MOVIE REVIEW: Kita Kita (2017)

Kita Kita is the story between Lea (Alessandra de Rossi), a Pinay tour guide based in Japan who is recovering from an inexplicably long “temporary” blindness that was caused by a heartbreak; and Tonyo (Empoy Marquez), the kabayan who lives across her house and pursues her patiently. Together, they explore tourist spots in and around Sapporo, places that were already familiar to Lea but experienced differently by her because of the many memories that she made with Tonyo, who promised “I will be your eyes” throughout their journey. The result is a tender, if bittersweet, story of a “blind” people who helped each other “see” the world and their hearts in cheerful pastel colors.

Let me start outright that the movie is far from being ideal. There is a lot in this movie that was not supposed to work. The editing and the ordering of the sequence seems jarring at places, the third act losing all the warm and fuzzy feeling that was built up to the final moments of the second act. The “countdown” sequences sometimes appear contrived, as another stab at the fashionable spoken-word poetry artform. There are important elements (like certain props or costumes) that figure prominently in the movie but which presence cannot be explained. More importantly, many people on social media have already pointed out their problems with the movie’s conceit, about Lea’s relationship with a stalker she barely knew and who seemed to take advantage of her disability…never mind that the film was directed by a woman (Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo) who, under the usual circumstances (and especially in the United States of America), would have already called the police.

And yet, it works, because Bernardo (or, rather, Marquez) imagines Tonyo as less of a psychopathic stalker, but more of that cultural trope in Philippine film and culture, the masugid na manliligaw (persistent suitor), always persistent—yes, a bit irritating—but still deferent to the object of his desires. (Think , for instance, of Michael V. pursuing Lara Morena in “Sinaktan Mo ang Puso Ko” [Octoarts Films, 1998], but without the histrionics and the caricature and the obsession.) While Tonyo himself is self-aware of his predicament, he still keeps himself within distance, so near yet so far from Lea. And because he knows his place, once Lea opens up to him little by little, Tonyo wins her heart and takes it with him, even in muted moments of her solitude. In Kita Kita, Marquez proves that he is more than just the sidekick or the buffoon in comedy films or TV shows; he is the charming, if unideal or unassuming, suitor who can sweep Lea and the female members of the audience to their feet. He has also demonstrated his mastery of comedic acting, even throwing de Rossi off-character and giggling in a few scenes that the filmmakers claimed were improvised.

Complementing Marquez’ performance is the understated delivery by the lithe Alessandra de Rossi, who dominates the film’s screen time. In Kita Kita, the solitary Lea is tender and helpless, but too vulnerable, afraid (or rather unwilling) to ask for help (with an “SOS” door sign for her thought bubble). Initially impatient at Tonyo’s pursuit like anyone who is nililigawan (being courted), she mellows down and follows along Tonyo’s beat, their feet moving along the same dance (and even soaked together in a foot spa). de Rossi draws the audience inside places that cannot be seen—inside her heart—and this allows her to take the audience for a ride, from sweet little moments to her melancholic musings. Whatever shortcomings this film may have are overshadowed by Marquez and de Rossi’s carefree and enjoyable performance.

Marquez’ and de Rossi’s performances also work not just because of what they did in the film, but in what they (and the film) did not do. It’s interesting to note that on its second week, Kita Kita was showing along with another romcom (Finally Found Someone) and yet—at least in my experience—the seats for the former were already sold out much faster than the latter, even hours before our selected time slot. And after seeing the film, we understand why audiences would like to come back for more. There is little to none of the cliches that we’ve associated with hugot films: the self-referential lines that talk of sweeping generalities about the experience of love or heartbreaks rather than the character’s experience themselves (e.g. “bakit ganon, kapag nagmamahal ka….?”, “bakit ganun yung mga taong minamahal natin….?”), lines that sound good on film but you never really hear people say in real life; the lead characters who mope as a form of self-indulgence; the requisite supporting characters whose primary role is to feed the main characters’ self-indulgence; and the almost-religious insistence to a happy ending (or at least a near-happy ending). Kita Kita takes the risk of eschewing most these conventions, and instead of feeding the characters cheesy lines and unnecessary support characters, Bernardo lets Lea and Tonyo enjoy themselves, with each sequence give them space for their characters to grow. It is easy to see that Marquez and de Rossi enjoyed each other’s company in making the film, and we have also seen how the audience enjoyed watching the film as well.

