MOVIE REVIEW: Wonder Woman (2017)

Let’s face it: DC Films had a rough couple of years. From the lackluster Batman V Superman, to the highly appalling Suicide Squad. Director Patty Jenkins had the biggest task of resurrecting the DC Universe back to its greatness. The best of her effort skyrockets Wonder Woman as, undeniably, the best DC film adaptation to date.

It is no wonder that the fate of a film largely relies to the capable hands of its director. Patty Jenkins, the woman responsible for Charlize Theron’s Oscar win in 2003 for Monster, uses her unprecedented intelligence and passion for the female psyche in bringing the back story of Diana Prince to the forefront. With rich visual stimuli and nuanced storytelling, Wonder Woman proves to give the audience a well-renowned classic heroine meant for the post-modernity of the 21st Century. It does not only celebrate Wonder Woman herself, but it also pays tribute to the army of Amazonian women responsible behind the creation of the Wonder Woman we all know today. It takes a strong woman to create a strong woman – feminism at its finest.

By now, I guess it is safe to say that the DC Universe is generally dark and grim. That’s just the trademark it chooses to be branded, leaning towards the trajectory that Christopher Nolan begun in his Batman trilogy – Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises – realism meets superheroism. In an actual world, wars and battles aren’t as glossy and vibrant as Marvel sells it (but yes, they sell it good) – DC chooses to hem reality within the fantasy. That brand got somehow lost in translation in Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman as it proves to be too somber, dull and mundane, and yet got overly compensated in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad as it tried too hard to be colorful and glittery, but ultimately empty. Wonder Woman’s greatest strength is the balance of its elements and composition. Yes, it is dark, but it is entertaining, substantial and sharp.

The most surprising element of the film is its unparalleled humor. The film has an understated comic flare, reminding you that superhero films are indeed meant for enjoyment and pleasure. The film takes itself seriously, but never in a contrived fashion; it simply is just a passion project made with a great deal of responsibility and intellect, whilst respecting the tone and hue of the universe it is in. It knows when to be silly, and when to be a smart act. The equilibrium of these contrasting tonalities are beautifully painted by the visionary Jenkins.

I’ve said this before and I shall say it again: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is perhaps one of the best casting choices for a superhero film, ever. We got the pleasure of getting a glimpse of her story in Batman V Superman (yes, she’s the best part of that movie) – and now, a full blown festive entertainment as we get to know everything behind this Amazonian warrior. Gadot is fierce and intense, yet vibrant and luminous at the same time. She carries the film’s balance to perfection. There are moments when she’s Xena: The Warrior Princess, while borrowing the hilarious complexities of the naïve, fish-out-of-water Princess Giselle in Enchanted. Gal Gadot gives everything that Wonder Woman stands for.

A surprisingly refreshing performance from Chris Pine, too. His sublime comic timing serves as the film’s breather in its darker moments. For a character meant to highlight the lead heroine, his performance as Steve Trevor stands on his own without being overshadowed, yet gives such generosity in showcasing the film’s star.

Overall, Wonder Woman is the revamp of everything that DC Films initially hit and missed; after a couple of litmus testing, they finally got the tone right while still being distinctly DC. Thanks, in large part, to the film’s ultimate Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins, for bringing the DC Universe back on track.

4.75 out of 5 stars


MOVIE REVIEW: Colossal (2017)

Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo, 2017) is a film that embraces its weirdness, and knows exactly what it wants without getting tangled in the loops of confusion, offering the audience a very smart and original approach to contemporary filmmaking.

Whenever Gloria (Anne Hathaway) gets drunk, a monster attacks Seoul, South Korea — perhaps, the most random, peculiar pitch to summarize the film. Colossal works primarily because of its originality. It’s Godzilla in a socially satirical existentialist world, with thoughtful, generously written characters taking you on a ride of bizarre conquests. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. Yes, the film doesn’t have any grand twists or shocking spoilers: it is literally what it says it is: a very random concept that somehow works because its intelligent blueprint, meticulously conceptualized by visionary director Nacho Vigalondo, who perhaps is the film’s true breakthrough.

