THE BEGUILED (Sofia Coppola, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

Superb performances, strong production values, a few terrifically-staged scenes, and, well, not much else really. If this weren’t an adaptation, the story probably would have worked better as a short film.

It actually had a bit of a Misery feel because all I saw were these horny and repressed girls fawning over a nice, good-looking man and then punishing him for not sleeping with every one of them. Sure, he could have used his good moral judgment, but they were literally throwing themselves at him. Why was it his fault? Was this supposed to be feminist in a Bad Blood way? Look what you made them do, Colin!!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

(Originally published September 10, 2017.)

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IT (Andy Muschietti, 2017)

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Complete fan service (like Abrams’ The Force Awakens). As a huge Constant Reader (aka Stephen Kingnatics), I was very satisfied with this adaptation (I’ll discuss specifics in my spoiler-filled notes).

If you’re expecting the usual scares (similar to Muschietti’s Mama), you’ll probably end up disappointed. If you really liked Stand by Me (or even Stranger Things), expect the same kind of engaging storytelling and fun nostalgia. If you have coulrophobia, don’t even bother watching.

Rating: ★★★★☆

(Originally published September 7, 2017.)

47 METERS DOWN (Johannes Roberts, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

It’s the kind of dumb and trashy fun flick meant to be seen on the big screen even if you’d feel a bit duped after watching (see: The Shallows).

I really loved that money shot involving a trio of sharks and a lighted flare (although I actually screamed during a Jaws rip-off scene). Ending was a bit of a cop-out.

Dear parents, please do not bring your young kids to watch this. There were a number of them in the screening earlier and when the cage started to plunge in the abyss, all of them just simultaneously started crying. Poor babies were probably scarred for life and would never even swim in a pool.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

(Originally published August 27, 2017.)

ANNABELLE: CREATION (David F. Sandberg, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

Worked very much like the first Conjuring movie with a bunch of young girls getting terrorized in a haunted house.

The first half was actually a good origin story with a few well-thought-out jump scenes (if you’re expecting the usual cheap scares, you’ll probably fall asleep during this part).

The second half was a bit of a disappointment, with the movie recognizing that it needed to up the fear quotient and bombarded the audience with standard horror movie cliches.

Created the right mood and atmosphere with some fine performances by the kids. The movie also successfully connected itself to the whole Conjuring-Annabelle-Valak universe.

Ooh, and the real Annabelle doll! Cool easter egg.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

(Originally published August 24, 2017.)

ROUGH NIGHT (Lucia Aniello, 2017)

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Very Very Bad Things. Absolute trash (with a morally objectionable plot and resolution), but I really enjoyed it. The world needs more Kate McKinnons and Ilana Glazers.

“I can’t go to jail! I couldn’t even make it through the first episode of Orange Is the New Black!!” 🤣🤣🤣

Rating: ★★★☆☆

(Originally published August 13, 2017.)

BAD GENIUS (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Bad Genius:

1. One of the lowest points in my high school life (or even my life in general) was when I got caught cheating (along with three other classmates) in an exam. It was quite the scandal because we were part of the Honors Class (or as one of our teachers called us, “the Cream of the Crop, pweh!”). Unlike this film though, that incident didn’t involve an elaborate set-up, high stakes, huge amounts of money, or even a hidden kodigo written on an eraser. On my end (the others had reasons of their own), I just matter-of-factly checked with another classmate if we had the same answer on a specific item of a crossword-type quiz. Unfortunately for us, one of the moral guardians (aka chu-chu) in class informed our teacher about it.

Back then, I couldn’t understand why we had to be severely punished for something that (to me) didn’t really constitute cheating. We were even asked to stand in front of the class, very much like modern-day adulterers on trial (kulang na lang meron kami cardboard sa leeg stating “Mandaraya! Wag tularan!”) challenging the crowd to cast the first stone (ironically, some of our classmates that did throw stones and reminded everyone on the importance of good values were the ones that blatantly cheated in exams but were never caught; more on this later).

Anyway, we were reprimanded with a failed score in that test, a C- in Conduct, and our Catholic souls promptly delivered to the devil for eternal damnation. Suffice to say, I fully learned from that experience and never cheated my way through an exam ever again.

2. When I initially saw this film several months back, it functioned as an effective thriller about students scamming their way in a national exam. Even to this day, I would have these nightmares resulting to cold sweats for not knowing the answers to a random multiple choice exam and it was probably the closest feeling that could describe this viewing experience. Every sequence that involved flinging shoes, two sets of exams, piano codes, and hidden cellphones in the toilet had the same level of excitement slash anxiety as any heist flick directed by Steven Soderbergh or Edgar Wright.

A second viewing though revealed a much deeper take on morality; how seemingly righteous people could be swayed into the dark side and how perfectly flawed characters could find redemption. The juxtaposition of Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, in a stunning film debut) and Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul) spoke volumes on how external factors (social inequality, intelligence as a form of power, capital-driven labor system, among others) could ultimately define/shape a person’s morals/values. That bridge scene where they stood above the stop and go signals was simply, well, genius.

