MOVIE REVIEW: SNOWPIERCER (Bong Joon-ho, 2013)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Snowpiercer:

1. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed this film. From the dull title to the seemingly tacky poster, I thought it would be a terrible B-movie at best. It ended up as a stylish and ambitious futuristic English film from a French novel and Korean director. Mindblown.

2. I guess I just really appreciated the vision of Korean filmmakers. I started last year with Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker and loved it as well. Great minds.

3. I rarely liked action films but this one just belonged to a different genre. There were equal parts suspense, violence, and comedy.

4. In an alternate universe, Tilda Swinton would get an Oscar for this film. The “Be a shoe” speech alone was just pure brilliance.

5. I’m happy I knew little about the film. Every time an Oscar nominee or winner showed up, I squealed with delight. They were all perfect!

6. I’d shut up now before I spoil it for you guys. The less you knew, the better. (I fear that it’s an acquired taste, though.)

Rating: ★★★★★

(Originally published January 30, 2014.)

AMERICAN SNIPER (Clint Eastwood, 2014)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on American Sniper:

1. In one powerful dinner scene, Chris Kyle’s father said that there were three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. The sheep were peace-loving and usually prone to oppression; the wolves were violent, lacked empathy, and preyed on innocent beings; while the sheepdogs might show signs of violence but only to defend the weak and oppressed. So which one were you?

2. Bradley Cooper played Kyle, a real-life Navy Seal sharpshooter. He threw on several pounds for this role and looked really batak onscreen. He was good but maybe overpraised with an Oscar nomination.

3. I was reminded so much of the pre-Dota online community game, Counterstrike. I sucked at it while the rest were really skilled with their headshots. I could still remember my clammy hands on the keyboard, heart racing with excitement, while anticipating the opponents’ next moves. This movie offered the same kind of exhilaration and the same fear of pulling that trigger. Only this was real life with real people (some kids) involved.

4. I rarely cover my eyes when I watch a movie. Not even in horror movies. The only time I do it is when it involves needles, or an open heart surgery. I couldn’t remember how many times I had to look away while watching. The scenes with the mother and kid holding a grenade and the other kid holding a bazooka literally left me on the edge of my seat.

5. Although the effects of PTSD were understandable, I think it was tackled much better in Homeland (and yes, Damian Lewis actually gave a stronger, more nuanced performance).

6. That slo-mo bullet money shot. Wow.

7. The movie ended abruptly with just a few sentences filling in the blanks of his death. Even the closing scenes focused more on celebrating a hero and overreached in terms of sentimentality. And then I remembered that this was a Clint “Million Dollar Madison County Baby” Eastwood movie. All was forgiven.

Rating: ★★★★☆

MOVIE REVIEW: POLICE STORY 2013 (Sheng Ding, 2013)

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My notes on Police Story 2013:

1. Wait, I thought Jackie Chan had retired and his last movie was Chinese Zodiac? Well, I guess not.

2. You watch a Chan movie for the stunts and you never ever get disappointed. He’s in his late 50’s and he still kicks ass (literally).

3. The movie was probably meant to be seen in 3D with all the broken shards and shrapnel and wood shavings flying towards the audience.

4. Jackie Chan does drama! And he’s actually good in his crying scenes. Several girls seated next to me had to reach out for their hankies.

5. The plot was preposterous to say the least with a character going to all lengths for what turned out to be a simple misunderstanding. (Don’t worry, a plotless movie cannot be spoiled.)

6. Stay for the end credits. One scene showed Chan’s dedication to his work. I hope he never retires.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published January 28, 2014.)

MOVIE REVIEW: ANNIE (Will Gluck, 2014)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Annie:

1. The movie opened with a typical Annie, a tiny freckle-faced Caucasian redhead, reading a report on former US Presidents. The teacher then called the real Annie, played by Quvenzhane Wallis, a smart and spunky African-American. I loved this wink, wink opening because Wallis was just too adorable in the lead role. I was also happy with the color blind casting because the role of Annie had nothing to do with her skin color anyway.

2. When I heard the teacher call Annie B., I immediately thought Annie Batungbakal and I started humming the theme song and imagined Nora doing a song and dance number (“Sa umaga, dispatsadora. Sa gabi, siya’y bonggang-bongga…”).

