‘Family History’ review: Bitoy’s dramedy triumphs as GMA’s comeback film

Laughs aside, Michael V’s ‘Family History’ is a heartwarming film filled with strong core values on family, life, and marriage.

Michael V. (“Bitoy”) outdoes himself as he takes on the job of producing, writing, directing and starring in his own film. In Family History, Bitoy plays Alex Dela Cruz, a happily married family man who finds himself at a crossroads when a terminal disease challenges his marriage to his wife, May (portrayed by returning “Kapuso” Ms. Dawn Zulueta). At its center, Family History tackles hardships and temptations of a husband in maintaining a relationship with his sick wife. These challenges bears much pragmatic life lessons and viewers can really feel the dedication that Bitoy poured in his work.

Family History has a great story to tell and a satisfactory execution to justify it. Yes, it does have plot holes and some sequences that are best left on the editing floor to achieve better pacing, but the film is able to deliver its message when it mattered the most. It’s a lesson about loving beyond imposed limitations, dealing with heartaches, getting in control of your emotions when things go sour, atoning for your mistakes and consequently, learning to forgive those who have wronged you. Those core themes alone are worthy takeaways that other films nowadays take for granted. Not to mention, the film’s heartwarming moments mesh well will Bitoy’s signature brand of comedy. 

Michael V. in ‘Family History’

Family History also remarkably depicts how cancer affects a person’s outlook as well as the people around him/her. After revealing the May’s illness in the first act, audiences are thrown aback as she also confesses her issues in her marriage. This part of the story truly changes the phase for the whole film. It can be emotional yet it’s positively infused with funny moments that make us realize that enduring love triumphs over pain and sickness. 

The film is also boosted by its strong performances. In here, Bitoy solidifies himself as – in my opinion – the best comedian ever. The film is written to play on Bitoy’s strengths when it comes to injecting funny moments. He’s really good at playing with our emotions, balancing every moment where audiences are supposed to cry but he makes them laugh instead. Though there are some scenes that demand more seriousness and the actor tends to tip the situation to a lighter mood. Dawn, who’s bedridden for more than half of the film, is still in her prime as an excellent dramatic scenes. Both actors are able to deliver an endearing chemistry that balances the heavy and light themes of the script.

Dawn Zulueta in ‘Family History’

Bitoy’s character Alex is also a supportive dad to his son Malix (Miguel Tanfelix) who’s in a relationship with his schoolmate Jenna (Bianca Umali). Dubbed as ‘BiDawn,’ the rising pair’s first team up adds an interesting layer of drama and requisite “kilig” scenes for their fans. Adding support to the main cast is Kakai Bautista as Dawn’s best friend; Paolo Contis as Bitoy’s office buddy; and Nonie Buencamino as his effeminate boss who earns a chunk of big laughs.

Miguel Tanfelix and Bianca Umali in ‘Family History’

Michael V. does a remarkable job in telling a powerful story with such awareness towards sickness and mental health. Notwithstanding some cinematography lapses (the stiff camerawork and off-putting transitions), the film does not stop at shallow entertainment brought by fun sitcom reel material. Overall, Family History is a great and successful directorial debut for Michael V, a noteworthy comeback for GMA Pictures. It’s a pleasure to watch, not just once but ’46’ times.

4 out of 5 stars
Produced by GMA Pictures and Mic Test Entertainment. Directed by Michael V, ‘Family History’ stars Michael V, Dawn Zulueta, Bianca Umali, Miguel Tanfelix, John Estrada, Paolo Contis, Nonie Buencamino, Kakai Bautista, Ina Feleo, Mikoy Morales, Nikki Co, Jemwell Ventenilla and Vince Gamad with special participation of Dingdong Dantes and Eugene Domingo. 125 minutes. PG-13.

Last chance to catch Westlife: ‘The Twenty Tour’ concert on July 29 & 30

All Systems Go! Last Chance to Catch WESTLIFE ‘The Twenty Tour’  on July 29 and 30! 

Fans are excited and the anticipation is rising for Irish pop vocal group, WESTLIFE’s ‘The Twenty Tour’ in Manila. The concerts are all set to happen this July 29 and 30th at the Araneta Coliseum.

