Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Review of EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE: Super-Surreal Scenarios

June 29, 2022

While Chinese-American laundromat owner Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) was stressing for their coming audit with the IRS, she was also having problems with the members of her family. Her mild-mannered husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) was thinking of divorcing her. Her formidable father Gong Gong (James Hong) had come for a visit from China. Her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) was pushing for acceptance of lesbian lifestyle. 

While trying hard on focusing and answering the intense questions of IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), an overwhelmed Evelyn began to experience a bizarre perception where everyone around her was being someone else. An authoritative Alpha version of Waymond told Evelyn about a "multiverse" that existed and that she could "jump" from one to another to access skills of other versions of herself.

The Wang family faces the IRS
(Photo from TBA)

This new film by the writer-directorial team collectively known as "Daniels," namely Dan(iel) Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. After directing music videos and shorts, they wrote and directed "Swiss Army Man" (2016), a debut feature which won them the Directing Award at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Their incredibly complex screenplay and innovative direction of this surreal sci-fi comedy-action film may well take them all the way to the Oscars.

Daniels' work on the screenplay began in 2016, but since then the concept of the Multiverse had already been introduced to the big screen via films like "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse" (2018) and just this year two more: "Spider-Man: No Way Home" and "Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness." Fortunately, the Daniels' original concept of the Multiverse still managed to distinguish itself from the more popular Marvel concept.

Evelyn with hotdogs as fingers
(Photo care of TBA)

Michelle Yeoh knew that this was an acting challenge of a lifetime, and she committed fully to all the multiple roles she had to fill. Yeoh is definitely in contention for that Best Actress Oscar come awards season. Stephanie Hsu was quite good as Joy the rebellious daughter, but for me she was not strong enough to pull off her alter-ego Jobu Tupaki, ultimate threat to the multiverse. Jamie Lee Curtis was a joy to watch as the incredulous IRS agent Deidre.

Ke Huy Quan shifted well from gentle Waymond to masterful Alpha Waymond, though his high-pitched voice could be off-putting. I could not help but imagine how a younger Jackie Chan would have been perfect for his role (maybe he still would be actually). Even if he was in a wheelchair, veteran character actor James Hong (93 years old, with a rich career that began in 1954) still had solid screen presence as Gong Gong and his other versions. 

Evelyn and Jobu Tupaki face the Bagel
(Photo care of TBA)

This Multiverse where Evelyn was jumping around in was not that easy to understand. For the first hour or so, you will be confused as to was happening as Evelyn became a glamorous movie star (with a reference to Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love"), a woman with floppy hotdogs as fingers, a Chinese opera singer, a teppanyaki chef (with a reference to Pixar's "Ratatouille"), a sign-spinner for a pizza shop or a rock on the edge of a cliff. However, eventually you would "see" what it all meant, especially by the end of Part 2. 

Like they did in "Swiss Army Man" before, Daniels again attempts to take on the meaning of life in their own silly absurdist way. We face several forks everyday in our path of life, and the choices we make decide how our life would turn out. This existentialist concept of the Multiverse, chaotic as it may seem in this film, posits that there exist different versions of you living another version of life. The life you are living now may not be your best life at all. 8/10.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Netlfix: Review of THE MAN FROM TORONTO: A Loser's Lot

June 28, 2022

For her birthday this year, Teddy (Kevin Hart) was treating his wife Lori (Jasmine Matthews) to a weekend out of town. After he dropped Lori off at the spa first, Teddy drove to the cabin he booked. However, because his printer had run out of toner, the printout of the address was not clear. Teddy was unexpectedly met by men who addressed him as the Man from Toronto, and wanted him to extract information from a hostage they had tied in the basement.

Meanwhile, the real Man from Toronto (Woody Harrelson) was a hired mercenary assassin whose only love was his Dodge 68 Charger. Specializing in torture and intimidation, he was well-known for his brutality and mercilessness when extracting information from prisoners. When Toronto saw that Teddy had been mistaken for him by the FBI, he convinced Teddy to go on pretending to be him until the entire mission was completed. 

Kevin Hart played Teddy Jackson as the obnoxious guy he consistently played in all his movies. His Teddy kept on trying to launch a variety of fitness fads (the latest of which was non-contact boxing) online, but nothing ever succeeded. Fed up with Teddy's incompetence, his boss at the gym Marty (Martin Roach) fired him from his day job. Teddy's name became a synonym for messing up. Hart fit this annoying role like a glove.

