‘Abominable’ review: Adorably sweet and adventurous

Abominable is a visual spectacle that makes every impossible thing possible—with a touch of family values that could win everyone’s hearts.

Abominabe is all about teenage Yi (Chloe Bennet) who encounters a young Yeti on the roof of her apartment building in Shanghai, she and her mischievous friends, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai), name him “Everest” and embark on an epic quest to reunite the magical creature with his family at the highest point on Earth. But they will have to stay one-step ahead of Burnish (Eddie Izzard), a wealthy man intent on capturing a Yeti, and zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) to help Everest get home.

Abominable will definitely win the hearts of younger audiences with such cute character like Everest, a massive Yeti who is the age-equivalent of a 9-year-old human boy. The film shows he relies on Yi and her friends to get him back to the Himalayas. He is curious and playful but can be a beast at times. Like all kids, he plays hard, doesn’t know his own strength and moody. His relationship with Yi is deep and forms the emotional core of the film. It’s for younger audience to enjoy — and if you are old enough to enjoy an animation, ultimately your enjoyment of Abominable will depend on your ability to embrace its childish silliness and adorable story of a girl and her yeti. Yes, it’s still good for everyone because the film is bound to win hearts all around.

Abominable is such an adventurous film to watch. Beautiful enough to make you ignore little predictable moments. It is simple and sweet, making every impossible thing possible – because that’s what you see in an animated world. It may not reach the Himalayan heights it’s aiming for yet it is infused with enough fantastical elements to keep viewers in good cheer. The best thing that this film offers is its spectacular visuals and family values that we can learn after. The film has strong positive messages for everyone with regards to family, friendship, and nature. There’s fun and entertainment as audiences can learn through seeing the characters grow into better versions of themselves.

This new aminated film from the makers of How to Train Your Dragon works beneficially when it focuses on the choice of voiceover, story, visuals, and music. This film brings diversity with having Asian leads. All cast members of the film — from Chloe Bennet to Sarah Paulson — are incredible and make each character unique. The main characters are no doubt relatable, likeable, fun and full of life. The sidekicks are heroic and funny. Even the villain is pretty interesting. They do a fantastic job with the storyline putting up twist, magical moments to ponder, and a chilling heartfelt soundtrack. It’s a great experience to see this one on the big screen.

Abominable puffs out as funny, adorable, and visually spectacular while making every impossible thing possible. Its outstanding theme about family will definitely touch everyone’s hearts. This is one beautiful adventure film recommended for all ages.


Dreamworks Animation and Pearl Studio Presents Abominable voiced by Chloe Bennet, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Joseph Izzo, Albert Tsai, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Paulson, Tsai Chin, and Michelle Wong.

‘Downton Abbey’ review: Nostalgic comeback of the beloved British series

Downton Abbey serves as a gentle drama that calls for a nostalgic experience not just for those who enjoyed the series.

The worldwide phenomenon Downton Abbey becomes a grand motion picture event, as the beloved Crawleys and their intrepid staff prepare for the most important moment of their lives.

Set two years after the series wrapped up, the Crawley family and their staff receive a letter indicating for a royal visit of King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James). Now the entire Crawley family – including Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), and Countess Violet (Maggie Smith) – must work together to make the visit a success. Downstairs, the servants mightily labor under the direction of Anna (Joanne Froggatt), Carson (Jim Carter), and Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier).  The royal visit will unleash scandal, romance and intrigue that will leave the future of Downton hanging in the balance.

The film is an astonishingly effective piece of work, one that hits all the notes that made the TV show so successful. It features the same cast of characters, show creators, tone, and style. Violence and sex are kept on a mild level yet it manages to add a couple of new and entertaining stories to tell. The cinematography is splendid, the actors put on superb performances, and the musicals scoring teems with finesse, as always. Teamwork and perseverance are clear from the way both servants and family members pull together for the royal visit, and characters that were formerly cruel to each other are now very close to each other. Challenges and struggles come and go but everything works out as we see our beloved characters work together for one last hurrah in the Great House.

Downton Abbey is a much needed throwback especially for fans of the 6-season series that ended over two years ago. It’s always a challenge to create a film based on a series that had so many interesting twists and turns as Downton Abbey had. For most fans, the film definitely has the nostalgia yet the film does not disappoint newcomers as the plot is quite straightforward and easy to follow through. Yes, it is no doubt a love letter to its fans but Julian Fellowes balances everything that could have been expected from this reunion. In many ways, it feels justified and one can say it is a beautiful plot as it stay firmly within the guidelines Downton Abbey TV series established.

While the story is basically about the visit of the King and Queen, it takes two hours of rolling up the rugs, putting out tables and chairs, as the household staff rant, walk, or take the day off. But all of that is understandable because the film still delivers a magical and nostalgic reunion with lots of learnings to carry in the end.

