TANGLED (Nathan Greno, Byron Howard, 2010)

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I initially wasn’t a fan of this Rapunzel retelling but another viewing made me really like it. It hewed closely to the typical Disney classic and even the songs were good and not annoying. Inasmuch as I love 3D animation, nothing can still beat the traditional 2D. Oh, and don’t get me started on the lantern scene.

Rating: ★★★★☆

(Originally published August 10, 2012.)

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ALADDIN (Guy Ritchie, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

Similar to Beauty and the Beast (2017), this was a decent live action remake of a beloved Disney classic.

Pros:

• Except for Will Smith (who although was no Robin Williams still gave a fine performance), we got fresh faces instead of commercial picks. And the leads could sing really well. (Acting-wise, they were okay.)

• The updated musical numbers captured the magic of the animated film. It was quite fun to watch the A Whole New World sequence in 4DX. Para akong malalaglag sa magic carpet any time.

• A more feminist Jasmine (albeit her new songs weren’t memorable). Naomi Scott was really charming and reminded me of a younger Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Cons:

• Terrible, terrible choice for Jafar. Did he have to be that serious? Completely drained one of the best Disney villains of any personality. (Ben Kingsley wasn’t available?)

• Several changes made this version too sanitized and oh-so-politically-correct. One of the funniest moments in the cartoon was when Aladdin said that Jasmine was his sister and that she was a little crazy. Her googly eyes bit was completely hilarious. Didn’t find it here. And why did they skip the first condition that one couldn’t wish for Genie to kill someone. Sensitive much?

• It was weird that Abu, Iago, and even Rajah were more alive and “human” in the cartoon version. Here they were just being animal sidekicks.

• Arabian Nights, right? Why the Bollywood production?

• “Genie, you’re free” was a highlight in the original. Where was that touching line here? And wasn’t it bad enough that Genie had abs? Did he really need to be human and have a lovelife?

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

MARY POPPINS RETURNS (Rob Marshall, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Mary Poppins Returns:

1. One of the highlights of Saving Mr. Banks (a great companion piece to this film) was the scene where an uptight P.L. Travers (played by the superb Emma Thompson) unexpectedly lowered her guard and started dancing along to Let’s Go Fly a Kite. It was a touching moment especially since the author notoriously hated the Disneyfication of her novels (“Responstible is not a word!!”), particularly Mary Poppins.

I wonder how she would have felt with this one given that it lacked an LSS-worthy melody that the original had in abundance. Can You Imagine That? and Trip a Little Light Fantastic were fun and frothy, but they just weren’t as memorable as Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (an exercise in spelling and enunciation) or A Spoonful of Sugar.

For the record, my favorite tune from the 1964 classic was Oscar winner Chim Chim Cher-ee. Fun online fact: If you scratch “-2 – 2 + =“ on your pillow, it would sound very much like this song. Aren’t the interwebs wonderful?

2. Although billed as a sequel (with the Banks children all grown up), this still felt very much like a remake (seriously, why did they even bother?). If anything, I was happy that they kept the 2D animation during some of the fantasy sequences because it perfectly captured the old school magic of films.

3. I really thought it would be hard to match the wonderful performance of Julie Andrews (whose stern but loving version of the magical nanny reminded me of her stern but loving grandma slash Queen of Genovia in The Princess Diaries), but Emily Blunt completely owned the role (not a trace of imitation!) while paying homage to a well-loved Dame. At least she had a fun moment in the bathtub for a change.

4. It was sad to see Lin-Manuel Miranda sticking out like a sore thumb among the mostly English (and incredibly good) supporting cast. Although this was a musical where people actually floated while holding on to balloons, there was just something off with his over-the-top (read: theater-ready) acting.

Julie Walters was a hilarious scene-stealer as always, but I was more pleasantly surprised by Ben Whishaw. In one scene, he was clutching on to his dead wife’s pearl necklace while singing that he needed a few suggestions on how to brush their daughter’s hair and I was trying my best not to burst into tears.

As for the kids, they were fine enough, although I was wishing one of them could be like a young Freddie Highmore in Finding Neverland.

5. Been a fan of Rob Marshall’s impressive choreography since Chicago and it was in full display here. When the Banks’ house got rattled by an exploding cannon, the siblings caught the falling furniture (a few lamps, an heirloom clock) like they were in a ballet. I also liked the (intentional?) nod to Velma Kelly in the A Cover is Not a Book production.

6. I understood the decision of making this version of Mary closer to her disposition in the books, but it was also the reason why I thought that this sequel needed a bit more heart. Like I wanted to be a puddle of sobbing mess when she would leave the children in the end and it didn’t happen. I had more of an emotional attachment with Sam in Wanted: Perfect Mother.