Vigalondo’s direction is so assertive and quirky, with elements of the crazy beautiful world of Gregg Araki and some of Charlie Kaufman’s bizarre existential textures, whilst maintaining a concrete and tangible narrative of characters who are still humane amidst the strangeness of their surroundings. How they are developed with such realism is why we hold on to their stories, as we find ourselves rooting for the hero and against the villain without pretentious concepts of all-abstract pastiche.

Basically, anything where Anne Hathaway’s in turns to be a delightful feast. Her wide-eyed presence, joyous spirit and luminous humor makes her portrayal of Gloria a standalone feature of the film. Colossal isn’t just about the concept; it’s about Hathaway’s performance, too. Her skill for physical comedy is highlighted in a film where terror and chaos serve as a backdrop, creating a beautiful contrast and intelligent balance of substance and aesthetics.

Kudos to Jason Sudeikis for a very mad performance as Oscar, whose character is written to put the spotlight to that of Hathaway’s, but is crazy good enough for him to carry the film in the darker light it projects.

Although there are definitely moments where the editing is a bit dragging and the storytelling quite unnecessarily long, Hathaway and Sudeikis make it worth the ride, stirring curiosity, making you want to get to the bottom of it all — in a good way, that is.

Overall, it’s a film of such strange nature with elements of black comedy, psychodrama, suspense and thriller, set in a mad world with rich, smart characters. Maybe, it will not hit everyone the same way, but if you embrace Vigolondo’s other worldly craziness the way he does, the pleasure of witnessing a one-of-a-kind movie is non-stop. The film, at least, deserves a recognition for Best Original Screenplay as the year ends. Definitely, one of the most original movies I have ever seen.

4.25 out of 5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Alien: Covenant (2017)

Alien: Covenant is a carnage of visual and aesthetic feast with a freakshow production and uncanny elements from Prometheus and the previous Alien films, all wrapped in a signature Ridley Scott bow of chills and unabashed action.

The goal of Alien: Covenant is for the audience to recognize familiar themes of interplanetary expeditions and Frankenstein-ish Freudian elements meant to basically pay tribute to Scott’s filmography. While it stirs a great deal of curiosity and satisfaction for the fans of the abovementioned referential films, viewers who aren’t familiar with Scott’s previous works would eventually find themselves stuck in periphery as to where the film would go, what it tries to prove, and what the characters actually stand for. It is a sequel that doesn’t commit to be an actual sequel, which happens to be the main problem. It plays safe in marketing itself as an obvious conversational piece in response to Scott’s platter of films, but tries to be an independent cinema all together.

Nevertheless, the film doesn’t fail in bringing action and excitement with bizarre themes of alien vs. predator violence. However, the film comes off oftentimes tedious and overwrought, making the pacing so slow and unnecessarily long, messing a momentum that could’ve been extraordinarily non-stop. Furthermore, it doesn’t add anything new to an overly-prolonged conversation of human versus aliens; it overemphasizes a nostalgia that has since became old and weary. Nonetheless, the action and bloody thrills are there — are they enough to withstand the mundane topic that has been too often discussed? That’s the question.

Michael Fassbender and Katherine Waterston gave such committed performances amidst a chaotic, underdeveloped narrative of characters. Waterston certainly has the potent energy of the female psyche, embodying strength and resilience while balancing vulnerability — a perfect Ridley Scott muse, resonating to that of Sigourney Weaver in the original film.

Overall, Alien: Covenant is a visual satisfaction, though doesn’t quite live up to the monumental achievements recent space epics have made (Gravity, The Martian, Arrival). Nevertheless, it passes on an above average scale, just enough to flicker the eyes with an expedition worth watching.

As the film ends, I remain curious — but I wasn’t hungry for a “what’s next”.

3.75 out of 5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Bliss (2017)

A provocative art-house feature that juggles surrealist and post-modernist elements of David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman, Bliss (Jerrold Tarog, 2017) is a leap of freedom from the portals of Philippine Cinema, introducing a genre that shows intelligence, allegory and flawless mastery.