One of the outstanding themes of the film is the cultural impact of class privilege in history and how it continues to this day. Downton Abbey overcomes the prejudice of privilege with its endearing values of hospitality and fairness. You’ll also be able to see the immense growth of every character – from Tom Branson’s charming change who has given a chance to love again, to impeccable Violet Crawley who always steals the best lines, to Robert Crawley who helps manage the Downton Abbey from up and down lifestyle of Downton. Overall, it is one beautiful return in being sumptuous and lovely as an affair which should thrill longtime fans.

Downton Abbey pretty much feels exactly like a two-hour episode of the TV show, and fans won’t mind one bit, for the film executes a great comeback. Its dazzling and inspiring themes might even generate newfound fans.


Downton Abbey is now showing exclusively at the following Ayala Malls Cinemas: TriNoma, Greenbelt 3, Glorietta 4, Alabang Town Center, The 30th, Bonifacio High Street and Ayala Mall Bay Area..
Directed by Michael Engler, Downton Abbey stars Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Joanne Froggatt, Harry Hadden Paton, David Haig, Geraldine James, Rob James collier, Simon Jones, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Kate Phillips, Lesley Nicol, and Imelda Staunton.

‘Open’ review: Sultry and sincere eye-opener

Andoy Ranay’s Open uniquely brings a storyline that enlightens a relationship that could or couldn’t work.

Open tells the story of Rome (Arci Muñoz) and Ethan (JC Santos) who have been together for 14 years. They are each other’s firsts, and to their family and friends, they are the perfect couple. When the two begin to feel that their relationship has gone stale, they explore the idea of being in an open relationship. It’s something that Ethan wants to do, and it’s the only way Rome thinks she can do to keep her man. The agreement is, they’re allowed to have a no-strings attached sex with strangers. In the end, they learn the importance of the very thing they have been blind to – a relationship without trust will eventually crumble.

The film gives us a unique storytelling. It makes viewers not only grasp the idea of being in an open relationship but see the importance of having a firm grasp of individuality. It is a well-thought and creatively crafted drama; you’ll love how it’s able to show the advantages and disadvantages without heavily favoring on one side. It doesn’t encourage its viewers to be in an open relationship as it justifies not to give up easily on someone you love. Rome will really hit the audience’s empathy big time while Ethan is a mess who will ellicit some facepalms from the audience. You’ll be surprised how everything turns out – the relatable scenarios, lines and masterful acting are spot on. The ending, as expected, might be a bit heartbreaking but it is so powerful (paired with a great song finale) that will surely be an eye-opener to those who would or wouldn’t want to give in to that kind of relationship.

Open is no doubt a rollercoaster ride that will take you to the ups and downs of a long-standing relationship and the risks of being in an open one. The plot is simple yet within its story and character development the film is superbly great. Those flings, sex scenes, and steamy shower scene will put you in a sensual vibe but the film is much more than that. It provides a lot of insights about nurturing one’s relationship and not taking one’s partner for granted. There’s a lot of lessons that can be applied in real life after watching the film.

Arci Muñoz and JC Santos both succeed in giving life to their characters. Rome and Ethan is seen as conflicted yet empathetic individuals that Arci and JC succeed in portraying. Arci delivers a performance that’s remarkably and genuinely much more than her beautiful face. Her take on being Rome is as refreshing as she inhabits the role and makes it truly hers. Her psychological breakdown scene was just damn heartbreaking. JC does an amazing take on his role as Ethan by being bold enough to take a role of a man who has a raging sexual drive yet viewers will still feel sorry for him by the end. JC’s Ethan is not that kind of Ethan in Hello, Love, Goodbye so hopefully he wouldn’t be the most hated man in his third run in PPP right now.

Open is a great, honest film that audiences would really appreciate. It’s a fun and heartbreaking eye-opener and one of the best films in this run of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. It deserves a re-run in cinemas as it wisely puts the pros and cons of entering in an open relationship.

Open is a film by Andoy Ranay starring Arci Munoz, JC Santos, Ina Raymundo, Sofia Andres, Vance Larena and Ivana Alawi.

‘Lola Igna’ review: Beautiful, heartfelt lessons in life (and death)

Eduardo Roy, Jr.’s Lola Igna brings us a wonderful story of the oldest woman in the world with heartfelt life lessons.

Living in a secluded hut in the middle of rice fields, Lola Igna is a foul-mouthed and stubborn woman who is eager to die. However, her neighbors are hung up on her winning the title ‘the oldest living grandmother in the world.’ In the middle of all the sudden changes in Lola Igna’s life, she meets Tim, her long lost great-great-grandson. Tim is an aspiring vlogger who wants to latch on to her now-famous grandma but ends up giving her a new reason to live.

The film is beautifully written and well balanced. It manages to tackle the issues of being alone that an old person endures—together with a sense of longingness—while pondering over the values of family and forgiveness.