Based on his previous roles, we know Woody Harrelson can do brutish roles like Toronto. When he was doing that first interrogation scene with his array of deadly props, we believe it. However, when the story turned midway into a buddy comedy, Harrelson did not seem comfortable about it. There was not much chemistry between Harrelson and Hart, it was a stretch to believe that these two guys Toronto and Teddy can really be friends. 

Jasmine Matthews did not have much challenge to do in the role of Lori, apart from being the supportive and forgiving wife. It's puzzling how they got TV star Kaley Cuoco of "Big Bang Theory" and "The Flight Attendant" in the cast, but inexplicably relegated her to a minor role of Lori's friend Anne. On the other hand, it was good to see 80s and 90s movie star Ellen Barkin back onscreen again as Toronto's nameless but very ruthless Handler. 

Teddy was not a likable guy, so it was somehow entertaining how Teddy cluelessly went through his harrowing ordeal with hired killers, the FBI and Venezuelan despots, at the same time desperate trying to save his marriage from crumbling. However, the storytelling of director Patrick Hughes (whose most recent work was "The Hitman's Bodyguard" and its sequel) was not exactly engaging, with lame unfunny gags and over-extended fight sequences.  4/10. 

Review of MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU: Inherent Irony

 June 28, 2022

In the 1970s, Gru (Steve Carell) was only 12 years old, but he already had the ambition of being the best villain in the world. He was a big fan of the super-villain organization called the Vicious 6 and longed to be a member of that group someday. Kevin (the tall one), Stuart (the single-eyed one), Bob (the adorable one), Otto (a new minion with braces) and the rest of Minions (all voiced by Phil Coffin) lived with Gru and supported him in this ambition.

One day, disgruntled Vicious 6 members Belle Bottom (Taraji B. Henson), Jean Clawed (Jean Claude Van Damme), Nunchuck (Lucy Lawless), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) and Stronghold (Danny Trejo) overthrew their founder and leader Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin). Little Gru went to apply to fill the vacancy, but ended up getting on the wrong side of the Vicious 6 when he stole a precious powerful Chinese amulet of theirs.

Being delightfully cute and yellow, it was understandable how the Minions stole the scenes from under Gru in the "Despicable Me" films. But as I have mentioned in my past reviews of this franchise, I have not really been a big fan of the Minions on their own. Actually, at this point, 5 years after the last "Despicable Me" film and 7 years after the first "Minions" solo spinoff film, I was not even sure if they are still that much of a big thing nowadays.

However upon watching this film in an IMAX Theater full of small kids, I now confirm that these little yellow rascals with gibberish language still had what it takes to have this new kindergarten set in awe. The roller-coaster streets of San Francisco and its cable cars, the hip psychedelic 70s fashion worn and the inventive re-imagining of the Chinese Zodiac animals made for a very colorful and vibrant artwork, even for the most hyperactive of tykes.

Despite its unmistakable kiddie appeal, it was just right that this was rated PG film. Practically everyone -- the Vicious 6, Gru, and yes, even the Minions -- were all scheming and doing villainy things all the way to the end. (Only the kung-fu master Chow voiced by Michelle Yeoh could be considered positive.) This inherent anti-hero concept and its ironic sense of morality may not be correctly grasped by very young minds, and requires parental guidance. 6/10.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Vivamax: Review of VIRGIN FOREST (2022): Environment to Exploit

June 24, 2022

Photojournalist Francis Imperial (Sid Lucero) had been commissioned by Mayor Peter Balano (Julio Diaz) of Dolores, Bukidnon to do a feature on the rare Rafflesia flowers that grew deep in their forest. Local guy Roger (Vince Rillon) was tasked to accompany Francis on this arduous trek. Along the way, Francis had dreams of an alluring Diwata (Micaella Raz), an enchantress barely clad in a diaphanous white gown, seducing him, asking for help. 

Francis encountered several people in the forest. There was a deranged woman Gina (Rob Guinto) roaming around. There was a hunter Albert (Jao Mapa) shooting down animals. There was a woman running a prostitution joint, Minda (Alma Moreno) frequented by illegal loggers like John (Markki Stroem), Eric (Ivan Padilla) and Greg (Greg Hawkins). There were two sisters Angela (Angeli Khang) and Karla (Katrina Dovey) trying to escape their captors.

