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The Spotless Mind

Musings of a Non-Film Reviewer. I pay, I watch, I comment.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (Rian Johnson, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

Please tell me I wasn’t the only one totally shipping Kylo Ren and Rey. There was just so much sexual tension between them (good vs evil!) that their awesome lightsaber battle (set in scorching crimson red, of course!) felt very much like the kinkiest foreplay. They wouldn’t even need to bother with Skype because they could easily see and talk to each other via their minds (so Kylo just happened to be topless at one point, really?). My only concern was that even with the reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies, they could totally switch this up a few films from now. Let’s not forget that the greatest love team in this series ended up in incest (still not as eww-worthy as parts I-III, though).

Daming ganap. Even with multiple storylines and a 2.5 hour running time, in the end nothing much really happened and they just basically rebooted the entire franchise. It reminded me of these RPG video games with several side quests that although entertaining only served as a distraction to the main story. I guess it was a bit understandable though since the main story simply revolved around a Resistance ship trying to get away from the First Order. How many ways could you make a ship running out of fuel exciting, right? On the other hand, did we really need that lengthy casino scene?

Also, why did they have to make Luke Skywalker such a bitter, grumpy old man? I could imagine the crushed hearts of fanboys that waited a long time only to see him nonchalantly toss away his lightsaber (was that meant to be funny?). In one scene, he was even supposed to kill a young boy (horrors!). Why the sudden change? Was it because he kept drinking that spoiled-looking green milk from a non-cow creature? (Sabagay, an upset stomach creates a monster out of me as well.)

So those shiny crystal animals just happened to lead the group out to safety? How convenient! And I wasn’t a fan of those critters that were obviously included for easy laughs. Besides, was there anything funnier than a seemingly dead Princess Leia suddenly regaining consciousness and flying ala Superman in outer space back to her ship?

I felt bad that Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro were underutilized in this movie to give way for the Finn and Rose love story. It was a fun and cute caper, but that kiss generated as much heat as winter in Siberia. I was also a bit distracted because Rose looked very much like Ate Kimmy Go Donghae. Every time she would abruptly show up on screen, I expected her to scream, “May sale sa Lazada!!”.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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PENGABDI SETAN (SATAN’S SLAVES) (Joko Anwar, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

After the first twenty minutes of this Indonesian horror movie, I kept fiddling with my phone to change the assigned message tone for most of my contacts. I probably wouldn’t survive a possible heart attack if I heard bell chimes coming from text messages in the middle of the night. I wasn’t even sure why I forgot to do that after watching The Autopsy of Jane Doe, but the chilling ghost face of the dying mother here was enough reason not to forget this time.

Sadly, the movie couldn’t sustain the scares and resorted to the usual horror movie tropes, ones that we’d already seen in Rosemary’s Baby, Ringu, and even Paranormal Activity 4. By the time the undead rose from their graves with cotton balls up their noses, I was chuckling loudly from my seat imagining the late Chiquito’s comedy films of my childhood.

The deaf-mute demon child was also played by the most adorable kid that it was hard not to feel sorry for him. While his family members wanted him dead, I just wanted to reach out and pinch his cute, rosy cheeks. Good production values overall, though.

One scene involving a record that when played backwards revealed ancient (read: evil) chanting reminded me so much of the time when the Eraserheads was accused of blasphemy and satanic worship by the Catholic Church. I almost broke my Cutterpillow cassette tape trying to figure out how the backmasking thing worked (since Overdrive was apparently demonic). Believing fake news out of blind faith, now that was scary.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

MAID IN MANHATTAN (Wayne Wang, 2002)

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A Republican senator falling for a Latina maid would be even more of a fantasy now compared to when this fairy tale originally came out fifteen years ago. I’d be less surprised to see a movie with Jennifer Lopez as another Boy Next Door-ish cougar to Tyler Posey, who actually played her very young Bread-listening son here.

Poor Frances Conroy and the late Natasha Richardson were wasted as secondary caricatures, but even moreso the Actor Commonly Known as Voldemort. It was a bit uncomfortable to watch the dignified Ralph Fiennes trying his best Hugh Grant impression, made worse by his complete lack of chemistry with J.Lo. They obviously needed a dose of love potion from the Weasleys.