The reunion tour is expected to be nostalgic, as the band will be performing their well-loved hits in Asia. They are definitely back and in full swing, ready to celebrate their 20th anniversary of hits with loyal fans here in Manila.

Proof to the overwhelming love of their supporters, ‘The Twenty Tour’ is Westlife’s fastest selling tour of all time. The band sold an incredible 400,000 tickets in just 48 hours in the UK. Their first show in Manila sold out in less than a day. The shows will see the global pop kings perform their greatest hits and all 14 of their U No.1 hits including‘Swear It Again’, ‘Flying Without Wings’, ‘If I Let You Go’, ‘My Love’, ‘Uptown Girl’, ‘A World Of Our Own’, ‘Unbreakable’, ‘Mandy’, and ‘You Raised Me Up’.

Being the UK’s top selling album group of the 21st century, Shane, Nicky, Mark and Kian have also returned with their highly anticipated first new single in eight years, ‘Hello My Love’, which is written and produced by superstar hitmarkers Ed Sheeran and Steve Mac.

Westlife have sold over 55 million records worldwide, and are the only band to have their first 7 singles enter the UK chart at No.1. They also have the most singles of any artist to debut at No.1 in the UK. Overall the band has had an incredible 14 No.1 singles, behind only Elvis Presley and The Beatles. They have had 33 No.1 albums worldwide and as a live act have sold 5 million concert tickets worldwide.

Last chance! Few tickets left to WESTLIFE: The Twenty Tour in Manila via TicketNet.com.ph or Call 911-5555. You can also visit any TicketNet outlets nationwide or the Araneta Coliseum box office.

#WESTLIFEManila2019

Anne Curtis, Marco Gumabao go intimate in Jason Paul Laxamana’s ‘Just a Stranger’

Written and directed by Jason Paul Laxamana (The Day After Valentine’s, 100 Tula Para Kay Stella), ‘Just a Stranger’ revolves around a married woman who gets into an affair with a man half her age despite her nagging conscience that one day they might pay for it.  

Mae Pimentel (Curtis) is in her mid-30s.  Though stricken with an illness called Fibromyalgia, Mae is not wanting in material things and can go on a leisure trip anywhere she wants.  Her husband Phil (Edu Manzano), a businessman, doesn’t seem to mind as he has very little time for her.    It is while vacationing in the flamboyant city of Lisbon, Portugal that this fashionable lady meets Jericho.

Jericho “Jekjek” Esguerra (Gumabao) is a 19-year-old son of a Philippine Ambassador.  He is oozing with sex appeal and charming personality, but lacking in maturity.  To help him have a sense of responsibility, his father tells him to find a job.  Jericho is not excited about working, but out of respect to his parents Rufi and Judy (Robert Seña and Isay Alvarez), he obeys their demands.  He has a girlfriend named Febbie (Jas Rodriguez), but meeting Mae makes his life more exciting.  

The trailer already gives a hint of the numerous steamy scenes between Anne and Marco, but director Laxamana points out that the film was not created to romanticize illicit affair.  This drama will delve deeper into the personal stories of the characters to show their reasons behind their actions.  It is interesting to know if despite their liaison, Mae and Jericho can stick to this principle: “Not your friend.  Not your lover.  Just a stranger.”

It is said that the idea of doing a May-December affair love story has long been considered by Anne, but it is only now that the right material came along.  The award-winning actress has shown her versatility by doing action (Buy Bust)  and mystery thriller (Aurora), but it can’t be disregarded that her career prospered while doing romantic drama movies (Baler, In Your Eyes, No Other Woman, A Secret Affair).  After the box office hit Sid & Aya, it’s great that viewers will get to see Anne going back to her roots – the romance-drama genre.

‘Just a Stranger’ opens in cinemas nationwide on August 21, 2019. From VIVA Films.

‘Midsommar’ review: Welcome to the sunny side of hell

Helmed by Ari Aster’s fearless direction, ‘Midsommar’ effectively elevates the dread and horror – even if there’s no discernible purpose other than shock value.

