BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, 2014)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance):

1. I had always associated Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu with the intersecting stories narrative where major characters in his films had their lives connected and intertwined (FYI, I really loved Amores Perros, Babel, and 21 Grams). It was one big gimmick that worked for me. I wasn’t surprised that his newest film relied on another gimmick (“one long continuous take”) to drive the story.

2. Off the bat, people would either love this or find it completely boring. There were so many insider jokes on cinema and theater and the arts that might just go over their heads. As one character stated, “Audiences love action, not this talking philosophical bullshit.”

3. Michael Keaton looked like Robert Duvall whenever he wasn’t wearing a wig. He was excellent here by the way. The mere fact that he agreed to make fun of his current status (washed up actor who used to be Batman!) was just brave. If Al Pacino could win for all the scenery-chewing in Scent of a Woman, why couldn’t Keaton? I wouldn’t be complaining if he got that Best Actor Oscar.

4. “You confuse love for admiration.” Raise your hand if you were guilty of this.

5. Edward Norton had a lot of nudity here (or scenes that showed him in his underwear or sported a boner). For a more lengthy peek on his gift, you could watch the brilliant American History X. I loved the Norton the Method Actor playing a Norton-ish Method Actor joke.

6. I was initially bothered by the drumming soundtrack. I was expecting Miles Teller to show up practicing in one corner. And then the movie revealed an actual drummer and later on a band in Times Square. I guess the joke was on me.

7. Naomi Watts’ character had this great repartee with Andrea Riseborough’s:

“Why don’t I have any self-respect?”

“You’re an actress, honey!”

8. Speaking of Watts, she was really good in this movie. I was surprised her performance was virtually overlooked against co-star Emma Stone. Everyone knew how much I loved Stone (I even named my car after her) but she was just fine here.

9. Speaking of, there was a blatant Lancome product placement that was here either as a real product placement or as a joke on product placements in movies (or both). With this kind of dark comedy, it was just hard to tell.

10. Similar to Annie, they showed a viral video that was taken from different angles. Probably the only sloppy thing in this film.

11. Did the film miss an Oscar nomination for Best Editing since it really looked like one continuous take? Shouldn’t it have gotten one for making it look like it was one brilliant, seamless take?

12. When Keaton’s character complained about getting overshadowed by Clooney, it was just a wink on the battle of the Batmans. I’d be happy to see a fourth Batman win an Oscar tbh.

13. I hope Wenn Deramas could watch this just for that wonderful takedown on film criticism. I bet he’d have a major meltdown.

14. “A thing is a thing, not what is said of the thing.” This was a sad, sad film. Watch at your own risk.

Rating: ★★★★☆

(Originally published February 1, 2015.)

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SNOWPIERCER (Bong Joon-ho, 2013)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Snowpiercer:

1. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed this film. From the dull title to the seemingly tacky poster, I thought it would be a terrible B-movie at best. It ended up as a stylish and ambitious futuristic English film from a French novel and Korean director. Mindblown.

2. I guess I just really appreciated the vision of Korean filmmakers. I started last year with Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker and loved it as well. Great minds.

3. I rarely liked action films but this one just belonged to a different genre. There were equal parts suspense, violence, and comedy.

4. In an alternate universe, Tilda Swinton would get an Oscar for this film. The “Be a shoe” speech alone was just pure brilliance.

5. I’m happy I knew little about the film. Every time an Oscar nominee or winner showed up, I squealed with delight. They were all perfect!

6. I’d shut up now before I spoil it for you guys. The less you knew, the better. (I fear that it’s an acquired taste, though.)

Rating: ★★★★★

(Originally published January 30, 2014.)

AMERICAN SNIPER (Clint Eastwood, 2014)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on American Sniper:

1. In one powerful dinner scene, Chris Kyle’s father said that there were three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. The sheep were peace-loving and usually prone to oppression; the wolves were violent, lacked empathy, and preyed on innocent beings; while the sheepdogs might show signs of violence but only to defend the weak and oppressed. So which one were you?

2. Bradley Cooper played Kyle, a real-life Navy Seal sharpshooter. He threw on several pounds for this role and looked really batak onscreen. He was good but maybe overpraised with an Oscar nomination.

