Thursday, March 31, 2022

Review of MORBIUS: Bound to Blood

March 31, 2022



Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) and his friend Lucien a.k.a. Milo (Matt Smith) first met twenty five years ago in a hospital where they were both being treated for a rare blood disease. Their doctor Emil Nikols (Jared Harris) noted Michael’s exceptional intellect and sent him off for further studies. Presently, Michael has become a brilliant doctor and scientist who had been able to develop life-saving artificial blood which earned him a Nobel Prize. 

Working on the anti-thrombotic elements of the saliva of vampire bats he had collected from Costa Rica, Michael invented a drug which could cure the affliction he (and Milo) suffered from.  However, because human trials were illegal for such substances, he conspired with his girlfriend Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) to inject the serum into him on a ship on international waters. The terrifying effects were not what they were expecting. 

Morbius was a character from Marvel Comics that I had no idea about. This was a Sony release, like the original Spider-Man and adjacent characters like Venom and Carnage, and so it won't be directly connected with main Marvel Cinematic Universe which is under Disney. There is controversy among fans how Sony was confusing the story arc of the MCU, like seeing Tom Holland's Spider-Man in the closing credits of "Venom." 

Being his origin story, we see how Morbius met his best friend and blood brother Milo, and how his bold experiments had brought their friendship into the next level. Jared Leto played Morbius all moody, broody, and mired in his moral predicament, in sharp contrast with Matt Smith (best known as the 11th incarnation of the Doctor in "Doctor Who" and Prince Philip in "The Crown") who played Milo all loud, gleeful and manic. 

Aside from the vampiric transformations, CG effects ranged from subtle (like his ear wiggling for echolocation) to bombastic (like his high-speed wave forms tinged with bright colors from his clothing). Director Daniel Espinosa effectively created an atmosphere of dread and horror, but kept things within a PG rating. A character last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" appeared in the closing credits scenes hinting a Multiverse connection. 6/10. 

Friday, March 25, 2022

Vivamax: Review of X-DEAL 2: Exchange Encounters


March 25, 2022



The first "X-Deal" was a erotic drama film directed by Law Fajardo back in 2011. It was shot in a dark dingy apartment building, telling the relationship of Lomo photographer Billy (Jon Hall) and his actress girlfriend Sarah (Paloma) with their lesbian next-door neighbor Dana (Jamilla Obispo) who was a blogger. The titular x-deal was that Dana could have sex with Sarah, in return for Billy having a go with Dana.

The story of this second "X-Deal" is practically identical -- photographer Peter (Josef Elizalde) and his model-girlfriend Violet (Rob Guinto) went to this isolated resort for a photo shoot. The only other guest there was writer-vlogger Olivia (Angela Morena), coincidentally Peter's ex and who was now a lesbian. However, Fajardo had a much bigger, more luxurious and more scenic location this time -- the Tugawe Cove Resort in Caramoan, Camarines Sur. 

Of course, this scenario gave Fajardo the chance to stage as many intimate scenes of various combinations -- Peter and Violet first to show some trouble in their relationship, then Violet and Olivia in an alleged 3-hour long tryst, then Peter and Olivia in a rougher encounter reminiscent of the first film's ending. A random male homosexual scene was also thrown into the mix however unlikely, probably for the sake of inclusivity.

Certain details of the first film also appeared in this part two. The main male character was shown to be a mama's boy who received daily concerned phone calls from his mother. This was probably posited to try and explain his sexual inclinations and inadequacies, even more so in this sequel than the first. Drugs were also there, but less so in this new one than in the first one, which even had PDEA agents involved.

Fresh-faced Rob Guinto finally gets play the lead role here after a series of minor nymphet roles. From now on, no one will confuse that masculine-sounding name to be that of a male actor. Dusky beauty Angela Morena played a smart and confident free soul, so agreeing to set herself up like that for payback at the end did not seem too logical. Very fair, plus-sized (and very un-Jon Hall) Josef Elizalde was one convincing toxic male.  5/10. 


Ranking This Year's OSCAR BEST PICTURE NOMINEES (2022) & MY OSCAR BETS

March , 2022

With the Oscar Awards coming on March 28, 2022, Monday morning (Manila time), it is time for me now to make my fearless Oscar predictions.  (My Oscar predictions of previous years were posted on these links: 202120202019201820172016201520142013).

This year the Oscar Best Picture is a wide open game as there is no clear front-runner, until "Power of the Dog" won Golden Globe, BAFTA and Critics Choice. But now the previously unheralded "CODA" won the SAG for Best Ensemble" and the PGA nod for Best Picture! Here is how I would rank this year's 10 nominees for Oscar Best Picture based on my own personal opinions when I first saw them (not based on probability that I think they will win):


1. DUNE 9/10

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Nominations (10): Picture, Costume design, Sound, Original Score, Adapted screenplay, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Cinematography, Production Design and Visual Effects

It was the year 10191. The Emperor of the known universe had assigned Duke Leto of House Atreides of the planet Caladan to administer the important desert planet of Arrakis, in place of the House Harkonnen. Arrakis was the only source of the spice melange, which was very crucial for space travel. However, the native blue-eyed Fremen of Arrakis were beginning to assert their rights. 

Denis Villeneuve's "Dune" had gorgeous-looking camera work and spectacular computer-generated effects. The pace of his storytelling was deliberately slow , but the momentum did not sag. The story was easy to follow and understand, despite the inherently complex plot with multiple planets and peoples. The acting was generally subdued, in consonance with the solemn mood of the film. 


2. BELFAST 9/10

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Nominations (6): Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Sound 

It was August 15, 1969, 9-year old Buddy (Jude Hill) was playing on the streets of his neighborhood. Suddenly, a Protestant extremist mob caused a mass riot, specifically attacking the houses of Catholics, whom they want nothing to do with. The unstable peace and order in their hometown forced Buddy's Pa to entertain thoughts of bringing his family out of Belfast to live in London where he was working. 