The pro-environmental message was obvious from the get-go. The film opened with disturbing scenes of loggers cutting down young trees. There were several scenes of women being raped by multiple men, likely as a metaphor for nature being abused. The Diwata and her two giant snakes (Belle, the albino Burmese Python and Zoe the Reticulated Python) symbolized Mother Nature fighting back against those who are abusing her. 

As the conflicted Francis, Sid Lucero was the best actor in the ensemble. He was certainly not shy in the skin exposure department this time around, outdoing even usual studs Rillon and Stroem. Everyone else was all kinds of over-the-top, either in one-dimensional villain (Moreno and Stroem) or victim (Guinto and Khang) mode. Rillon played yet another character where he let the hair-and-makeup guys have free rein on his new "jologs" look. 

This is not a remake of Peque Gallaga's 1985 film of the same title starring Sarsi Emmanuelle and Miguel Rodriguez. This new film is director and co-writer Brillante Mendoza's attempt to deliver social commentary within the expected sex and violence formula of a typical Vivamax production. He tried to squeeze in too many characters (real and supernatural) and a random mess of story elements, ending up failing to gel logically.  4/10. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Review of ELVIS: Knowing the King

June 23, 2022

The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley had a string of Number 1 hits on the Billboard chart that began with "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1956. This list of pop classics included timeless rockers like "Hound Dog" (1956) and "Jailhouse Rock" (1957), as well as ballads "Love Me Tender" (1956) and "Are You Lonesome Tonight" (1960). Being the true icon that he was, Elvis has fans and impersonators who persist up to this day, 45 years after his death.

This 2 hour- 39 minute biographical film began to follow the life of Elvis Presley as a young white boy who grew up in a poor black neighborhood, which exposed him to sultry blues and rousing gospel music. When he was a young man, he took these musical influences and created his own brand of country music with a touch of the blues. His unique look and electric live performance style took his screaming female fans, and later the whole country, by storm. 

Family-wise, Elvis had to deal with his mother Gladys (Helen Thomson), his father Vernon (Richard Roxburgh) and his wife Priscilla (Olivia de Jonge). Career-wise, Elvis was being forced to clean up his act as the US was going through a turbulent 1960s. During his Vegas residency at the International Hotel, he was trapped in an exhausting schedule that had him dependent on addictive drugs just to be able to perform the next day.

Instead of going the typical biopic presentation, director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann decided to tell Elvis's life story from the point of view of his controversial manager, Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). This major cinematic decision was a very big risk because Parker was a very unlikable character. Every time he appeared on screen, the ever-reliable Hanks emanated an annoying, negative vibe that made watching him very uncomfortable. 

Thankfully, Austin Butler was there to dominate and own the big screen with his spectacularly realistic and deeply emotional portrayal of Elvis Presley. That first trailer did not do Butler justice. Now that I have seen the whole film, I can say he more than stepped into the King's big shoes. During his take on "If I Can Dream" at the 1968 Singer TV special or "Suspicious Minds" on the Vegas stage, Butler convincingly transformed into Elvis before our eyes.

This is the first film this year that is a clear contender during the awards season next year, including the Oscars. Aside from imminent acting nominations for Butler and Hanks, Baz Luhrmann's scintillating direction will likely be cited as well, along with technical nods for cinematography, film editing, costume design, hair and make-up, and most especially sound. Its wall of meticulously-edited sounds needs to be heard in a Dolby theater. 9/10. 

Netflix: Review of RRR: Gloriously Grandiose

June 23, 2022

Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) went to Delhi to recover a little girl Malli (Twinkle Sharma) who had been abducted by the harsh British governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) and his wife Catherine (Alison Doody). In his hopes of getting a promotion, intrepid and skilled Officer A. Rama Raju (Ram Charan) volunteered to catch Bheem. Rama had been obsessively working himself up the police ranks to fulfill a pledge he made to his own tribe.

The two men meet coincidentally while cooperating spectacularly to rescue a boy from a burning train car which crashed into the river. They became very good friends, while each was hiding his real identity from the other. Rama (calling himself Raju) even helped Bheem (who called himself Akhtar) meet and get close to Scott's kind niece Jenny (Olivia Morris). When Bheem executed a bold attack on the governor's palace to rescue Malli, Rama had to stop it.

Nomaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju were real-life revolutionaries in India's fight against the British colonizers. They never met in actuality, and this film was just a fictional story by writer-director S. S. Rajamouli  about what could have happened if the two heroes became friends and fought side by side against their common enemy. Rajamouli conjured up the most elaborate scenes to show off the heroism of each man as individuals and as partners.