The result is that the film feels less of a typical Filipino romcom or (as radio anchor MJ Felipe claims in his DZMM radio show) a Koreanovela, but more of a contemporary Japanese romance, dialogues, scenery and all. For all its shortcomings, Kita Kita feels like a fresh whiff of flowers in springtime, a lighthearted film without the trappings of the conventional hugot movie, and whose memory will linger on like a dance waiting to be danced again and again.


MOVIE REVIEW: Dunkirk (2017)

An icy, chilling war film plucking threads of an avant garde, art house feature with sharp elements of impressionism, Dunkirk proves to be a new and different addition to Christopher Nolan’s filmography of grandiose epics.

“All we did was survive.”
“That’s enough.”

Survival as a form of heroism: a very prominent theme of Dunkirk that is not very often discussed in war epics, perhaps ever. The film goes down to the most basic, most fundamental yet most overlooked premise of a war film.

The greatest spectacle of the film is that it’s almost as blank as a clean canvass, showing no lengthy back stories from any of the characters, suggesting how generic, yet how survival is everything to any being. Nolan’s technique of casting almost greatly unknown actors, and hundreds of faceless extras paves way of showcasing a war’s authenticity, and how fighting for life and death greatly applies to any human caught in a maze of catastrophe that doesn’t seem to begin and end. This is a very slim, risky wire as it could easily go almost emotionally distant not knowing these characters on an intimate level, yet it highlights the importance of life without the depth of intimacy or personal agenda. He purposely built the persona of a soldier in a rather one-dimensional box, limited to only one thought: to live. That itself is perhaps the most honest that a war film could ever showcase without being romanticized: the hunger to survive.

The film is so quiet, you could almost hear the clock ticking, showing the minutes that soldiers await for their fate; occasionally, it gives contrasting roars of fireballs and rampaging attacks, establishing how empty and cold the need of survival could get — no subplots, no drama, no soap-ish lines of having the unpredictable fortune or misfortune of a war’s aftermath: it’s just an intimate conversation between the psyche of a soldier, and the carnage of bombs flown onto them.

Christopher Nolan’s famous non-linear narrative technique works well in hemming three important features: the sky, representing defense and attack; the sea, representing hope and persistence for escape; and the land, representing the endless hours of entrapment. Nolan created a universe as basic as the atmosphere of a war zone, yet is everything compacted into one. The meaning of looking up, looking down, and looking back as an impressionist and allegorical play between the wounded, the enemies and the help.

The film borrows several aesthetics from the colors of Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004), the shivering stillness of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) and the non-stop roar of Howard Hughes’ silent war epic Hell’s Angels (1930). The palette of Dunkirk is as cool as ice, but as ablaze as burning jet fuel.

The best element of the film is its eerie score composed by the great Hans Zimmer. For a film that’s almost as quiet as the ocean, Zimmer exhausted every second of the movie with his haunting music that jars the mind, almost making you tip toe on a rope of fire as every bullet shot and every bomb thrown is the judgment of every hero’s life. This perhaps is one of the best original scores ever produced on cinema.

The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is as flawless as the film’s picturesque sky, projecting fighter jets that intricately scratches the clouds with its smoke traces. The production design is a great catapult where the narrative of a genius sits down. Every light and every darkness speak volumes, and not a single production element has gone to waste. Every object bears meaning and importance to the film’s overall intentions.

To those who closely follow the repertoire of films Nolan has given, from Memento (2000) to Interstellar (2014), will ultimately find Dunkirk as something new, yet is the closest definition of a directorial masterpiece. Given how contemporary the film’s approach is, this film won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it doesn’t change the fact that Dunkirk, indeed, is an unprecedented monumental achievement in its genre, or even in the world of cinema.