Kenneth Branagh wrote this screenplay based true-to-life events in his own life growing up in Belfast, and you can clearly see how little Buddy could be how Kenneth was as a child. He bookended his passion project with scenes of modern-day Belfast shot in full color, then shifted to black and white for the rest of the film while telling about the events of 1969. The charm and tension of those times were beautifully captured onscreen.


3. DRIVE MY CAR 9/10

(MY FULL REVIEW)

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Nominations (4): Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, International Feature Film

Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) was invited to Hiroshima to direct a unique production of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" with a very diverse cast. An impassive woman Misaki (Toko Miura) was assigned to chauffeur him to and from the house provided to him, which was an hour away from the theater. Eventually, Kafuku and Misaki would open up with each other and share the deepest secrets in their lives. 

Aside from the prologue and scenes showing rehearsals and the final performance of the play, this film mostly consisted only of lengthy, sober conversations exchanged in the confines of Kafuku's old car. These had a mesmerizing quality that kept us riveted, even when Hamaguchi never resorted to showing flashbacks of the stories being told. Nishijima, Miura, and Masaki Okada (as the young actor playing Vanya Kōji Takatsuki) all gave affecting performances. 


4. THE POWER OF THE DOG 8/10

(MY FULL REVIEW)

Director: Jane Campion

Nominations (12): Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor (2), Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Cinematography, Production Design, Film Editing, Sound

Set in Montana in 1925, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) Burbank were a pair of wealthy brothers who ran a sprawling cattle ranch. While Phil was arrogant and insensitive, his brother George was refined and composed. George married the widow Mrs. Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), who had a son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and brought them to live in their ranch house, but the toxic Phil tormented them.

Cumberbatch's character here, Phil Burbank, was hateful and loathesome. He was toxic (in personality and in odor) and he was proud of it.The bleak mountainous landscape (New Zealand standing in for Montana) was essential to the story as it was breathtaking to see. Campion's slowburn pace was rife with tension, building up that all that suggestive uncertainty all the way to a powerfully compelling ending. 


5. DON'T LOOK UP 8/10

(MY FULL REVIEW)

Directed by: Adam McKay

Nominations (4): Picture, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Original Score

Astronomy grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovered an new comet hurtling towards Earth. Her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo di Caprio), calculated that it will hit the Pacific Ocean in six months and cause a catastrophe that would destroy the entire planet. However, when they tried to inform US President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) to take preemptive action, they just got the runaround. 

McKay was harsh here in his depiction of the ineptitude of the US government, the pervasive influence of big business and artificiality of mass media. The performance of Di Caprio, as a shy middle-aged scientist thrust into the national celebrity limelight, was the glue that held this piece together. His on-air breakdown scene and his dinner table scene brimmed with genuine emotion without the melodrama.


6. CODA 7/10

(MY FULL REVIEW)

Directed by: Sian Heder

Nominations (3): Picture, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay

Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie Rossi (Marlee Matlin) were born deaf and only communicated by sign language. They had two children: Leo (Daniel Durant) was also culturally deaf like them, and Ruby (Emilia Jones) who had normal hearing. Ruby had always taken on the role as the family's interpreter for their fishing business. However, in senior high, Ruby decided to join the choir to sing, a talent which may bring her to Berklee. 

It was remarkable that all the deaf characters in the Rossi family were all portrayed by deaf actors. Their participation gave a sense of authenticity in this film's portrayal of the family and social life of culturally deaf people and the challenges they faced while dealing with their hearing neighbors. All three of them deserve to be cited for awards, especially Kotsur with his rawness of his performance with a healthy dose of humor. 


7. NIGHTMARE ALLEY 7/10

(MY FULL REVIEW)

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Nominations (4): Picture, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design

Stanton (Brandon Cooper) and Molly (Rooney Mara) left the circus to go to the big city. They develop a sophisticated version of the mind-reading act and performed it for wealthy audiences. In one of his shows, Stan met Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) who was a therapist for several millionaires who were carrying various forms of guilt. The two embark on a more elaborate and sinister con trade to fleece these vulnerable victims of their fortune.

Aside from the excellent acting ensemble, it was the technical aspects of its cinematography that really made this stand out among the other films of the year. The two disparate parts of Stan's life made this film a big challenge in production design, costumes and make-up, and these artists definitely delivered to transport us back in time both in the rough tumble at the carnival and the classy elegance of high society.


8. WEST SIDE STORY 7/10

(MY FULL REVIEW)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Nominations (7): Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Sound

It was the mid-1950s  and two rival gangs ruled the streets ruled Manhattan's Upper West Side -- the white Jets led by Riff (Mike Faist) versus the Puerto Rican Sharks led by Bernardo (David Alvarez). 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. Their respective gangs could not allow this union, which led to tragedy.

Aside from ethnic accuracy, it was great that the new actors all sing their own songs. The crudeness of language and depiction of violence were more disturbing in this new version. 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.


9. KING RICHARD 7/10 

(MY FULL REVIEW)

Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Nominations (5): Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Film Editing

Despite having to contend with the dangers in the violent streets of Compton, California, Richard Williams (Will Smith) always believed that he had two tennis champions in his daughters Venus (Saniyya Sydney) and Serena. 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 high profile coaches Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) and Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal). 

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.


10. LICORICE PIZZA 6/10 

(MY FULL REVIEW)

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Nominations (3): Picture, Director, Original Screenplay

Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) was a 15-year old child actor, self-assured and confident, mature for his age. Alana Kane (Alana Haim) was a 25-year old photographer's assistant, who saw herself working the same job in the next five years. It was picture day at Gary's high school and he saw pretty Alana working and was immediately smitten. The two strike it off very well and become friends, but Alana made it clear that she was not his girlfriend.

Anderson really captured that vibrant 70s vibe in his images as he followed Gary though all his business ideas. His script had so many witty exchanges, between Gary and Alana for sure, but Bradley Cooper stole the show in his lengthy cameo as a foolish lothario. It was charming and feel-good, true. Yet underlying all of that was the uncomfortable romance blossoming between a 25-year old woman and a 15 year-old boy. I just cannot condone it.


