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The Spotless Mind

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

Category

Foreign – 2016

HACKSAW RIDGE (Mel Gibson, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Hacksaw Ridge:

1. I would usually go into an epileptic seizure whenever a blatantly religious film would smack me over the head with its outright themes of spirituality and salvation (refer to The Shack). Now here was the story of a soldier with such unwavering faith that he didn’t want to compromise his beliefs and principles (no to guns!) while trying to survive in Okinawa during bloody World War II. His only weapon of choice? Trust in God’s saving grace.

All of these should have easily resulted to an emergency room visit, but it surprisingly converted me into being a believer instead. Kindness in the face of adversity? Bravery even with the lack of power? Heroism amidst all evil? My faith in humanity was restored yet again all thanks to my new pastor Mel Gibson.

2. Early in the film, we got a glimpse on the kind of person Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, in a career-defining performance) really was. It didn’t come as a surprise when he later mentioned, “I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe.” And he did, in the process defying his violent father, his doubting colleagues, his arrogant superiors, and very much the odds of survival in war, while ultimately saving 75 more soldiers just on the strength of his faith alone.

It would be easy to dismiss this as the Hollywood version of the real story, but the basic facts could not be contested. Hearing the real Desmond recall his grueling experiences was just too much for my jaded heart to bear. In one scene, he visited his fallen comrades’ graves after being awarded a Medal of Honor (a first for a conscientious objector) and he simply said, “The real heroes are buried here”.

I ended up flooding the entire row J of CommerceCenter Cinema 2.

3. I honestly almost gave up on this after the first twenty minutes because it was initially headed into pure melodramatic territory with the domestic abuse plot before it veered into a sappy romance complete with a cloying proposal scene. Thank heavens Desmond was immediately sent to war because I definitely did not pay for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

4. The combat scenes were nothing short of spectacular. It had the expected amount of gore and carnage (torn legs! rain of blood! decapitations! intestines sprawled out!) that you would feel very much transported right in the middle of battle where bodies got thrown over grenades and broken torsos were used as shields from the shower of bullets.

My biggest pet peeve in action sequences was that with all of the necessary quick movements, one could barely decipher whatever was happening onscreen. This movie did not have that problem at all because it was very much like watching controlled chaos.

Nobody would even question those Oscars for Best Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Did we expect anything less from the director that made torture porn out of a Bible story in The Passion of the Christ?

5. Vince Vaughn should not be in serious movies because the more he tried to be un-funny, the more hilarious he looked. At least he made the most out of his character, spewing the nastiest throwdowns outside of the America’s Next Top Model house. My favorite ones were:

• “How long have you been dead?”

• “I’ve seen stalks of corn with better physique.”

• “Have you ever looked into a goat’s eyes? Good, that’s unnatural.”

5. Was I the only wishing for an Esprit de Corps moment? Yes? Really? Ok.

6. Standout scenes: the one where Desmond “buried” an injured comrade to conceal him from the ruthless Japanese soldiers and one could only see his eye peeking out from the ground, and the scene towards the end where he was being lowered via a makeshift stretcher while clutching on to his cherished Bible. Really powerful stuff.

7. One Japanese soldier raised the white flag and he was still shot to death. And that my friends is the reason why I still have major trust issues.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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ARRIVAL (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Arrival:

1. Whenever I watch these alien invasion films, I always find comfort in the fact that these creatures very rarely attacked our country. In this one, they sent twelve pods in twelve different territories and not even one bothered to settle in (or anywhere near) the Philippines.

They must have heard of the MMDA’s revised number coding scheme and decided that our nation did not have the brains to aid in world peace. Or maybe they found out about our aggressive and unforgiving war on drugs and it scared them because let’s face it, symbol-spewing squids floating in thick clouds of smoke sounded highly (stress on high) suspicious to me.

2. “If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?” Thank you for that wonderful question. I honestly had not given this much thought and if I tried to answer it now I would probably end up babbling even worse than Janina San Miguel (homaygahd!). What I really liked about it though was that it opened this discussion about free will vs destiny.