3. For a musical, most of the production numbers felt lacking. The only one I truly enjoyed was It’s The Hard Knock Life. Everything else felt joyless. Even the classic Tomorrow wasn’t memorable since it just had her walking the streets of Harlem. Why bother with a remake?

4. Cameron Diaz can be funny whenever she goes bat-shit crazy in her movies. Here, her campiness only served as a distraction. She was just irritating all throughout. Even her musical number was horrible. Do you still remember her singing “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” in My Best Friend’s Wedding? She sang exactly like that in the most grating voice ever. Only here it wasn’t played for laughs.

5. Blatant Purell product placement. No better than a Kris Aquino movie. (“Product placement keeps the movie business afloat!”, said one character.)

6. The viral video of Jamie Foxx saving Annie was all wrong. How could it have different takes and taken from two different angles when it was supposedly shot by an onlooker?

7. I love Rose Byrne, I really do, but she should not be allowed to sing again. Hey, why was this musical populated by terrible singers given their own musical highlights? All it needed was Russell Crowe.

8. The updated version had Annie with a Twitter account and saved by Instagram. Groan.

9. I felt bad for Sia. I actually liked “Opportunity”.

10. The final act had a last minute twist, a villain that never really got his due, a final conflict, and a quick resolution that led to a song and dance number by way of Mother Lily. Ugh.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published January 28, 2015.)

MOVIE REVIEW: MORTDECAI (David Koepp, 2015)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Mortdecai:

1. After a string of box office flops, has Johnny Depp’s quirkiness finally overstayed its welcome? Sure, he was hilarious (and even Academy-nominated) in his famous roles as Jack Sparrow, The Mad Hatter, Willy Wonka, and Sweeney Todd. But after playing one campy role after another in recent movies (pasty-white vampire in Dark Shadows, bumbling Native American in The Lone Ranger, and virtual data dust in Transcendence), is it finally time to say enough is enough? Can we have the old, normal Depp please?

2. Mortdecai looked like a career killer (if The Tourist wasn’t bad enough) and this could be the final nail on the coffin. It was a terrible, incredibly corny, infantile, unfunny “comedy” that didn’t even come close to the comedic genius of the Austin Powers movies (yes, even the worst one in the series).

3. Unfortunately, the movie came on the heels of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Depp here was no Ralph Fiennes.

4. Why would a well-trimmed mustache trigger a gag reflex anyway? And how many times did they have to repeat that gag on the gag reflex? How many times did they have to repeat almost all the lame jokes? Did they have to repeat them over and over? Repeat pa more.

5. Aside from Depp, this movie also had Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn, and Jeff Goldblum. Imagine that awesome pool of talents wasted in an embarrassing movie.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

(Originally published January 28, 2015.)

MOVIE REVIEW: BORN BEAUTIFUL (Perci Intalan, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Born Beautiful:

1. Originally planned as a series on Cignal TV, this spin-off of the 2016 critical hit (and a personal fave) Die Beautiful was supposedly the first five episodes of the show turned into a full-length feature. Although the decision was understandable given the material’s commercial appeal, this also served as its main weakness. The transition from TV to film resulted into some messy storytelling (several arcs felt stretched to fill an episode), underdeveloped characters, the lack of a clear resolution (a lot of people would definitely find the ending bitin), and some surface-level views on weighty issues. Even worse, we didn’t really get to know more about everyone’s favorite BFF Barbs, except that she made funny “arf arf arf” sounds during sex.

2. I was very disappointed that Christian Bables didn’t reprise his Urian-winning role because he would always be the Barbs that we deserved. It was such an effortless and lived-in performance that was sorely missing in this movie (plus the fact that the original relied on the wonderful chemistry between him and Paolo Ballesteros’ Trisha, who sadly only showed up here for a couple of scenes including a killer Mama Mary moment).

Martin del Rosario was fine as Barbs 2.0, but under all the wigs and make-up (and occasional tucking) it still felt like a committed Martin del Rosario playing Barbs 2.0. And would it be weird to say that he was just much too beautiful for the role? If Barbs (hello Taong Lego?) looked this gorgeous, then she wouldn’t be playing second fiddle to Trisha and would actually be winning all the beaucons instead.