***** My bets to win for each of each categories:

Best Picture: CODA

Nominees: Belfast, Don't Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, West Side Story

Best Directing: Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)

Nominees: Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Steven Spielberg (West Side Story), Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car)

Actor in a Leading Role: Will Smith (King Richard)

Nominees: Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick … Boom!), Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth)

Actress in a Leading Role: Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) 

Nominees: Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Penélope Cruz (Parallel Mothers), Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Kristen Stewart (Spencer)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Troy Kotsur (CODA)

Nominees: Ciarán Hinds (Belfast), Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog), J.K. Simmons (Being the Ricardos), Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)

Nominees: Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter), Judi Dench (Belfast), Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog), Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard)

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Drive My Car (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe)

Nominees: CODA (Sian Heder), Dune (Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve), The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal), The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)

Writing (Original Screenplay): Belfast (Kenneth Branagh)

Nominees: Don't Look Up (Adam McKay and David Sirota), Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson), King Richard (Zach Baylin), The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier)

Animated Feature Film: Encanto

Nominees: Flee, Luca, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Raya and the Last Dragon

Animated Short Film: Robin Robin

Nominees: Affairs of the Art, Bestia, Boxballet, The Windshield Wiper

Costume Design: Cruella (Jenny Beavan)

Nominees: Cyrano (Massimo Cantini Parrini), Dune (Jacqueline West), Nightmare Alley (Luis Sequeira), West Side Story (Paul Tazewell)

Live Action Short Film: The Long Goodbye

Nominees: Ala Kachuu - Take and Run, The Dress, On My Mind, Please Hold

Music (Original Score): Dune (Hans Zimmer)

Nominees: Don't Look Up (Nicholas Britell), Encanto (Germaine Franco), Parallel Mothers (Alberto Iglesias), The Power of the Dog (Jonny Greenwood)

Sound: Dune

Nominees: Belfast, No Time to Die, The Power of the Dog, West Side Story

Cinematography:  Dune (Greig Fraser)

Nominees: Nightmare Alley (Dan Lausten), The Tragedy of Macbeth (Bruno Delbonnel), West Side Story (Janusz Kaminski),The Power of the Dog (Ari Wegner)

Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul

Nominees: Ascension, Attica, Flee, Writing With Fire

Documentary Short Subject: Audible

Nominees: Lead Me Home, The Queen of Basketball, Three Songs for Benazir, When We Were Bullies

Film Editing: Dune (Joe Walker)

Nominees: Don't Look Up (Hank Corwin), King Richard (Pamela Martin), The Power of the Dog (Peter Sciberras), Tick, Tick... Boom! (Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum)

International Feature Film: Drive My Car (Japan)

Nominees: Flee (Denmark), The Hand of God (Italy), Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan), The Worst Person in the World (Norway)

Makeup and Hairstyling: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Nominees: House of Gucci, Coming 2 America, Cruella, Dune

Music (Original Song): No Time to Die -- Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell (No Time to Die)

Be Alive -- Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Darius Scott (King Richard)

Dos Oruguitas -- Lin-Manuel Miranda (Encanto)

Down to Joy -- Van Morrison (Belfast)

Somehow You Do -- Diane Warren (Four Good Days)

Production Design: Dune (Zsuzsanna Sipos and Patrice Vermette)

Nominees: Nightmare Alley (Tamara Deverell and Shane Vieau), The Power of the Dog (Grant Major and Amber Richards), The Tragedy of Macbeth (Stefan Dechant and Nancy Haigh), West Side Story (Rena DeAngelo and Adam Stockhausen)

Visual Effects: Dune 

Nominees: Free Guy, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, No Time to Die, Spider-Man: No Way Home


Thursday, March 24, 2022

Review of THE CONTRACTOR: Sketchy Sideline

 March 23, 2022



Because of certain drugs he had used for his knee injury, James Harper (Chris Pine) had been discharged from the US Army Special Forces, leaving him without his benefits, including pension and healthcare. Desperate for a source of income to support his wife and young son, he agreed to join his best friend Mike (Ben Foster) to work as a contractor for an organization run by a fellow army veteran Rusty Jennings (Kiefer Sutherland). 

Jennings' group handled missions that threatened national security. Harper's first deep black mission took him to Berlin, Germany to spy on then go after the data files of virology research scientist Salim Mohamed Mohsin (Fares Fares) said to be a Category A bioterrorist. However, when their mission did not go according to plan so Harper had to go on the run, trying to survive the multiple attempts against his life as he made his way back to the States.  

The plot of this tale of an ex-military man was quite formulaic, something you've seen any number of big name actors have done during their lean months strictly for the paycheck. The first thirty minutes introduced us into the life of James Harper as he tried to deal with his unexpected discharge from the army by accepting this job. Once things go awry, you sort of already knew how this thing was going to end, according to the usual plot these films took.

Chris Pine had a screen presence that dominated everyone else on that screen, a true movie star. As soldier James Harper, he always smart and snappy, standing tall and walking tall the whole time. He looked and moved credibly as a soldier in his fights and other action scenes. His dramatic scenes were also quite good, especially in that climactic confrontation scene, about 10 minutes before the movie ended. 

What set this film apart were those flashback scenes depicting Harper's physical abuse as a young boy under the alpha-male toxic machismo of his father. This gave James a troubling backstory that he never wanted to happen between him and his own son Jack. Otherwise, everything else was quite predictable, Ben Foster and Kiefer Sutherland have even done characters like the ones they played in this one. 5/10. 


Saturday, March 19, 2022

Netflix: Review of WINDFALL: Cash and Class Conflicts

March 19, 2022



A billionaire CEO of a tech company (Jesse Plemons) and his fund-raiser wife (Lily Collins) were on a secret getaway in their remote vacation estate. When they arrived, they realized that there was a man (Jason Segel) who had broken into their house. When his planned quick getaway hit a major snag, the intruder took both of them hostage. He proceeded to negotiate how much it would take for him to go away quietly and leave them alone.

While waiting for the money to arrive in the evening of the next day, the three people get to talking to each other. Even as everyone was being vague with the details, they began to read between the lines and get to know each other a little bit better. The unexpected appearance of the gardener (Omar Leyva) the next morning complicated matters.  With time, the tension steadily built up among all involved, reaching a head when the money finally arrived. 

