MOVIE REVIEW: SON OF GOD (Christopher Spencer, 2014)

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I learned more about the Bible watching those Sunday cartoons Superbook and The Flying House.

Before you start stoning me to death, here are my notes on Son of God:

1. Regardless of one’s faith (or lack thereof), The Bible is such a great source of inspirational stories. You can take any section and make an interesting movie out of it. You do not cram everything in a 2.5 hour film, though. It will just be a disaster.

2. The biggest problem in this movie was Jesus and the actor (Diogo Morgado) who portrayed him. I mean why was Jesus boastful, mocking, and defiant in this version? He was like, “Look at me, I’m performing miracles!” It was nothing short of blasphemous.

3. The original source was a 10-hour miniseries from the History Channel and it was obvious. The movie was just badly-edited and jumped from one important event to another. It ended up more like “The Best of The Bible”.

4. Anybody who came from a Catholic school could easily identify the inaccuracies here. And sometimes they were just too infuriating.

5. I didn’t even know that Pontius Pilate was having an oil massage while Jesus was being crucified. And there was even an earthquake immediately after Jesus died. We must have skipped over those in our Christian Living classes.

6. When the movie introduced Barabbas, I remembered Dely Atay-Atayan from John en Marsha. I never forgot the bad guys in the Bible because of her famous “Hudas, Barabbas, Estas!” expression.

7. What spoilers?!

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

(Originally published April 6, 2014.)

MOVIE REVIEW: JOHN DENVER TRENDING (Arden Rod Condez, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on John Denver Trending:

1. Kumusta na kaya si Amalayer Girl? Nung 2012 pa pala nag-viral yung video niya ng paninigaw sa isang security guard sa LRT Santolan station. Alala ko noon na ang daming bwiset na bwiset sa kanya (kabilang na ako). Siguro kasi iniisip natin kadalasan na maarte kapag pa-English English ang isang Pinoy. O siguro kasi ang feeling natin sa kanya eh mababa ang tingin niya sa mga blue-collar workers. O kaya kasi mahilig lang tayo mang-down ng ibang tao to make us feel better about ourselves. Yung lagi tayong tama, mabuti at busilak ang kalooban at yung mga nasa viral videos na yan eh deserve ang bullying kasi masasama ang ugali.

Napakadali para sa atin mag-judge ng iba habang nakatago sa harap ng mga computer at phone screens. Attack agad lahat ng keyboard warriors (aka toxic kuyog culture) kahit di pa alam kung ano ang totoong story. Puro mura, puro pintas, minsan may death threats pa na kasama di lamang sa taong involved kundi pati sa pamilya nito. Nakakalungkot na ganito tayo ngayon sa panahon ng social media.

(And sobrang hypocritical lang na ang sunod na posts ng iba eh Bible quotes or suicide prevention hotlines. Puh-lease!)

2. Medyo similar ang nangyari kay Amalayer at sa bida dito na si John Denver (Jansen Magpusao). Pinagbintangan siya ng mga kaklase niya na nagnakaw ng iPad pero ang nahagip lang ng video eh nung binubugbog na niya ang kanyang classmate. In-upload ng isang mokong sa Facebook (“PASIKATIN NATIN ANG GAGONG TO… LIKE AND SHARE HANGGANG UMABOT KAY TATAY DIGONG!”) bago tuluyang mag-viral. Umikot ang buong pelikula sa epekto ng cyberbullying kay John Denver at kung paano nito sinira ang buhay niya at ng kanyang pamilya.

3. Malinis ang pagkakalahad ng story. Nagustuhan ko na kahit ang daming not-so-subtle hints na hindi siya ang nagnakaw (yung charger na lang ang naiwan sa classroom nung pumasok siya, yung bag niya na hinalughog, yung mga construction workers na padaan-daan sa mga eksena), bilang manonood mapapaisip ka pa rin hanggang dulo kung kinuha ba niya talaga ang lecheng iPad na yan.

Lumabas ang pagiging judgmental ko lalo na at hindi naman siya ulirang kabataan. Napaka-flawed ng character niya (ang lakas ng tawa ko nung inalaska niya ang isang classmate na hindi naman memorized ang Lord’s Prayer) kaya may second thoughts pa rin kung maaawa ka sa pinagdaraanan niya.

4. Inspired ang casting kay Jansen lalo na at hindi siya trained actor. Bumagay yung rawness ng performance niya dun sa innocence ng character. Ang lakas ng star quality niya sa big screen. May ilang eksena lamang na medyo pilit ang emosyon (para sa akin kinulang siya dun sa crucial scene na tinakpan niya ang mukha niya para humagulgol) pero bawing-bawi kapag natural lang ang batuhan niya ng mga linya with his mother (Meryll Soriano). Yung itsura nung mukha niya dun sa ilog pagkatapos dumugo ang ulo ng nanay niya, sobrang sakit sa loob panoorin. Ramdam yung guilt sa lahat ng nangyayari kaya di nakakagulat yung choice niya sa dulo.

