Monday, March 24, 2014

THE TOP 8 WORST FILMS OF 2013

So this list does not include the likes of GROWN UPS 2, or SCARY MOVIE 5 which I already knew were going to rob me blind, hence I did not bother to see them.

In this list, you will see some familiar titles, and even some surprise ones! As always, your comments are and should be kept to yourselves! No, I'm just kidding, just keep them coming.

HORROR ROLL #8
SPRING BREAKERS
Harmony Korine














Sure, it's a badass film featuring its four young leads in underwear for about 80% of the time. Heck, Harmony Korine even obtained the services of Gaspar Noe's cinematographer. Yet, SPRING BREAKERS, for all its deconstruction of juvenile delinquency obsesses too much about pretty much everything, that the slow-mo treatment and repetition of several scenes like a haunting dream feels too much to bear for one sitting.


HORROR ROLL #7
A HAUNTED HOUSE
Michael Tiddes












While the film attempts to rekindle some of the skits and originality that made SCARY MOVIE such a hit and a cult favorite, A HAUNTED HOUSE just becomes one of those ripoffs that capitalizes on the popularity of the materials that it spoofs, such as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, THE DEVIL INSIDE, and THE LAST EXORCISM. And seriously, the toilet humor has got to go.


HORROR ROLL # 6
THE INTERNSHIP
Shawn Levy












This film screams "SHAMELESS ADVERTISING" from the get-go.  I actually saw it and gave it a chance, only to be sorely disappointed. Moviegoers are not idiots (although some considerably are) and we don't like to be reduced to overt idiocy.


HORROR ROLL #5
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
John Moore












DIE HARD films have a reputation for not sucking, so when the fifth installment came out, hopes are high. After all, you couldn't go wrong with Bruce Willis, right? Wrong.

The script is not only recycled, but feels as if the writers were commissioned yesterday, and asked to hand in the manuscript by today. The father and son relationship between Willis and Jai Courtney who plays his son, is underdeveloped. But worst of all, the film does not have any shred of significance for today's age (all of the four previous films did). Also, how can you top off a police car ramming a helicopter from Part 4? The filmmakers were clueless and just went with the first idea that popped in their heads.


HORROR ROLL # 4
RUNNER RUNNER
Brad Furman












Not even the sexy and talented Gemma Arterton can save this movie from being a snooze fest. Affleck is clearly miscast as the villain; we need an actor who can deliver a more sinister portrayal of an egotistic swindler (Sorry, Ben, we loved you in THE TOWN, though). The movie felt like a mashup of all the sting films in recent memory (21, CONFIDENCE, to begin with).


HORROR ROLL # 3
MACHETE KILLS
Robert Rodriguez














You know your movie is going down the drain if even Lady Gaga's inclusion as a face-shifting assassin isn't enough. The first MACHETE was pure camp; this one was the black sheep of the family nobody wants to see. It is just plain boring, going nowhere.


HORROR ROLL # 2
THE COUNSELOR
Ridley Scott














And the award for this year's most talkative film goes to....THE COUNSELOR!

All great filmmakers have that dent in their career. This would be Ridley Scott's. The visionary helmer of ALIEN, PROMETHEUS, and GLADIATOR will be marked for life for this mess of a film, but don't worry, we know he'll get up and make better films soon.

THE COUNSELOR felt like a two-hour meeting with someone at a bar, and the topic of discussion is something of little or no interest to you. This is a film with no reprieve at the end. We walk out of the cinema feeling shitty. And whoever did Javier Bardem's hair here ought to be gifted a bolito.


AND THE TOP HORROR ROLL FOR 2013 GOES TO...
THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
Harald Zwart














Lily Collins is hot as steam in this movie, but this ripoff of TWILIGHT and any other Sci-Fi/fantasy film you could think of pushes the definition of "patience" on a whole new level. Throw in a love triangle that's so pathetic you'd want to slay them all with your bare hands, and a miscast Lena Headey (she eats Persians and Starks' hearts for breakfast, dammit!) and you've got the perfect recipe for disaster.