Note: This review contains mild spoilers, though you might have already deduced some of them in the trailer.

An unspeakable tragedy occurs in the opening sequence of Midsommar that should warn you to the amount of disturbing content this film has. Such outcome puts an anxiety-afflicted Dani (Florence Pugh) at her lowest low – a gut-wrenching moment when life strips everything away from her. Writer/director Ari Aster then continues her harrowing grieving process to Hårga, Sweden as her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is left with no option but to tag her along with his friends’ bro-getaway. Together, they participate in an ancestral, midsummer event that only happens every 90 years. How prestigious and exciting, right? The warning signs are abound, this most definitely looks like a cult trap. Yet for the crew who’s been intoxicated with psychedelic drugs the moment they stepped on the said village, they remain oblivious to that suggestion. For Dani, what awaits could be a shot at metamorphosis – even if the film’s execution evokes more confusion than catharsis.

Strangers in Sweden. William Jackson Harper (Josh), Will Poulter (Mark), Florence Pugh (Dani) and Jack Reynor (Christian) in ‘Midsommar.’

To his credit, Aster crafts a more comprehensible and straightforward film this time than his debut work in Hereditary. He foreshadows the horrors ahead of time with the aid of abundant symbolism incorporated in the film’s stylistic production design. Some are self-explanatory, hand-painted illustrations while some are iconography that won’t make sense unless you’ve read books about pagan rituals. Nevertheless, there’s a strange satisfaction once you see the bits and pieces fall into place – every character plays a part in this unsettling pagan tale. By then, things start to get sickening: grotesque rituals, body desecration, graphic nudity and religious hysteria – Midsommar has all of those things and more. Aster proves that he’s the type of filmmaker who pulls no punches.

But I’ve done my research and I found out that most, if not all, of the creepy traditions here don’t occur in Sweden. Maybe in other European countries during the medieval times but never in the Swedish present context. (The maypole dance does not count as creepy, by the way.) It appears that Aster is just using the midsummer festival as a backdrop for his handpicked Scandinavian pagan rituals. Sure, it’s a work of fiction after all. Yet why does Midsommar seem like a deliberate cultural misrepresentation? Not only is it a false depiction of beliefs and religion, it’s further amplified by the over-sensationalized R-18 elements simply presented for shock value. It even has a warped sense of humor to break the tension. Sometimes it works, but in one rape scene where the film elicits laughs from the audience, it feels very wrong and malicious. This is where the film’s sincerity looks questionable to me. Midsommar can feel indulgent on both narrative and aesthetic level.

Camaraderie in Swedish community. Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) comforts Dani in ‘Midsommar.’

Indeed, Midsommar is a film about many things. For one, Aster said himself that this is a “breakup movie dressed in the clothes of a horror folk film” and he does a great job in revealing the relationship cracks of the central couple. Dani’s traumatic experience prohibits an emotionally checked out Christian from breaking up with her. The latter can be a coward and an inept boyfriend but you really can’t blame the guy. Why would you stay in a codependent relationship that’s requiring more than you can give? In the same way, Dani can’t be faulted for all the unfortunate things that happened to her. Neither of them are inherently bad partners, both are just unhealthy for each other. But here we are, Aster drops their fragile relationship into the most extreme circumstances. In the process, some sort of spiritual awakening is gifted in the film’s final moments yet you can’t help but to frown on it. The message on empowerment and liberation does not exactly hold up since there’s not much autonomy involved. Diabolical external forces – not freewill – led the film’s biggest decision.

Christian and Dani reacts to a horrifying ritual in ‘Midsommar.’

That is not to say that Midsommar is a bad film. Suffice to say, it’s a fearless arthouse horror that won’t suit everyone’s taste. Aster’s phenomenal filmmaking alone warrants a 5 star rating for me. There’s an allure to his style – the way he plays with blocking, space, symmetry and even mirrors. Also noteworthy are his well-thought transitions, the most remarkable one being an overhead shot of Dani rushing to the bathroom only to end up in an airplane that’s headed to Europe. In some scenes, he intentionally makes you feel trippy and disoriented to bring out a visceral experience, while you gladly offer your patience in return. Teaming up once again with Hereditary cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, Aster concocts a nightmare set in the blistering broad daylight.