It’s unusual to see this kind of film in cinemas these days as it reflects our human heart towards our grandparents. You’ll see how the actors stir up our emotions through the use of their magnificent performances and incredible timing in dialogues.

The scenes with Lola Igna (Ms. Angie Ferro) and Tim (Yves Flores) are generally relatable. It brings us back to what we all must have experienced when we were staying at our grandparents’ house. There is so much happiness between the two, especially when it is Tim’s first time to meet his grandma. From their exchanging thoughts to helping out each other in the fields, we can learn from the little, special moments of their life. Every lesson that Lola Igna tells to Tim is like a lesson for us also. It’s all about how life (and how death) becomes an essential piece of ourselves. It’s like looking into every moment that we could have with an older version of us. Director Eduardo Roy Jr. made sure that his new film would touch the heart of his audience, while maintaining a certain degree of joy.

Lola Igna gives us a chance to revisit our purpose in life: the very reason for our existence. It tells us that life is precious and that we have to be thankful for it every day. We may not know what the future would bring but living in the present is much more important. Lola Igna, as a character and a film, could help us move on from our struggles in life by simply living more and loving the people around us to the fullest.

Being sentimental, sweet, and touching, Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino’s Lola Igna truly deserves to earn these awards: Best Picture, Best Actress for veteran character actress Angie Ferro, Best Screenplay, and Best Musical Score.

Lola Igna is a film by Eduardo Roy Jr. starring Ms. Angie Ferro, Yves Flores, Meryll Soriano, Royce Cabrera, and Maria Isabel Lopez.

‘Cuddle Weather’ review: Beyond all that’s steamy and hot

Rod Marmol’s ‘Cuddle Weather’ pushes its bold narrative enough to pull out an entertaining film with a provocative subtext.

Through its high-concept, dominantly intelligent writing, and bravado-filled performances, Cuddle Weather manages to shed much light on the struggles of being a sex worker in the country.

The narrative is mostly seen through the experiences of Adela, a long-time prostitute in utter desperation to start a new life but is seemingly held back by her desire to be with her ex-partner and client. In an almost run-down motel, she meets Ram, a neophyte sex worker who insistently begs her to become his sempai, for him to learn techniques in selling himself to clients, in order to earn larger amounts of money.

She turns him down multiple times, only to come across him again when she becomes desperate to find someone to cuddle with, who won’t be aroused by her body. He succeeds in doing that, and so she takes him in her place, and there starts to blossom the romance between the two of them.

More often than not, the film is an effective, and painful reconstruction of the daily lives of sex workers as they struggle to swallow their pride and be looked down upon by the people around them. From its opening sequence that is Adela’s monologue, the film is with a firm grasp to the character, giving enough depth for us to care and root for her.

In multiple occasions, Adela and Ram’s clients belittle them for being a mere pokpok. It’s seen that the latter still manages to shrug off the words, but the former, on the other hand, walks out, or goes into a raging fit. This gives a clear-cut view of her experience of loss of self-worth, and her wanting to get out of it to regain all the worth that she’s lost.

Adela’s melancholy is effectively evoked by Sue Ramirez, as she exerts so much effort in giving life to the character of Adela. RK Bagatsing portrays Ram with much nuance, channeling authenticity to his character. From his excessive lines to express his giddiness and insistence, to his lack of dialogue to express all the pain and anguish he’s hiding, all are made apparent through his micro-expressions.

However, the film suffers from having its direction and writing be a little tame, despite its literally and figuratively bold concept. In this film, prostitution is shown to be without diversity, as the two leads are only portrayed to do their work heterosexually. Neither of them are actually seen to be entertaining clients that are of the same sex. What it does instead, is try to make up for its derelictions by developing the romance between the two leads, so much so, that the narrative turns a little too saccharine for its own good during the third act of the film. In return, it doesn’t maximize its capacity to delve deeper into the psyche of both of its leads.

These flaws aren’t necessarily bad. In the way Cuddle Weather tells its narrative, it triumphs to be an entertaining crowd-pleaser and an effective exploration on the reality of sex work. The film isn’t just one to entertain, but is also one that is heavily substantial.

‘LSS (Last Song Syndrome)’ review: Ode to lovers, dreamers

Jade Castro’s LSS sings a harmony of a heartfelt love song that there is between young lovers; it is fun, romantic, and is sometimes a tear-jerker.

‘LSS (Last Song Syndrome)’ is a charming manifest of the exemplary intertwine of music with life’s facets. Starring real-to-reel couple, Gabbi Garcia and Khalil Ramos, it warbles the story of Sarah, an aspiring singer-songwriter as she struggles in composing her fate. In the process thereof, her path crosses with that of a music geek named Zack, whose personal rhythm will soon harmonize with hers—but not too soon.