While Jr. NTR gave it his all as Bheem in true immortal hero fashion, it was Ram Charan (as the flashier Rama) who was riveting with his eye-catching, gracefully athletic moves and posturings as action star and dancer. Alia Bhatt was alluring as Rama's fiancee and inspiration, the beautiful and loyal Seetha. Ajay Devgn owned his moment as Rama's valiant father. Ray Stevenson struck a formidable screen presence as the sadistic Governor. 

The film was a grand 3-hour-long affair full of over-the-top brutal action sequences that defied the laws of physics, filled with all sorts of complicated stunts and fiery explosions, and even a stampede of computer-generated wild animals.  In true Indian film tradition, there were also colorful musical extravaganzas in the mix, with that joyously defiant Desi Naach dance showdown of our heroes against the snooty British guys as a glorious highlight. 8/10. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Review of NGAYON KAYA: Decided or Destined?

June 22, 2022

Rich pre-med student AM Fernandez (Janine Gutierrez) and poor working student Harold Coquia (Paolo Avelino) were the very best of friends. They first met in college, drawn together by their common love for making music. Upon AM's passionate suggestion, they formed a band together called AM/PM to perform their original material, Harold on guitar and vocals, and AM on the keyboard and synthesizer. 

After nine years of no contact, the two of them meet again at the wedding of common friends. Harold had immigrated to Canada and was now the manager of a restaurant there. AM did not push through with med school, and was working as a payroll manager of a firm. Their short reunion was marred by awkward silences. However, an unexpected glitch in travel plans gave them 16 more hours to reconnect. 

There is no argument that the camera loved both Janine Gutierrez and Paolo Avelino. They looked good the whole film, wearing whatever clothes in wherever location. There is no more doubting their abilities to act or to carry a film, as both have proven in previous films. Their romantic chemistry together had already been seen in their television series "Marry Me, Marry You." Audiences will care if they get together at the end or not.

This film really needed the charisma of its lead stars and potent musical soundtrack (with two classic songs by band Mayonnaise -- "Jopay" and "Bakit Part 2") to beef up its very simple plot of unspoken sentiments, missed opportunities and what ifs. Director Prime Cruz alternated scenes of present and past to give his familiar story a stylistic edge. The cinematography looked classy, but I did not like the unnecessary shaky cam in Act 3. 

"Ngayon Kaya" has the distinction of being the first Filipino film in wide-release after the pandemic. However, after two years of getting hooked on online streaming apps, we would want a film to be something worthy of spending for an expensive cinema ticket. This film is very well made and well-acted, but I could not help a feeling of familiarity, that I had already seen it before. Merely mentioning parallel universes does not really count. 7/10.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

HBO GO: Review of FATHER OF THE BRIDE (2022): Paternal Panic

 June 18, 2022

Prominent Miami architect Billy Herrera (Andy Garcia) and his wife Ingrid (Gloria Estefan) had two daughters. They were Sofia (Adria Arjona), now an attorney beginning her practice in New York City, and Cora (Isabela Merced), who wanted to start her own fashion business instead of going to college. However, for the past year, their marriage was on the rocks and the marriage counseling was not working, and fed-up Ingrid wanted a divorce. 

They planned to announce it to their daughters when Sofia came home to Miami for a visit. However, Sofia beat them to the punch by announcing that she was already engaged to be married to a fellow young lawyer Adan Castillo (Diego Boneta) and was planning to get married in one month before opening their own law firm in Mexico. Shell-shocked Billy had difficulty accepting how the couple wanted their wedding to be done.

This story of a father having trouble accepting that his daughter was already getting married already had two prior cinematic incarnations before. The first film (Oscar nominated for Best Picture, Actor and Screenplay) was released in 1950 with Spencer Tracy as the father and Elizabeth Taylor as his daughter. There was then a beloved comedy remake in 1991, starring Steve Martin as the father with Kimberly Williams as his daughter.

This new Latino version was quite a serious affair than what most people (especially fans of the humorous 1991 film) may be expecting, what with a cheerless Andy Garcia (who had an Al Pacino Godfather vibe going on) as the curmudgeonly father. He disappointment about Sofia and Adan eschewing a traditional church wedding and grand reception was doubled when Adan's ostentatiously rich father Hernan (Pedro Damian) was stealing his thunder.