From the opening credits, with the 40s-style font of the title card and the blaring musical note behind it, we clearly feel an Alfred Hitchcock vibe. That uniquely syncopated tense musical score by Danny Benisi and Saunder Jurriaans was undeniably the most memorable aspects of this film. The way the dialogues of this dark comedy were written and delivered by the actors, the whole film felt like it was originally a play adapted for the big screen. 

The opening sequence had the intruder, called Nobody in the closing credits, just slowly and wordlessly wandering in the house for close to 10 minutes. This set the deliberate, at times tedious, pace at which rest of the film unfolded. The run time was only 90 minutes long, but it may feel long for those who could not get into its noir-ish groove. You'd stay on to see how the situation would resolve itself, but some may feel tempted to press the fast forward button.

The actors do hold your attention despite the pace. Jesse Plemons had that oily look about him as the rich CEO, you'd instantly feel that this guy is an arrogant jerk. Jason Segel's thief never really came across as dangerous, something the CEO actually called out. Lily Collins (the real-life spouse of director Charlie McDowell) as the wife was the one character who actually had an arc, but it was not so convincing why it turned out that way. 6/10. 


Friday, March 18, 2022

Vivamax: Review of MOONLIGHT BUTTERFLY: Turning Troubling Tricks

March 18, 2022



Janet Eunice Alitagtag (Christine Bermas) was a smart young woman who was forced to work as a GRO in a seedy bar in Angeles City. She was her family's sole breadwinner, supporting the dialysis sessions of her mother Flora (Tanya Gomez), the nursing education of her brother Dario (Jolo Estrada), and the criminology studies of her boyfriend Roy (Albie Casino). 

While walking the streets after a slow night at the club, she was picked up by a handsome American Joseph Elliot (Kit Thompson) who swept her off her feet. However, while Elliot was assigned out of the country for a mission in Iraq, Eunice had to accept the advances of an Arab lover Habib (Ivan Carapiet) to cover her family's expenses.

The title "Moonlight Butterfly" was the nickname the smitten Elliot gave the alluring Eunice from the first moment he met her. This part of the story of a young woman supporting her family by selling her flesh was an old overused one. This one went all the way with the teary melodramatics this trope had carried with it all these years. The moment you saw Flora's sallow eyes and Roy's naughty face, you knew where their story was going.

However, writer Eric Ramos came up with an ambitious twist of making Elliot an American secret agent who was working with his Filipino asset at the NBI Nilo (Jim Pebanco) pursuing Arab terrorists. The script dropped names like Osama Bin Laden, places like Baghdad and Cairo (the pyramids make a special appearance), and plots like an assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II during World Youth Day 1995 in Manila. 

Aside from beefing up the plot with Eunice's numerous sex scenes (this is Vivamax after all), there were also side plots concerning two of Eunice's friends -- the caregiver best friend Grace (Quinn Carillo) and the fellow bargirl Mika (Hershie de Leon). Even Dario's best friend Kevin (Gelo Alagban) got his own totally off-tangent moment, which included an unintentionally hilarious hospital scene. 

Christine Bermas, who who made a good impression with her first film "Siklo" (2022), did relatively well here as well even if her drama moments were too predictable with contrived dialog. It was admirable how Thompson and Pebanco stayed serious with all the cringy lines they were given to say. Carapiet must have screamed "you f**king b**ch" a record number of times. Travelling between Angeles and Dipolog was apparently such a breeze you can just have marketplace quarrel there anytime. Those comments aside, that abrupt final blackout was a very good ending. 4/10. 



Thursday, March 17, 2022

Review of AMBULANCE: Manic Mayhem in Motion

March 17, 2022



William Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a war veteran in dire financial needs because of his wife's poor health. His brother by adoption Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) convinced him to join his crew for a multi-million bank heist. The robbery did not go as planned and the situation got even worse when a young policeman Zach (Jackson White) was shot and was bleeding to death, so an ambulance had to be summoned to the scene to attend to the downed officer.

As Danny and William get trapped, they hijack the ambulance as their getaway vehicle, and take the ailing Zach along with the EMT attending to him, Cam Thompson (Eiza Gonzalez) along as a hostages. When the police realized that the thieves had escaped from the bank building, a frantic car chase ensued all over the streets of Los Angeles, with the authorities led by Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) and FBI Agent Anson Clark (Keir O'Donnell). 

Director Michael Bay literally exploded into the international movie scene with his hit debut explosive action-comedy film "Bad Boys" (1995). Since then, he has come out with some of noisiest, fieriest, most frenetic films that became his signature, like "The Rock" (1996), "Armageddon" (1998), "Pearl Harbor" (2001), "Transformers" (2007) and its four sequels (2009, 2011, 2014 and 2017), "Pain and Gain" (2013) and "6 Underground" (2019). 

Lately, Jake Gyllenhaal had been tackling very high-strung excitable characters, like supervillain Mysterio in "Spider-Man: Far from Home" (2019) and the troubled 911 operator in "The Guilty" (2021). His character Danny Sharp here was really a scary, crazy guy who simply snapped as things did not go his way on this particular day, when his perfectly-laid plans miscarried and was unraveling in the worst possible way.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II turned heads as the charismatic Black Panther head Bobby Seale in "The Trial of the Chicago 7" (2020). His William Sharp is a considerably more vulnerable character -- a man driven to crime by sheer desperation. In her biggest role since her breakthrough in "Baby Driver" (2017), Eiza Gonzalez's fearless EMT Cam is quite attention-getting, especially for her "successful" surgery using her hair clip as a vascular clamp.

This remake of a 2005 Danish film was one big, over-the-top, exaggerated hyperbole, a Bay trademark. To add more chaos, he made sure that the ambulance had fruits or flowers or dresses to hit and scatter around. The camera was in constant dizzying motion, coming in and out from various angles. Running at a hefty 136 minutes, the whole thing felt bloated and can actually be tiresome to watch with all the medical absurdities and manic energy it had. 4/10. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Review of TURNING RED: Fluffy Furball

March 13, 2022



It was 2002 in Toronto, Canada. The Lee family managed the local Chinese Temple dedicated to their ancestors, and conducted entertaining tours for tourists. Meilin "Mei" Lee (Rosalie Chiang) was a 13-year-old over-achiever in her school. Her strict mother Ming (Sandra Oh) made sure Mei stayed focused on her school work and made sure that she would not get distracted by other "useless" interests, like boys and boy bands. 

