along, and was in a romantic relationship with Rosalie. 

Gal Gadot fit the bill of the glamourous heiress to a T. However, she did not project Linnet's haughtiness that well, unlike how Lois Chiles did it. Emma Mackey (whom I never knew before this film) had a more challenging role as Jackie. However, she looked quite strong and confident, unlike how Mia Farrow gave her Jackie a weak, clingy, needy vibe the character needed. Armie Hammer's screen presence seems diminishing with his every film, even in a big role as Simon. Tom Bateman even upstaged him in the more minor role of Bouc.

Aside from a prologue (why Poirot grew his fancy mustache) and an epilogue (how Poirot may be falling in love again), the basic plot of the novel remained the same with significant alterations to promote present-day concerns like multi-racial and LGBTQ representations. The production design was rich with 1930s aristocratic glamor and exotic Egyptian antiquities. With a much darker color palette and serious mood, Branagh's approach tended to be quite melodramatic, especially at the climax, without the campy humor of the original. 

Death of the Nile (1978): 8/10. Death on the Nile (2022) 7/10. 


Monday, February 7, 2022

KTX: Review of MINSA'Y ISANG ALITAPTAP: Emerging from Estrangement

February 6, 2022



After being estranged for many years, a middle-aged Lucia (Teresa Loyzaga) came back to her family home with her three adopted little boys. Her old mother Amelia (Gina Pareno) was already suffering from dementia, and kept on calling for Luisa even if she was standing there right in front of her. When a trusted farmhand Abel passed away suddenly one day, his adopted son Abner (Ron Macapagal) began to ask questions about the mother he never met. 

The rest of the story was told in flashbacks to Lucia's childhood, when she was obsessed with looking for fireflies. She repeatedly requested her mother to tell her the legend of how these interesting flying insects came to be. There was a  boy named Darcel, the son of her father Alberto's business partner Domeng, with whom she shared a close friendship growing up. However, the paths of the two people apparently did not wind up together. 

As the story went back and forth in time, each of the central characters were played by more than one actor. There were four actresses playing the role of Lucia (Loyzaga, Patricia Cadawas, Jenica Mae Mores, and Hasna Wahood) three actors playing the role of Darcel (Ron Macapagal in a second role, Rob Torres, and Jaden Pambuan), two actors playing Lucia's father Alberto (Lito Capino and James Lomahan) and two actresses playing Lucia's mother Amelia (Pareno and Gladys Bernardo Reyes).

Teresa Loyzaga is already a veteran actress so it was no surprise that she was able to portray her conflicted character very well. The scene of Lucia grappling with her mother's dementia was a highlight for her, and of course Pareno could do this scene blindfolded. Newcomer Ron Macapagal tried his best here playing two distinct roles, but his limited acting experience was still apparent. The big dramatic moment between Loyzaga and Macapagal felt weaker than expected, can't help feeling that it could have been better written and executed. 

The film ran for a compact one hour and 10 minutes, and that was just enough for director Romm Burlat to tell his full story. Despite being a short feature film, there were still a few scenes that did not feel entirely necessary, like the odd inclusion of a distracting scene featuring the special guest appearance of Diego Loyzaga as an unidentified farmhand. For the clarity of the scenes shot in darkness, the cinematography by Marvin Gabas (who also co-wrote the script with Paola Villena) deserved commendation. 7/10. 


Sunday, February 6, 2022

KTX: Review of ILOCANO DEFENDERS: WAR ON KIDNAPPING: Crusading Congressmen

February 6, 2022



A valiant family of congressmen (father Michael Say and his two sons Solomon and Morgan) calling themselves the Ilocano Defenders, have made it their mission to help and provide protection to the weak and downtrodden. When there was a rash of kidnappings of children going on in Northern Luzon, the Defenders were in the forefront of the fight even as the syndicate expanded their operations to other regions of the country.

These three incredibly noble representatives of the Ilocano Defenders Partylist were portrayed to be the pinnacle of political perfection. They were fearless (defeating the bad guys with only their martial arts skills), generous (giving up their own salaries to help the poor), principled (refusing a bribe of three million pesos a month) and very receptive to the needs of their constituents (shouldering their funeral and hospital expenses). 

There were no professional actors in this film, so the whole thing had a stilted, self-conscious vibe going on. The three Says can deliver their idealistic lines (their advocacy on VAT on basic goods and vocational requirement in public schools) well, but were still very camera-conscious. The villains were especially over-the-top and hammy, so they were unintentionally funny, especially Gov. Armand Guzman Jr. (Reynaldo Samaco), his personal aide Roel (Narciso Dizon), the kidnapper Mr. M (played by director Marvin Leyson himself) and his affect-less assistant Jesser (Jayzer Abao). 