The film follows the psyche of Jane (Iza Calzado), an actress who conquered show business at a very young age, meticulously presenting the highs and pitfalls of fame and ambition. Bliss provokes the mind as to how our dreams, once reached, can become so mundane and lurid, that it burns us out until we can no longer decipher what we really want from what we thought we wanted; from what our dream truly is, versus what it presents itself playfully in our minds.

A movie within a movie – the depth of Bliss is more than just a non-linear storytelling of a woman driven to madness. Its allegorical narrative boldly plays a social commentary on fame and ambition, including the dark shadows of show business no one really talks about. Behind the façade of beauty and glamour comes the deep well of dirt and horrors, wildly projecting the psychoanalysis of an actress trapped in her own dream – literally and metaphorically. The film uses Chekhov’s Gun techniques, wherein every element denotes a rationale towards the narrative’s atmospheric tone: from Jane’s dependence on her wheelchair– suggesting the need for constant help for motion and mobility, down to her own struggle to decide on her own; from her confinement in her own home – suggesting fame’s downside of being a prisoner in her own world; her inability to bleed despite repetitiously stabbing herself – denoting for her failure to feel actual and physiological human reactions, and as on. The film uses subtlety in commenting how fame has taken over the reality of Jane – her constant confusion towards fantasy and reality; film characters and her actual self – this is a metaphor suggesting the reason behind people’s obsession for fame and entitlement, as they no longer can separate the meaning of their lives, versus how the whole world as their audience defines them.

“Gusto ko lang matulog” – this is a line that Jane repeatedly mentions as a form of frustration towards her non-stop, fast-paced life, now defined by how her own career runs. This is a denotation as to how her own happiness boils down to the very basic need – simply, to sleep. All her life, she wanted big things – fame, fortune and a renowned career. Once she got everything, the question now becomes, what’s next? What’s there left for excitement? What’s there left to be passionate of? What’s there left to want? This is a commentary that reaching our ambitions, no matter how big they are, isn’t necessarily the answer to our own self-actualization (if you want to go as basic as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). The human soul will constantly want, and passion is a constant cycle, eradicating the status of perfection glamorized by celebrities and show business, as if they have everything and can no longer want anything. Fame is a vain and tricky concept ran by human beings, who will, no matter what, would end up wanting and needing what human beings are designed and programmed to want and need.

Iza Calzado gives a chilling performance in her roles as Jane, the actress, and as Abigail, the film character. Both of these characters serve as a beautiful disparity built in a paradigm of reality versus fantasy – very reminiscent of Naomi Watts’ performance as Betty/Diane in Mulholland Drive (Lynch, 2001) if you ask me. Calzado manages to evoke how robotic a person can be once manufactured in a world where producers, directors, managers and studios decide and control you, as suggested by the film’s latter scenes of “evil possession”, representing how a career can suck your soul dry – she gives a performance that’s effectively burnt-out like a contrived product that’s marketed, promoted and sold tediously, yet still manages to give human nuances of despair and frustration. This is a performance that defines an entire film’s motive.

The film’s surprise breakthrough performance is perhaps from the relatively unknown Adrienne Vergara as Lillibeth, the nurse – a pivotal character serving as the very sharp contrast from Iza Calzado’s role. From her haunting laugh, deadpan facial expressions, down to her bizarre gestures, Vergara gives a portrayal that makes the film so memorable. Her casting for the role is genius – an unknown playing the unknown, giving a sublime contradistinction from an actress and a nurse, and how two different worlds collide and crash. This perhaps is an homage towards Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966), as it gleefully manipulates two different worlds defined by their careers tied onto a knot of psychological destruction.