One morning, Mei woke up from a nightmare and realized that she had turned into a giant red panda. Ming revealed that this was a family trait from her side of the family, but it had a ritual to contain it for good. At first, Mei was very distressed, but with the help of her close friends Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park) who accepted her, she realized that when she was calm, she reverted to her human form. 

This latest film from Disney-Pixar is directed by Domee Shi, Pixar's first solo female and Asian director. It tackled very familiar themes of coming-of-age, rebelling against authority, self-discovery and self-acceptance. These topics are practically in all of the Disney films since "The Little Mermaid" (1989) and "The Lion King" (1994), to "Brave" (2012) and "Moana" (2016), all the way to their latest ones "Luca" (2021) and "Encanto" (2021), only tumbled around in every possible cultural context and configuration of conflict.  

The overbearing authority in focus here were the "tiger moms" who are obsessively involved in their children's education, instilling fear and and shame in children who failed to deliver perfection. This stereotype had been so notoriously associated among Asian immigrant families in the US and Canada. In this film, Ming was characterized as such a humungous scary monster, it was very disturbing, despite efforts to lighten things up with comedy.

The best part of this film was the artwork and animation of Mei's red panda, who was cute and adorable in all its gigantic fluffy furball glory. This technical aspect definitely held up Pixar's reputation of excellence in the field of animation, despite the rehashing of overdone stories.  I was relieved that the father character Jin (Orion Lee) provided a nice balance. Subtle hints of LGBT relationships were present as part of current trend on inclusivity. 7/10. 


Saturday, March 12, 2022

Netflix: Review of THE ADAM PROJECT: Touching Time-Travel Treat

March 12, 2022



Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) is a fighter pilot from the year 2050 who stole a jet plane and embarked to travel back in back to the year 2018 in search of his wife Laura (Zoe Saldana) who had been stuck there. Damage his jet sustained during his flight caused Adam to land in the year 2022 when he met his 12-year old self (Walker Scobell). Together, the two fly back to 2018 to try to abort the time-travel technology which had caused the world much harm.

Along with his bigger mission to save the future world from the oppressive control of ruthless businesswoman Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), Adam also used his trip back in time to mend his bridges with his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner) and his father Louis (Mark Ruffalo). It was also his chance to advise his younger self, who had always been the target of bullies back in middle school given his short stature and weak constitution. 

Ryan Reynolds seems to be playing the same fast-talking, zinger-per-line character in every film, doesn't he? He certainly does not go far from his comfort zone playing the adult Adam Reed. This is the type of hero his fans expect from him, and he never fails to deliver the goods with that charming wise-guy personality which seems second nature to him. Reynolds' Adam has his flaws and vulnerabilities, but these are precisely what endear him to the viewers.

It was a joy to see young Walker Scobell play the young Adam in perfect harmony with how Ryan Reynolds played adult Adam. Scobell channeled Reynolds' style of wit and speech pattern down pat, we can actually imagine him growing into someone like Reynolds. It was a lot of fun seeing the two of them banter over various fun pop references, like the light saber of "Star Wars," or the superhero landing and the multiverse from the MCU. 

Fun as it is, time-travel is always a tricky trope to pull off, as there will invariably be time-line plot holes which may come out if you think about every detail. However, this scifi-action-comedy by director Shaun Levy also had its heart in the right place, with touching scenes of the two Adams with their parents, played by Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo who are so good with no-frills drama. Their scenes can tug at the your tear ducts without hysterics.  7/10. 


Friday, March 11, 2022

Vivamax: Review of ADARNA GANG: Classic Corrido Contemporarized

March 11, 2022



Drug lord Papang Fernando Castillo (Ronnie Lazaro) and his wife Mamang Valeriana (Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino) had three trusted men whom he considered his sons: Pedro (Mark Anthony Fernandez), Diego (Diego Loyzaga) and Juan (JC Santos). However, hotheaded Pedro was getting ahead of himself, and was doing things behind Papang's back. 

To get through tough times in their youth, good friends Fernando and Jose (Soliman Cruz) built up this drugs business which turned out to be their lifelong occupation. Now, for the sake of his wife Maria (Mickey Ferriols) and daughter Adriana (Colleen Garcia), Jose wanted out. What he planned to be his last job with the family was realized in the literal sense.

When Adriana boldly sought for payback for her father's rubout, Mamang sent out their three sons to find her. Whoever captures Adriana will replace Papang as head of the family. While all three boys all went their own ways to look for her. Adriana was not just hiding out teaching private singing lessons for rich girls, as she had violent plans for revenge of her own.

This was a major Vivamax project which gathered actors we have seen in various features throughout its various feature films in the past year. Fernandez, Loyzaga and Santos have headlined their own Vivamax films. Among the three sons, only Santos's Juan had any character development at all. With his perpetual scowl, Fernandez's Pedro was a predictable bad guy, while Loyzaga's Diego was only there for the sexy scenes, it seems. 

As Adriana, Colleen Garcia went from sweet and loving to vengeful and angry. She actually went through that range in a single scene where had a long soliloquy shot in close-up where she was addressing her departed father. As this was a Vivamax film, it was not surprising that Garcia had a bed scene, as with Meg Imperial (as Juan's moll Jodie). Vivamax sirens Rob Guinto, Katrina Dovey and Aivy Rodriguez bared a lot more skin. 

Aside from ever-reliable Lazaro and Cruz, there were several other veteran actors, like Jay Manalo (as Adriana's silent bodyguard Raul), Archie Adamos (as corrupt cop Lt. Col. Vera Cruz), Raul Morit (as a homeless beggar), and Dido dela Paz (as corrupt Cong. Cadhit). As Valeriana, Buencamino dominated the screen as she does the stage. Acey Aguilar (as the nervous Maryo) and Sheenly Gener (as the singer Claudia) stood out in smaller roles.