Regardless if one could turn back time or see the future, it signified that everything in our lives was a result of our choices. Nobody was predetermined to be single and lonely, it was ultimately your choice bes.

3. My brain would often short-circuit in these high-concept sci-fi movies (hello Interstellar!) so a Denis Villeneuve high-concept sci-fi movie was just overkill. I would not even pretend that I fully understood Enemy, but I really liked how it challenged every fiber of my being.

This one was a bit more accessible, with clues sprinkled very much like Easter eggs and scenes that you could easily recall and make you go “Ahhhhh” hours after watching. My favorite was the constant reference to the name Hannah (a palindrome) and how it tied up with the overall theme (and the lead character not believing in beginnings and endings).

4. Much had been said about the Oscar crime committed against Amy Adams (as cunning linguist Dr. Louise Banks), but at least she could sleep soundly at night knowing that she delivered the performance of her life. Every movement, every sigh, every tear, all played to absolute perfection.

5. Could someone explain why a caged bird was with them inside the pod? I initially thought it was used to determine if humans could breathe there, but then they never really took off their hazmat suits until Louise defied orders. Paging Sheldon Cooper!

6. Similar to the recent Miss Universe question and answer debacle, this clearly proved that proper communication and translation were critical in every situation. It could mean the difference between “offer weapon” and “use weapon”. And as one character stated, “Language would be the first weapon drawn in conflict”.

But it really wasn’t about being able to speak a particular language, but being able to influence and inspire other people. Oh, wait…homaygahd!

7. “I’ve had my head tilted up to the stars for as long as I can remember. You know what surprised me most? It wasn’t meeting them. It was meeting you.” So what would be the heptapod symbol for kilig?

Rating: ★★★★★

HIDDEN FIGURES (Theodore Melfi, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Hidden Figures:

1. Jimmy Kimmel in the recent Oscars telecast said it best when he introduced the amazing trio of actresses in this film as Algebra’s Angels.

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae portrayed Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson respectively, the real-life brains behind NASA’s space exploration program in the early ’60s. These women’s admirable display of courage and resiliency (and basically kicked ass!) amidst the blatant racial and gender discrimination in Virginia during that time was a story that needed to be told (“Every time we have a chance to move ahead, they move the finish line”).

As expected, I cried my heart out throughout the movie’s entirety. Surprisingly, none of it was because of the mathetical equations (elliptical vs parabolic!) written on the board.

2. Katherine was obviously a gifted child because at a young age she could identify all the various shapes (rhombus! tetrahedron!) on a window design even if I could only see pointed shapes and a swirling blob pattern. She reminded me so much of John Nash, another genius that saw symbols float from windows that led to his Nobel Prize.

As the adult Katherine, Taraji dialled down her famous feisty persona by several notches and it effectively worked in her favor. Cookie Lyon would never run half a mile just to pee in a colored bathroom so it was a pleasant surprise when this plucky side showed up in that outburst scene where Katherine, fully drenched from the rain and probably 10 pounds lighter from all the running, stood up to her supervisor (Kevin Costner) who questioned her long bathroom breaks (“I have to run to Timbuktu just to relieve myself!”).

Still surprised she didn’t get an Oscar nomination for that brilliant scene which fully summarized the hurt and embarrassment caused by segregation (colored bathrooms, colored coffee pot, colored fountain, colored seats at the back of the bus, colored entrance in buildings, unbelievable!!). And yes, I cried even more when Costner took a sledgehammer and knocked down that bathroom sign (“Here at NASA, we all pee the same color”). Bring a box of tissues!

3. Given the heavy and serious themes, the movie still managed to wring out laughs from all of the tension. Most of the humor came from the scenes with Janelle (who actually channeled Cookie) and whose character Mary couldn’t care less what the others thought of her liberal ideals (“I have the right to see fine men regardless of color”).

Weirdly enough, I couldn’t hold back my tears even if some scenes were played for laughs (again, all the running done to the bathroom was just heartbreaking). This inspirational film couldn’t be accused of emotional manipulation if all of my pain was self-inflicted, right?