Monday, February 24, 2014

AMERICAN HUSTLE (David O. Russell, 2014)


From the trailers, AMERICAN HUSTLE promises to be loud, outrageous, silly, ruthless, stylish, and an undeniable Oscar bait. For all those promises, the film delivers a huge check mark. The film is far from perfect, though we can credit director David O. Russell for crafting a throwback caper that shows us how capers are supposed to look and feel like. (Yes, I am looking at you MONUMENTS MEN!)

An elaborate fraud operation is perpetrated by partners-in-crime Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser, using the alias "Lady Edith Greensly" (Amy Adams). The film starts with their whirlwind romance which led to a successful partnership, in the spirit of Bonnie and Clyde, without the killings. Irving and Sydney are perfect together, and the camera loves to frame them in moments of ecstasy during the first half of the film. 

Yet all these occur despite the fact that Irving is married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), a volatile, loudmouth, and controlling woman who will ultimately be his demise, so to speak. Rosalyn tempts her way into getting what she wants, and Lawrence who's proven she can do sexy sizzles with character and playful demeanor. As Irving says in the end of the film, Rosalyn will always remain "interesting". 

To add more crazy on the crazy train, Bradley Cooper steps in as hotshot FBI Agent Richie DiMaso, who is hellbent on making a career out of the two crooks he's stung. In a shorter version, Irving and Sydney now work for Richie in exchange for their freedom. Hell yes, living a life of crime has consequences.

The mark is Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) of Camden, New Jersey- a good-natured man who plans to revitalize Atlantic City through legalized gambling. So therein lies the opportunity to bag the big fish, but there's one moral conflict right from the very start, which the filmmakers do a great job of emphasizing in the end- Polito is a good man, proverbially. In legal terms, the entrapment planned by Richie and Co. would be classified as "instigation". 

I liked the style, the hairs, the costumes, and the look of the film, the way it moves at an even pace so as to let us connect with each of the characters. If OCEAN'S ELEVEN were filled with so much repressed sexuality, sarcasm, and obsession with hair, it would be called AMERICAN HUSTLE. 

Having said that, and having enjoyed the wild ride, AMERICAN HUSTLE missteps when the film over-adores its characters to the point of narcissism. Cooper's character is overtly self-assured that we begin to hate his guts. Meanwhile, Bale looked like a grifter who will forever be undermined by the female species. Nevertheless, this is much better than SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK,  but quite inferior to THE FIGHTER (my opinion). 

And yes, Amy Adams' and Jennifer Lawrence's bosoms ought to have a separate review. 

AMERICAN HUSTLE is one of two films nominated in this year's Oscars that tackles American excess (WOLF OF WALL STREET being the other), and if made to choose for the Awards, I put my money on Jennifer Lawrence for Best Supporting Actress, Michael Wilkinson for Best Costume Design, and Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler for Best Production Design. WOLF can take Best Actor for Leo, and Best Director for Marty. 

And all this because "the tale of survival is a story that never ends". 

RATING: 4/5 






Sunday, February 23, 2014

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (Ben Stiller, 2014)


Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) likes to daydream, a lot. It's what keeps him going through the day. It's also this quality that makes him a weirdo in front of his officemates at Life Magazine, particularly to new head honcho and resident A-hole Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott). 

And yet, as we later learn in the movie, Walter's daydreaming becomes his ultimate tool for triumph. It's his rich and vivid imagination that defeats the impossible.

As director, Stiller approaches the material with an overt sense of childhood fascination of grand adventures, of becoming the hero of the story. Mixing equal amounts of humor, pathos, and eye-popping special effects, the result is a jetsetting experience that allows us to empathize with Walter Mitty as we tag along for his adventures.

As actor, the always charming Stiller makes Walter Mitty a triumphant representation of the ordinary guy whom nobody noticed, but is out to conquer his fears and the world. 

Kristen Wiig, who plays Walter's co-worker Cheryl Melhoff plays a huge deal of influence on his transformation as a character. Giving a toned down, minimalist performance here (as opposed to BRIDESMAIDS and her SNL skits), Wiig deconstructs the "dream girl" archetype by maintaining that an office girl, who has a kid, and has a previous husband can still be lovable. 