Director Jerrold Tarog proves that he is a visionary, as the film shows its assertive direction. He clearly knows what he wants, and he has achieved it intricately with such meaning and specificity. What he has done is for the skeptics – he proves that the Philippine Cinema, usually defined by well-celebrated clichés and stereotypes, has achieved what it needs. Even the film’s own narrative wants the audience to know that – its subtle use of sarcasm with its characters’ obsession for international film festivals, while laughing at the idea of “pero sa MMFF ayaw mo isubmit?” – no response; just faint laughter. I’ll let you decide on that.

Overall, there isn’t a local film as bold and smart as Bliss. This is exactly what our local industry is thirsty of: the pleasure of seeing what film as an art truly is. It shows that the medium of motion pictures has no portals for limitations and inhibitions, where it can truly embrace its metaphysical nature of expression by using aesthetics and psychoanalysis. So far, this is the best Filipino film of 2017 – and I have high confidence that it’ll remain that way even as this year ends.

5 out of 5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017) proves that its predecessor’s critical and commercial success was not a fluke. Grander, funnier, wilder – Vol. 2 is an extreme level-up in all ways it could.

The movie boasts everything you could ever hope for in a comic book adaptation: non-stop action, unprecedented humor, a committed group of actors who equally stand out in their own rights, dazzling visual effects, and above all, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 plays its own strength: it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. Its ridiculous imperfections, cheeky tone and cheap thrills that work so well, it’s a rollercoaster ride straight from a comic book. The creators’ specific vision of a grungy-looking production, low-key CGI, hues of pink and blue, steam punk atmosphere translates impeccable on-screen, it almost creates its own genre. It lies somewhere between a campy yet soulful 80’s B-movie and a grandiose superhero feature that is so rare in cinemas nowadays. Its intentional imperfections are key towards an action-comedy flick that’s a high-kick close to perfect.

The cast is unstoppable; flawless comic timing to the tee, and none felt irrelevant. Every character is well-conceptualized, wisely thought, and hilariously played by an ensemble of true talents.

The production design has to be the film’s star power. Its style is so distinct, it seems that it has created its own brand. Visually cartoonish, but overall stunning – the movie is the epitome of a comic book brought to life, almost literally, and as colorful as the luminous stars and queer planets of its own universe. I would not be surprised if this movie would finally be rewarded with its overdue Visual and Special Effects, Hair and Make Up, and Art Direction accolades by the end of the year.

A few casualties, however, are quite detectable from the film’s narrative, coming off quite conventional and formulaic filled with cheesy dialogues and preachy sentiments, and ultimately predictable as the film reaches its second half. Not to mention, a Razzie-worthy performance from Kurt Russell who awkwardly plays a pivotal role, clearly carried by his costumes and the film’s CGI, but that is more of a dress-up play than a cinematic portrayal. My money for Worst Supporting Actor is on him. But at this point, it’s almost impossible to care for the film’s flaws, as the high is already explosive enough to compensate.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II is a gigantic leap from Vol. 1’s already-monumental achievement. The film’s generosity on its visual splendor and entertainment value will simply live up, or even exceed everybody’s expectations. So far, the best film of 2017.

4.75 out of 5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Noah (2014)

In spite of being in the hands of a capable artist, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014) proves to be a misfire in terms of its purpose, creating a miscalculated conversation between the uncalled-for tension of faith and intellect.

It’s hard to put a rationale in a tale that’s based on a parable driven by fantasy and myth. The fiction element of the bible is the reason why it has been preserved with universal moral value, without questioning its integrity and believability, earning the faith from the believers and the respect from the skeptics. The biggest issue with Noah is that it tries so hard to give a rationale to a story that isn’t supposed to be rationalized. That being said, it gave unnecessary conflict, almost as if it’s a faith vs. common sense game. Ultimately, it unintentionally pictures religion as a form of madness instead of a respectable spiritual concept. Thus, Noah’s actions have been oftentimes portrayed as villainous instead of heroic, as all other characters start to question his intentions and sanity. It highlights so much on how the silence of God’s message to mankind becomes lost in translation, and ultimately blurry, leaving everyone with their own version of subjective judgment. Thus, the divide of opinion becomes a series of tumultuous miscommunication between the chosen one and his subordinates. For a parable, the least you can offer is a tale of incomprehension of one’s faith.