5 out of 5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming provides a reimagining that’s as vibrant, as colorful and as current as Peter Parker’s new Spidey suit. This is an incarnation we’ve never seen before, and it delivers without restraining itself from the strings of the previous films — exactly what a reboot should do.

The strength of Spider-Man: Homecoming is how it perfectly captured the new age spirit of what a Spider-Man film should be in this millenium — from its social media elements, to Marisa Tomei’s Aunt-May-next-door, it doesn’t confine itself from the tone of the comic book series or past film franchises. Rather, it provides an interpretation that’s brand new and fresh, perhaps designed for millenials, but still triggers the nostalgia to those who have loved Peter Parker since the Tobey Maguire era.

Peter Parker’s characterization, if you were to stay true to the comic book series, is the secluded, introverted, almost somber high school underdog that basically is nothing like how Tom Holland portrayed him in this film. But Holland is just so charming, you couldn’t care less. His animated, free-spirited charisma and over the top antics projected who Parker/Spider-Man is as a teenager, and it mirrors a generation that’s very contemporaneous. Immediately, you could tell that it’ll be a long way before this reboot gets old. Holland is the Spider-Man that will please movie goers from both 2017 and 2002.

Michael Keaton’s portrayal as Vulture will not disappoint. Although I could not help but notice the stunt casting of Batman-turned-Birdman-turned-Vulture, which is quite apparent, but ultimately plays as an homage to the longevity and rebirth of Keaton’s career. He’s beguiling and enticing, with those heavy, sharp stares, almost sinister, whose back story is profoundly written — that’s when you know that this reboot will have a prima villain that is a full-bodied, three-dimensional character. Keaton’s contrast to Holland is perhaps the best part of the film. And that car conversation scene alone (no spoilers here) speaks so much as to what kind of dynamite we’re to expect in the next years of Spider-Man’s world.

As fun and as wild as it is, the film isn’t as perfect as it seems. The very downfall I felt is how basic the storyline is — formulaic, almost. A boy trying to prove himself, fails a couple of times, but ultimately saves the world. As new as the aesthetics, atmosphere and tone of the film, delivers a story as old and overused as everything we’ve encountered before. But I get it — for a first introductory film in a reboot, back to basics is ought to happen. I just hoped for a bigger, grander approach in terms of storytelling. It’s almost as if Spider-Man: Homecoming works because of how new and fresh the exterior looks and how likable Tom Holland is, but tells us nothing more than that.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is fun and brand new. Tom Holland is a real breakthrough, Michael Keaton is the one to watch out for, and Marisa Tomei is hot and quirky. Everything felt so vibrant and upbeat, from the soundtrack to the nuances of the characters — and despite having a few setbacks, it left me looking forward for more of this reboot.

4 out of 5 stars

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: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

While it could be difficult to deliver the expectations of fans of the Arthurian Legend, this new incarnation gives a unique tone that has the potential to appear fresh to those unfamiliar with the classic tale of King Arthur.

Director Guy Ritchie gives his take an upbeat feel with a unique atmosphere thanks to a nice blend of medieval and modern music. Its stylish visual is already a given attribute that should be taken into consideration—away from the usual curiosity as to why make a new movie out of a classic tale. Instead of being dull and stale, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the rock-and-roll version to be curious about.

Charlie Hunnam brings to limelight a massively enjoyable titular lead as his character’s adventures into becoming a king rolls up with much fun and spirit. On another hand, Jude Law is your regular antagonist who will do everything to get into the way of the protagonist. Their clashes in the story are just exciting to watch with all those great visual effects and fast-paced action sequences. Whenever the camera relies on actual fight scenes, the suspense materializes as believable as could be.

The plot is simple enough to be set aside in order to concentrate more on the elegance of the sets. Arthur wants to exact revenge on Vortigern who became king after killing the former’s parents. The legend says that he should pull the sword from the stone and so he does—moreso with grandness and adrenaline. After gathering up a crew, he is able to move forward and fight with Jude Law’s fierce Vortigern.

And what could be any more interesting than to see how he becomes the king as we know it.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is now playing in Philippine cinemas as released and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

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