THE WOLVERINE (James Mangold, 2013)

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Why are superheroes turning emo? I want to see them kick ass and not whine about their sad lives.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published August 18, 2013.)

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NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB (Shawn Levy, 2014)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb:

1. Let me get this one out of the way: I watched it in a theater full of kids and they actually enjoyed it. I guess I was too old for monkey pee jokes.

2. The glorious cast included Ben Stiller, the late Robin Williams, Ben Kingsley, Owen Wilson, Rebel Wilson, Steve Coogan, and Ricky Gervais, among others and yet they didn’t bring much to the movie. Each one of them could be in a one-man comedy show and bring the house down but here as a group, they were just good for a very few chuckles.

3. The said chuckles came from a reference to a Counting Crows singer and a throwaway punchline about wax and polyurethane.

4. As I said earlier, this was a family film so if your idea of fun was a Neanderthal using a defibrillator on himself, then go ahead and enjoy.

5. Rebel Wilson was Rebel Wilson was Rebel Wilson.

6. Why were the jokes too repetitive? How many more times did they have to milk the Huge Ackman joke?

7. Robin Williams’ final scenes in the movie did make me tear up a bit. He bid farewell and asked Ben (and the audience) to smile. This would be perfect for the Oscars’ In Memoriam segment. We will miss you, Mister.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published January 13, 2015.)

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (Michael Gracey, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Greatest Showman:

1. It had been over a year already and I still couldn’t forget the fabulous opening sequence of La La Land. Another Day of Sun fully encapsulated the reason why I really love musicals. I’d always imagine myself stuck along EDSA during Friday night rush hour traffic and I would get out of my car and burst into song while commuters inside cars and buses would sing a chorus and dance along with me. Why would there be any road rage when I could simply belt out my six octave range (bye Mariah!) and shimmy with the takatak boys? Our lives as a series of music videos would definitely be one sweet sweet fantasy, right?

2. As a musical, Showman was an enjoyable treat with its dazzling set pieces, spectacular choreography (that rooftop dance sequence with the dancing kumots!), and soaring sugar pop melodies. My favorite number was Rewrite the Stars with Zac Efron and Zendaya flying through the air on ropes, making it the most dangerous flirtation since I joined (and ultimately deleted) Tinder five years ago.

I also really liked the powerhouse performance of Rebecca Ferguson in Never Enough, until 1) I discovered that it really wasn’t her singing (it was actually dubbed by The Voice contestant Loren Allred), and 2) I realized immediately after that she was pining for a married man. In a culture fascinated with kabit movies where viewers enjoy seeing these women get their comeuppance, I wonder how many Pinoys actually loved this (in context) mistress song.

3. I wasn’t a huge fan of Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables (a singing Russell Crowe scarred me for life), but amidst the distractingly tight close-ups was an undeniably terrific performance by Hugh Jackman. He delivered again here as P.T. Barnum, serving as a ringleader to his troop of circus oddities and trying to stay true on the promise of being the greatest showman.

I actually liked him better in this movie because he was just more effective as a performer than a singer (check his Tony Awards hosting work on YouTube!). I also had a good laugh when the young Barnum got caught stealing a loaf of bread, the very reason why Jean Valjean turned into prisoner 24601.

4. I wish there was more of a story here to latch on to. Sure, I bawled my eyes out during the A Million Dreams song and also when the family moved into their mansion and one of the daughters received her ballet slippers, but everything else just felt very basic.

Did we really need two langit-lupa love stories when we didn’t even know much about the circus members (I couldn’t even recall any of their names!)? Even American Horror Story: Freak Show was able to bring life to its characters (sorry, but Kathy Bates would always be the Bearded Lady to me) and went beyond the “They’re humans, too!” message. When the group belted out the supposedly cathartic This Is Me song, it felt more like a production number on Glee rather than a poignant anthem about celebrating diversity.

Wait, did I just sound very much like a “theater critic who can’t find joy in a theater”?

5. I also felt a bit sad that the movie just glossed on some seemingly important topics, especially the one regarding exploitation. I wish we had more insights to this so-called celebration of humanity where people with disabilities weren’t treated any differently from animals in a zoo.