The mission is the missing print of film that is supposed to be the cover for Life's final issue. The photo was taken by eccentric and reclusive photojournalist Sean O' Connell (Sean Penn, who packs a very brief but powerful onscreen appearance), which was entrusted to Walter as per usual, but on this instance the print is missing from the batch of prints that was mailed to him. Sean is old school. He doesn't have a phone and he is always on the go. So if Walter is to find that missing print, he has to seek Sean himself, wherever he may be.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is a film that will stir up your soul and reach deep into one's humanity. It has just the right amount of adventure, comedy, and drama to make us feel as if we are on a journey to self-discovery ourselves. It is many things at once, a fantasy adventure, a social commentary on big business vis-a-vis technology, an emphasis on family however dysfunctional it may be, and the championing of human will against ridicule, against the norm. Every frame of WALTER MITTY is utterly magical it's hard to choose just one favorite scene.

RATING: 5/5

HOMEFRONT (Gary Fleder, 2014)


Statham in a domestic thriller? No way. Statham worked well kicking asses and taking names in the TRANSPORTER movies, as well as in bone-crunching extravaganzas such as SAFE, KILLER ELITE, and the two CRANK and EXPENDABLES films. Even in a caper, Statham works well, as is the case with THE BANK JOB, his most highly-regarded film. But in a domestic thriller with James Franco as villain? Franco who will forever be the laughing stock of Oscar night history, and who works best in small roles such as Danny Clear in THE GREEN HORNET cannot possibly be menacing enough for Statham, but he is, and surprisingly, the film plays out decent enough to keep my attention.

Written by Sylvester Stallone (yes, him) and directed by Gary Fleder (RUNAWAY JURY, KISS THE GIRLS), HOMEFRONT is basically yet another visual translation of the cinematic age old mantra in action movies, that ex-military or ex-police, or ex-whatever protagonists now living peacefully will always find their past catching up with them, no matter what they do. 

In this instance, Statham is an ex-DEA agent who has infiltrated a biker gang involved in drug manufacture. Years later, we learn he has a young daughter, is widowed, and is starting over in Louisiana.

Enter Franco as a small-time, no good meth head who crosses path with Statham's simpleton guy. Statham is an enigma to the residents of the small town he migrates to. When a school incident involving his daughter and the son of a local woman (SUPERMAN RETURNS' Kate Bosworth, who is overtly deglamorized here) paves the way for the ex-DEA agent to confront his past, no punches are pulled.

And here is where I was totally surprised, as Fleder manages to mount numerous fight scenes adequate to showcase Statham's great fighting skills. Since this is a film with so many bad guys running about, it would be a waste to see Statham just standing there, not beating villains to a pulp. Moreover, we learn a new way to brutalize and/or incapacitate goons. 

See the film if you're a Statham fan, which I am. Aside from the action, the film has that extra amount of heart because of the presence of the young girl (Statham's character's daughter) who makes us care what happens to Statham at all. 

Franco delivers pretty well also. He's not the quintessential bad guy here you'll hate so much that you'd want to see him die in the most painful way possible. Nope, that's not him. He portrays in turn a guy who just wants to move up in the world, even with the use of treachery.

And who here thinks we really didn't need Winona Ryder in this movie at all?

RATING: 3/5    

Friday, January 31, 2014

TOP 20 BEST FILIPINO FILMS OF 2013

2013 was a great year for Philippine cinema, but then you already know this.

20. BLUE BUSTAMANTE by Miko Livelo (Cinema One Originals)




One of the funniest films of 2013, BLUE BUSTAMANTE combines biting one-liners with a heartfelt story of fathers and sons. Also, a great tribute for those of us who were old enough to have experienced the Sentai wave on television.


19. OTSO by Elwood Perez (Sineng Pambansa)




Cinematic madness. A peek into the never-ending, and always changing process of creation that pits an aspiring screenwriter (Vince Tanada) against his own imagination. Featuring a hilarious turn by Vangie Labalan. 


