MORGAN (Luke Scott, 2016)

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Happy to see the Hollywood version of the Pak Ganern game in this tepid action sci-fi by way of M. Night Shyamalan.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published September 9, 2016.)

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THE EXPENDABLES 3 (Patrick Hughes, 2014)

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It’s the pinakbet of Hollywood action stars. With Frasier. Never been fond of pinakbet.

I’m still waiting for our local version starring Bong Revilla, Cesar Montano, Lito Lapid, Ronnie Ricketts, Ian Veneracion, Dante Varona, Jeric Raval, Baldo Marro, Chuck Perez, Jestoni Alarcon, Robin Padilla, and Eddie Garcia.

Paging Mother Lily!!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published August 25, 2014.)

THE BOURNE LEGACY (Tony Gilroy, 2012)

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It was great to see a lot of people that braved the rains and floods just to watch a jeepney on the big screen.

Unfortunately, the movie was two hours of exposition: a failed attempt to reboot a franchise. I’m sure a lot of people missed Matt Damon and the frenetic camerawork of Paul Greengrass.

Manila never looked this glossy, though, and it was a delight to see our local actors (John Arcilla, Madeleine Nicolas, Art Acuna, Lou Veloso, etc.) in a real Hollywood movie.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published August 10, 2012.)

THE PERFECTION (Richard Shepard, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite just won the Palme d’Or in the recent Cannes Film Festival which should provide fresh material to future Hollywood and/or Netflix productions.

Inasmuch as I liked the performances of Allison Williams and Logan Browning, I just couldn’t stop laughing at how much this was a trashy rip-off of The Handmaiden (with a few elements borrowed from other South Korean films as well). And why did it have to keep rewinding events just to explain the already obvious?

Completely insane, but devoid of delicious brilliance.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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.)

CRAZY RICH ASIANS (Jon M. Chu, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Crazy Rich Asians:

1. I remembered watching this episode of Bonkers Closets on Facebook that featured the humongous fingerprint-protected walk-in closet (and by walk-in, I meant way bigger than our entire house) of crazy rich Singaporean socialite Jamie Chua. It stored hundreds of her Birkins and Louboutins and every kind of sparkly Chanel dress that any woman (and gay man) could ever dream of. She even called one of her purchases, an Hermès Mini Pochette worth over $11k, completely useless because it could only fit a credit card and a piece of tissue. It was this same kind of opulence (read: ridiculously excessive levels) that I expected from this movie.

As a third world citizen without a Jamba Juice card, but mooches off of my friend’s Netflix account, I wanted to see how these crazy rich Asians were living my fantasy life that I would have to pick my jaw off the sticky floors of the cinema after every scene of extreme extravagance. Aside from that overhead shot of the Young estate with what seemed to be a built-in lagoon, there really weren’t a lot of “Kalokang mayayaman ‘to!” moments here, though. I had more “Wow!” moments while skimming over the Yes! issue of Willie Revillame flaunting his mansion and luxury cars.

(If anything, this movie worked as a really effective tourism video for Singapore because every location just looked incredibly gorgeous.)

2. Wait, I’m not required to lower my standards naman just because Asians are finally getting represented in Hollywood, right? So I should be as brutal to this cliché-ridden rom-com the same way that I would to a Star Cinema langit-lupa love story? Because seriously, that plane scene reeked of Bea Alonzo flying to Cagayan de Oro with Dingdong Dantes running after her and then making that grand proposal while every passenger cheered even with their flight delayed. Why should this one get a free pass as an enjoyable, fluffy piece of entertainment just because it’s an “important” film?

3. The opening scene was my favorite because I weirdly enjoyed squirming in my seat while watching that really uncomfortable discrimination situation. I even remembered being in a slightly similar incident when my family had a vacation in (guess where?) Singapore back in the early 90’s. We were eating at KFC and the locals sneered at us like we were stray dogs that got lost in that establishment (of course back then I had no clue that they looked down on Pinoys as second-class citizens so I just thought they weren’t too happy with the crispy chicken they were eating).