On a technical perspective, the film is generous of its CGI effects. Perhaps, too abundant, that oftentimes it seems that it’s a video game than a biblical story. The overblown special effects overshadow the film’s merit in almost the first half of the film.

Aronofsky’s vanity to his project spews so much in so many sequences where he tried to use his Requiem for a Dream technique of rapid succession of images, giving that avant garde vibe — something that I find unnecessary for this material. Occasionally an existentialist thriller, sometimes Transformers, minimally The Bible, oftentimes The Tree of Life — this proves to be Aronofsky’s weakest and most inconsistent direction in his career.

The cast is good, particularly Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly, but even their OK performances aren’t enough to lift these derailed characters out of the film’s confused narrative.

Overall, Noah isn’t the best from Aronofsky, and perhaps is one of the weaker biblical adaptations to be done on screen. Maybe, the best way to tell a story directly from an iconic biblical tale is to tell it as is — no more rock monsters, no more incestuous creation-of-life twists, no more evil images from a supposed faithful and renowned hero. Tell it as it is.

2 out of 5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Miracles from Heaven (2016)

Miracles from Heaven (Riggen, 2016) suffers from overwhelming melodrama, one dimensional characters, a preachy screenplay and tonal inconsistencies – yet, you’d find yourself grabbing a box of tissues and sobbing your eyes out, endlessly relating to a universal story about faith, despair, tragedy and hope. Now, how does a predictable, average film do that? Quite a miracle.

The narrative itself is a hybrid of the emotional arc from My Sister’s Keeper; the screenplay written in the same archetypal neighborhood to that of Mitch Albom’s novels; visually borrows some of Peter Jackson’s heavenly ideas in The Lovely Bones — these concepts are all hemmed in one rope tied in an arrow, aimed to pierce the heart of the audience – and it did, successfully. However, the biggest issue is that its goal seems to be a lot bolder than the execution itself. The story works because it’s an easy sell – but it could have been a great opportunity to get past the clichés and cheesy dialogues rampant all throughout the film and simply focus on the rawness of a story that has a very humane approach to the concept of faith and miracle. It talks too much, yet hardly shows anything other than the predictable – and it doesn’t know when to stop the sermon.

The characters are nothing but foil. It’s hard to go deep into their emotional and psychological journey when they’re written as thinly as a paper, with nothing but a very aggressive and stereotypical characterization of a sick daughter, a supportive family, and sympathetic neighbors. Something that, I believe, we’ve all seen before. It leaves us craving for something deeper other than the obvious circumstances.

Let me give an example: a particular scene where Abbie (the eldest daughter) missed the opportunity of going to a soccer tryout because her dad (played by Martin Henderson) forgot to take her there, as he was already so consumed with the crisis they were going through. Abbie, of course, was left devastated and hurt as everybody’s else’s attention was on Annabel, the sick daughter. She felt left out, yet she has to stay strong and mature being the eldest one. She wants to be selfless but it’s hard to find the balance of finding your own happiness while your little sister is dying. Deep inside her, she was torn whether to feel guilty for her sister, or to feel bad for herself. Her mind wanders in the deep of the night until she found the courage to face the situation like a young adult by the next day. And oh, that’s just me explaining solely based on my assumptions. That wasn’t shown in the film. It’s hard for me to connect what she felt in that scene, because there wasn’t anything written for her. It was just a monochromatic scene of her being forgotten by her father. There was no back story as to her lifelong interest with soccer; there wasn’t anything that could build up to the father’s deteriorating relationship to her other children – nothing. And that is just a single example.

The film, however, is all about Jennifer Garner’s tour de force performance – perhaps, the best she has ever done in her career. As Christy Beam, she plays a mother juggling risks to save the life of her daughter, while keeping her sanity and faith in check. Her subtle moments are lovely; the way her eyes speak a thousand words of despair, hopelessness while masking it with the façade of strength and stern . Her big emotional scenes were played exactly right – she has managed to be precisely what the tone of the film calls for (despite the inconsistencies of the direction). She commands every scene, and it’s enough to forgive the other flaws of present.