And lest we forget the excellent performances across the board, including Reynor’s character that calls a lot of courage to play. His deer in the headlights act gets a lot of mileage as it serves as a reflection of the viewer’s bewilderment to all the sinister stuff involved. But make no mistake, this is Florence Pugh’s show. She shows staggering control in an emotionally demanding role that requires complexity and manic endurance. From her widening pupils to her body tremors, she summons a huge deal of anguish and manages to deliver it in a relatable manner.

Florence Pugh delivers a Toni Collete performance in ‘Midsommar.’

Much of my fascination for Midsommar boils down to the craftsmanship involved and not necessarily the controversial subject matter presented. It demands a lot of energy to sit through and process. Like any significant heartbreak, it offers no easy answers. But whether you like it or not, one thing’s for sure, this film does not look like anything you’ve seen before. I just wish Aster will make use of his talents and skills to something that’s less hedonistic and more substantial in the long run.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Directed and written by Ari Aster, ‘Midsommar’ stars Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe, Henrik Norlén, Gunnel Fred and Isabelle Grill. 147 minutes. R-18.

WATCH: First trailer for ‘Zombieland’ sequel brings back undead apocalypse

Columbia Pictures has just released Trailer 1 of its upcoming comedy adventure Zombieland: Double Tap, the sequel the 2009 cult classic, Zombieland. Original director Ruben Fleisher reunites the same cast, led by Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone.

Check out the trailer below and watch Zombieland: Double Tap in Philippine cinemas this October.

A decade after Zombieland became a hit film and a cult classic, the lead cast (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone) have reunited with director Ruben Fleischer (Venom) and the original writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Deadpool) for Zombieland: Double Tap. In the sequel, written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham, through comic mayhem that stretches from the White House and through the heartland, these four slayers must face off against the many new kinds of zombies that have evolved since the first movie, as well as some new human survivors. But most of all, they have to face the growing pains of their own snarky, makeshift family.

The film also stars new castmembers Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch and Luke Wilson.

Zombieland: Double Tap is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.  #Zombieland2

Alligator fun facts to prepare you for disaster horror film ‘Crawl’

Crawl, Paramount Pictures’ surprise box-office hit in the U.S., will soon terrorize Filipino audiences when it opens here on August 7.

The critically acclaimed, nail-biting horror-thriller is directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) and produced by Craig Flores (300) and Sam Raimi (Don’t Breathe, Evil Dead).

When a massive hurricane hits her Florida hometown, Haley (Kaya Scodelario of The Maze Runner franchise) ignores evacuation orders to search for her missing father (Barry Pepper of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials). Finding him gravely injured in the crawl space of their family home, the two become trapped by quickly encroaching floodwaters. As time runs out to escape the strengthening storm, Haley and her father discover that the rising water level is the least of their fears.

In conjunction with the upcoming release of Crawl, get a load of the following interesting facts that make gators such fascinating predators!

ALLIGATOR FACTS

Death Roll: Alligators perform an inescapable spinning maneuver called a “death roll” to subdue and dismember prey.

Teeth: Alligators have 80 razor sharp teeth at a time.

Vision: Alligators have natural night vision. They can track prey in total darkness.

Speed: Alligators can reach a running speed of 25mph in extremely short bursts (they tire easily), while in water they can swim at 20mph without tiring.

Size: Alligators can grow up to 15 ft long. The average alligator is 11ft long and they can weigh up to 1000 pounds.

Bite Force: An alligator bite can apply 2,125psi (Poundforce per square inch) one of the most powerful bites in the animal kingdom. For reference, a human bite is on average 162psi. Ancestry: Alligators have been around for over 37 million years.

Digestion: Their stomach acids have a pH of less than 2—in the range of lemon juice and vinegar—and most soft-bodied prey is totally digested in two to three days.