3. Although I was impressed with how the piano lessons were incorporated into the cheating scheme (the highlight was when Lynn used the same method to memorize all the STIC answers), I found it hard to believe that her intellectually-impaired classmates could keep up with her fast-moving fingers (and even had to “transmit” answers the same way to the rest of the group). Surely there must have been easier gestures/signals that they could have utilized instead.

Going back to my morally upright classmates that I mentioned earlier, one of the techniques that they used to memorize the correct answers was the folding of their fingers. We would usually have these short quizzes that consisted of ten True or False questions and what they would do was fold every finger that corresponded to every False answer (based on the leakage of their friends that took the test before us). While our teachers thought that they were just fooling around and making alien-like gestures, everything was set for them to get perfect scores. Except of course in long quizzes and finals when they would lack enough digits (toes included) to fold for a 100-item exam.

4. I really liked how the story utilized the infinite reflections whenever Lynn was faced with a moral dilemma (the opening interrogation, the escalator scene before agreeing on the STIC scheme, and her final application on her chosen college). Nothing screamed introspection more than a character looking at all her possible identities in a mirror.

5. For a film burdened with such serious themes, the occasional stabs at humor helped keep it a bit lighthearted. I had a good laugh at the following: 1) when Lynn’s father brought a box of her trophies and medals when they were talking to the headmistress (probably something that my mother would also do), 2) when everyone who answered set 1 stood up at the same time to submit their papers, 3) when someone referred to Pat (Teeradon Supaponpinyo) wearing a turtleneck and giving a rousing speech as Steve Pat, and 4) weirdly enough, when Lynn held her pencil like a weapon before heading to the STIC exam room.

On the flip side, I couldn’t hold back my tears during these scenes: 1) when Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan) mentioned “If I had half your brain, I wouldn’t do something this stupid”, 2) when Bank gave Lynn a nod during his interrogation scene before realizing that he was on his own, 3) when Lynn went all Teddie Salazar in the airport and confessed everything to her father, and 4) the subsequent waiting hall scene with him assuring her that “We’ll get through this”. You’re not crying, I am.

6. The weakest aspect here that really strained credulity was the extended chase scene with Lynn after she threw up on her test (why didn’t anyone even hear her gagging in the first place?). When her phone started getting kicked around and Pat and Grace lost their phone’s signal, it was just too many coincidences happening to be believable. Even if you dismissed the fact that she was being chased by the Terminator, did she really have to drop that phone in a stranger’s bag? How would that be considered a clean trail? Seriously, these amateurs should have consulted my morally upright classmates.

7. “Even if you don’t cheat, life cheats you anyway.”

a) True
b) False
c) Saklap besh

Rating: ★★★★☆

LADY BIRD (Greta Gerwig, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Lady Bird:

1. Whenever my mom and I would have an argument, her go-to line of defense was “Pinapasok pa naman kita sa Catholic schools…”. Which might also be her disappointed way of saying that this early, my soul was already burning in hell. Sometimes I’d wonder what happened to me as well. Did I not learn anything from all the years of Christian Living classes from grade school to high school plus the twelve units of required Theology in college? Were these schools being oppressive in shoving religion down our young throats that some of us ended up being rebellious? Or was I just being pa-cool in thinking that these teachings were way beneath me? One thing was for sure, though. My mother would always be in Church every Sunday to pray for my burning soul.

2. I really loved the depiction of the mother-daughter relationship here. When the film opened with Christine aka “Lady Bird”(Saoirse Ronan) and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) bonding over an audiobook of The Grapes of Wrath inside their car, it was a picture of love and happiness. In a matter of seconds, the harmonious atmosphere turned into a passive-aggressive verbal showdown with one of them jumping out of the moving vehicle. It was hilarious, frighteningly real, and completely relatable. Seriously, how many times have we considered flinging ourselves outside of a car just to avoid the nastiest sermons from our mothers? Getting run over on a highway would probably hurt less than hearing the worst sumbat coming from them.

3. The screenplay (also by Greta Gerwig) was infused with so much wit that I was reminded of Juno (the one where Ellen Page played a heavily opinionated pregnant teen) and peak Diablo Cody. Some of my favorite lines were:

• Lady Bird speaking the truth: “The only thing exciting about 2002 is that it’s a palindrome.”

• Marion on sticking to the shopping budget: “That’s what rich people do. We’re not rich people.”

• Brother Miguel when her date arrived to pick her up for prom: “Lady Bird wants to make an entrance. She’s mad we don’t have a spiral staircase.”

• Sister Sarah during the school dance: “Six inches for the Holy Spirit!” (Thank goodness I went to a co-ed school!)

• Post-sex Lady Bird after learning that her boyfriend (Timothée Chalamet) wasn’t a virgin: “I was on top! Who the fuck is on top their first time?”

• Boyfriend’s response as consolation: “You’re going to have so much unspecial sex in your life.” (Soooo true!!)