To be fair though, this movie (along with Miss Congeniality) had one of the most memorable makeover reveals in current cinema outside of the Anne Hathaway Universe (The Devil Wears Prada, The Princess Diaries, Les Miserables, err…). A radiant J.Lo in a pink strapless chiffon gown with a million dollar Harry Winston wreath necklace would be a maid’s ultimate dream. Well that and of course Gelli de Belen and her unlimited bikini collection in Ikaw Lang ang Mamahalin (Camiguin).

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

AROUND THE WAY GIRL: A MEMOIR (Taraji P. Henson, Denene Millner, 2016)

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In the 2016 Golden Globes where she won Best Actress in a Drama Series, Taraji P. Henson went full Cookie Lyon mode upon the announcement of her name. She spontaneously grabbed a handful of complimentary cookies from her table and started handing them out to everyone including Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio. She feigned an attitude when an usher accidentally stepped on her gown (“Get off my train!”) and said a mouthful when asked to wrap up her speech (“I waited twenty years for this, you’re gonna wait!”).

In this squeaky-clean memoir, it was obvious that the real Taraji wasn’t too far off from her beloved onscreen persona (less the crack and jail time, of course). It actually gave us a glimpse of all the hardships that she faced as a black kid growing up in a troubled home and how it shaped her into becoming a strong and successful woman of color in Hollywood.

Although admirable for its honesty, this book didn’t really strive to be more than inspirational. The later chapters skimped on her interesting life in showbiz. Where were the juicy details? Why was the best part about Squad Goals only a few pages long? It was also odd that everything in her life seemed to be very much like the films she made (and did we really need a synopsis of Baby Boy and Hustle & Flow every time they were mentioned?).

Hopefully her next book would be more “You want Cookie’s nookie? Ditch the bitch!”. Bring it, Taraji!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

BATTLE OF THE SEXES (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, 2017)

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Tennis was one of the very few sports that I actually cared about and watched live on TV, but I hadn’t seen a complete match since the heydays of my favorite player Michael Chang. While other kids my age were enjoying the (fake) entertainment of wrestling (then WWF), I was enthralled by all the drama on the tennis courts with Andre Agassi as the villain that I loved to hate.

The historic battle between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in the early 70s was way before my time and probably even before our family had an actual television. I didn’t know the result of that event and it was a testament to this film’s strengths that I almost chewed off all of my cuticles while watching them play against each other (even the old women around me were cheering loudly like we were at a Bingo Bonanza).

I felt sad at the thought that Emma Stone hit her peak during Easy A, but her performance here was definitely her best so far (yes, even better than her Oscar-winning one in La La Land). She had this one locker room scene where her character completely broke down in tears and you could actually feel the exact same weight of the world on her shoulders (the pressure of being a female tennis player demanding equal pay, the confusion on her troubled lovelife and its possible effects on her career, etc.). That red A embroidered on Olive Penderghast’s left boob definitely meant Actress.

Some people might not like this film for being a cheesy inspirational biopic (one gay character consoled a lesbian player with the thought that someday they could come out in the open and people would embrace them for what they really were) or for being terribly one-sided (male chauvinist pig vs hairy-legged feminist!), but I still enjoyed it and it brought me the exact same joy as watching Monica Seles defeat Steffi Graf in the French Open. Go underdogs!

Rating: ★★★★☆

DADDY’S HOME 2 (Sean Anders, 2017)

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Whenever the trailer for this movie was shown, the biggest laughs would come from the sight of a giddy, kid-like Will Ferrell giving his sweet old father John Lithgow a welcoming kiss on the lips at the airport. I thought that it wouldn’t be as funny anymore after seeing it one too many times, but it still had the exact same effect on me during the actual movie. With every kiss (yes, there were more!), I just laughed my guts out.

The same kind of juvenile humor was recycled all throughout (gender neutral flash cards for sex education!) and your enjoyment would probably depend on whether you had actually forgiven Mel Gibson (weirdly enough, making an a-hole character completely charming) for his antisemitic and racist rants. That or your tolerance for a sappy Christmas singalong in a theater with employees miraculously giving out free food and candies to everyone.