Crawl is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures. #CrawlMoviePH

Kuya Bodjie Pascua, child star Miel Espinoza whip up miracles in multi-awarded ‘Pan de Salawal’

An inspiring motion picture starring a cast led by a veteran actor and a fast-rising child actress became one of the most notable films of last year’s Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. And now audiences can watch it in movie theaters nationwide beginning July 24, 2019!

Pan de Salawal is a heartwarming and hilarious tale starring celebrated actor Bodjie Pascua as Sal, a baker with a kidney problem, and young sensation Miel Espinoza as Aguy, a wandering kid with healing powers. Playing important are: Soliman Cruz, Madeleine Nicolas, Ruby Ruiz, Anna Luna, Felix Roco, JM Salvado, Ian Lomongo, Lorenzo Aguila, who make up the cast of characters whose lives are touched by Aguy. The film is the first full-length feature of writer/director Che Espiritu. It is produced by US-based CineFocus Productions in association with Urbanflix Philippines. 

To children growing up in the 1990s, Bodjie Pascua is a familiar face; they knew him as the cheerful and energetic Kuya Bodjie in the children’s show Batibot. As the pessimistic and weakly Sal, Kuya Bodjie does a 180-degree turn to tug at the hearts of viewers. His moving portrayal earned for him a Best Actor nod in the Gawad Tanglaw Awards. 

Miel, as Aguy meanwhile, is the perfect foil to the dour Sal. As Che remarks, “Miel and Kuya Bodjie create a lasting and endearing chemistry as Aguy and Sal.”

Miel as Aguy.

Only seven years old when she made Pan de Salawal, Miel felt right at home with her more experienced co-stars. Her spunky performance earned for her a Special Jury Prize for Acting at the 14th Cinemalaya Film Festival, as well as a Best Child Actor nomination from the PMPC Star Awards for Movies, who also nominated the entire Pan de Salawal cast for Best Acting Ensemble. Pan de Salawal also opened doors for Miel to be cast in ABS-CBN teleseryes, and in other films such as the rom-com Elise and the upcoming zombie flick, Block Z.

One could say that Pan de Salawal has become a gift to those who are part of it and it is their gift to the audience. 

For the cast, their involvement is their contribution to the health advocacy that is part of the film’s message. 

For CineFocus producers Herb Kimble and Matthew Godbey, it is a gesture of gratitude. Herb said in a previous interview, “I have committed to making films in the Philippines as a way of saying thank you to my fellow Filipino friends who have helped me gain success as a BPO entrepreneur in the Philippines.” 

‘Pan De Salawal’ writer-director Che Espiritu.

For writer-director Che, it is her tribute to the fantasy genre of the 90s that she grew up with. “Classic family-oriented and fantasy films like Magic Temple and Wansapanataym, The Movie,inspired me to dream… I hope Pan de Salawal can open doors to reviving this genre that sparked our imagination.” 

For more information about Pan de Salawal, follow its movie page on Facebook and like the Solar Pictures Facebook page.

Miel and Kuya Bodjie in ‘Pan De Salawal.’

‘Yesterday’ review: A world without The Beatles

As a charming offbeat romcom that highlights the music of The Beatles, ‘Yesterday’ is easy to let into your heart.

As a Beatles fan myself, I’m inclined to say that any film that features their music is automatically worthy of the admission price. The band rightfully deserves their pedestal in rock n’ roll history – not only because of their cross-generational appeal, but also because of their seminal work that continues to be the musical influence of several artists to date. In many ways, John, Paul, George and Ringo shaped the music industry and its booming celebrity culture. Who knows, maybe without them, Ed Sheeran might be off singing metal tunes instead.

In the alternate reality created by Yesterday – where Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) finds himself as the only person who remembers their songs after a freak accident – nothing much has really changed in the music landscape. Ed Sheeran still has the same hits like “Shape of You” and Coldplay is still best known for their song “Fix You.” To think that The Beatles are way beyond influential, the erasure of their legacy will surely affect the world in more ways than one can imagine. But no, like their song “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” la la la la life (apparently) goes on.

Ticket to fame. Himesh Patel plays an accidental superstar in ‘Yesterday.’