When the legendary Michelle Yeoh served that fitting retribution to the hotel manager with such intense coldness, I came very close to standing up and cheering from my seat. I’d have preferred it though if she ended that scene with “Wala pang taong hindi rumespeto sa pangalang ELEANOR Young! At ang hindi marunong rumespeto sa AKING pangalan ay ASO lamang!!”. (If you got that reference, you have excellent taste in films.)

4. So many #PinoyFried in this movie, although none of them actually portrayed Pinoy characters (except for Astrid’s maids, of course!). Nico Santos’ fey turn as cousin Oliver was a delight, although it wasn’t surprising given his amazing turn as Mateo Fernando Aquino Liwanag in Superstore.

And speaking of Aquinos, when crazy rich Kris showed up onscreen as Princess Intan, there were some audible gasps from the audience. I guess none of them were able to watch Magic to Win 5 on the big screen. I still think it would have been the biggest casting coup if she played Imelda Marcos (the only woman that could put Jamie Chua’s shoe collection to shame).

5. I completely get the use of the very Asian mahjong game in that climactic showdown between Eleanor and Rachel (Constance Wu), although I honestly didn’t understand all of the symbolisms. The only thing I noticed was that Eleanor took the East seat which was significant in The Joy Luck Club (now there’s a brilliant Hollywood Asian film) since that was where the dealer sat and where all things began (in the novel/film, Jing Mei took that seat to replace her dead mother Suyuan who started the said group). 

Wouldn’t it have been great though if they amped up the camp factor and showed more clashes between these strong women (very much like a Pinoy cockfight)? With two brilliant actresses front and center (fyi, this should serve as your reminder to finally catch up on Fresh Off the Boat), this could have been really fun.

(Also, the Nick character was so bland that I couldn’t see why two amazing women were “fighting” over him. No amount of Henry Golding’s shirtless scenes could hide that fact.)

Side note: Given that Jon M. Chu also directed Now You See Me 2, I actually had this gnawing feeling during the mahjong scene that Rachel would perform some sort of elaborate magic trick. Like she would be able to switch her bamboo tiles without Eleanor ever noticing. Pong!!

6. I teared up a bit when I realized that the Ah Ma character was played by Lisa Lu, who was also Auntie An-Mei in Joy Luck Club (“My mother not know her worth until too late. Too late for her, but not for me.” Waaaah!).

7. I wasn’t particularly fond of Awkwafina in Ocean’s 8, but she was hilarious in the Nikki Valdez role here. As Peik Lin (aka Asian Ellen), she stole every scene that she was in whether she was criticizing Rachel’s look as Sebastian of The Little Mermaid, playing around with her car window, or simply taking a selfie around the Young mansion.

My favorite (very Asian) joke though was when Wye Mun (Ken Jeong) said something like, “Red’s a lucky color if you’re an envelope”. I also liked the bite in his line that “There’s a lot of children starving in America”.

8. Supposedly affluent young women going crazy over off-the-rack items? Shouldn’t they be turning their enhanced pointed noses up on anything that wasn’t bespoke? How un-crazy rich. (And what to make of that tacky tassel necklace? Only Kat Galang could have pulled that one off.)

9. The story about Astrid’s failing marriage felt like complete filler. It was like one long setup for the sequel. (Which probably was made more obvious when Harry Shum, Jr. showed up in one scene and yet received top billing in the end credits.) Her story only served as a distraction to what could have been more screen time for Nick and Rachel or Rachel and Eleanor. Also, Gemma Chan looked very much like Nathalie Hart, no?

10. One of the highlights here was the royal wedding of Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno) where the guests held lighted butterflies (dragonflies?) as she walked down that water-filled aisle. While everyone else teared up when Kina Grannis’ Can’t Help Falling in Love played in the background, my OCD kicked in high gear imagining that lovely wedding dress turning all soggy and getting completely ruined. These crazy rich people paid $40M for that? 