5. Pero grabe halimaw din si Meryll sa actingan. Sa sobrang huge fan ako ni Maricel Soriano eh napaisip talaga ako dito kung mas magaling pa siya sa auntie niya. Nung andun sila sa principal’s office tapos sinabi niya yung line na parang “Eh bakit kayo naman, sir. Kung sabihin ko na may shabu ang brief n’yo, ibababa nyo ba?” gusto ko mag-standing ovation sa sinehan. At nung sinabi sa kanya na may record ng violations (including theft) ang anak niya na di niya alam, para akong si John Denver na gusto ko na lang matunaw sa kinauupuan ko. Ultimo pagpunas niya lang ng pawis sa mukha after pagsasampalin ang anak eh sobrang nuanced. Napakahusay!!

Ang minor quibble ko lang ay yung spotty accent niya. Although na-explain naman na hindi siya tubong Antique, ang obvious lang kasi nung disconnect ng pagsasalita niya sa kanyang anak. May isang beses pa na nahaluan niya ng “so” ang sinasabi niya kaya medyo na-distract ako sa eksena kasi out of character.

6. Wala lang yun sa dami ng scenes na tumagos talaga sa puso ko (meaning more ngawa ako diba) lalo na kapag naka-focus sa simple moments nilang mag-ina. Naiiyak pa rin ako kapag naiisip yung part na sinubuan niya ng flower icing ang nanay niya matapos siya tawaging “animal!” (ang ganda ng pasok ng haunting score dito huhu). Bulakbol siya pero sweet naman pala. A few seconds lang pero ang daming sinabi tungkol sa kanila at sa kanilang relationship.

Pati yung tahimik silang naglalakad sa may dalampasigan tapos bakas sa mukha ni nanay yung frustration, embarrassment, at disappointment pero mahal na mahal pa rin nya ang anak niya kaya nasasaktan siya para dito. Durog na durog ako dun.

7. Maganda yung paggamit ng symbolisms dito. Yung mantsa sa uniform niya na kahit anong kuskos niya ay hindi matanggal. Parang Scarlet Letter lang na naka-tattoo sa noo niya na nagsusumigaw na “MAGNANAKAW!”. Yung kahit anong explain at defend niya sa sarili eh wala naman naniniwala at tuluyan nang nabahiran ang reputasyon at buong pagkatao niya. Tapos nung flag ceremony siya lang talaga ang namumukod-tangi na hindi gumamit ng Tide kaya nag-stand out ang naninilaw niya na suot.

Maganda rin yung juxtaposition na ginamit sa power of chismis lalo na dun sa kapitbahay na sinasabing aswang. Minsan mas malala pa sa bala ng baril ang mga salitang lumalabas sa isip at bunganga ng mga tao.

8. Nakakangalit yung entire investigation process ng mga pulis. Naalala ko tuloy yung isang eksena sa Pamilya Ordinaryo na tungkol din sa police brutality. Grabe yung feeling ng helplessness kapag talaga person in authority ang nang-ha-harass sa isang tao. Nakakatakot kapag naka-uniporme ang demonyo.

9. Sa dami ng eksenang naglalakad siya, ang ganda nung biglang tumakbo si John Denver off-path. Malaman. Kaya siguro sobrang polarizing din ng ending nito. For me, justified naman siya sa context ng theme. Hindi siya nagmukhang cop-out. Mas nag-resonate pa nga ang perils ng social media dahil sa powerful scene na yun. Kapag ramdam mo na sobrang squirmish ang mga katabi mo sa sinehan dahil sa pinapanood nila, alam mo na malakas ang effect nito. Hindi nila makakalimutan ang nakita. Para na rin niyang sinabi na in essence, lahat tayo ay guilty sa pagpatay kay John Denver.

10. Yung isa sa pinaka-paborito kong eksena sa Philippine Cinema 2019 ay nung tahimik na kumakain ang pamilya nila ng Cloud 9 sa pilapil. Malayo sa gulo ng mundo, hiwalay sa ingay ng social media. Sa panahong ito ng Digital Age, hindi kaya yan ang pinakamainam para sa ating lahat?

Rating: ★★★★★

MOVIE REVIEW: SA GABING NANAHIMIK ANG MGA KULIGLIG (Iar Lionel Arondaing, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Sa Gabing Nanahimik ang mga Kuliglig:

1. It was probably during the scene where Hector (Ricky Davao) was wailing over the corpse of his wife Dolores (Mercedes Cabral) that I realized I had watched something similar to this before. It looked very much like the same red herring thrown around in another murder-mystery set in a swampland.

My suspicion was further confirmed when self-confessed killer Magda (Angel Aquino) had that fantastical dream sequence where she ended up seeing a floating dead body that actually turned out to be her. Yes, I was definitely watching a version of Sam Raimi’s The Gift, except that the supernatural element was replaced by a religious theme. Nyek!

2. I shouldn’t even be complaining that the movie chose to head into that direction because I initially thought I was watching Senakulo: The Movie and it would really be Easter Sunday 2018 by the time it completed the twelve stations of the cross (thankfully, it abandoned that concept while I was close to nodding off right around the fourth station).