I really liked Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and I was in full holiday spirit during the screening. I lapped up every corny joke and got my money’s worth. Even John Cena’s singing wasn’t that bad after all! Now if only we could see him.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES (Raya Martin, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

One character probably summed it up best when he mentioned that the others may have seen one too many Hollywood crime films since there were no serial killers in the Philippines (hail Queen Jessica Zafra!). Although this adaptation of the Palanca-winning novel by F.H. Batacan had a distinctly Pinoy setting (what screamed poverty more than the Payatas dumpsite?), nothing else felt authentic in this slow-paced procedural slash disappointing non-thriller.

I couldn’t get past the unnatural dialogue between the two conyo Jesuit priests (Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero). When the latter said something like “Nobody raised a stink?”, I just wanted to make tungga a bottle of holy water. Although these served well during one Atenista joke, the English conversations just felt (what did you call it again, Holden Caulfield?), ah yes, phony. Don’t get me started on the unnecessary (oh look we’re multilingual!) French talk.

Even the themes didn’t exactly break new ground. Inefficiency of our local crime units? Politicians taking advantage of the poor? Abusive power of the Church? Pedophile priests? Where was Joel Lamangan when you needed him? Worse, the big reveal of the killer felt very anticlimactic with the introduction of a last minute character (and not in a menacing Kevin Spacey in Se7en way) whose motives and modus weren’t fully explained.

At least it had the budget for a competent all-star cast, lovely cinematography and terrific production design (that fully captured the grimy late 90s aesthetics). It also obviously wasn’t a rushed production with a pre-keto diet Mae Paner (and was that the late Joy Viado in one scene?).

I got bored during the sluggish killer confession scene so I just imagined a more interesting version of the movie in my head. I renamed Buencamino’s Father Saenz as Father Science since he was a forensics expert anyway and with all the victims’ missing hearts and genitals, he sought the help of Kim Chiu’s Mayen who already had an experience with monsters that shove organs down people’s throats. Chito Roño’s Smaller and Smaller Bagwas, anyone?

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

THELMA (Joachim Trier, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

When a photosensitive seizure warning was shown before this film, I felt a bit scared because our family had a history of epilepsy and I read online that this could be a latent condition triggered by intensive flashing lights. I made sure that I had my eyes closed throughout that lengthy, agonizing CT scan scene even if I didn’t usually cover my eyes while watching horror movies.

The intriguing opening sequence properly set the tone for this Norwegian version of Carrie. It involved a father, a young girl, a hunting rifle, and a deer. My heart was completely racing when the rifle was pointed instead at something that I didn’t expect. I wonder if PETA would support that decision.

I didn’t completely buy the themes of coming out slash coming-of-age vis a vis religious repression, but I really liked the stunning imagery used here (except for that clumsy Wikipedia part). The most chilling scene involved a search for a missing baby and its subsequent discovery under a frozen lake. Definitely the stuff of (parental) nightmares.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

WONDER (Stephen Chbosky, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

I would usually advise people to bring a box of tissues to an obvious tearjerker, but this time I would also suggest that you include a bottle of water. I was probably crying on every littlest thing from start to finish that I was completely dehydrated by the time the end credits rolled.

Hearing the thoughts and watching the experience of Auggie Pullman (wunderkind Jacob Tremblay from Room), a kid with major facial deformities trying his best to survive in the real world was just heartbreaking. He referred to his birth as a punchline in his parents’ lives. He walked the school halls face down to avoid the blatant stares. He was subjected to severe bullying and branded as contagious. One kid even asked if he only ate special food. Completely depressing stuff.

The magic of the film though was that even if it occasionally wallowed in emotional manipulation, it was still an uplifting and heartwarming story about love and support from family and friends and that whenever we’re given the choice between being right or being kind, we should always (always!) choose kind.

I really liked that the story was told from different perspectives and showed how the lives of the people around Auggie were affected as well. My favorite point of view was from his selfless sister, a teen that often felt neglected because her sibling understandably needed more attention and compassion. Why couldn’t we all be like her?

And could the Academy please give Julia Roberts a much-needed nomination for her fantastic performance as the patient and occasionally overbearing mother? The scene where she was explaining that our face was a map that showed us where we’ve been could have been incredibly cheesy, but it worked because of her innate sensitivity as an actress.

The film did need a bit more trimming especially towards the end and it would have been more realistic if it didn’t have such a clean resolution where everyone suddenly transformed into better versions of themselves.

Even Auggie will agree that at the end of the day, no matter how flawed we may be, we all deserve a standing ovation, at least once in our lives.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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