It was great seeing Gloria Estefan again, though it was too bad she did not get to hear her sing. It was unfortunate that SNL comedian Chloe Fineman's wedding coordinator Natalie Vance was not as memorable as Martin Short's Franck Eggelhoffer. This remake was not entirely necessary of course, but a daughter's wedding will be a timeless source of anxiety, drama and conflict for all fathers, generation after generation. 6/10. 

Netflix: Review of SPIDERHEAD: Erratic Ethics

June 18, 2022

Spiderhead Penitentiary and Research Center housed convicted criminals who had volunteered to be research subjects in order to reduce their sentences. The lead researcher is charismatic Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), who was conducting experiments with various drugs together with his trusted assistant Mark (Mark Paguio). The inmates included Jeff (Miles Teller), Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), Heather (Tess Haubrich), Rogan (Nathan Jones), and others.

Among the drugs being tested by Abnesti were G-46 (Laffodil) which can induce laughter, B-15 (Verbaluce) to cause talkativeness, and N-40 (Luvactin) which can evoke feelings of love. However, when one experiment with I-26 (Darkenfloxx), which makes the subject feel extreme pain and suffering, went terribly wrong, suspicious behavior and careless actions soon caused Abnesti's "perfect" experimental design and set-up to unravel

Since convicted criminals as subjects forced to agree with any experimental drug given them or else be returned back to the State Pen, no Institutional Review Board (an administrative body established to protect the rights and welfare of human research subjects) in the world would have ever approved the experiments of Steve Abnesti on its questionable ethics alone. However, that is the main core premise of this dark comedy we need to accept.

Chris Hemsworth, with all the good will he had in him as an A-list actor, was not exactly convincing as the mad scientist Steve Abnesti, you can even call it miscast. He seemed unsure how to handle his character, unable to balance his self-image from altruistic to megalomaniac, coming up with someone confusing. But his line about beautiful people getting away with too much and him benefiting from time to time is right on the nose on this point. 

This film also had the talents of director Joseph Kosinski and actor Miles Teller, both fresh off the success of "Top Gun: Maverick." Filipino viewers will pay attention to Mark Paguio who was the Igor to Hemsworth's Dr. Frankenstein. However, the characters were all unlikable, the storytelling style was not too engaging, with a musical soundtrack which was too random (from yacht rock, new wave to Herb Alpert's "Rise"). Could've been better. 5/10. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Vivamax: Review of ROOFTOP: Puerile Prank

 June 17, 2022

It was semestral break at St. Benedict's School, and everyone has gone home. Lance (Marco Gumabao) and Ellie (Ryza Cenon) organized a party at the rooftop with the other four students who have decided to stay behind: Chris (Andrew Muhlach), Jessica (Rhen Escano), Martin (Marco Gallo) and Wave (Ella Cruz). They convince the two maintenance men Mang Ben (Allan Paule) and Paul (Epy Quizon) to grant them access to the forbidden area. 

However, their night of drinking and carousing came to a sudden end when a prank goes horribly wrong and someone fell off the edge of the building into the grounds below. The friends began arguing among themselves as to who was to blame and whether to report the tragedy to the police or not. They decided to keep the whole accident a secret until the morning when the cook Caring (Lui Manansala) came in. Then, the body began to move. 

Director Yam Laranas is known for his atmospheric horror films, like "The Echo" (2004), "The Road" (2011) and "Aurora" (2018), all of which he also did the remarkable cinematography. His camera skills for creating claustrophobic terror was still very evident in this latest work of his, though not exactly to the level of those aforementioned films. As with the usual formula, the hauntings were subtle at first, soon escalating into deadly confrontations. 

Cenon's enigmatic Ellie was supposed to be the level-headed girl, but she was the main proponent of the rooftop party and the prank gone wrong. Gumabao played up the stereotype of the rich spoiled jock Lance, while Muhlach was his willing wingman supplying the booze and the drugs. Escano stood out with her party girl vibe, but Gallo did not convince as a religious nerd, while Cruz was wasted as a simpering freshman. 

Epy Quizon adds to his array of quirky characters with his portrayal of Paul, the shy over-aged Agriculture student who worked as a maintenance man on the side, a ripe target for naughty privileged brats. He spent the majority of his onscreen time wearing creepy prosthetic make-up, with his skull caved in and his right eye popped out of its socket. Even so, he seemed to be enjoying his whole time as the vengeful spirit who terrorized his heartless bullies. 5/10. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Review of LIGHTYEAR: Tougher in Time

June 14, 2022

Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) was a dedicated space ranger under his leader and close friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). In one mission, Buzz miscalculated in the maneuvering of their Turnip spacecraft which ruined its hyperdrive mode. This accident caused their entire team to be marooned on that alien planet. Meanwhile, the guilty Buzz persevered in figuring out how to get the damaged hyperdrive functioning normally again. 