At the end of the day, the film has its good intentions – to bring faith and religion on the foreground by using the unfortunate circumstances of a family suffering from a tragedy. Ultimately, it speaks universally despite the specificity of the trials of the Beam family. And amidst the errors and faults of the film, ultimately it reaches to its target at a bull’s eye – it won’t disappoint when you’re looking for a faith-driven, tear jerker flick.

It works. It’s flawed, but it works.

3 out of 5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Silence (2016)

After The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Kundun (1997), Silence (2016) is a glorious ending to Martin Scorsese’s religious trilogy of epic and biblical proportions, provoking thoughts on the conflict of faith and flesh, leaving one contemplative and reflective to the power of spirituality.

Silence is an enigmatic discussion about a man’s unprecedented hold onto faith amidst the ironies and propositions that come along with it. Martin Scorsese uses a lot of allegorical techniques, making the narrative rely so much on quietness and stillness, making it parallel towards the protagonist’s psyche, of hearing what the Lord has to say amidst all the silence of his faith. It gives a lot of room for the audience to reflect. That being said, this film is more than just about being studied or examined – it’ll make you go deep inside your spiritual self and open up your senses to live and experience the voyage of the lost and the hopeful, despite not having any promises or certainties. Silence is the epitome of a film about faith – for all of what it is. There are several moments where it felt like Scorsese has revolutionized a new genre of filmmaking solely based on spirituality, as if watching the film is almost a meditation, making one seize the mind and soul; question your beliefs and challenge your faith.

On a technical perspective, Scorsese gave us such fine photography all throughout. The film has such refined cinematography, making it a visually striking piece, it’s almost a contemporary painting full of cold hues and chilly undertones.

Andrew Garfield has once again proven his worth of playing characters subdued in belief with ripped vulnerability amidst the dilemmas of one’s faith and religion – something that he has already accomplished in Hacksaw Ridge. Garfield has that luminous trait of fragility and innocence that juggles the burning fire of passion and the weakness of the unknowing, making almost all of his portrayals so well-balanced, and far from overdoing or underdoing it. His portrayal as Padre Sebastiao Rodriguez is no exception.

Overall, Silence gives us what faith does – it provokes our beliefs; questions our logic; tests our resilience; and most importantly, it makes us contemplate on holding onto the unknown and hoping for an answer, despite the silent responses we get from our prayers. It gives the argument of are we heard? If yes, why the silence? Where is the voice of God? Is He actually speaking to me, or am I just convincing myself of hearing a bleak of whisper amidst the dead silence after I pray? Is the role of faith and religion a mere tool to give hope, or is it as real as the air we breathe?

This film has to be one of Martin Scorsese’s finest works to date. Clearly, the most underrated film of 2016.

5 out of 5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Lion (2017)

Lion is a reminder of what storytelling is all about: capturing a man’s soul, and letting the audience experience his journey first-hand, as narrated in Garth Davis’ film about loss, hope and survival.

In a nutshell, Lion isn’t necessarily a monumental achievement in terms of cinematic technicalities, but what this film has is a genuine and heartfelt purpose that not all celebrated artsy films have. Lion has emotional depth as deep as the ocean; moving, like its waves; it’ll sway you, but it won’t drown you. The tide of this film’s journey will take you someplace else, making it an experience rather than just another movie to watch. That is more than enough for a film to stand tall.

Director Garth Davis’ biggest achievement is perhaps giving the film a soul as the actors give it a heart. Also, an honorable mention to its sublime cinematography for a visually stunning picture — alluring yet gritty, colorful yet dark — a manifestation of a lost child’s journey towards finding his home: eventful, oftentimes dangerous, but ultimately hopeful.