7. Why did Mary let the poor leeries climb all the way up the clock tower when she could have done it in the first place pala? Did everything have to be a teachable moment?

8. “Cleaning is not a spectator sport” sounded like something Marie Kondo would say. Yes, this movie gave me a tiny spark of joy.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (Isao Takahata, 1988)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Grave of the Fireflies:

1. If I remember it correctly, I discovered this emotionally devastating animated film (in my opinion, still the best one) upon the recommendation of my suking pirated DVD vendor in Makati Cinema Square (“Piracy is stealing. Stealing is against the law. Piracy is a crime.”). I was looking for a copy of the latest Hollywood flick that time when she suggested several Studio Ghibli films (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Kiki’s Delivery Service among them).

I initially had doubts because I had outgrown cartoons ever since Princess Sarah Crewes got reunited with her father and banished Miss Minchin to her rightful place: the chimeneya. In my mind, animated films would usually be kiddie stuff and although some were really good (especially the classic Disney films), their themes would still cater to a younger crowd. I didn’t expect that this masterpiece would be my introduction to the wonderful world of anime.

2. More than being the best animated film, I completely agree with the late Roger Ebert that this could stand as one of the finest war films as well. From its opening scene where a young boy named Seita wearing a soldier’s uniform and looking directly at the camera said the chilling line “September 21, 1945. That was the night I died”, it would just be an endless sequence of heartbreaking moments that blatantly demonstrated the destructive nature of war and its debilitating effects on people. I might not have lived through World War II but those air raid warning sounds would haunt me forever.

I also found it smart that the film started with the reveal that both Seita and younger sister Setsuko were already dead and reunited in the afterlife. Every scene that came after that with them having fun just felt incredibly bittersweet especially knowing their tragic end.

3. I really liked how Setsuko was initially oblivious to the horrors happening around her. She was contented with piggybacking on her older brother, or running around in the ricefields, or frolicking on the beach while bombs destroyed their village and killed hundreds of people, including their own mother.

My favorite scenes here involved her constant discovery of the sad realities around her. While trying to catch a crab, she chanced upon a rotting person on the beach and it was her first encounter with death. When the fireflies they caught died the next day, she dug a grave for them because it was supposedly what happened to their dead mother as well (as told to her by their maldita auntie). This particular scene crushed my heart because it was juxtaposed with the actual scene of her mother’s body being burned in a mass grave, dead bodies in a heap left without any dignity.

4. Speaking of the maldita auntie, I swear my blood curdled when she only offered sabaw to the kids while her husband and daughter got generous servings of rice and potatoes. They sold their dead mother’s precious keepsake kimonos to buy the freakin’ food, you bitch!! I wanted to thwack her so hard with that soup bowl. (And then they inserted a short scene with a mother bird feeding her baby birds in a nest huhuhu!)

5. Some people would probably find this emotionally manipulative if one would only see children subjected to endless suffering (those rashes on Setsuko’s back!), but I found it incredibly authentic. Sure, I bawled my eyes out when she sucked on the marbles and made rice balls out of soil because of lack of food, and I crawled into my usual fetal position and sobbed like a mad man at the sight of her dead body hugging her favorite doll while inside a rattan casket, but these probably happened to some people during that time (or even worse).

6. I would never look at a fruit drops tin can the same way ever again. (Side note: I use the exact same hack of filling a ketchup or shampoo bottle with water to get the remaining stuff out of it.)

7. “Why do fireflies have to die so soon?” Hay. Really powerful stuff.

Rest in peace, Sir Isao Takahata.

Rating: ★★★★★

MY FAIRY TAIL LOVE STORY (Perci Intalan, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on My Fairy Tail Love Story:

1. Never ever commit the mistake of making an analogy between Oscar-less Amy Adams and Grammy-less Katy Perry because I would surely hunt you down. It was this undying love for Adams that made me promise to watch Enchanted at least once every year. You know, that clever retelling of a fairy tale where she played a storybook Disney princess banished by her stepmother into the real world and searched for her ever ever after.

I think this movie wanted to be very much like Enchanted (aside from the obvious The Little Mermaid), but it failed to capture the magic of that film. Its idea of romantic love was having a character deliver the line, “With or without your tail, kahit amoy palengke ka pa, bottomline is mahal na mahal kita”. I guess it was meant to be sweet, but overall this mermaid out of water story felt very (insert Ariel’s voice here) what’s that word again… bilasa.

2. I actually thought the movie never recovered from the moment Chantel (Janella Salvador) cracked a joke during her birthday party, “My late mother would be proud of me. Oh, she’s not dead! She’s just late.” Nyek! And that was only ten minutes in.

The only source of fun I had was listening to every properly enunciated word coming out of her mouth (Tita Lea Salonga would be proud). It might be intentional (I’d like to say it was more fortuitous), but Janella sounded very much like a theater actress. If Atlantis Productions would ever stage The Little Mermaid again locally, I’m sure she would be great in the lead role.