4. “No shoe is worth a life.” This obviously happened pre-Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo.

5. If there was one thing I wasn’t too fond of, it was the amount of time devoted to Katherine’s lovelife. I knew it was meant to humanize her considering that she was a walking computer, but we could have done without it. At 127 minutes, the movie obviously needed a bit of trimming.

6. I really loved the slice of pie reference made to Octavia. I probably held off on eating chocolate pie for a full year after seeing Minnie’s recipe on The Help.

7. Were those huge contraptions the first IBM computer models? They actually looked like the scariest dialysis machines. Kids these days are just way fortunate (read: entitled).

8. Kirsten Dunst played her bitchy supervisor role so well that I wanted to slap her Legal Wife-style when she made Dorothy look like a custodian and asked her to push those heavy files back using a steel cart. Oh, the nerdddddd!!

Speaking of, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) naturally played the head engineer. Not surprised at all that the cast won the SAG for Best Ensemble.

9. So happy to live in a time when these women are hidden figures no more. Nothing can trump that feeling. Oh, wait…

Rating: ★★★★☆

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (Stephen Frears, 2016)

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My notes on Florence Foster Jenkins:

1. I remember reading this incredibly malicious yet equally juicy blind item about a popular local young star who ordered that hundreds of mannequins be placed in her concert venue to mislead the general public in believing that she actually had a sold out show. It sounded incredibly silly when I first read it, but after seeing this movie, it might not have been too far-fetched.

Florence (Meryl Streep, a hoot) was a rich socialite in the ’40s who clearly thought of herself as a really talented opera singer (in reality, the New York Times dubbed her the Worst Singer in the World). Without her knowledge, her husband St. Clair (a terrific Hugh Grant) would often pay a select group of audience members to cheer and applaud during her shows (one old lady even said “I don’t hear very well, but I know Madame Florence is magical”).

It must be true that what the eyes don’t see (or the ears don’t hear?), the heart doesn’t grieve over.

2. I really liked the fact that St. Clair (I thought it was Sinclair up until the end credits rolled) was also an unsuccessful artist (he moaned over the fact that he had never played the lead in Hamlet). It was like watching two losers who were bonded by their failures find happiness in each other. His blatant love and respect for her (notwithstanding a mistress on the side) also made his being an enabler a bit more understandable.

3. With a voice that defied medical science, one could easily conclude that Florence was the Anne Curtis of her time, but the biggest difference was that Anne acknowledged the fact that she couldn’t sing that well (or to some people, at all). Florence might have shared the exact same passion but she was simply oblivious to her blatant lack of vocal skills.

Even worse, she was surrounded by greedy (practical?) people that were all in on the joke. On the flipside, would you rather be the heartless cynic willing to speak the truth and crush the dreams of a dying old lady?

4. I suddenly missed the American Idol auditions where contestants entered the room like they were the second coming of Adele or Beyoncé, but ended up instead as part of the show’s gag reel because they couldn’t hit a single note. Were their delusions of grandeur coming from vainglorious egotism or enablers from home that declared them the best singers ever?

Search for Mary Roach, James Lewis, and Isadora Furman. You can thank me later.

5. Momma Meryl obviously had a lot of fun in the role and this would probably be what the late Julia Child sounded like while singing in the shower. In one scene, she had the audacity to stop a pianist from playing because he was “raping her ears” and it was made even funnier delivered by the greatest actress of all time pretending to be the worst singer of all time. Her final aria (with the realization that people were laughing at her) really broke my heart.

With all of that said, Amy Adams was robbed of an Oscar nomination.

6. “People may say I couldn’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” Sounds like a good tagline for the next leg of the Annebisyosa Tour.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

WHY HIM? (John Hamburg, 2016)

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My notes on Why Him?:

1. Bryan Cranston obviously earned enough goodwill from Breaking Bad that allowed him to headline inane comedies like this and still keep his star status and self-respect (or at least his four Best Drama Actor Emmys). Although he would forever be known as the iconic Walter White, he actually displayed some wonderful comic timing playing Hal in Malcolm in the Middle. This movie could have been a welcome break from playing a morally reprehensible character (and being intentionally funny for a change), but seeing him get sprayed on the face by toilet water from a high-tech bidet was just too embarrassing.