However, every unsuccessful attempt of Buzz to fix the hyperdrive (which only took a few minutes) would cost him four years of actual time. Every time he returned to home base failure after failure, all his colleagues have been moving on in their lives -- getting older, getting married, having families. One the day when his missions were to be terminated, Buzz's pet robot cat Sox (Peter Sohn) finally figured out the correct solution to the problem. 

The movie starts with a frame stating how it related to the original "Toy Story" film where we first met the character of Buzz Lightyear. In 1995, a little boy named Andy received a Buzz Lightyear action figure for his birthday. Buzz was a character in Andy's favorite film that year, and this was that very film. Aside from giving us a sentimental connection, this little preface also explained the retro stylings of the this film's story and art work.

Chris Evans voiced Buzz Lightyear as he played Captain America before. His voice gave Buzz that pure innocent heroic idealism that made us sympathize with his consuming guilt and root him on his quest for redemption. Always self-reliant, Buzz initially resisted the A.I. of Sox or his onboard computer I.V.A.N. (Mary McDonald-Lewis). However, his self-confronting experience here ultimately teaching him humility and the value of teamwork.

The showdown between Buzz and villain Zurg (James Brolin) brought back memories of their confrontation scene in "Toy Story 2". The plucky Junior Zap Patrol member Izzy (Keke Palmer) fit into the Disney-Pixar formula for heroines, as she faced her fears and learned her life lessons along with Buzz. However, the awkward humor of her more senior sidekicks Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) and Darby Steel (Dale Soules) did not fly too well for me. 

The vagaries of time were central elements of this story, so certain plot concepts could just fly over our heads. Time stood still for one character while everyone else was growing older and living their lives. Later on, one character at two different ages in life coexisted at the same time. These key points of the plot regarding time were very well-developed for all their dramatic worth, so just enjoy the ride instead of nitpicking for scientific accuracy. 7/10. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Vivamax: Review of SECRETS: Lustful and Lurid

June 10, 2022

Insurance manager Janine (Janelle Tee) and her boyfriend I.T. executive Christian (Benz Sangalang) drove a long way to spend a weekend at remote Ponciano's Beach and Resort. There they were met by its elderly caretakers, Mang Rading (Ku Aquino) and his mute (but not deaf) wife Elena (Sherry Lara). Later on, they also meet Elena's nephew Leo (Felix Roco) visiting from the city, and his local girlfriend, bar girl Felina (Denise Esteban).

Janine and Christian were at a critical stage of their relationship as both already have no passion left for each other. Initially, Christian easily bonded with the libertine lifestyle shared by Leo and Felina, while Janine was repulsed by their boorish behavior. However as time went on, boredom and suffocation soon gave way to hate and disgust as the lusty Leo slowly but surely wormed his way in between Janine and Christian. 

The picturesque scenery of the beach resort (located in remote Dipaculao, Aurora) was front and center of this drama film. As writer-director Jose Javier Reyes envisioned the sea to be the silent witness of events, cinematographer Jan Oliver Evangelista shot the powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean from all angles and these shots found their way incorporated by into many sequences, including the sex scenes, by editor Chrisel Desuasido.

The skill of veteran director Jose Javier Reyes in motivating his actors can be clearly appreciated here. Janelle Tee had been very dry and seemed ill-at-ease in her prior Vivamax roles, like in "Pusoy" (2022). However in this new one, her Janine finally felt like a real person. Denise Esteban and newcomer Benz Sangalang also gave natural performances. Felix Roco is the most senior of the lead quartet and his acting experience was evident. 

There were at least two totally random and unconvincing twists in the course of the story that do not seem completely logical to happen. Reyes has been an award-winning film writer and director from the 1990s to the present. We felt his writing prowess during all of those intimate conversation scenes in which the titular secrets were being revealed. As a whole though, this film also ended up following the lurid Vivamax formula of sex and violence. 5/10.  

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Netflix: Review of HUSTLE: Pushing the Promise

 June 9, 2022

Stanley Sugermen (Adam Sandler) had been the talent scout for the Philadelphia 76'ers for several years. Always out on the road somewhere tracking down promising young basketball players, he had been neglecting his wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and teenage daughter Alex (Jordan Hull). His brief promotion as assistant coach was cut short when the new owner of the 76'ers, Vince Merrick (Ben Foster), sent him out on the road to scout again. 