4. Hand in my Pocket, Crash Into Me, Cry Me a River, The Crossroads. The soundtrack of my life.

5. Ronan was terrific in the lead role (acne and all). Although she had some noticeable slips with her Irish accent, she fully captured the essence of Lady Bird that I was crying along with her when she received the school letter saying that she was waitlisted.

Metcalf was the perfect foil for her, with every line and movement capturing the mother we all loved and hated. Her airport car scene alone that didn’t require any dialogue, just her face showing a range of emotions, deserved an Oscar nod. She wasn’t even in the scene with the letters and I kept thinking about her and bawled my eyes out.

And what else to say about Chalamet exuding so much charisma that I just brushed off the fact that his character climaxed after just five seconds?

6. On her eighteenth birthday, Lady Bird excitedly purchased a pack of cigarettes and a copy of Playgirl. I could easily relate because I spent my entire teenage years wishing to be eighteen so I could finally watch an R-18 film in cinemas. (Wait, did you think that I wanted my own copy of Playgirl?)

7. Essential viewing if your mom’s also your best friend. Watch it with her and share a box of Kleenex.

Rating: ★★★★★

I, TONYA (Craig Gillespie, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on I, Tonya:

1. Very much like Tonya Harding, I had always used my asthma as an excuse to get out of any sport requiring physical contact (or just about any sport really). Maybe that was the reason why I never had any interest in basketball or baseball or soccer, not even volleyball. Although I watched a little bit of tennis, the events that made me switch channels from HBO to ESPN involved gymnastics (more artistic than rhythmic) and figure skating (ladies’ singles mostly).

There was just a certain level of excitement while waiting for these tumbling and spinning girls to properly stick their landing. For me, these two were the only things that made the quadrennial Olympics worth watching (plus diving, but for different reasons obviously).

2. My favorite figure skater of all time would have to be Michelle Kwan since she was able to perfectly merge the technical and artistic requirements of the sport (her signature spirals were to die for!). I also loved her personality and would never forget her inspirational line when she ended up second in Nagano (“I didn’t lose the gold. I won the silver!”).

My other favorite would be Surya Bonaly, the infamous bad girl of skating who would always raise a middle finger to the judges with her illegal, signature backflip. Will & Grace actually had an episode devoted to her and it was one of the funniest in the series.

3. Which brings me to the villains of figure skating, the women that I really hated and secretly wished that they would land on their butts after their salchows and axels. One would be Tara Lipinski, who never did anything bad really except that I found her incredibly annoying. The other would be convicted felon Harding, who was definitely involved in the kneecapping of close competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

4. I still remember that incident like it was yesterday, the images of a wailing Nancy breaking my heart into pieces. So I was really surprised when that exact same scene was recreated here and my reaction was… a giggle. I knew that I was going straight to hell because of that, but it was just too hard not to let out a guilty reaction when it was played for laughs and it was detestably, weirdly funny.

Maybe that was the entire point of this “irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true” story. It wanted to change the perception that Harding wasn’t just the spoiled diva that whined about her loose skates in Lillehammer, that she was also a victim of circumstances and had no involvement in the crime. I never believed any second of this film, but it successfully made me cry. And laugh. A lot. And full of guilt.

5. Most of its success relied on the phenomenal, career-defining performance of Margot Robbie. She looked nowhere near the real Harding (and reminded me more of Jamie Pressly), but she made the character more understandable. You could see her motives and weaknesses and how some of her faulty choices were due to an overbearing mother and a troubled marriage (that included domestic violence). It was very much like watching Black Swan on ice, except that only the star’s career died in the end.

This woman blamed everything from puberty to her faulty laces for all the disappointments in her life, and yet I still felt an ounce of sympathy for her. Again, a pure testament to Robbie’s acting. Her courtroom scene alone when she learned the verdict that she was banned from skating again was simply heartbreaking (“I’d rather do the jail time!”). Feeling bad for a criminal? A testament to the power of this film.

6. “Behind every successful woman is a pushy mother” had never been more true. As Harding’s mother, Allison Janney was vicious, despicable, and relatable to any Asian kid that had a Tiger mom. I was thankful that I didn’t have to pee in my pants because my mother didn’t allow any bathroom breaks during my karate lessons and I never had a knife thrown at me for talking back at her, but I knew exactly where LaVona Golden was coming from (her line of “Oh please! Show me a family that doesn’t have their ups and downs” after that knife scene was a killer.) She even actually complained directly at the camera (so many breaking the fourth wall moments here!) with “Well, my storyline is disappearing. What the fuck?!”. How could you completely hate her (bird on shoulder and all)?

7. Whenever Harding would compare herself to some of the most popular people (“I was the second most known person in the world next to Bill Clinton!”, “I was the Charles Barkley of figure skating!”), I was reminded of the same delusions of grandeur displayed by Nicole Kidman as Suzanne Stone in the equally wicked To Die For. (Go watch!!)

8. I really liked how this was so loving and brutal at the sport as well. One judge said something like this to Harding, “It’s never been entirely about skating. You’re not the image we want to represent” and I realized how unfair the scores could be to these athletes. Judged for your personality and not just your performance? They never had this problem in basketball.

Rating: ★★★★★