2. I had always wanted an updated remake (read: millennial version) of Father of the Bride (a concerned father being overly protective of his unica hija) and I thought this was going to be it. Instead, this played very much like a reverse Meet the Parents with the entire family trooping over to the mansion of the fiancé (a spacey James Franco, prone to showing his ass and pubes) who also happened to be a tech millionaire (so rich that he owned an art installation of a dead moose suspended in its own urine). Gross? Yes. Funny? Not really.

And as expected, everybody would be drowning in that pool of urine and somebody would also unfortunately (?) discover the meaning of teabagging.

3. Top Chef: All-Stars winner Richard Blaise was here as Franco’s personal executive chef and he served the weirdest dishes like edible soil with plankton foam and edible paper with bear meat. It was a funny stab on artisanal menus and mostly worked. Seeing Cranston chew on newspaper clippings reminded me of the time I ate a lot of the White Rabbit rice paper (too hard to remove, why bother?).

4. “Don’t touch anything!” was the exact same warning my mom would tell us whenever we would visit another person’s house. Sound advice given that those wooden spoons hanging on the wall might actually cost thousands of pesos.

5. In one scene, Cranston was trying to figure out the password of Franco’s laptop so he tried all sorts of dirty combinations (“StephaniesAss”). It reminded me of the time when I would receive the new passwords of my associates that got locked out of their systems and I would be shocked to see that their old ones were “sextoy123”, “dwn2fck” or the direct to the point “iluvsex”. All of them got the spanking that they deserved.

6. Hearing Caley Cuoco as the Siri-like voice system of the mansion made me realize that I still hadn’t fully decided on who should narrate my life story. I just scratched off Morgan Freeman from the list because he had done almost everything. I guess that left me with the wonderfully deep and scratchy pipes of Shohreh Aghdashloo. Unless of course that SM Malinag kid wasn’t available (“Twee dey seyl! See yo dorr!”).

7. In this Pornhub era, does anyone still not know the meaning of double dicking and bukkake? (You don’t? Stay away from Google! NSFW!)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Resident Evil: The Final Chapter:

1. When a movie promised to be the final chapter and still ended with a scene that was a complete set-up for another sequel, it wouldn’t be any different from opening a box of KFC with a measly original recipe leg part even if the store specifically agreed to deliver a hot and crispy breast part.

I would never ever be fooled in watching another entry from this trashy series again. (I’d still order from KFC though, because well, KFC.)

2. Since this was supposedly the final chapter, it started with a recap of the events from the first 20 movies with another explanation on why the T-virus was created. Apparently, mankind should be grateful because it served as a cure for progeria (a condition that worked like a reverse Benjamin Button).

I then remembered watching this documentary about a girl named Ashley who had the same sickness and I felt bad that there wasn’t a real T-virus (or zombies, for that matter).

3. Speaking of, the initial zombie attack here happened inside a cable car and I thought that it would take the 28 Weeks Later route (hey, the videogames had always been about getting the crap scared out of you in a zombie apocalypse). Unfortunately, it decided to be the next Matrix and focused on Alice’s revenge and subsequent infiltration of the labyrinthine The Hive.

4. Perennial Golden Raspberry nominee Milla Jovovich summoned the spirit of Keanu Reeves (or probably Kristen Stewart, in one of her good moods) and thankfully wasn’t required to do much except shoot her gun and look cool on a motorcycle.

5. A lot of the nifty action sequences were rehashed supposedly as an homage to the previous chapters, only they weren’t as effective (I was happy to see that they brought back the moving laser beams but I wanted to see more than just fingers getting sliced off).

Besides, with all the flash cuts, dim lighting, and nauseating editing, it was just too hard to decipher whatever action was happening onscreen.