Director John Red took the story of "Ibong Adarna" out from the classical royal courts of Berbania and transported it to the world of a modern-day drug gang. It was an interesting concept to be sure, and his cast was impressive. However, despite that this film has been incubating in Red's mind for 15 years, focus seemed to have gone awry in the final execution, with one-dimensional characters, uneven pacing and unnecessary sexy detours.  6/10. 


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Review of HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD: Cursing's the Charm

March 9, 2022



Graduated from therapy but still without his bodyguarding license, a depressed Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) took a sabbatical in a luxury resort in Capri. Sonia Kincaid (Selma Hayek) interrupted his vacation and asked him to help rescue her husband Darius (Samuel L. Jackson) who had been abducted the Mafia on the first night of their honeymoon. She had apparently misunderstood her husband's instructions to call anyone but Bryce.

When his contact Carlo (Miltos Yerolemou) was killed during Darius's rescue, Interpol agent Bobby O'Neill (Frank Grillo) conscripted Bryce and the Kincaids instead to locate and stop Greek millionaire terrorist Aristotle Papadopoulous (Antonio Banderas) who was hatching a plot to plant a virus into the main data junction of the European power grid, hoping to bring Greece back to be the center of civilization.

This sequel to the 2017 hit action-comedy film assumed you have seen the first film, and did not think that they needed to reintroduce the characters that much anymore. The first film was about disgraced bodyguard Michael Brice who had been hired to serve as security for hitman Darius Kincaid who was about to give vital testimony in the trial of a terrorist in exchange for the freedom of his wife Sonia, who had been incarcerated for her major con exploits.

This time around the main highlight fell mainly on the ageless and beautiful Selma Hayek and her manic portrayal of Sonia Kincaid. Like how we met her in the first film, Sonia was an excitable motormouth as she launched into passionate tirades full of vulgarities and obscenities whenever she got triggered. One of her main frustrations in life was that she and Darius had been attempting to have a baby for the longest time to no avail. 

Of course, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson come up with performances very much within their comfort zones, doing what audiences enjoy watching them do. Their antagonistic chemistry was strong and hilarious to watch. Having Selma Hayek (and her ample bosom) prominently there gave the whole film an energy all its own. I am not a fan of profanities in movies, but in this over-the-top comedy, these unbridled curses were its unique charm.  6/10. 


Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Netflix: Review of THE WEEKEND AWAY: Crime in Captivating Croatia

 March 8, 2022



Beth (Leighton Meester) arrived in Croatia for a weekend break with her good friend Kate (Christina Wolf). Kate brought Beth to a nightclub where they hung out and had drinks with a couple of guys. The next day, Beth woke up totally disoriented and realized that Kate had gone missing. Beth called the taxi driver Zain (Ziad Bakri), who picked her up from the airport the day before, to help her look for her friend. 

Beth and Kate were poles apart in personality even if they were best of friends. Beth was more of the quiet reserved type, while Kate was the party girl who longed for attention. Beth was just a new mother to a baby girl. However, she and her husband Rob (Luke Norris) were having a rough patch in their marriage, so she decided to accept this invitation from Kate who had just gone through a divorce from her husband Jay (Parth Thakerar). 

The beginning part where the mystery of Kate's disappearance was being set up was quite formulaic. However, from there on, the story will go from one twist to another and various other people becoming involved and being suspects, including Beth herself. Everyone, including the friendly Zain or the police detective Pavic (Amar Bukvić), will be acting very suspiciously, so even you will not know who to trust, and that was fun.

Australian film director Kim Farrant was able to build up a lot of  taut suspense and purposeful confusion from the screenplay of Sarah Alderson that managed to mix marital melodrama with Syrian refugees and Airbnb creeps. There were probably a number of questionable points, but with Farrant's brisk yet engaging pace of cinematic storytelling, there was really no time to think of plot holes as you just get shuttled from one plausible solution to another. 

The absolute best part about this film were the picturesque locations in Croatia.  Mainly shot in the city of Split (you can see the Diocletian's Palace and the statue of Gregory of Nin), there were also scenes shot in Dubrovnik ("Game of Thrones" will definitely be brought back to King's Landing) and Zagreb (the capital of Croatia). Even if the story does not exactly show a tourist-friendly side to Croatia, you will want to go visit. 6/10. 



Saturday, March 5, 2022

Vivamax: Review of THE LAST FIVE YEARS: Live-in Lament

March 5, 2022



Joan was a very busy 30-year old social worker of an NGO called We Care Philippines currently working in the slums of Caloocan City. For her outreach project, she worked with the Dumagat tribes in Quezon province. One of her main plans was to write a book about indigenous couples. She had also applied for a two-year grant to work with indigenous tribes in Papua New Guinea. She had no boyfriend, and her co-workers kept on harping about it.

In one of their rare nights out drinking at at a bar, Joan met William, a 30-year old man with a winsome smile, managing a advertising company he had inherited from his father.  The two he hit if off and eventually she agreed to move in with him. However in love they were with each other, there was one thing that Joan felt was missing. William can't seem to move on from his breakup with ex-girlfriend Portia (Shannon Robinson), and was not really keen on married.

This film is Meg Imperial's show. It was her character Joan who had the tough life decisions to make during the titular "last five years." She had been quite the achiever in her academic and professional life without feeling the need for a man beside her, despite the constant "concerned" reminders from her family and friends. But five years into a live-in arrangement with William and no marriage in sight -- is that enough for her?

Tom Rodriguez had a struggle with his problematic character of William and the way it had been written. He had the bedimpled handsome charmer and confident successful businessman parts down, as these were very much in his comfort zone. However, William's mental struggles about the concept of marriage were never really given the attention they warranted. What was really holding him back? What was he waiting for? 

The topic of marriage and the various ups and downs that married couples undergo were thoroughly discussed in various configurations -- Joan's sister Berna (Yayo Aguila) and her husband Jake (Nikko delos Santos), married co-workers Sheryl (Marife Necesito) and Chris (Martin Escudero), transwoman friend Bonita (Patricia Payumo) and her partner, and the teenage Dinagat couple Joan was helping. 