How could I forget these Bible stories when I would often volunteer to lead the prayer of the rosary done before and after breaks every October (rosary month!) in Zobel? My favorite part was the Sorrowful Mysteries because I got to play different characters and I always made sure that I gave each one a distinct voice. My rosary-praying career ended though when I read the line “Crucify him!” as “Cruci-fee him!” and one classmate laughed so loud and mocked me in front of the whole class that I felt very much like Mary Magdalene.

3. Those were some really odd framing choices. I wasn’t a big fan of seeing the characters occupying a quarter of the screen and talking in one corner. Nothing really wrong with that, it was just too AHRT(!!) for my basic sensibilities.

4. I really liked how this tackled the Seal of Confession and that priests were not allowed to disclose any information divulged to them vis a vis the separation of the Church and State. So basically a murderer could confess his crime to a priest and receive absolution for his sin, but the best that the priest could do was suggest that the killer turn himself over to the police. Did I understand that correctly? Why didn’t that sit well with my heart and brain?

5. How could Dolores be married to Hector for twenty years when Mercedes didn’t even look a day over thirty? Did she get pregnant at the ripe old age of ten?

6. Gorgeous (gorgeous!) cinematography. More reasons to visit Cuyo Island in Palawan.

7. I felt a bit disappointed when the focus shifted to Dolores’ son Lester (Jess Mendoza), who had to deliver cringe-worthy lines while giving the corpse of his mother a sponge bath (“Ang mukhang ito ang una kong nasilayan…”, “Ang mga brasong ito ang yumakap sa akin…”). I swore to myself that if he were to make punas every body part and deliver a Juan Miguel Severo-like poem for each, I would surely walk out (especially if he would reach the “Sa pepeng ito ako lumabas…”).

8. Sitting through this ordeal should serve as my penance for the entire year, yes?

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

MOVIE REVIEW: 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 one 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: ★★★★☆

MOVIE REVIEW: THE SHACK (Stuart Hazeldine, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Shack:

1. Like with most Christian films (e.g. God’s Not Dead), my entire viewing experience felt like getting continuously whacked on the head by a Bible for two hours until I eventually started speaking in tongues. My dear blessed brothers and sisters, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not averse to movies with heavy religious themes. It only becomes a problem whenever it feels like these beliefs are shoved down our throats (“It’s in the Bible so it must be true!”) and anybody with a dissenting opinion gets tagged as a sinner, an atheist, or in need of prayer and guidance.

I’m sorry, but I don’t need a sermon. I already have my mother for that.

(Speaking of, one of her biggest disappointments was that she asked me to join our local parish’s Youth for Christ group and my only takeaway from the youth camp was that tinola tasted better with sayote instead of papaya. Susmaryosep!)

2. The story here was pretty much straightforward. It was a father’s (a flat Sam Worthington) spiritual journey in search of closure for the brutal murder of his youngest daughter. His healing trail included lessons on being less judgmental, acquiring wisdom through strength of faith, and finding actual forgiveness in his heart. I actually thought it could have been told more interestingly (and at a more reasonable thirty minutes) in an episode of Flying House (less the brutal murder, of course).

3. This entire Hallmark meets Lifetime movie wouldn’t have happened if he just drove properly and followed the Stop sign. In one scene, he also accidentally fell in the snow and hit his head on the pavement. Like what the late, great Inday Badiday said, “Careful, careful”.

4. I liked how the Holy Trinity was gender neutral and represented different ethnicities. God was played by Octavia Spencer (did her revised contract require a pie reference every single time?) while Jesus and the Holy Spirit (who collected tears) looked like a Middle Eastern man and an Asian lady respectively. I didn’t read the book so I wasn’t aware if they were written as such or if this was one of those progressive Hollywood castings.

5. Paradise (or was that the Garden of Eden?) lived up to its name with such a gorgeous set design that reminded me of those technicolor sceneries in What Dreams May Come.

6. I honestly felt a bit dizzy from all the spiritual life lessons that were spewed one after the other (“When all you see is your pain, you lose sight of Me”). Simple chores (hobbies?) like baking, fishing, and gardening suddenly turned into Sunday school lectures.

I didn’t break out in hives and there was no burning sensation after watching though so that was a good sign.

7. Wait, why was he even allowed in heaven if he killed his own father? Shouldn’t he have been partying with Lucy and the rest of the fallen angels instead? Cue God Must Have Spent a Little More Time On You.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

MOVIE REVIEW: EASY A (Will Gluck, 2010)

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Emma Stone is a star and in a cast where everyone seemed to fit their roles to a tee (Amanda Bynes as the Bible-thumping beeyotch, Thomas Haden Church as the professor of reason, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as the coolest parents on Earth), she still managed to outshine everyone. It might be hard to believe that someone as lovely (and hot!) was considered a loser at school but she played the part perfectly that you’d end up sympathizing with her character.

Credit to the smart screenplay as well for making this the funniest teen movie since Mean Girls. So happy Emma dropped out of Sucker Punch for this.

Rating: ★★★★☆