6. In one scene, several rounds of machine gun ammo and heat missiles were fired, but none of them even came close to hitting our heroine. Cue Invincible by Kelly Clarkson.

7. “The trinity of bitches united in hatred.” Also known as Regina George, Gretchen Wieners, and Karen Smith.

8. Although a bit contrived, it was interesting to see the two POVs determining the success rates of different options (choice of weapons: ice pick, decanter, phantom pen). I actually wished that there was an app that worked the exact same way.

Dear app, what food could fully satisfy my midnight cravings?

• McDonald’s 2 pcs. Mushroom Pepper Steak Meal (68%)

• Jollibee Chicken and Spaghetti Meal (82%)

• KFC Fully Loaded Meal (91%).

I really hope they would get my order right this time.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

THE GREAT WALL (Zhang Yimou, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Great Wall:

1. I wish I could say that this movie proved timely given the current political climate, but putting meaning into all the spectacle would be giving it too much credit. Ooh, a great wall trying to prevent the invasion of foreigners in this post-Trump times? Wow, a white guy saving these poor Asians? There were so many possible metaphors, but all of them were drowned out by the need to create the most majestic battle sequences.

2. I actually missed the old Zhang Yimou, the gifted storyteller that effortlessly broke my heart with films like Raise the Red Lantern, Not One Less, and The Road Home. Sadly, most of his recent works (House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower) seemed to focus more on style instead of substance and this one was no different.

Athough one couldn’t deny his visual flair (that stained glass scene simply looked gorgeous), a lot of the action onscreen didn’t really serve much purpose except to showcase how good Yimou was in filming a shower of flaming arrows (that he already used in the far superior Hero).

3. How else to explain the scene where women wearing Beauxbatons outfits bungee jump with spears to kill a horde of monsters, bounce back up, and then plunge down again (mostly to their deaths)? Whoever thought of this stupid mode of attack (and why women?) should have been thrown first over the wall.

Sure, the camera swooping down with the female soldiers was visually arresting, but my brain wanted to explode from all the silliness (Oriental Cirque du Soleil whee!).

4. Burning questions:

• When the general died, were those the Encantadia brilyantes that he left behind?

• Why do people still light sky lanterns when they very well kill sea turtles? (Only asking for an environmentalist friend.)

• Was that Darren Espanto playing the young emperor?

• Why were the monsters (called Taotie, sounding like a delicious dim sum) scared of magnets like they were made out of credit cards? And why did they only attack every 60 years? Which monster kept a calendar to keep track of time?

5. Matt Damon looked completely lost in this movie, like he was asked to do a skit in a Chinese version of Saturday Night Live and he could barely keep a straight face while delivering lines like “We are honored to be honored”.

At one point he said, “We really do smell”. Yes Matt, this one was a real stinker.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

SPLIT (M. Night Shyamalan, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Split:

1. I wasn’t even surprised that M. Night Shyamalan (arguably the King of Twist Endings) decided to tackle dissociative identity disorder in his latest movie. Having a character with multiple personalities seemed like such a convenient way to mess with his audience’s brains. Except that the lead character Kevin Wendell Crumb’s (James McAvoy) condition was already revealed in the trailer so one was left to wonder what else he had up his sleeve.

Without completely spoiling the ending, let me just say that the reveal was nowhere close to what I expected, but it still felt like a huge letdown for such an interesting premise.

2. McAvoy looked like he was really having so much fun in the role of a man with 23 (and counting) different personalities. He was so good that he single-handedly played every character of John Cusack and company in the movie Identity.

My favorite persona was nine year old Hedwig (“Etcetera!”) that required him to do his best impression of Sean Penn in I Am Sam. A rewatch of Atonement should definitely be in order.

3. I liked that the three girl victims initially didn’t simply cower in fear and wait for a saviour (“That’s victim shit! The only chance we have is if all three of us go crazy on this guy!”).

What I didn’t like was that when they were faced with the actual threat, they still reacted like any of the dumb blondes that were viciously mocked in the Scream film series. Seriously, who would hide inside a locker to escape a predator? Or grab a walkie talkie and just stay inside the same space with the man that you’re running away from? Or helplessly cry in an isolated room and wait until the very last minute to find a way out? Anyare mga bes?