Truth is, the film dodges the thought-provoking questions brought by its plot. It’s more committed in delivering its fun and sentimental themes, rather than serving a cause and effect commentary in pop culture history. Well, that’s fine by me. I mainly came here for the sing along, plus it’s not like the film is a dystopian sci-fi anyway – leave it to Black Mirror in figuring out the nitty gritty repercussions of a Beatles-less world. Yesterday turns out to be half the film it’s premise promises to be, but that should not deter you from enjoying it.

And so in his eureka moment – where the camera accelerates to his face with such excitement – struggling musician Jack suddenly realizes the opportunity to build a career for himself. He quickly lists down all the Beatles’ songs to his best recollection and passes them as his own in a local radio shack. Next thing he knows, a captivated Ed Sheeran shows in his doorstep to invite him as his opening act. He also catches the eye of a label executive Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon) who offers him the “poisoned chalice of fame,” as she would call it. He signs a record contract and boom, instant superstardom follows. Cue in the fans – from adolescent girls to grown up men – who scream his name in adulation. 

Ed Sheeran challenges Jack to a song-writing duel in ‘Yesterday.’

With his stack of ready made hits, Jack is going places. But the question of morality begs as he’s basically a fraud: how long can he “carry that weight?” Yesterday serves as a peek into the life of stardom – the costs of fame and wishful thinking. A sudden chill goes through my body when Jack performs “Help!” with such punkish intensity. I realize that the Beatles has always written this song as a subconscious cry for help.

Yesterday works best as a hilarious piece of entertainment, bolstered by a perpetually confused yet charismatic and musically talented Himesh Patel in his movie debut. All of his performances here are impressively done live and he interprets these classic songs with much sincerity and soul. He shows good comic timing too in the fun sequences like Jack struggling to remember the lyrics for “Eleanor Rigby” and the occasional Google searches as he realizes that the music of The Beatles is not the only thing that’s vanished from the face of the earth.

Himesh Patel performs “Help!” to a sea of adulating fans.

The film also pokes fun in the ails of music industry, best embodied by McKinnon’s obnoxious and opportunistic character. She delivers her ruthless lines with perfect deadpan humor. Sheeran, on the other hand, plays a fictionalized, semi-egotistical version of himself who mines a good laugh from his suggestion to ruin the lyrics of “Hey Jude” to “Hey Dude.”

Yesterday is ultimately a high concept romantic comedy at heart. As Jack rises to fame, he must weigh in the things that really matter to him. That includes his best friend/road manager/ardent cheerleader Ellie (played by the bubbly and ever-radiant Lily James), the girl who believes in him way back when he’s still unpopular. Writer Richard Curtis (Love Actually, About Time) easily spins the story into a feel good movie filled with profound messages on the different forms of love and success. The only thing that’s unconvincing here is Lily James being stuck on the friend zone – I mean, really?  Otherwise, Patel and James have a palpable chemistry to keep the love angle going despite the minor plot lapses.

Lily James and Himesh Patel sings “I Want to Hold Your Hand.

Yesterday is a musical fantasy that’s not bothered by the silly nature of its phenomenon. Yet it proves to be largely fun not just because of the goodwill of its soundtrack but also due to the sympathetic rags to riches story that Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) capably directs. Binding its viewers with the universal healing power of music, it makes a touching case about preserving art and that’s something always worth singing about. Oh, I believe in Yesterday.

4 out of 5 stars
Directed by Danny Boyle, ‘Yesterday’ stars Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, Joel Fry, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Alexander Arnold, Sophai Di Martino, Harry Michell, Lamorne Morris and Robert Carlyle. 116 minutes. PG-13.

WATCH: ‘Cats’ unveils first trailer, behind-the-scenes video

Take for a first look at the teaser trailer for Universal Pictures’ new epic musical Cats and go behind the scenes for an inside look.

Check out the videos below and watch Cats in Philippine cinemas January 2020.

Oscar®-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl) transforms Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-shattering stage musical Cats into a breakthrough cinematic event.

Cats stars James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson and introduces Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward in her feature film debut.