3. While Die Beautiful presented a clear picture of Trisha’s character with her childhood dream of becoming a beauty queen, growing up in a homophobic household, and being subjected to all forms of abuse, this sequel focused on Barbs being torn between two men (and facing possible fatherhood). Medyo mababaw lang.

I would have wanted to learn more about Barbs’ personal life, including her goals and motivations, or how she coped up with her best friend’s death, or even how she learned (or what inspired) all those make-up transformations. I guess her new and improved face only merited a love triangle plot.

4. To be fair, there were still a lot of enjoyable (read: LOL) moments here. I found it smart that they were able to connect the Jamby quip in the first with Barbs’ identity confusion problems in this one (“Mukha kang tomboy na nag-aalok ng Bear Brand!”). I cackled with glee when she mentioned that Kim Kardashian’s look cost 3.5k and the 350 version was for Kim delos Santos. And should I feel guilty that I laughed at the sight of the stroke victim’s corpse and after Barbs covered it up with a Lady Gaga circa 2009 MTV Video Music Awards kukur look (“Mukha siyang malaking regla at ikaw ang pasador”)? Or that the beki friends recommended a Rihanna transformation for their other friend that died from electrocution (“Dahil lang sunog, kelangan na negra?”) and ended up with a Sia walis-tambo look (“Sia Pusit!”)? Maybe not.

The lamest humor came from the tired beauty pageant introduction segment. Seriously, how many more times should we hear that rehashed “Seventy-eight, seventy-nine, Haiti!” joke before it gets permanently banned in Pinoy queer cinema?

5. Aside from Barbs, the Michael Angelo 2.0 character had a nose lift that resulted to a face overhaul and was now played by Artista Academy’s Akihiro Blanco. It felt odd that he was one of the men fighting over her when he was the ex of Trisha in the first film.

Wait lang Barbs, tumulong ka sugurin ang karibal ni Trisha, tinawag mo na ahas, nakipagsabunutan sa parlor, pagkatapos tinalo mo rin sa dulo ang BFF mo? Hindi talaga lahat ng ahas nasa gubat. Yung iba nagtatrabaho sa Happy Endings Funeral Homes. (Kaya ka rin siguro laging minumulto ni Trisha! Malandi, haliparot, talipandas!)

From the rest of the supporting cast, I really loved Lou Veloso back as Mama Flora (“Ang gugulo n’yo. Mag-chupaan na lang tayong lahat!”), Joey Paras as one of the Way of Light pastors, and Chai Fonacier as the baby mama Yumi. What happened to the other beki BFFs from the first film, though?

6. I really appreciated some of the witty ways the film expressed its views on current issues like the death penalty (“People can change for the better”), gender neutral bathrooms, single-blessedness (“Hindi mo naman kelangan ng partner para maging reyna”), abortion, and open relationships. That entire conversion therapy bit was also brutal (literally and figuratively) that many overzealous faithful would probably get triggeredt.

7. In one scene, Yumi was graphically describing how she ended up getting pregnant through some vulgar words and hand movements. It was meant to be hilarious (and probably one of the movie’s highlights), but ended up getting completely ruined by all the bleeping (even the subtitles were censored!). Please note that the version I watched was already rated R-18, or For Adults Only by the tasked moral guardians.

I just found it funny that one of the promotional materials for this film commended the MTRCB for being “progressive”. Totoo ba? Saang banda?

Rating: ★★★☆☆

MOVIE REVIEW: THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (Ben Stiller, 2013)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty:

1. It was so scary how much I could relate to this movie. It was like watching my life unfold onscreen.

2. “My life is one big daydream”. I couldn’t stop the tears. Why was I even crying?

3. And then I was laughing like a madman with that Benjamin Button bit.

4. These places looked gorgeous. I just added Greenland, Iceland, and the Himalayas on my bucket list.

5. Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig were just too good. One could sense their characters’ sadness behind those smiles.

6. Loved, loved, loved the soundtrack!!

7. I just kept smiling through all tears.

Rating: ★★★★☆

(Originally published January 25, 2014.)

MOVIE REVIEW: BLACKHAT (Michael Mann, 2015)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Blackhat:

1. The movie opened with a great sequence showing information traveling from various circuits and transistors until it finally triggered an explosion in a nuclear reactor.

