This X-Men saga comes to a close in ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’

The culmination of a superhero saga nearly two decades in the making is upon us when 20th Century Fox’s take on Marvel’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” opens in Philippine cinemas on June 5.

The spectacular new blockbuster is part science-fiction thriller, part character-driven drama, posing intriguing questions about identity and destiny. The emotional story of a divided hero, a divided family and a divided world, “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp and Jessica Chastain. The film was written and directed by Simon Kinberg and produced by Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner and Todd Hallowell.

It’s the question at the heart of one of the most enduring storylines in the decades-long history of the X-Men comic books, the Dark Phoenix saga. Written by industry legend Chris Claremont and illustrated by artist John Byrne in 1980, the story in many ways represents the ultimate X-Men tale: Jean Grey (Turner) is transformed into a force that not even her mutant family can comprehend. She becomes an outsider among outsiders, a being beyond the reach of even those closest to her. 

“The Dark Phoenix saga is one of the most beloved of the X-Men series in its long lineage, primarily because it’s not a story where you have heroes and villains, black and white,” says Simon Kinberg.

At its core, this is a tale of a woman struggling with her personal demons, and only the love of her family—the X-Men—can save her soul, and the world. “This movie’s very different from the previous X-Men movies,” Kinberg says. “The source material is different from the other X-Men comics that we’ve drawn upon in the past. It’s more psychologically complex and emotionally volatile. The emotions it gets into are rawer than a lot of the other X-Men comics.”

It’s a fitting conclusion to the X-Men franchise’s remarkable 18-year run. With X-Men: Dark Phoenix serving as the culmination of the saga after an impressive 12 films, producer Hutch Parker, who was there at the inception of 2000’s X-Men, says the experience of bringing the franchise full circle feels bittersweet.

“What we were able to do with the first film was introduce a tone that would have seemed, I think to most eyes, impossible in association with what we knew comic book movies to be at that time,” Parker says. “It was a game-changer in my opinion. Since then, comic-book films have become such an exciting and fertile platform. I feel like we’re only beginning to see the diversity of storytelling that’s possible within these worlds and with these characters. I’m grateful to have been a part of it, but I’m also aware that it will continue on long after all of us have moved on.”

From 20th Century Fox, “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” opens in PH cinemas nationwide on June 5.

‘Between Maybes’ review: Julia Barretto, Gerald Anderson delight in well-written romcom

In Between Maybes, award-winning writer-director Jason Paul Laxamana takes us to a beautiful getaway with Julia Barretto and Gerald Anderson’s amazing act and chemistry.

Louie Puyat (Gerald Anderson) has been living a solitary life in Saga, Japan until his silence is broken by the arrival of Hazel Ilagan (Julia Barretto), a washed up actress struggling to find redemption in her career. They develop a functional relationship where Louie checks on Hazel during her vacation, while Louie, whose in need of a human connection, finds much joy in her company. Amidst the isolation, these two lost souls find solace in each other – but unbeknownst to them, this brief encounter will change their lives forever.

The trailers piqued a comment on the film’s casting choice – the noticeable age gap between the leads feels like an unexpected pair. But as the film goes on, it defies our preconceived notions as Julia and Gerald pull off fun and excitement: a well-established and convincing chemistry. Shockingly, their tandem gives so much realizations that will hardly cross your mind. Julia shines as she steps up in her acting skills. She masterfully balances joy and despair, showing what a real-life celebrity would look like on and off screen. She was born for the role of Hazel Ilagan. Indeed, her performance made everything look beautiful and sincere.

Julia Barretto in ‘Between Maybes.’

There’s so much to admire in Between Maybes. With its compelling plot and well written screenplay, the film perfectly portrays how a brief getaway can matter to someone as a form of healing. It is a touching exploration of two souls who found each other at the right time. The strength of the film lies in the character development of Hazel and Louie. Hazel starts off as an entitled teenager whose ambitious stage mom pushes her showbiz career to mask her incompetence in academics. Louie, on the other hand, while being polite and quite formal in his demeanor due to being accustomed to the Japanese culture, has his own share of dark past too — secrets that haunt him and would rather not talk about. Though they seem to be the opposite of each other, their relationship eventually evolves into a romantic one, which proves that familiarity breeds contempt. It helps the viewers reflect their attitude towards other people through the peaceful experience of the main characters in Japan.

Gerald Anderson in ‘Between Maybes.’