Featuring Lloyd Webber’s iconic music and a world-class cast of dancers under the guidance of Tony-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights), the film reimagines the musical for a new generation with spectacular production design, state-of-the-art technology, and dance styles ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, hip-hop to jazz, street dance to tap.

The film also stars Robbie Fairchild (Broadway’s An American in Paris), Laurie Davidson (TNT’s Will), hip-hop dance sensation Les Twins (Larry and Laurent Bourgeois), acclaimed dancer Mette Towley (featured in videos for Rihanna and Pharrell Williams’ N.E.R.D.), Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae, and rising-star singer Bluey Robinson.

Universal Pictures presents a Working Title Films and Amblin Entertainment production, in association with Monumental Pictures and The Really Useful Group. Cats is produced by Debra Hayward, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Tom Hooper. The screenplay is by Lee Hall (Billy ElliotRocketman) and Hooper, based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot and the stage musical by Lloyd Webber. Cats is executive produced by Lloyd Webber, Steven Spielberg, Angela Morrison and Jo Burn.

One of the longest-running shows in West End and Broadway history, the stage musical “Cats” received its world premiere at the New London Theatre in 1981, where it played for 21 years and earned the Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best Musical. In 1983, the Broadway production became the recipient of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ran for an extraordinary 18 years. Since opening in London in 1981, “Cats” has continuously appeared on stage around the globe, to date having played to 81 million people in more than fifty countries and in nineteen languages. It is one of the most successful musicals of all time.

Cats is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures. #CatsMovie 

‘My Letters to Happy’ review: Exquisitely handles a touchy subject

‘My Letters to Happy’ tells a relevant and heartwarming story of lovers trying to overcome their personal flaws outside the relationship.

If you think that My Letters to Happy is just another local love story, brace yourself because it’s not. The romcom theme in it is actually just a facade to a much deeper subject matter. The film mostly veers towards self-discovery in the face of depression and other mental health issues. It poses a question that some people might have asked at their lowest points, “When all is lost and everything just seems hopeless, how do you find the strength to carry on?” It’s a sensitive topic that some directors would not dare mix with romcom elements, as a poor and an offensive execution will surely be met with a heavy backlash. Thankfully, director Pertee Briñas knows how to handle the touchy subject with exquisite sympathy.

My Letters to Happy centers around Albert (TJ Trinidad), a brilliant and passionate man who suddenly loses his drive for work after a series of unfortunate events. His luck changes when he meets Happy (Glaiza De Castro), a random girl that he has been chatting online. Little did he know, meeting her will unexpectedly change his life forever.

The film wonderfully depicts how mental illness affects a person and the people around him/her. The illness is shockingly revealed in the middle part of the film and it throws almost every audience on the edge of their seats after realizing that Happy’s sudden bursts of happiness are all momentary. This part of the story truly changes the phase for the whole film. It’s a bit heavy in emotions yet it’s positively infused with hope to make us realize that love, after all, consists of equal parts of joy and pain.

Glaiza and TJ’s chemistry is relatable, sweet and delightful. Glaiza’s portrayal of her character is really amazing as she’s on the top of her game.  She’s convincing in every spectrum – you can feel her struggles emotionally and physically. TJ on the other hand, fits the role well enough to make us believe that he is a ruthless corporate boss who gradually becomes vulnerable and open to changes in his lifestyle dynamic, including the possibility of loving someone.

Director Pertee Briñas does a remarkable job in telling a powerful story with such awareness towards the sensitive topics of mental health. Despite its cinematography lapses (the distracting camera angles moves a lot), the film does not stop at shallow entertainment brought by a roller coaster ride of emotions. It gives a heartwarming lesson all while juggling an engaging love story.

In effect, My Letters to Happy serves as an uplifting letter to anyone who feels lost and aimlessly wandering for their mark in the world. It also reminds each of us that all struggles eventually come to an end. The film is indeed an honest reflection of our lives. It is daring, unique, and deserving to be seen.

4 out of 5 stars
Directed by Pertee Briñas, ‘My Letters to Happy’ stars Glaiza De Castro, TJ Trinidad, and Alyssa Valdez. 100 minutes. PG-13.