18. ALAMAT NI CHINA DOLL by Adolfo Borinaga Alix, Jr. (Cinema One Originals)





A modern-day detective story told in a nonlinear fashion, where the line between truth and fiction is blurred, telling the story of a young woman trying to escape the clutches of unforgiving men who will only use her for personal gains. Featuring a must-see performance from Cesar Montano.


17. BINGOLERAS by Ron Bryant (CineFilipino)


A film that isn't really going anywhere, yet BINGOLERAS proves to be one of the year's campiest comedies, an unapologetic, oftentimes bizarre feminist tale of con women, policewomen, and M-16s. Yes, M-16. An ensemble cast featuring Maxene Eigenmann, Charee Pineda, Eula Valdez, Mercedes Cabral, Liza Dino, Hazel Orencio, Cita Astals and Mailes Kanapi could not get any funnier. Plus, hats off to Lou Veloso and the M16 scene, and Art Acuna's big revelation about his character- the best WTF scenes of 2013. 


16. ANG KWENTO NI MABUTI by Mes De Guzman (CineFilipino)


Mes De Guzman's brand of minimalist filmmaking and sharp sense of humor this time finds Nora Aunor as Nanang Mabuti, a woman living a simple life in the mountains, until a bagful of money falls into her lap. An interesting morality study about a woman being offered an easy way out, and yet her principle dictates otherwise. 




15. ANINO NG KAHAPON by Alvin Yapan (MMFF New Wave)






Two words: AGOT ISIDRO. 




14. QUICK CHANGE by Eduardo Roy, Jr. (Cinemalaya)



A heartbreaking peek into the life of Dorina, played with sheer vulnerability by Mimi Juareza. She brings beauty to countless of her gay clientele by injecting collagen to firm up particular body parts, but ironically, something in her isn't beautiful in the eyes of her lover (Jun Jun Quintana).


13. BABAGWA by Jason Paul Laxamana (Cinemalaya)




A cautionary tale about false identities and hidden agendas. Perhaps one of the best screenplays of 2013, if not the best. Joey Paras is compelling as the criminal mastermind Marnie, while Alma Concepcion's return to film is more than welcome, herein playing the mark of an elaborate scam. 



12. ON THE JOB (Erik Matti)





Finally, an action film that does not desecrate our intellect and self-respect.




11. ANG HULING CHA-CHA NI ANITA by Sigrid Andrea Bernardo (CineFilipino)






The first love cuts the deepest. Gets the accuracy of the first love feeling: overwhelmingly joyful and extremely painful.




10. SHIFT by Siege Ledesma (Cinema One Originals)


Devoid of any pretension and brilliantly capturing the rhythm and emotion of today's generation, SHIFT succeeds as an unconventional love story that also serves as a character study in a world equipped with fewer career options.






9.RIDDLES OF MY HOMECOMING by Arnel Mardoquio (Cinema One Originals)




Like a haunting dream, Mardoquio's silent film takes us on an unforgettable journey deep into the mysteries of Mindanao, as a soul returns to his homeland.



8. TRANSIT by Hannah Espia (Cinemalaya)



Beautifully written, shot, and edited, TRANSIT benefits also from its gifted actors, including a much-deserved Best Actress win for Irma Adlawan for her empathetic turn as a protective mother.






7. DEBOSYON by Alvin Yapan (Cinemalaya)



Religion versus folklore. Faith is the common denominator. A mesmerizing trip into the line that separates religion and folklore, or is there one to begin with?






6. SONATA by Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes (Sineng Pambansa)



Cherie Gil's performance as a fallen opera star is so filled with energy and charisma that tears are sure to follow: whether it be tears of joy or sorrow.







5. ANG TURKEY MAN AY PABO RIN by Randolph Longjas (CineFilipino)



A rare comedy that hits the Filipina-American stereotype dead center through the use of brilliant satire. Every line is inspired lunacy. Tuesday Vargas makes one memorable role as Cookie, the representation of the modern Filipina- strong, independent, yet besieged by prejudice.