Remember those days when simple, clean, thoughtful narratives like Forrest Gump (Zemeckis, 1994) are well-renowned? They fully rely on iconic characters and inspiring storylines about a journey of a person — more so a character study of a man’s heart and soul, tackling every emptiness and every joy. Lion gives such nostalgia to that era of filmmaking that contemporary cinema is often prejudiced of. It is a reminder that the most important element of cinema as art is how it affects and transcends emotions across the screen. Lion does just that without the clichés of a conventional melodrama.

This is Nicole Kidman’s best since her role as grieving Becca in Rabbit Hole (2016). Kidman’s performance is universal; she epitomizes maternal instinct and unconditional love that radiates even with such limited screentime. Dev Patel’s performance as adult Saroo is the core of this film. You will root and hope for him, until you find yourself clinging to his search for life. Again, another universal performance that isn’t difficult to sympathize with.

On a side note: Dev Patel has bagged (deservingly so) Best Supporting Actor nominations, including a BAFTA win. There’s one problem: he is not a supporting character. He is the Lion of this film.

Another note: some parts of the film, particularly its weaker second half, do come across as a very lengthy (but very good) Google Earth Ad. Despite playing a major part of the film’s premise, the whole Google concept could’ve been done a lot smoother without making it a total product placement commercial. Perhaps, it might’ve worked if Google Earth wasn’t endorsed or talked about every 5 minutes or so.

Overall, despite its flaws, Lion proves that a film’s genuine purpose and intentions could go a long way, and that sometimes, it is about the soul more than anything else.

You must see this movie.

4 out of 5 stars

Now showing in the Philippines exclusively at Robinsons Movieworld, Lion is distributed by Viva International Pictures.

MOVIE REVIEW: Life (2017)

Life (Daniel Espinosa, 2017) ends the brilliant streak of epic space-extra-terrestrial conversations that Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian and Arrival have stirred from the last 4 years.

A group of multinational scientists tests a sample soil from Mars, successfully proving that it contains the first proof of extraterrestrial life through single cell extraction. This leads to a series of unprecedented events of attack as the new-found species turns into a predator for its own survival.

The film has every potential to be a solid space epic, in-your-face extra-terrestrial tale: a very exciting premise, above par visual effects, and a committed ensemble; however, an uninspired screenplay and indecisive direction drag the film down to deep space.

In all fairness, Life boasts thrills but the good part stops there. The film majorly suffers from lack of context and insufficient substance other than the obvious artifice of man vs. alien. Filled with underwritten and one dimensional characters, the screenplay is short of the charm and definitive intelligence as it boxes itself in a textbook-ish narrative filled with jargons and scientific propaganda, making the entire film very emotionally distant for the audience to even care or sympathize for the characters. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to root for the characters as there is almost nothing to hold onto them. They make hasty and irrational decisions from start to finish, solely building to the shock value of the film, completely empty of any human depth.

The entire film feels as if it were a mere elimination game than a genuine survival story as director Daniel Espinosa evidently showcases shock after shock; indecisive whether to go the Cuaron’s Gravity or Aliens vs Predator; or perhaps the cardinal sin of marrying both through its mise en scènes, leading to a messy, incoherent storyline. The atmosphere of the first hour felt so minimalistic, and it leads you feeling that this is going to be one of those art-house space features full of silent moments and engaging characters. However, the director decides to go completely the opposite, as everything startlingly transforms into a monstrous battle story. Juggling the two themes perhaps is ambitious, and will always have the ability to soar high once done with finesse and intellect, but at the same time, will always be bound to a miserable failure if polar elements won’t be hemmed flawlessly – for this occasion, the latter.

The film has respectable performances from Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal. They are two of the better aspects of the film, but aren’t just enough to truly engage into their journey of nothingness. You can tell from the actors’ commitment that they are boldly determined to nail the film, but having their tour de force talents surrounded by confusion just dilute the power they give.

Overall, Life suffers from the inescapable misfortune of being released in an era fresh from Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian and Arrival, where intelligence and emotional engagement matter more than the surface of excitement and thrills. It showcases nothing new and doesn’t really give much of what we’ve already gotten before.

Now showing across Philippine cinemas, Life is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.