While in Spain, Stanley caught a game at a neighborhood court and marveled at the skills of a tall young player with intense eyes, a poor construction worker named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez). Stanley convinced Bo to leave his mother Paola (Maria Botto) and little daughter Lucia (Ainhoa Pillet) and go with him to the States for a sure shot at an NBA stint. However, Stanley's grand plans for Bo did not go as smoothly as they would like. 

This was a sports drama film, so more or less it followed the formula of all sports drama films before it. Success was elusive for a talented but troubled player who faced multiple obstacles. Then along comes a dedicated mentor who would direct him along the winning path. You can see the third act happening from the get-go, as well as the training montage. However in this case, even the mentor also had past and present troubles to overcome. 

After his recent brush with critical acclaim for "Uncut Gems" (2019), Adam Sandler is back with another dramatic role which can really make you stop and pay attention. This was not as dark as "Uncut," so he was able to infuse his familiar man-child style of humor more here. While basketball was in the backdrop of "Uncut," basketball was front and center here. You can feel Sandler's passionate love for basketball here, can't fake something like that. 

Best of all, it was amazing that most of the cast were actually NBA players. Playing the lead role of Bo Cruz is power forward Juancho Hernangomez, currently with the Utah Jazz, in a promising feature film debut. Anthony Edwards, shooting guard of the Minnesota Timberwolves, played the antagonistic Kermit Wilts, whose trash-talk got under Bo's skin. Former NBA point guard Kenny Smith played sports agent and Stanley's friend Leon Rich. 

On top of that, there were so many cameos of past and present NBA stars, led by Dr. J himself, Julius Erving. You will see real 76'ers like coach Doc Rivers, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey, Boban Marjanovic (in the hilarious opening scene), Dirk Novitzki, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Kyle Lowry, Jordan Clarkson, etc. There was also a reference to fellow Philadelphian Rocky Balboa whose film was the watershed of this subgenre. 8/10.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Review of JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION: Fitting Franchise Finale

June 6, 2022

(Poster courtesy of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)

It has now been four years after the events of "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," when dinosaurs were released on the US mainland by little Maisie Lockwood. Dinosaurs were now living alongside humans all around the world, and various problems arising from such co-existence were on the rise. Maisie (Isabella Sermon) is now 14 years old, and living as the adopted daughter of Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). 

One day, Maisie and Beta (baby of velociraptor Blue who lived in the woods outside Owen's house) were kidnapped and taken to the island of Biosyn (yes, the same biotech company behind evil Nedry in first film) which wanted to exploit Maisie and Beta being genetic clones of their mothers. Claire and Owen managed to track Maisie down to Malta, where they met ex-Air Force pilot Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) who helped fly them over on her plane.

(Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)

Meanwhile, Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) were investigating the mutant locust hordes which threatened the world's supply of wheat. She had traced the origin of these pests to BioSyn, and took advantage of Dr. Ian Malcolm's (Jeff Goldblum) connection to gain inside access into its labs. The paths of all our heroes, plus ever-present Dr. Henry Wu (B.D.Wong), soon intersect as they went up against the imminent genetic global threat.

Of course, the main draw of this entire franchise were the dinosaurs, and they did deliver. Aside from the traditional dinos, like the brachiosaurus, stegosaurus, triceratops, velociraptors, and the T-rex, we were also introduced several types of new mutant-looking dinosaurs, like those with fur or with feathers. The Gigantosaurus (the biggest carnivore dino) and the Therizinosaur (dino with long sharp claws) get featured prominently.

(Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)

The action can be fast and frenetic, like raptors chasing a truck and a motorcycle through the narrow streets of Malta, or the flying Quetzalcoatlus attacking a plane in mid-air, or that chilling Pyroraptor dino chasing Owen and Kayla over a frozen dam. And of course, there were those quiet, creepy, downright scary scenes, such as Claire submerging in a mossy pond to escape a tracking dino or Grant and company stumbling on hidden raptors lurking in a dark cave.

Easily the best thing about this film was the reunion of the original lead triumvirate of Neill, Dern and Goldblum, their first time together again since "Jurassic Park III" (2001). Neill was still as dashing as ever at age 74, and his scenes with Dern still had romantic thrills. In contrast, the "Jurassic World" duo of Pratt and Howard paled beside them. Pratt's signature style of dino-taming with his open palm practically becoming a running joke. 

(Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)

Joining the ongoing series of movie franchises heavy on nostalgia (from "Spider-Man" to "Ghostbusters" to "The Matrix" to "Top Gun"), there were a lot of throwbacks to the original Jurassic Park film which will sure make fans very happy. Aside from the lead actors and John Williams' theme music, there were several scenes which felt like remakes from the Spielberg originally, especially with the reappearance of deadly Dylophosaurs. 

Things got really long at the start with all the dino rustlers, black market operators, mercenary kidnappers, even an exotic woman in white.  Then, it was back to the same old ethical tug-of-war between genetic engineering and big business, which oddly shifted its focus on locusts of all things. However, as a fitting finale, this one still worked enough magic to end the whole franchise on a much higher note than its last two films. 7/10. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

Vivamax: Review of BREATHE AGAIN: Suffocating the Senses

June 3, 2022

Joanna (Ariella Arida) and Paulo (Ivan Padilla) had been going steady for seven years now. All her girlfriends are all getting married already, and her parents Dr. Stephen (Rey PJ Abellana) and Bridget (Liz Alindogan) are getting worried that she might miss the train. Aside from this personal stress, she was also under pressure at the job as a finance executive under her boss (Toby Martin) where she is up for promotion. 

One night, Paulo suddenly popped the awaited question, and Joanna accepted his proposal. To celebrate, he booked what was a romantic weekend at a beach resort for the two of them. However, when they were over there, Paulo would rather go motorbike riding with his friends and riding of another sort with Vivien (Jela Cuenca). Meanwhile, he left Joanna to take free diving lessons under instructor Robert (Tony Labrusca).

What was odd about this "romance" movie was that there was absolutely no romantic chemistry between any of the couples here. Joanna and Paulo felt poorly matched from the first time we saw them together, how could they have stayed together for seven years? We see all the red flags about Paulo and wonder why Joanna was putting up with him. The way Joanna nags at Paulo was just about as noisy as a fish monger in the market. Terrible.

I like Ariella Arida's Joanna only when she was on her own and free to express herself in her art. Every scene Joanna had with either Paulo or Robert, I felt bad for Arida. Padilla, as noted in his past films, looked bored and passionless as Paulo, even in his sex scenes with any of the women he had. Despite the "nobility" of his character environmental advocate Robert, actor Labrusca came across as self-conscious and full of himself. 

Director Raffy Francisco made sure we feel how suffocated Joanna was at that point in her life. From that tight bridesmaid's gown she was fitting in the first scene, to all those underwater diving scenes, the metaphor was clear. However, the story was just so trite and predictable, and the performances were so lazy (Padilla and Labrusca) or hammy (Abellana and Alindogan), you'll want to fast forward the whole thing to save your breath. 1/10. 

Review of MOTHERLY: Doting on Daughters

June 1, 2022

Kate (Lora Burke) was trying her best to make her daughter Beth (Tessa Kozma) happy on her ninth birthday.  However, Beth was being testy and moody, as she missed her father Brad who had been sent to jail for the brutal murder of a neighborhood girl. Apparently it had been Kate who turned him in to the police. 

Later that night, a couple of intruders broke into the house and held Kate and Beth captive. They turned out to be Mary and Lewis (Kristen MacCulloch and Nick Smyth), the parents of the murdered little girl. They were out to exact their revenge on Kate, whom they believed to be responsible for the crime all along. 

You knew from the start that this was going to be one tense cinematic ride. The opening scene had a girl sitting on the living room couch with her birthday cake in front of her, but looiming in the foreground was the mom with a scary-looking knife in her hand. From that first scene alone, we already feel the abnormal relationship of mother and daughter which was going to be further explored for the rest of the film.

Every character, especially Kate and even Beth, was flawed and unlikable, so you would not know who to trust. There were two families broken by the tragic events and both mothers were doing these things all for the love of their daughters. Most of the scenes were set in the bare claustrophobic house and its barn. The only time the camera left the house was when it followed witness-protection police officer Hal (Colin Paradine) in his car. 

There was a constant feeling of dread that hung over every scene and every character.  Director Craig David Wallace kept scenes stark and simple, just two characters on the screen most of the time, with the suspense sustained by the lighting, sound effects and the eerie musical score. He was able to keep us guessing and second-guessing throughout as more of the story unfolded twist after twist. 7/10.