4. EKSTRA by Jeffrey Jeturian (Cinemalaya)



A film tailor-fitted for the Star for All Seasons, a challenge accepted and won. EKSTRA is the film where Vilma sheds off her expressive body acting in favor of minimalist character acting. The last twenty minutes of the film may prove unbearable, even after repeated viewings.


3. BADIL by Chito Rono (Sineng Pambansa)



Just how fucked up is our electoral system in the country? Find out.






2. SANA DATI by Jerrold Tarog (Cinemalaya)


Critics are hailing it the "anti-romcom" movie. A film where you think you know, but you know nothing at all until the very end. A masterful combination of romance, drama, and suspense from maverick filmmaker Jerrold Tarog. A film that promises to hurt, really hurt.




1. NORTE, HANGGANAN NG KASAYSAYAN by Lav Diaz (Cinemanila)



A four-hour epic exploration of morality, justice, and redemption. An excellent showcase of acting prowess by Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania, Mailes Kanapi, Mae Paner, Hazel Orencio and Soliman Cruz.




*Films not seen (didn't have the opportunity)
ISKALAWAGS by Keith Deligero
KABISERA by Borgy Torre
ANG PAGBABALAT NG AHAS by Timmy Harn
BUKAS NA LANG SAPAGKAT GABI NA by Jet Leyco
SITIO by Mes De Guzman
ANO ANG KULAY NG MGA NAKALIMUTANG PANGARAP by Joey Reyes
DEATH MARCH by Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr.
LUKAS NINO by John Torres

Thursday, January 16, 2014

BADIL (Chito Rono, 2013)


Elections in the Philippines has always taken its place in the hall of infamy, with its share of violence, celebrities turned instant politicians, and yes, the phenomena of vote-buying which is as old as time itself. 

In BADIL, the gripping political thriller from seasoned filmmaker Chito S. Rono, we see the extent of people's desire to emerge victorious in the elections by way of sabotaging known supporters of the opposition, a practice known as "dynamiting" or "dynamite fishing", or in the local parlance, "badil". 

Ponso (Dick Israel) is a highly-influential figure in their barrio who is known as a master manipulator and facilitator. He can steer the results of an election his way through use of money, influence, blackmail, sometimes even violence, and most importantly, the innate Filipino trait of "utang na loob" or owing favors. 

On the eve of the elections in a small coastal barrio, Ponso makes the usual rounds to his constituents. Since he grows old by the minute, he cannot walk around the streets unassisted so his son Lando (Jhong Hilario) accompanies him. Ponso teaches Lando the wisdom for the ages and lays down the law of the land. You get people to be happy only if they are expecting something, like money perhaps, he imparts to Lando.  

When Ponso's blood pressure shoots up and has to be rushed to the hospital, Lando has to inevitably take his place so that the elections will run along smoothly, and that their bet for the mayoralty race will be reelected. 

What starts out as a seemingly brief glimpse into the dirty politics in the Philippines becomes real interesting by the film's second half, as Rono steers his story from the political into the personal. We see the deepening relationship between father and son, father and daughter, and that's another interesting element- the inclusion of Jen (Nikki Gil), Lando's girlfriend whose father is the equivalent of Ponso from the opposition. How much more Shakespeare can you get than that? 

But all remains civil, and like Jen's father says to Lando, after the elections they will all become one big happy family again. 

Meanwhile, Lando and Jen face yet another bumpy road in their relationship, but that would have to wait after the elections. 

And thus begins the longest night of Lando's life. In just one night, allegiances turn, loyalties will be tested, and the concept of "utang na loob" goes right out of the window.

BADIL gives off a claustrophobic feel, which maybe a metaphor for the dead-end lives of its characters, and probably the future of the country as well. The setting is an island, where the only entry and exit point is by sea. Lando goes back and forth to familiar places throughout the film, setting off the notion of how small really his world is, which is about to get smaller.