This talky drama ran a lengthy 2 hours and 20 minutes long, which could have been better streamlined by director Lemuel Lorca. The lessons of this film was summarized in a 3-minute-long "platitudes of wisdom' discourse by William's Lola Andeng (Gigi Locsin) -- about love turning into faith, about making decisions for yourself first but not excluding the one closest to you. Ideal advice all nice to hear, but not really easy to follow in reality. 5/10. 

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Review of NIGHTMARE ALLEY: Growing a Geek

 March 2022



After he dumped a body into a basement and burned a house down, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) joined a traveling carnival which featured "The Geek" (a wild man who ate a live chicken) and other people with special "talents". He learned the "mind-reading" trade from the husband and wife team of Pete (David Straithairn) and Zeena (Toni Collette). Later he fell in love with the pretty "electricity" girl Molly (Rooney Mara). 

Stan and Molly left the circus to go to the big city. They develop a more sophisticated version of the mind-reading act and performed it swanky hotels for wealthy audiences. In one of his shows, Stan met Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) who was a therapist for several millionaires who were carrying various forms of guilt. The two embark on a more elaborate and sinister con trade to fleece these vulnerable victims of their fortune.

The cast was very impressive, with 8 Oscar winners and nominees (Cooper, Blanchett, Straithairn, Collete, Mara, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins and Willem Dafoe) in the roster. Bradley Cooper further proves his versatility as an actor here. His arrogant character Stanton Carlisle went through such a roller-coaster of a story arc, right up to that harrowing ending, and Cooper did not miss a step in his characterization. 

Visionary director Guillermo del Toro himself adapted the screenplay from a novel by William Lindsay Gresham. This had already been adapted into a film version in 1947 directed by Edmund Goulding starring Tyrone Power. That would explain the rather old-fashioned melodramatic noir twist of the story, told in a slow pace and 2-1/2 hour run time. That said, for those who have not seen the original, that ending was still a very powerful statement.

Aside from the excellent acting ensemble, it was the technical aspects of its cinematography that really made this stand out among the other films of the year. The two disparate parts of Stan's life made this film a big challenge in production design, costumes and make-up, and these artists definitely delivered to transport us back in time both in the rough tumble at the carnival and the classy elegance of high society. 7/10. 

Review of THE BATMAN: Grit and Grime in Gotham

March 3, 2022



It has only been two years since millionaire Bruce Wayne began his vigilante mission against crime in Gotham City, .  Beginning that Halloween, a mystery man calling himself the Riddler began a series of murders of Gotham's Mayor, police commissioner and district attorney, all with a video sent to the news and with a card with a riddle addressed to Batman. His next target was to be Bruce Wayne himself. 

The Batman is the DC superhero with the most number of theatrical releases made about him. The character was also played by Lewis Wilson (1943), Robert Lowery (1949), Adam West (1966), Michael Keaton (1998, 1992), Val Kilmer (1995), George Clooney (1997), Christian Bale (2005, 2008, 2012) and Ben Affleck (2016, 2017/2021), and in animated films by Kevin Conroy (1993) and Will Arnett (2017). Now comes a new incarnation.

Robert Pattinson is not really an actor one would associate with the Batman character. He was launched to superstardom in the maligned "Twilight Saga" films as the sparkly vampire Edward Cullen. Since then, he had been slowly building his credibility as an actor steadily in various indie films, latest of which was "The Lighthouse" (Robert Eggers, 2019). He made a return to commercial films with "Tenet" (Christopher Nolan, 2020) and now this.

Pattinson's face and hairstyle does not exactly match how we would picture Bruce Wayne as a millionaire playboy and business magnate. This film did not actually go much into that aspect of Bruce's life, as he was more concerned about his crime fighting than Wayne Enterprises. However, Pattinson looked very good behind the iconic Batman mask, with his eyelids all smeared with eye shadow to add to the mystique. 

This younger Batman preferred going around using his motorcycle. The "Batmobile" only made an appearance after the one hour mark in an exhilarating and explosive car chase between Batman and the Penguin, maneuvering against an oncoming rush of traffic on a busy expressway filled with 18-wheeler trailer trucks. The editing of William Hoy and Tyler Nelson deserve awards for that breathtaking sequence alone. 

Paul Dano's Riddler is nothing like the comical ones we knew before, Frank Gorshin's in the Adam West series and Jim Carrey in the Val Kilmer's edition. The riddles of this chilling Riddler were deadly and macabre, written on creepy-looking greeting cards, with sinister answers that refer to something worse. In one particular clue written in Spanish, the Riddler wanted "a rat with wings," actually puzzled Batman with its varied interpretations. 

Zoe Kravitz was gorgeous as Selina Kyle and an elegant fighter as Catwoman. Her presence was a welcome breath of fresh air amidst all the grit and grime of this Gotham. Her intimate scenes with the Batman sizzled with kinetic romantic chemistry. Her involvement in the story about her friend who had been abducted by mobsters, appeared shallow at first, but later revealed to be critical in unmasking the main villain. 

The Penguin does not look like the Burgess Meredith nor the Danny de Vito versions, as Colin Farrell is unrecognizable under layers of facial prosthetics and a fat suit. Wayne's loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth is played by Andy Serkis (sans any CGI). Lt. (pre-Commissioner) James Gordon is played by Jeffrey Wright. The wimpy District Attorney Gil Colson is played by Peter Sarsgaard. Ruthless mobster Carmine Falcone is played by John Turturro. 

After 5 years, Matt Reeves is back as director and writer after his two "Planet of the Apes" films in 2014 and 2017. He was able to tell this complex story with multiple characters with engaging skill using cinematically-creative shots with excellent cinematography by Greig Fraser, production design by James Chinlund, and musical score by Michael Giacchino. The 3-hour running time may sound formidable, but this was worth every minute. 10/10. 