3. I was reminded so much of the pre-Dota online community game, Counterstrike. I sucked at it while the rest were really skilled with their headshots. I could still remember my clammy hands on the keyboard, heart racing with excitement, while anticipating the opponents’ next moves. This movie offered the same kind of exhilaration and the same fear of pulling that trigger. Only this was real life with real people (some kids) involved.

4. I rarely cover my eyes when I watch a movie. Not even in horror movies. The only time I do it is when it involves needles, or an open heart surgery. I couldn’t remember how many times I had to look away while watching. The scenes with the mother and kid holding a grenade and the other kid holding a bazooka literally left me on the edge of my seat.

5. Although the effects of PTSD were understandable, I think it was tackled much better in Homeland (and yes, Damian Lewis actually gave a stronger, more nuanced performance).

6. That slo-mo bullet money shot. Wow.

7. The movie ended abruptly with just a few sentences filling in the blanks of his death. Even the closing scenes focused more on celebrating a hero and overreached in terms of sentimentality. And then I remembered that this was a Clint “Million Dollar Madison County Baby” Eastwood movie. All was forgiven.

Rating: ★★★★☆

GRUDGE MATCH (Peter Segal, 2013)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Grudge Match:

1. The movie opened with a Manny Pacquiao fight. I actually thought it was a Public Service Announcement to pay taxes.

2. Oooh, so this is a comedy about two old boxers starring actors that played Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta. It should be fun.

3. After the success of Meet the Parents, Robert de Niro seemed to have found his niche in these corny lightweight comedies.

4. I laughed so hard during that Rocky reference with Stallone about to punch a hanging piece of meat. I guess I was the only old person here.

5. It’s Jon Bernthal Week! He was good in The Wolf of Wall Street, too.

6. Another proof of the Oscar Best Supporting Actress Curse: Kim Basinger.

7. Holyfield and Tyson in the end credits! I wonder if the movie were funnier if it starred them instead.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published January 20, 2014.)

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Martin Scorsese, 2013)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Wolf of Wall Street:

1. I’m surprised McConaughey’s not getting any Oscar buzz for this movie. That 7-min restaurant aria was just brilliant.

2. I had a smile plastered on my face the entire time.

3. Sex, drugs, profanity. I’m just waiting for the violence to experience a full-blown Scorsese film.

4. DiCaprio’s basically playing a version of himself. No wonder he’s so great here. Probably his best performance to date.

5. I bet a lot of guys will envy that lighted red candle. LOL!

6. That cerebral palsy phase scene has to be one of the funniest I’ve seen all year. Who knew Leo can do great slapstick? Give him an Oscar.

7. Jonah Hill is slowly becoming one of my favorite actors. He does really great work in these intelligent movies.

8. I’m going out and buying the soundtrack.

Rating: ★★★★★

(Originally published January 16, 2014.)

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: ★★★☆☆

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.)

SEVENTH SON (Sergei Bodrov, 2014)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Seventh Son:

1. The movie opened with Jeff Bridges playing a drunk Gandalf talking with his mouth full and giving a whole new meaning to scenery-chewing. I hope the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters never have the time to see this terrible performance.

2. Speaking of the Oscars, I was just happy to see that this won’t be shown in the US until February. Julianne Moore’s work here wasn’t the stuff of a future Oscar winner. This was way below Norbit levels.

3. I want that instant rejuvenation spell. I wonder if it’s on Belo Medical’s list of services.

4. Twenty minutes into the movie and I still had no idea what was happening. There was mention of a spook, something about a blood moon, and the seventh son of the seventh son, but all I cared about was the charred body of Jon Snow.

5. Those blood cakes combined the best of both worlds: it was simply puto made of dinuguan. Yum!!

6. Oh, so Gandalf was also Mr. Miyagi with a Medieval Irish accent.

7. A character was given an ogre scrotum for his enjoyment. Now I understand why they walk really funny.

8. Apparently, there would be a literal spark (and blue for that matter) when two people were destined to be together. We kept seeing the literal spark but the bland young actors actually didn’t have any. I wished for Lorna Tolentino to suddenly enter the scene in full racist Chinese eye make-up and scream, “Ano kayo Meralco? Kelangan may spark?”

9. I laughed so hard during the final scene when our hero flipped his hood, the music swelled, the screen faded to black, and it hinted at a possible sequel.

10. For whatever it’s worth, at least it was no Season of the Witch.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published January 10, 2015.)