The suspense never lets up come second half. Lando is on the look out for saboteurs who if not cornered his neck will be the first in line for the noose. Rody Vera's masterful screenplay holds us at gunpoint, uncertain how things will play out in the end. We all know in the end someone will lose, and someone will pay. But who exactly?

The cast is a compelling ensemble who each lent an inspired performance to make BADIL the gritty thriller that it is, from the gravitas of the main casts, down to the distinct acting by the likes of Ronnie Quizon, Yayo Aguila, Vangie Labalan and Mercedes Cabral. Even Mon Confiado is electrifying. He is that good that he can make the scene terrifying without a single line of dialogue.

And kudos also to Efren Reyes' career resurgence. We missed him. 

The cycle of corruption and poverty begins in the grassroots level, as what BADIL vividly portrays, and it is depressing and frustrating to learn why progress is always at bay. In the shady game of politics, you get your hands dirty, or you die. Simple but brutally effective. 

No character in the movie is innocent. Everybody is guilty of something, and this becomes the film's moment of ultimate truth. Every scene is powerful, and perhaps most powerful (and amusing) is the final frame involving cappuccino. Cappuccino is our version of Kool-Aid, and if you have seen the film, you'll know what it means. Rody Vera and Chito Rono knows their satire. 

RATING: 5/5

  

Monday, January 13, 2014

AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (David Lowery, 2013)


Love will separate and eventually reunite husband and wife Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) in first-time writer/director David Lowery's compelling low-key drama AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS, a film that fills your eyes with endless majesty of the Texan landscape, all the while weaving a searing tale of a man who takes the place of her wife in jail, and who breaks out of prison so he can be reunited with her, and cherish the daughter he's never met.

The film does not glorify crime in any way, and Lowery presents his subject of crime and punishment in such manner that we are able to reflect on the human toll of what Bob and Ruth did, and not only their broken family is affected. We also see old man Skerritt (Keith Carradine) fall into pieces and slowly pick up his life again after his son Freddy (Kentucker Audley) unluckily gets gunned down by the police after the last robbery to which Freddy, Bob, and Ruth are involved with. 

Skerritt is the de facto patriarch to Bob and Ruth, and after Bob is imprisoned, he makes sure that Ruth and her daughter is well-provided for. With Bob's return, he also educates the young man the difference about what's right and what's necessary. 

A series of letters and voice overs tell us of Bob's longing for Ruth, and the gentleness of Casey Affleck's voice lends empathy for his weary character; meanwhile, Rooney Mara is chillingly effective as Ruth that her mere eyes speak what's inside her thoughts. 

A slow country score envelops the exodus of these two lovers, paired with Bradford Young's dreamy cinematography that almost lulls the viewer to sleep. But the story reminds us the seriousness of the situation, and grounds us on our feet.

Every moment is danger. Every minute seems farther away from each other. The journey of Inman (Jude Law) back to Ada (Nicole Kidman) in COLD MOUNTAIN comes into mind. Oh, the pain and horror and ambivalence of wanting something (or someone), and having it within arm's length, and at the same time, not at all. 

To complete a triad of complexity, Lowery adds Ben Foster in the role of lawman Patrick Wheeler, the cop whom Ruth shoots and injures early in the film, and which causes Bob's incarceration. Patrick does not know this, and he shows kindness and tenderness towards Ruth and her daughter while Bob is absent from the picture. And this is where it gets heartbreaking. 

Whereas most writers would normally portray Wheeler the third wheel, Lowery maintained the character as a force of good, who will protect Ruth and her child from whatever harm that may befall them. For a moment there, some sexual tension arises but Lowery quickly fans out the flames. He wants Wheeler to retain his moral high ground.

Rooney Mara's line towards the end of the film is just the cherry on top of this emotional yarn: "I've been waiting for you." Never knew that such simple words could be so disarming.

Beautifully shot, edited, scored, and acted by a cinematic dream team of today's finest young actors, AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS is a testament to the timeless powers of love and sacrifice, an indelible cinematic imprint that turns the fugitive suspense-drama genre on its head. 

RATING: 5/5