2. After that scene, basically nothing happened onscreen for the next thirty minutes. That was one incredibly long bathroom break. I couldn’t believe this was from the director of The Insider, Heat, and Collateral (oh, wait).

3. Do you remember those badly-dubbed Chinese movies shown every Sunday morning on Channel 9? This movie had its own version of that. Only the Chinese characters were speaking Chinese. And it was still badly-dubbed.

4. Lust, Caution would always be one of my favorite Ang Lee films. I was so happy to see Tang Wei and Wang Leehom reunite here. Watch that movie and not just for the good (wink, wink) parts, ok?

5. Poor Viola Davis had to wear a horrible wig. She’s a lovely and smart woman. Why did she allow this kind of treatment from Hollywood?

6. Speaking of hair, how did Chris Hemsworth maintain that perpetually brushed up hair? Did they have industrial hairblowers in prison?

7. I loved the Asian tour with the movie jumping from Hong Kong to Macau to Malaysia and finally to Indonesia. I’d never seen Kowloon Station ever deserted, though.

8. One crowd scene had men pointing guns at each other and people barely noticing. It needed a gunfire before the stampede started. Really?

9. So many IT jargon. My head almost exploded.

10. If you want an exciting digital age thriller, you’d be better off watching the cheesy Sandra Bullock flick The Net. I couldn’t believe it was shown twenty years ago.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published January 25, 2015.)

MOVIE REVIEW: GLASS (M. Night Shyamalan, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Glass:

1. Unbreakable was supposedly a play on the yin and yang elements between superhero David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and villain Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). One was just discovering his superpowers (and in turn his kryptonite: water!!), one was searching for his polar opposite slash ultimate foe (blowing up trains and buildings in the process), and both of them were trying to determine their purpose in this world. Although Elijah’s story was integral to the whole superhero lore, his evil character still played a supporting role to the real bida of the first film.

I was really excited to hear that the third installment to this Eastrail 177 Trilogy was called Glass because it should place his character front and center (considering that the movie was named after him, right?). Well, not exactly. He didn’t even show up until almost an hour into this bloated movie. If I were a secondary character in my own film, I’d probably feel the need to create a lot of chaos as well.

2. Even worse, it gathered three really interesting superhero comic book characters (that also included Kevin Wendell Crumb aka The Beast and twenty-something plus other personalities called The Horde, all played by the terrific James McAvoy) and decided to keep them locked up in a psychiatric facility for majority of the running time. They were only set free to interact with each other during the final act showdown (and yes, one of them actually explained how a showdown worked in comic books for the non-nerds) which still made little sense.

Side note: When we had some American clients come over for a visit, they were creeped out when I informed them that they would be staying at The Bellevue Hotel Alabang. One of them later on explained that Bellevue’s a popular mental hospital in the U.S. At least her family and friends had a good laugh when they learned where she was checked in.

3. Sarah Paulson played a doctor straight out of her American Horror Story wheelhouse who kept trying to make the three believe that they were merely suffering from delusions of grandeur. Wait, who was she trying to convince? It couldn’t possibly be the audience that knew the truth from the first two films. Oh, it was all just a setup for the requisite twist in the end with the Clover Chips Organization.

Also, given the nature of these patients, why was security so lax in that place? If Elijah (with the most brittle bones and in a wheelchair) could easily get out of his room, shouldn’t they have more people manning the place? Oh, also part of the twist. Pfft and pfft!!

4. It was a treat to see a grown up Spencer Clark (wink, wink). I just wish his acting skills matured as well (that wide-eyed kid look could only take him so far). He did have one of the funniest lines here when he mentioned the catchphrase, “We’re gonna salt bae your ass!”. Now if only Robin Wright returned as well… (It was nice to see some of the old/unused footage from Unbreakable, too.)

5. The lines that made me cringe:

• “Only the true version of love can heal (him).” Eww! So all this time, Kevin could have been cured by true love’s kiss? What’s next, Elijah proclaiming the wonders of a happy working song?

• “You’re fighting for the broken. You found your purpose.” Not enough space for the eyeroll emojis.

• “This is not a limited edition. This was an origin story the whole time.” Keep explaining for the non-nerds at the back, Elijah!

6. The lines that made me happy:

• The cool delivery of “First name Mister. Last name Glass”.

• “Have you ever been to a comic book convention? They sell teen TV shows there!” LOL!!