Netflix: Review of LOVE IS COLOR BLIND: Loyal in Love

March 3, 2022



Domino (or Ino) and Caramel (or Cara) had been best friends since high school. Ino had taken up being a painter, like his parents Fidel (Ariel Rivera) and Ella (Eula Valdez). Cara had gone to Hong Kong to hone her chosen career as a writer. When Cara was abroad, Ino was involved in a major car accident which changed his life for the worst. Concerned Cara came back home to get her friend back on his feet.

The brain trauma of a vehicular mishap had caused young Ino to develop total achromatopsia, leaving his world in shades of gray. The accident did not seem to leave him any other neurological deficit aside from this visual impediment, but being as a painter, this had a devastating effect on his career of choice. However, a much bigger tragedy happened that fateful day -- one which would burden Ino with paralyzing sense of guilt.

Cara was had harbored a crush on the popular Ino since their school days, but their relationship never went anywhere beyond best friends. She had always been a carefree sort of girl, always optimistic and happy. However, her powers of positive motivation do not seem to work anymore for her best friend Ino. Since Ino was not making any progress, it was up to Cara to assert herself in order to lift their relationship to the next level. 

This was the first movie I have seen Belle Mariano in and I must say she has a very refreshing screen presence. Her Cara is so cute and likable, so everyone wonders what was holding Ino back, even the people competing for attention -- Sky (Jeremiah Lisbo) and Iris (Angelina Cruz). Ino was depressed,even toxic, for most of the film, so Donny Pangilinan had limited room to move.  Both young stars did very well in their climactic tearful confrontation scene.

This film is by John Leo Garcia, the first venture in directing for this veteran line producer of some of Star Cinema biggest hit films. He followed the tried-and-true rom-com formula here. Best friends cannot confess their romantic feelings for each other. Each one gets involved with another attractive person, which kindled feelings of jealousy in the other. The ending is -- well, I know you know very well how this film will end. 6/10. 


Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Review of LICORICE PIZZA: Matching Maturity

 March 2022



Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) was a 15-year old child actor, self-assured and confident, mature for his age. Alana Kane (Alana Haim) was a 25-year old photographer's assistant, who saw herself working the same job in the next five years. It was picture day at Gary's high school and he saw pretty Alana working and was immediately smitten. The two strike it off very well and become friends, but Alana made it very clear that she was not his girlfriend. 

Alana was Gary's chaperone on his press trip to New York with actress Lucy Doolittle (Christine Ebersole). She helped him with his waterbed business, driving the truck when he delivered a bed to Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper). Alana tried her luck to be an actress, almost getting cast in a film with movie star Jack Holden (Sean Penn); and also became a political campaign volunteer for mayoralty candidate Joel Wachs (Bernie Safdie). 

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson supposedly wrote the role of Alana specifically for Alana Kane, for whom he had directed music videos. Despite being her first feature film, Kane was a very natural actress, not self-conscious at all. Even if she was the older of the pair, it was Alana who did more coming of age than Gary. Her sisters and her parents actually played her family in the film, and they were quite good, especially the dad.

18 year old Cooper Hoffman is the son of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. That pedigree had rubbed on this very natural actor who showed no fear or hesitation in his film debut in a challenging role. Gary was a boy way more mature than his biological age, both physically and mentally (it would seem). Hoffman was able to keep a degree of childishness in his Gary despite looking and behaving older than Alana. 

Anderson really captured that vibrant 70s vibe in his images as he followed Gary though all his business ideas. His script had so many witty exchanges, between Gary and Alana for sure, but Bradley Cooper stole the show in his lengthy cameo as a foolish lothario. It was charming and feel-good, true. Yet underlying all of that was the uncomfortable romance blossoming between a 25-year old woman and a 15 year-old boy. I just cannot condone it. 6/10. 


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Review of BELFAST: Mulling on a Move

March 2022



It was August 15, 1969, 9-year old Buddy (Jude Hill) was playing on the streets of his neighborhood. Suddenly, a Protestant extremist mob caused a mass riot, specifically attacking the houses of Catholics, whom they want nothing to do with. Buddy's Protestant family lived in harmony with their Catholic neighbors, but a local leader Billy Clanton (Colin Morgan) kept pressuring Buddy's Pa (Jamie Dornan) to join their cause, or else.

Buddy's Pa had to work outside Belfast over in London as a joiner to pay off major debts, and was away most of the week.  So it was up to Buddy's Ma (Caitriona Balfe) to take care of Buddy and his older brother Will (Lewis McAskie). They lived with his paternal grandparents Pop (Ciaran Hinds) and Granny (Judi Dench). The unstable peace and order forced Buddy's Pa to entertain thoughts of bringing his family out of Belfast to live in London with him. 

Buddy still went to school, trying his best to get good grades so he could sit beside his big crush, Catherine (Olive Tennant). He also hung around with his older cousin Moira (Lara McDonnell) who would get him into trouble. He enjoyed watching movies with his family, in the theater or on TV. Buddy spent a lot of his time with his grandparents, especially his Pop who would help him with his Maths homework, as well as advising him about girls.  

This is only Jude Hill's first feature film and here he was in the lead role, but you'd never suspect that he was a newcomer at all. He was a very natural actor, and he came up with a fresh and likable performance of this smart yet cheeky boy, nothing felt put on. Balfe, Dornan, Dench and especially Hinds (as the Pop we all wish we had) all gave nuanced portrayals of their loving characters, just as how a kid would remember them.

This film was very much an aural experience as well as visual. Aside from the irresistible lilt of all their Irish accents, the musical soundtrack was also very much an integral aspect of this film. Aside from the songs of Belfast-born Van Morrison, there were also songs from films like "How to Handle a Woman" (from "Camelot"), "High Noon" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Jamie Dornan's version of "Everlasting Love" was especially rousing. 

Kenneth Branagh wrote this screenplay based true-to-life events in his own life growing up in Belfast, and you can clearly see how little Buddy could be how Kenneth was as a child. He bookended his passion project with scenes of modern-day Belfast shot in full color, then shifted to black and white for the rest of the film while telling about the events of 1969. The charm and tension of those times were beautifully captured onscreen. 9/10.