THE IMMIGRANT (James Gray, 2013)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Immigrant:

1. Marion Cotillard’s performance in La Vie en Rose is still my most favorite Oscar-winning acting piece ever. And that’s coming from the biggest Kate Winslet fan. She just makes these things look easy.

2. Cotillard elevated this run-of-the-mill melodrama with her sympathetic turn as the destitute turned prostitute Ewa Cybulski. Sometimes though, all the movie needed was a voiceover from dear Ate Charo.

3. One of my favorite scenes here was when she didn’t know how to eat a banana and just chomped on one, peel and all.

4. This was set in the early 1920’s and yet the same immigration problems still exist. I don’t think I’d ever resort to prostitution if I were denied entry in the US but the thought of not seeing Emma Stone perform in the last few shows of Cabaret might make me reconsider.

5. Here’s a tip I learned from the film: prick your finger and dab some blood on your lips, then slap your cheeks three times on each side. The finished product will either make you look like a gorgeous Oscar winner or a bloodied version of your ugly self.

6. If you were a desperate whore, would you choose your ruthless pimp or a romantic magician? They had weird love stories in the olden times.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

(Originally published January 6, 2015.)

THE EQUALIZER 2 (Antoine Fuqua, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Equalizer 2:

1. Back in my sophomore year of college, I would usually spend the long gaps between classes with the rest of the boys in an internet shop right across our school. We would be playing this first-person shooter game called Counter-Strike in two opposing groups (sometimes against other schools) killing terrorists and defusing bombs. People hated having me on their team because I was the noob that would shoot at anything that moved (including my teammates) and never fully grasped the concept of stealth.

In the final action sequence of this movie that closely resembled that game, the main villain (who looked a bit like Justin Trudeau) committed every amateur (read: loser) move until he finally got himself killed. Because seriously, why would you be standing on a tower, thereby exposing yourself to any opponent below you? Any long range sniper rifle could easily take you out. I was so frustrated that I had no control on this character until I realized that I was just basically the pot calling the kettle black.

2. I wasn’t fond of the Death Wish-like vigilante original so I felt surprised when Denzel Washington chose to reprise his Robert McCall character (he should have left these action sequels to Keanu Reeves or Jason Statham). Given our country’s current political setting, I also found it off-putting that he played a character that still took matters into his own hands. Sure, it felt slightly good watching him serve justice on these rapists by breaking their noses and ribcages and fingers, but there was still this nagging feeling at the back of my mind whether that was the (morally) right thing to do.

On the other hand, maybe I was just overthinking things and this violence-filled entertainment was really just an excuse to watch good ‘ol Denzel beat the crap out of people. (It still didn’t explain how he actually found the time to set up posters and other props for that final, stormy showdown, though.)

3. It was a relief to see that he actually played a Lyft driver on the side because after all of my horror stories with Grab, I would never think that any of them were modern-day superheroes. If they could easily pretend to be stuck in traffic while asking me to cancel the booking on my end, why would I even trust them to save my life? (Ang pait!)

Side note: If he was registered in the company’s system (and even ordered five star ratings), wouldn’t his enemies know how to track him down? Wasn’t that against the entire point of superheroes having secret/alter identities?

4. Nuggets of wisdom:

• “There are two kinds of pain: the pain that hurts and the pain that alters.” (This was so ripe for a Star Cinema translation!)

• “Always be nice to anybody who has access to your toothbrush.” (One of the reasons why I always tried to avoid conflict with Madam Rose, especially since I never saw her clean my bathroom with an actual toilet brush.)

My favorite line though was when a young man asked “Who the (f-word) is this (n-word)?” and Denzel replied without missing a beat, “I’m your father. Your momma just didn’t tell you.” (Insert dab pose here.)

5. Melissa Leo was horrible in this movie. Her performance reminded me of that cringey “Did I really win even if I collected almost all of the precursor awards and even paid for my own FYC ads?” act during her Oscar speech.

6. Were the Hurricane references intentional? My inner trivia geek was happy.

7. That tense phone call was taken straight out of Taken. It didn’t make the two-way mirror scene any less nail-biting, though.

8. See this would be one of the reasons why I never wanted to make a lot of enemies. The easiest and most cruel revenge would always be to get back on your loved ones. Or maybe use your toothbrush to clean the toilet.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