4. If it wasn’t blatant enough that the lead victim Casey (Anna Taylor-Joy of Morgan) was a survivor in life, we had to see a back story involving her tragic childhood of sexual abuse. I was surprised they didn’t purchase the rights to use Destiny’s Child’s Survivor as a theme song. Too expensive?

5. Worst cameo: Shyamalan himself as a security guard proclaiming that for Asian people, music aids digestion. I would like to suggest Yakult instead.

Best cameo: Bruce Willis as David Dunn, naturally. Unbreakable (the cracked glass on the poster should have been a giveaway!) has always been one of my favorite superhero films and although it was a stretch to link these two movies, it was still a refreshing nod to the pre-hack Shyamalan days (please note, I really liked his last film The Visit).

6. Speaking of, I was reminded of Unbreakable in the scene where Kevin placed flowers outside the subway that I secretly wished he wouldn’t turn out to be an accomplice of Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price (aka Mr. Glass). At least half of it came true.

Also, was I the only one reminded of Red Dragon during The Horde’s beastly transformation? Will this be the start of a Shyamalan superhero universe ala Marvel? Can we have someone with mental health issues be the hero next time (Casey!)?

7. “The broken are the more evolved.” Wow, so there really was a silver lining in all of those failed relationships!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

PATRIOTS DAY (Peter Berg, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT?

My notes on Patriots Day:

1. When Paul Greengrass’ United 93 first came out, I remembered having this lengthy discussion with my friend Trena on whether it was appropriate to create a film based on actual tragedy. Since it came out five years after 9/11, I felt that enough time had passed for everyone involved to heal and a film like that could deliver an important message to a wider audience. Her stance (she’s American btw) was that it was never too soon to make one, it just should never be made at all out of respect for the victims and their families.

I completely understood her point while watching this movie based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. I may have lived thousands of miles away yet I was still greatly affected by everything that happened onscreen. I couldn’t even imagine the actual survivors watching this and reliving the horror again.

On the other hand, the film’s strong themes on love, hope, and resilience of the human spirit (the Boston Strong interviews during the end credits made me bawl my eyes out) supported my belief that it was a story worth retelling on the big screen.

In the end, I walked out of the theater still having mixed emotions about this.

2. I was also torn on the obvious distinctions between the heroes and villains in the movie, especially since this was based on a true event. It painted the terrorists (Middle Eastern Muslims) in such a bad light that I seethed in my seat and cheered along with everyone when these savages were subjected to severe brutality. But then how else to portray them if these were the actual facts?

One character perfectly summed up this sad reality: “The accusations are gonna come no matter what we do.”

3. Even if everyone knew how the story would end, this was actually still a very effective thriller. My heart was pounding through my chest when one of the bombs was placed near a pram and I stifled a scream when they were finally detonated. I couldn’t look at the carnage after (broken limbs everywhere!) and the thought that this happened in real life further crushed my already tired heart.

4. There were several scenes here that were viewed through various CCTV footage and my first thought was “Sorry Peter Berg, but Pamilya Ordinaryo did it first.”

5. Don’t we all hate blatant local product placements? Well, Dunkin Donuts had a mini-commercial of its own in this movie. Was it just a coincidence that their slogan’s “America Runs on Dunkin”? Hmmm…

6. I was pleasantly surprised to see Silicon Valley’s Jian Yang here and he definitely had the most crowd-pleasing moment with the line “Go catch those motherfuckers!”.

7. In one sequence, the FBI recreated the actual crime scene in a huge warehouse using specific items from the victims. It then made things easier for them to determine the actual stores with exterior cameras that captured the events real-time, including possible leads. I was completely impressed with this process especially since our local policemen still use toy cars (kotse-kotsehan) to reenact vehicular accidents.

8. It was later revealed that the terrorists apparently watched a lot of porn during their free time. I guess now would be the best time for me to reevaluate my priorities.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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