Between Maybes leaves a sweet taste yet packs a mouthful of emotions to your stomach. With its breathtaking and vivid cinematography set in Saga, Japan, it feels like a treat to witness these characters find comfort in each other during the low points of their lives in a place far from home. It’s a life story that teaches responsibility and loving yourself above anyone else. Hazel’s arc is very relatable – don’t we all sometimes want to get away from the noise of our regular lives and go back to it once we have finally cleared our minds? The film takes us to their pain yet with every mistake and hardship comes the choice to cherish love and learning. The film gives a significant impact to many aspects in one’s life, career, family included. Laxamana’s adept direction and the cast’s reliable acting makes everything a delight to watch. For its somber and dramatic moments, these are further amplified by a good musical arrangement that includes “Mahalaga” by Trisha Denise and Acel’s cover of Rico Blanco’s “Your Universe”. This film surely gives viewers a new hope to never give up on the local industry.

And with its sincerity and bittersweet themes in play, Between Maybes feels like one of Jason Paul Laxamana’s special works, if not the best. It showcases his skill as a storyteller with the help of a balanced and well-written script. Without a doubt, he has continually shown improvement in his craft. Plus, we get to experience the beauty of Japan through this film. I daresay this is yet the best romantic comedy film he has made.

5 out of 5 stars
Directed and written by Jason Paul Laxamana ‘Between Maybes’ stars Gerald Anderson and Julia Barretto.

‘Pokémon Detective Pikachu’ review: What fanboy dreams are made of

Pokémon Detective Pikachu instantly evokes a sense of wonder and excitement made palpable by its goofy charms and photo-realistic details.

It won’t take a while for viewers to get sucked into Ryme City – a utopian metropolis where wild Pokémons and humans peacefully coexist together. For the uninitiated, these Pokémons are huggable pets that come in different shapes and sizes. For fanboys – including this writer who has played multiple versions of the game back in the day – it’s basically playing “Who’s that Pokémon?” as we try to spot as many as we can in any given frame. Much of the world building here is how the film naturally integrates these adorable creatures in mundane human activities. Look, there’s a squad of Squirtles putting out a fire! A Jigglypuff lulling its customer to sleep! A Ludicolo casually working as a barista! I can easily turn this review into a listicle of all the Pokémons that appeared in this film. Detective Pikachu is an obvious nostalgia bait, especially for the children of 90’s who have maintained their love for the Nintendo property. There’s something magical in seeing a proper live-action Pokémon film for the first time.

Mr. Mime is a scene-stealer in this movie. Oh, and his “hair” is actually a pair of horns. Let that sink in.

The casual moviegoer won’t be alienated however, even if the only character they know here is the yellow furball known as Pikachu. Bringing in a less sarcastic brand of humor, Ryan Reynolds doing the voicework, proves to be a silly yet inspired casting choice. Even if you don’t have the faintest idea how this world operates, viewers sure do know how to appreciate a good joke. When it comes to the fun department, Reynolds and director/co-writer Rob Letterman is quite, to borrow a catchphrase, “super effective.” And since this is a family friendly movie, Pikachu does not curse and we forget for a while that this is practically Deadpool’s voice talking to us.

Hot on the trails. Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) and Tim (Justice Smith)

It’s a massive gamble not to include familiar faces like Ash Ketchum, Misty or Brock, but the core success of this franchise has always been the intimate friendship between the Pokémons and their trainers, regardless which character leads the story. In Detective Pikachu, the eponymous electric mouse teams up with Tim Goodman (Justice Smith brings warmth to his role) whose estranged father Harry is either dead or gone missing. Also for some reason, only Tim has the ability to understand all the words coming out from Pikachu’s mouth. Rounding up this buddy comedy/mystery is an intrepid TV intern Lucy (Kathryn Newton) who fancies herself as an investigative reporter. She’s paired up with arguably the second worst Pokémon next to a Magikarp – Psyduck. The poor fella has to listen to spa music so it’s head won’t explode in confusion.

Facing an unknown threat. Psyduck and Lucy (Kathryn Newton).

As the crew unravel the truth behind Harry’s disappearance, they stumble upon underground battles, experimentation facilities and an overpowered Mewtwo. As a kiddie detective noir, the whole experience is refreshing and easy to follow. Sure, at some point, the film struggles to deliver a coherent story especially once the twists of the third act fail to make sense. But with all the dazzling stunts happening on screen, we can easily brush off this forgivable flaw.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu undeniably breaks the video game adaptation curse. In fact, it’s the best one out there yet! On an aesthetic level, it’s a lush and lovely imagination of an alternate world. Like Pikachu, it comes out as a beacon of joy and hope. It’s breezy story leaves more themes for exploration and I can’t wait to revisit this place again. In case it’s not clear, I would like to order a cinematic universe please.

4 out of 5 stars
Directed by Rob Letterman, written by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman and Derek Connolly, Pokémon Detective Pikachu stars Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Rita Ora, Karan Soni and Josette Simon. 104 minutes. Based on the game ‘Detective Pikachu’ by The Pokémon Company. 109 minutes. Rated PG.