7. Burning questions:

• Wait, so Elijah Price who wanted to be the best (or worst?) antagonist in the world ended up as a hero? Why??

• How deep was that puddle?

• Was I the only who thought that every single one of The Horde personalities would get a chance to have its own tearful goodbye? (That was a really long dying scene, no?)

• In that final train station scene, how did they know it was the CCTV footage that was going viral and not say, the news about Kim and Kanye’s new baby?

8. M. Night Shyamalan created his own cinematic universe so he made sure of his Stan Lee-like cameo in almost every one of his movies. Or was he trying to be Hitchcock instead? (Insert possible twist here.)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

MOVIE REVIEW: ALPHA: THE RIGHT TO KILL (Brillante Mendoza, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Alpha: The Right To Kill:

1. You know how sometimes we would say something that wasn’t an outright lie, but wasn’t completely honest either? How we would do this to try and avoid any possible confrontation or drama because we knew that people would get upset with the truth? Well, I think I just watched the movie equivalent of a white lie.

Similar to his controversial Netflix series Amo, this newest “internationally-acclaimed” film by Brillante Mendoza couldn’t be accused of being blatant propaganda, but it wasn’t an accurate depiction of our country’s current war on drugs either. It wanted to appease both the DDS (the policemen had every right to kill these addicts!) and anti-DDS (look, corrupt cops ruining the system!) all while flashing disclaimers at the beginning and end that: a) it wanted to “present reality with no intention of maligning or besmirching the integrity of police officers”, and b) this was a “complete work of fiction and any similarities to actual people or events were purely coincidental”. It even had the audacity to state that “the task of ending corruption needed our utmost cooperation and that change should start with us”. Ermm-kay.

2. This was shot in Mendoza’s signature shaky cam style (read: gritty!) so newcomers should come armed with a dose of Bonamine taken an hour before the screening. Trust me, you would need it because several scenes involved a lot of running in eskinitas and on rooftops (like a more chaotic and migraine-inducing version of Buy Bust).

3. I saw this foreign language film several years back called Maria Full of Grace where a poor (literally and figuratively) girl named Maria (naturally!) was forced to become a drug mule. She had to swallow dozens of these drug pellets that needed to be transported from Colombia to New York and she was chosen because her pregnancy would exempt her from the x-ray inspection. Imagine carrying that much paraphernalia in your belly (along with a fetus!) with the possibility that any of them could rupture any time. Que horror!

No drug pellets were swallowed in this one, but the mules used were in the form of fruit (kawawang mangoes!), pigeons (lalong bumaba ang lipad ng kalapati!), and even baby diapers (shudder!). Yes, one drug pusher actually used his baby (unfortunately named Neknek) to deliver drugs so the movie made sure that he was severely punished for this horrific crime (kebs na daw sa human rights and due process, mamatay na lahat ng mga adik!).

4. Allen Dizon (dependable as always) was the sole corrupt cop here. Everyone else was just doing what the law required of them to do. In one scene prior to a swat operation slash drug raid, one officer said, “Gagawin natin ito para sa bayan at para sa mga susunod na henerasyon!”. I couldn’t remember exactly, but he just might have been one of the awardees of the Medalya ng Katapatan sa Paglilingkod during the closing ceremony attended by real PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde. His team deserved a commendation because they were able to properly arrange a row of dead bodies (all nanlaban).

5. The head drug lord that was protected by a community of users and pushers (“Di lang livelihood, cottage industry na ito!”) was played by Baron Geisler to further lose every ounce of sympathy from the viewers and force them to collectively moan, “Gahd, we hate drugs!”.

6. There were a few (both intentional and unintentional) comic moments here that did make me laugh. One pusher with blonde curly hair was nicknamed Santo Niño. In another scene, an officer was documenting the events that transpired earlier while banging furiously on his desktop keyboard, but the words on the monitor were not moving.

But the funniest one had to be the poem that was recited by a kid towards the end of the movie that went “Pulis ang aking tatay. Tapang na walang kapantay. Tagapaligtas ng ating bayan. Blah blah blah kaayusan ay ating makamit.” Was it called Oda sa Wala?

7. So the entire moral of the story was that as long as people didn’t do drugs, they would be fine (PNP: We gotchu fam!)? Wow, I feel extra safe living in this country already!!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