Meanwhile here in the Philippines, a bride in Bulacan went viral for actually wading in murky floodwater (which she got free courtesy of the monsoon) out of necessity just to continue with her dream wedding. Now that was something that really made me cry.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

NOTTING HILL (Roger Michell, 1999)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Notting Hill:

1. No matter how many times I tried to repress the memory, I would never forget that I once played Julia Roberts as Anna Scott for a skit about absolute love (how apt!) in a college Philosophy class. Long story short, I couldn’t make the Hugh Grant character William Thacker believable since I obviously lacked his puppy eyes and boyish charm so our group leader thought of reversing the gender roles where I ended up voicing (since I apparently wasn’t too pretty to be Anna as well) the female part.

We recreated that entire iconic bookstore scene and I delivered the “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy…” line with an awkward high pitch that sounded like Lani Mercado’s wicked witch in the Sleeping Beauty episode of Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang. Our presentation obviously bombed (all those confused looks would continue to haunt me in my dreams) and I walked out of that class feeling like Vivian in Pretty Woman getting thrown out of a posh boutique in Rodeo Drive (and since this was real life, I didn’t even get a redemption scene).

2. Julia may have won her Oscar for Erin Brockovich, but her performance here would probably be my most favorite. Sure, the woman with the (then $15M) megawatt smile was basically playing another version of her rich and famous, A-list celebrity persona, but the fact that she gamely poked fun at herself (loved it when Anna pointed at her nose and chin when asked about her cosmetic surgeries) and revealed the sadness beneath all the fame and glory was really admirable.

Her Anna character was also completely flawed (and actually bordered on being despicable with just the way he treated William) and yet I still really, really wanted to be her friend (to the point that it would also be an honor for me to have her in my loo). Her best scene was at the dinner table where everyone was trying to win that last brownie and her face displayed the longing to experience the kind of love that the mortals (er, William and his friends) had.

3. Speaking of that dinner scene, I could easily pinpoint the part where I would immediately start sobbing every single time I’d watch this film. It was when Bella (Gina McKee) explained that she deserved the last brownie for having the saddest life because she was stuck in a wheelchair and could not bear kids. This was followed by a shot of her husband Max (Tim McInnerny) silently giving her this look of genuine love. Romantic or not, we all deserved someone just like him.

(Their other scenes that made me bawl my eyes out: when he carried her upstairs for the night when William decided to sleep over at their house and when he couldn’t afford to leave her during the climactic chase scene and carried her inside the car. Hala, just thinking of these made me teary-eyed again!)

4. A lot of people would probably knock this film down for being too formulaic to a fault, but it shamelessly peddled itself as a fairy tale so I didn’t mind at all (“This is the stuff that happens in dreams, not in real life.”) A huge Hollywood star falling in love with a commoner who looked like Hugh would be the ultimate fantasy, right?

Comical meet cute, set of kooky friends (Rhys Ifans’ Spike as the standout, course), soundtrack of sappy love songs (Ronan Keating’s When You Say Nothing At All >>> Alison Krauss’ version tbh), final romantic declaration of love, all tropes utilized to maximum effect. It was surreal, but nice.

5. I had a (fortunately) short phase where I pretended to be a charming Brit ala Hugh and ended up sounding like a post-Kabbalah Madonna. I replaced my “Susmaryosep” with “Whoopsie daisy” and “Ay tae!” with “Shickity brickity”, but those didn’t stick. Foreign catchphrases and accents were never really my thing. I couldn’t even properly imitate an American accent when I worked as a call center agent that resulted to one customer referring to me as a weird Hawaiian guy.

6. Spot the cameos: Matthew Modine! Alec Baldwin! Mischa Barton! Emily Mortimer!

7. That one long take of Ain’t No Sunshine with the changing seasons was really lovely. I would one day be able to visit Portobello Road Market and that iconic blue door. Who would be willing to fund my London trip?