As a kid, I remembered going to a local perya and paying Php20 to watch a Lalaking Alimango (billed as a half-human, half-crab, but in reality was a man with underdeveloped arms and limbs and had pincer-like growths instead of fingers). I cried out of fear and also out of pity because they made him swim in this tub of dirty water.

I guess the idea of tackling freaks as entertainment was just too heavy for this movie that only aimed to be a feel-good one, ending with Jackman joyously riding an elephant in the city to meet his loving family. And after that, all was right with the world.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

NABUBULOK (Sonny Calvento, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Nabubulok:

1. Whatever happened to that Anti-Chismis Law? In a country powered by daily gossip (ranging from the newest kabit of your neighbor to the escapades of the resident office slut to the questionable sexual preference of a popular matinee idol), could that even be successfully implemented?

The great Jessica Zafra once said that we could never breed serial killers in our country because we’re a nation of nosy people. Secrets could never be kept for long in a community since Pinoys are naturally suspicious of the littlest odd behaviours of others.

This was the very first thing that came to mind while watching this mystery-thriller (in my mind, more of a dark comedy slash social commentary) about an American accused of killing his Pinay wife and how he was subjected to a public trial by chismis (or was it?).

2. How apt that the gossip started from local labandera Aling Ingrid (a brilliant Gina Alajar, her “Putang Ina” scene alone deserved a Balanghai), who smelled something rotten emanating from the house next door and immediately concluded that her cousin Luna (Sue Prado) was killed by foreigner husband Jason (Billy Ray Gallion).

She then had the audacity to ask her son (“Rockyyyyy!!”) to climb a tree just to check on their shady neighbor (in this scene, they were talking too loudly not to get noticed, though). When the seed of doubt was planted, it was funny and ultimately scary to see just how fast it grew and spread around the xenophobic town.

3. Definitely not happy that characters in Pinoy films named Jason always turned out to be villains and this was no exception. Fortunately, they were mostly good-looking and the one here resembled Hugh Jackman in his younger Logan days.

4. I had some problems with the bad lighting especially since most of the scenes were shot at night and I strained my eyes trying to decipher what was happening onscreen. It almost ruined that exciting trespassing sequence with Rommel (JC Santos, required to go topless in one scene).

Also, was the Harper family actually living in complete darkness? Was that why the policemen never bothered to turn on any of the lights when they searched the house?

The day shots were just as bad since one couldn’t even see what was written on cellphone screens. I expected the washed out colors for added effect, but it shouldn’t require a visit to an opthalmologist after.

5. This movie had the balls to actually associate the Duterte administration with the current vigilante culture. The President’s face was plastered everywhere, even on a killer’s shirt. I guess that smell of decay might be coming from the current state of our society as well.

6. Some of the subtitles weren’t in sync with what the characters were saying. In one scene, the word “Motherfucker” was shown, but nobody was actually cursing. ‘Nak ng tokwa!

7. The funniest moments were just from some random lines delivered by extras:

• Horny Ate entering the internet cafe: “Kuya, one hours!”

• Single Ate on a boyfriend that she met through a miraculous santo: “Magpapa-free taste na ako sa kanya!”

• Host of a gay beauty pageant: “Thank you Anne Curtis. Next we have Champagne Morales!” (I was the only one who really laughed out loud during this part because I could still remember the Metropop rivalry between Champagne and Roxanne “Roxee B!” Barcelo, surely the Pia Wurtzbach of singing competitions.)

8. What was up with that rushed Calvento Files ending? Did we really need a title card to explain what happened to each character? Whatever happened to the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule of film?

Rating: ★★★☆☆

THE PRESTIGE (Christopher Nolan, 2006)

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This movie plays very much like a magic trick with its three stages: The Pledge, The Turn, and The Prestige. The less one knows about how it works, the better the results are.

Behind this entire spectacle is Nolan, probably more known for his work on The Dark Knight and Inception. I prefer his little gems (this and Memento) since they create so much impact from such seemingly simple premises.

Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, and Michael Caine all provide amazing turns in their respective roles. Some might feel that this film is too gimmicky and a cheat, but hey, isn’t that how magic works?

Rating: 5/5