3. Wait, if Chantel was a mermaid, why didn’t she have any problems living and breathing in a water-free environment? Instead of a bathtub, she spent her days on a bed. Or even jumping (!!) around from room to room (let me see you do that, Ariel!). Seriously, if I had scaly legs, I would always make sure they were properly moisturized.

4. I couldn’t get over the fact that Chantel immediately accepted that she grew a palikpik overnight, but fainted in the bathroom at the sight of Noah’s (Elmo Magalona), uhm, baby shark?

5. To be fair, the production design and the underwater photography looked really good. One of the very few clever bits here was when Chantel surfaced on the beach with a plastic bag on her head. Environmental awareness from a fantasy film? Not bad. Liked the theme song, too.

6. Speaking of fantasy film, you know you were watching one when spoiled rich kid Chantel looked giddy and excited upon seeing the racks of wonderful clothes that were available in… Robinson’s Department Store.

7. Burning questions:

• When Chantel broke into the highest falsetto and cracked her mirror, how did Noah’s designer glasses remain intact?

• Did Chantel readily own a pair of orange seashell bikini top to match her tail? (More importantly, how much do they cost in Robinson’s Department Store?)

• When Noah mentioned that being in a wheelchair was the latest fashion craze in New York, how dumb were those kids to believe him? And how many PWDs did he actually offend?

8. Chantel was head over heels in love with Ethan (Kiko Estrada) even if he had Keempee de Leon hair and dressed very much like a typical 50ish gay uncle who was on vacation from Saudi Arabia. Didn’t she smell anything fishy?

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

COCO (Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina, 2017)

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After years of hearing the words Remember Me and immediately thinking/singing “kapag nag-iisa, kapag ika’y nalulungkot, huwag kang mag-alala…”, I was so happy that it had finally been replaced by the lovely theme song of this equally lovely animated film from Disney/Pixar. No more odd memories of Renz Verano, just me sobbing uncontrollably while Miguel crooned to his great-grandmother.

Truth be told, as soon as I saw old great-grandma Coco on her wheelchair, I was already tearing up. I really thought yung bata si Coco talaga. I was not prepared for a lola story because this would always hit close to home. When she started singing along with him, I had to close my eyes or my hagulgol would have probably scared the young kids playing along the aisle.

I obviously enjoyed this heartwarming tale of a young Mexican kid that had to choose between his family and his passion for music. Very much like The Book of Life which was also set during the Day of the Dead, everything onscreen was just bright and festive and completely interesting. And those glorious songs! Note to self: memorize the lyrics of Un Poco Loco.

This was really the kind of film that you need to watch with your entire family. Just not with a baon of chorizo.

(And why was everyone hating on that long Frozen short? I actually liked it. Olaf deserved his own spin-off movie.)

Rating: ★★★★☆

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Bill Condon, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Beauty and the Beast:

1. Similar to A Second Chance, this live action remake of the classic Disney movie was completely harmless and unnecessary. Lower your pitchforks (or eyebrows), please. Inasmuch as I’m sure you would want to launch into your own glorious rendition of Kill the Beast right about now, hear me out first.

The movie was satisfactory. The cast was mostly fine. The new songs were generally okay (although a tad forgettable). Bring your kids (or your inner kid at heart) and wallow in the amazing feeling of nostalgia.

Just never forget that you’re watching a film directed by the same person that most recently gave us The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Parts 1 and 2. (Fade to black.)

2. I never expected a shot-by-shot remake of the cartoon, but I also didn’t see the need for forty additional minutes of filler to explain the stories behind the Prince’s bad behaviour, Belle’s dead mother, and the Enchantress’ double life in the village, among others. You could immediately feel the difference as soon as this one started with the stained glass sequence in the original losing its storybook effect by having the Prince in full Black Swan make-up partying like Lindsay Lohan on a Friday night.

Even with all the back stories, it still wasn’t able to justify why the poor servants had to be included in the curse (and no Mrs. Potts, indirect negligence of an abused child was not reason enough for such a cruel punishment). I did like the explanation on why nobody really bothered checking on the castle post-curse and that was achieved through one line of narration.

3. If anything, this version posed even more questions:

• Given these recent historical revisionisms regarding inventors (read up on Bell vs Meucci haller!), should we assume that Belle actually created the first washing machine? Also, whatever happened to those bedsheets that she tied up for her planned escape?

• Who was that toothless piano (played by Stanley Tucci)? Was he part of the Broadway production (I swear I couldn’t remember that character in the cartoon)? Also, why wasn’t Mrs. Potts talking out of her spout? She ended up looking more inanimate here.