There were several scenes emphasizing how dangerous their line of work was, not only from their enemies, but also from the women, like Morgan's secretary Myrna (Ana Mariz Terrejos) and Rochelle (Rutchelle Borbajo) and Solo's girlfriend (?) Casey (Grace). Therefore, the Says also had repeated scenes telling each other to take special care of themselves. They also stated that they were willing to face any issues thrown at them, be it misusing public funds or accusations of sexual misconduct.

The production seemed to have gone all out with their location shoots, going to Cebu, Baguio, Vigan, Ifugao, Paoay, General Santos City, and Jolo. However, the overall pace was too slow, the editing was lackadaisical and the direction was unfocused. The three Says may be blackbelts in taekwondo in real life, but the choreography of their fight scenes lacked excitement, which may work against their aim to revive martial arts in Filipino films. 


Saturday, February 5, 2022

KTX: Review of YORME: A Scavenger's Success Story

February 5, 2022



Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, also known by his screen name Isko Moreno, had also been called by the monicker of "Yorme," flipping the syllables of the word "Mayor" around as he was wont to do to make catchy slang words of his own. With an impeccable sense of timing, director Joven Tan had crafted this new movie musical to tell about his life in songs. Yorme is, after all, one of the top 5 aspirants running for the Presidency of the Philippines in the upcoming May 2022 national elections. 

The film is divided into three parts based on his age: child, teenager and adult, with a different actor playing Mr. Domagoso at each age. Scenes of the honorable Mayor telling his life story himself in his distinctively colorful language style were interspersed within  the scenes of the film which depicted the highlights of his dramatic rags to riches coming of age, from a scavenger in the garbage piles of Tondo, to a teeny-bopper screen idol on TV and films, all the way to being a popular man-of-the-masses politician. 

Called "Scott" by his parents, child Isko (Raikko Mateo) began scavenging in garbage at age 10. While his mother (Tina Paner) disapproved, his father (Ramon Christopher) admired his son's "diskarte" (or streetwiseness). He also had risky capers sneakily collecting empty bottles of mineral water left by passengers on provincial ships that were docked on the pier. An amusing anecdote the mayor shared in this part was his experience with Mang Baldo (Keempee de Leon), the fearsome "mantutuli" (traditional circumciser) of Moriones. 

Teenage Isko (McCoy de Leon) had the bright idea of washing leftover chicken parts he would pick up in the garbage and frying them into his own culinary creation called "batsoy" which he was able to sell among his neighbors in the slum. He also experienced bullying among his classmates. Because he was a scavenger, they teasingly called him "Mayor" after Mayor Lopez's garbage project. He was discovered by a talent scout (Jestoni Alarcon) who brought him to audition for "That's Entertainment" TV show of German Moreno (Janno Gibbs).

Adult Isko (Xian Lim) eventually graduated from teen romance movies to the more daring ST films which was all the rage in Solar Films where he was signed. Later on, he married a supportive wife (Mary Jane Lastimosa) and decided to enter the world of politics. From the start, he was criticized for being a mere high school graduate who cannot speak English. He used his first-hand experience of poverty as proof of his sincerity that he was one with the masses, rising from being a councilman to a vice mayor, and eventually, mayor. 

Aside from the script, director Joven Tan also wrote the music and lyrics of 15 songs telling Yorme's story, from his scavenging days, his gold medal at school, his batsoy business, his J-S prom, "That's Entertainment" days, to his political advocacies. There were three inspirational songs about trusting the Lord for a better tomorrow. This musical biopic put Yorme in an ever-positive light. It was quite entertaining overall (and fun to see several former "That's" actors in cameo roles), but it can be a tad too saccharine and over-idealistic at times. 6/10. 


Friday, February 4, 2022

Netflix: Review of ALL OF US ARE DEAD: Virus of Vengeance

February 4, 2022




Spurred by the critically-acclaimed box-office hit "Train to Busan" (2016) with Gong Yoo, South Korea had been producing a number of zombie films and TV series. Most notable among the movies were: "Rampant" (2018) with Hyun Bin and  "#Alive" (2020) with Yoo Ah-in. Among the TV series, there was "Kingdom" (2019) with Ju Ji-hoon and Bae Doo-na, and just very recently, "Happiness" (2021) with Park Hyung-sik and Han Hyo-joo. 