8. “For June who loved this garden. From Joseph who always sat beside her.”

“Some people do spend their whole lives together.” ❤️❤️❤️

9. I didn’t really need this film to make me realize that some people could influence you to do something better or be a better person even if they had hurt you, but it was nice to be reminded of this with every viewing. #whogoat

10. “The fame thing isn’t really real, you know?”

A huge star ready to give up everything for love? Your move, Bebe Idol Sarah G. Rooting for your happy fairy tale ending as well.

Rating: ★★★★★

THE COMMUTER (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Commuter:

1. Can Hollywood please give Liam Neeson’s reel family and friends a break? Why do they always have to be the unfortunate ones to suffer? After the Taken films, Non-Stop, and now this, what other mode of transportation is left that will cause him and his ilk a lot of trouble?

See, this is the very reason why I’m not hoping for that Love Actually sequel. I don’t want to see his stepson Sam suddenly getting kidnapped aboard a ship on Christmas Day.

2. I really liked the opening montage that showed the utter tedium of any working person’s life (waking up at the exact same time every single day, doing the same mundane morning ritual, traversing the same path on a daily commute, all while the seasons changed). Unfortunately, what could have been an insightful morality tale turned into a trashy (albeit stylized) thriller. Definitely as original as Neeson making his signature threats on the phone.

3. How preposterous was that story? The villains obviously had all the resources in their hands, but they still could not pull off a simple assassination? Why would they even need him when they had the power to track his every movement on that moving train?

I hadn’t seen this much cat-and-mouse game silliness since James Marsden and Cameron Diaz agreed to push the deadly button in The Box.

4. What saved this one from being a complete trainwreck were the impressive action sequences. There was a fight scene that was shot in one long continuous take where you could feel every punch in the face (except for Neeson who was neither bloodied up nor bruised after that encounter). It also had a sequence where he was dragged under the train and had to roll away from it, narrowly missing its deadly wheels. I could swear one audience member almost fainted after that one.

5. When the survivors started placing wet newspapers to cover the windows, I was reminded of the same scene in Train to Busan and actually wished that there were zombies on that train. Liam Neeson vs the undead. Hmm, really cool concept.

6. “I’m Spartacus!”

“No, I’m Spartacus!”

“Girl, please. I’m Spartacus!”

*groan*

7. I found it really funny that after the train got derailed and he survived an army of snipers, his family arrived and consoled him like he just came home from another day at work. Come to think of it, it was indeed just another typical Liam Neeson work day.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

AROUND THE WAY GIRL: A MEMOIR (Taraji P. Henson, Denene Millner, 2016)

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In the 2016 Golden Globes where she won Best Actress in a Drama Series, Taraji P. Henson went full Cookie Lyon mode upon the announcement of her name. She spontaneously grabbed a handful of complimentary cookies from her table and started handing them out to everyone including Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio. She feigned an attitude when an usher accidentally stepped on her gown (“Get off my train!”) and said a mouthful when asked to wrap up her speech (“I waited twenty years for this, you’re gonna wait!”).

In this squeaky-clean memoir, it was obvious that the real Taraji wasn’t too far off from her beloved onscreen persona (less the crack and jail time, of course). It actually gave us a glimpse of all the hardships that she faced as a black kid growing up in a troubled home and how it shaped her into becoming a strong and successful woman of color in Hollywood.

Although admirable for its honesty, this book didn’t really strive to be more than inspirational. The later chapters skimped on her interesting life in showbiz. Where were the juicy details? Why was the best part about Squad Goals only a few pages long? It was also odd that everything in her life seemed to be very much like the films she made (and did we really need a synopsis of Baby Boy and Hustle & Flow every time they were mentioned?).

Hopefully her next book would be more “You want Cookie’s nookie? Ditch the bitch!”. Bring it, Taraji!

Rating: ★★★☆☆