• If her mother really loved roses, then why was she even named Belle? Why not Rose or Rosita or Rosa? (So happy my mom was never fond of champaka.)

• Speaking of, when she brought back that rose heirloom and gave it to Maurice, wouldn’t that make him patient zero for another bubonic plague/outbreak?

4. Sorry bashers, but Emma Watson actually had a decent singing voice (regardless of Auto-Tune). My concern though was that she still acted very much like Hermione in a grand Hogwarts production of Beauty and the Beast. I even had lots of fun imitating her very British accent in provincial France (“Puh-paww!!”, “That’s ab-suhd!”).

The bigger surprise here was Luke Evans, a perfect casting choice for Gaston (no one even falls like Gaston!). I loved every moment he had with LeFou (played by Josh Gad, who should be in every Disney movie moving forward).

5. Poll question of the day: Did you like Dan Stevens as the Beast? Or more accurately, was he the Prince that you were expecting? Some people (cough, cough) wanted to kill me for laughing during the big reveal post-Beast transformation. My reaction was more of “Ehh” and I wanted it to be more of “Huwow!”. It certainly was no Devon Sawa moment in Casper.

I could understand Dan’s charms in a Benedict Cumberbatch way, but I really expected someone conventionally great-looking. Given the extensive use of motion capture in his Beast performance, he could have been replaced by Andy Serkis (yup, Gollum) and they could have gotten someone physically resembling Prince Charming.

6. When Belle ran up the hill and the camera started swirling around her, did the Sound of Music theme play in your head as well?

7. One of my favorite lines in the movie was from Plumette: “I grew three more feathers and I just plucked yesterday.” Story of my life right there.

8. Where was the openly gay character in the movie? A couple of people asked me if this was appropriate for kids, especially since the issue had been blown out of proportion. Fear not parents, there was no gay kissing or gay sex scene (this was still a Disney film after all).

Actually, there wasn’t even any mention of a character being out and proud. If anything, this should open up a whole new discussion on how Disney’s milking the gay uproar (vis a vis them proudly proclaiming the inclusion of a gay character) when there was none to begin with.

Everything pertaining to homosexuality was actually played for laughs (even that controversial blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dance). That was even more disappointing than the states and countries that banned the movie. Where was the hyped progressivism, Disney?

9. Be Our Guest was my favorite sequence in the original and it felt a bit messy here (even more distracting in 3D/4DX with the constant seat movements and excessive flashing lights). The iconic dance scene was fine (hearing the wonderful theme did give me serious goosebumps) and I kinda liked the yellow dress even if it resembled the Halloween version being sold in Toy Kingdom. But why did they have to remove the romantic dinner? I also missed the swoon-worthy scenes of her blatantly teaching him how to dance and putting her head on his hairy chest. All we got here were those excessive shots of low-hanging chandeliers. Hay.

10. This movie still begged that age-old question though: Is it superficial if a woman falls for a man with a huge, uhm, library?

Rating: ★★★☆☆

THE FINEST HOURS (Craig Gillespie, 2016)

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My notes on The Finest Hours:

1. One of the characters here mentioned that her fiancé’s scared of the water because one couldn’t see what was underneath, and this couldn’t be more true. Call it the Jaws Effect, but I would never ever touch the surface of any body of water while on a boat. I’d be too scared that something would jump out and just bite my arm off. Another excuse for me not to go to the beach.

2. I usually cry whenever I see a romantic public proposal, one that was done out of pure love and not as a showcase for potential famewhores. There was a scene here where it was the woman that bravely asked for the man’s hand in marriage. I would love to witness that in real life. It’s already 2016. Why couldn’t men be on the receiving end of marriage proposals, right?

3. Titanic had a running time of over three hours and I didn’t even feel any minute of it. This one had several scenes that reminded me of that great film, but overall it was just too damn slow. How could a disaster movie feel so boring? Not even The Perfect Storm was this tedious. This should have been called The Dullest HourzZzZz.

4. I laughed really loud when one crew member said “There’s no other wave” and a few seconds later screamed “WAVE!!” before being hit by rampaging waters. I never really felt the urgency and danger in this movie. For a true story, most of the scenes felt like a joke.

5. Seriously, people were falling everywhere but nobody was dying. If I remembered correctly, only one minor character drowned and his death didn’t really have any emotional impact. A lot of time was used to build up the back stories of the major characters but this being a Disney movie, we were all but guaranteed a happy ending.

6. I adore Ben Affleck’s directorial work, but I really think that Casey Affleck is the better actor in the family. He was impressive in To Die For, the Ocean’s movies, Gone Baby Gone, and the only reason to watch the sleep-inducing The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

7. The slow motion water droplets special effects reminded me of a Pond’s Facial Wash commercial. I immediately had the itch to wash my oily face.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