As the Covid-19 pandemic now entered its third year, another Korean zombie series is gaining a lot of international attention -- "All of Us are Dead." The main focus of this new series was Hyosan High School. Because his son Jin-su was always the target of cruel bullies, a science teacher Lee Byeong-chan (Kim Byung-chul) developed a virus which made his son into someone who could stand up to the bullies, even if he turned into a monster.

In the school, we follow the fates of 12 students in Class 2-5. The four lead characters were Cheong-san (Yoon Chan-young), his crush On-jo (Park Ji-hu), class president Nam-ra (Cho Yi-hyun), and both girls' crush Lee Su-hyeok (Park Solomon). At odds with the other students was Lee Na-yeon (Lee Yoo-mi), a rich girl with a snooty character. Elsewhere, archery champ Ha-ri (Ha Seung-ri) led a smaller group of students also trying to survive. 

One distinct innovations of this series in zombie lore was the phenomenon of the "hambie," or a half-zombie. They were some people who have been bitten by the zombie horde, but did not turn into a full-fledged zombie. They have undead qualities of zombies (indestructible, super strength, super hearing) yet still held on to their human sensibilities. It was these hambies who provided the unpredictable moments of this series. 

The situation of the community outside the school were also tackled, with stories of On-jo's father, veteran rescuer Nam So-ju (Jeon Bae-soo), Cheong-san's mother Mrs. Lee (Lee Ji-hyun) who just opened her new chicken restaurant, assemblywoman Bae Hae-sun (Park Eun-he), police detective Song Jae-ik (Lee Kyu-hyung), teenage mother Hee-su (Lee Chae-eun), among others. The governmental response to the crisis added further tension to the story. 

It seems that much budget of this Netflix web series was earmarked for those mind-boggling original zombie effects. Aside from main cast who became zombies with more detailed make-up, there were hundreds more extras who had their own individual zombie makeup. There were some pretty imaginative ways that people turn into zombies -- the most memorable one should be that girl folded her body on itself in the MRI machine. 

All sorts of emotional subplots had been inserted into the main zombie story line. There was major attention paid to the very real problem of physically and psychologically brutal bullying in schools, which was actually scarier than the zombies. Side stories of young romance, tests of friendship, filial devotion, social status conflicts, social media obsession, political privilege, and military brutality filled up the 12 episodes, which could've been shorter. 7/10. 



Vivamax: Review of KINSENAS, KATAPUSAN: Teenage Temptress

February 4, 2022



Conrado Alonzo (Joko Diaz) was a happily-married family man and bigshot real estate businessman. One day, his high school age daughter Ana (Madelaine Red) introduced him to her new transferee classmate Beth (Ayanna Misola). Beth soon began texting Conrado, enticing him with spicy messages and nude pictures. Soon they would have an arrangement to meet each other every 15th and 30th of each month for their secret sexual rendezvouses. 

The main plot is quite slim, littered with several sexual encounters between very nude Beth and a fully-clothed Conrado. Director GB Sampedro fluffed up the running time with various other sex scenes. Aside from his voluptuous wife Melba (Jamilla Obispo), Conrado would also have careless dalliances with his employee Karen (Janelle Tee).The lusty Beth also engaged in intimate lesbian canoodling with her friend Carla (Angela Morena). 

The acting was not really something to talk about. Joko Diaz's character Conrado was the one being tempted, but it did not really take much for him to give in to it so there wasn't really much mental torment. Ayanna Misola was only 20 year old in real life, because she looked more mature than that with all that makeup. Being only in her second film, she was not still not able to make the most of the psychiatric aspect of her character. 

We see several of Joko Diaz's contemporaries in the 90s here, like Kier Legaspi (as Conrado's partner Mike), Jojo Abellana (as Conrado's star salesman Miguel), Jao Mapa (as Beth's father) and even Jeric Raval (as a murder victim in the opening scene). Much time and dialog was focused on Conrado's loyal, strict, old-maid secretary Sita (Marissa Sanchez), but this character actually went nowhere. 

Underlying all the sex scenes were serious mental health issues which led Beth down her road to hell. She was not very discreet that she was taking pills for depression. There were recurrent flashbacks to a certain very traumatic event in her past that would haunt her for the rest of her life. There wasn't much psych explanation about Conrado's inability to resist having an affair with a minor, perhaps suggesting that men are naturally weak that way. 2/10.