Following their first encounter, the leads walk their own paths and continue on to live separate lives, crossing each other’s minds every once in a while, until a few months later.

For instance, Sarah does gig at a mall while a handful of people casually just walk around with balloons in their hands like it is the new cool thing. Surely, that is an absurd and puzzling element worth noting, and the set design could have been better.

The moment they meet for the second time is the strongest and most endearing of all, with their hearts broken, crying out loud to Ben and Ben’s Kathang Isip, Zack from the torment of seeing his first love reconcile its troubled relationship with another woman, and Sarah from utter disappointment with the path her career is heading to, their weary eyes meet and what happens next sets the mood to a magical silence.

The lighting and subtle camera movement were impeccably orchestrated all in favour of that particular scene, add in the clever showcase of contrast between the seemingly chaotic set, with a distinct outburst of emotions, and the tension building up in silence between the two leads as if it was a dream in slow motion to be recalled.

The turn of events perfectly complements the romance build-up that is the tempo for the first half of the storyline; and as the leads’ individual lives engage in a romantic duet, the supporting characters get hooked into it and so the film goes into an upbeat orchestra.

On that note, Ruby’s character, commendably portrayed by Tuesday Vargas, was strongly written that it plays quite an overwhelming role in the character development of her son, Zack. Thus, it stands out among others, and even overpowers the leads to some extent.

As the story shifts from one tone to another, the leads get to dwell on their individual development—Sarah, still frustrated over her music career and the fact that her brother got ahead of her, while Zach goes deep into family affairs and tries his best to get his parents to reconcile before it is too late.

Just as Sarah gets close to reaching a milestone in her career, Zack decides to leave the country too soon and accompany his terminaly ill father throughout its medical treatment, not actually knowing when he will return.

The conflict feels rushed, as if it came out of nowhere, and is not enough to actually turn things around. Thus, it does not seem to outweigh or even justify the build-up of prior events and the collective growth of the leads that was strongly established until the supposed plot twist.

An instance that could have been explored so as to justify the conflict is that Sarah, notwithstanding her faith in Zack, could have agonized about getting into an indefinite, long distance relationship therewith or worse, parting ways as if their relationship is not worth giving a try.

Albeit being flawed on that aspect, the conflict manages to branch out into three plot devices: family, career and love. And so Zack and Sarah continue to sing their songs in solo, until they meet again for another magical moment, not in the tune of romantic silence, but in celebration of love.

The storyline wraps up with a decent ending, although just cheesy enough to have something finally compare to that of Disney Studio’s Lizzie McGuirre The Movie.

Overall, it is a fun and touching experience; the much awaited lines and performances of Ben and Ben are certainly among the charm of this film to the audience, let alone the undeniable chemistry between lead stars and real life couple Gabbi Garcia and Khalil Ramos, and their genuine talent in singing that were channeled all throughout. Tuesday Vargas is also one big star with her ingenious and relatable humor, and to say otherwise is a mere ignorance of the film.

Had it not been for the acting debut of Ben and Ben as among the casts, the film would have appealed as a mere tribute to the famed band. If nothing else, the film shows that there is a perfect Ben and Ben song to match any situation that life throws your way, and if you are a fan of them or any of the aforementioned artists, seeing this film must be crossed out of your bucket list.

‘IT Chapter Two’ review: Horrifyingly great reunion

Stephen King didn’t fail to amuse us with It Chapter Two as a fun and horrifying reunion of the Losers Club.

Evil resurfaces as director Andy Muschietti reunites the Losers Club to return to where it all began in IT Chapter Two, the conclusion to the highest-grossing horror film of all time. Twenty-seven years after the Losers Club defeated Pennywise, he has returned to terrorize the town of Derry once more. Kids are disappearing again, so Mike, the only one of the group to remain in their hometown, calls the others home. Damaged by the experiences of their past, they must each conquer their deepest fears to destroy Pennywise once and for all, putting them directly in odds with a clown that has become deadlier than ever.

IT Chapter Two is brilliantly created and inspired from the books itself. It’s not as scary as the first one, but this surely offers a lot more on the story making it a horrifying tale overall. It’s funny and pure when the film presents distinct personalities in precise sequences. The film showed The Losers as a grown up adults where some have already had a life. When Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) who was obsessed with what happens to Derry, telephones them all with grim news it results in puking, car-crashing and all-round panic seeing that the characters had a traumatic experience from the past.  From Richie (Bill Hader), now a professional on comedy stages, to Beverly (Jessica Chastain), who still sadly suffering abuse, to Bill (James McAvoy) being a sensitive screenwriter who writes bad endings per se — we can all feel these characters instantly lived-in, vibrant, authentic human beings who we can relate to.

This film is beyond what we imagine. Like Pennywise, It Chapter Two wants to keep you in a constant state of distress because it heightens the overall intensity of the story. While it has a lot of twists and scary popups that would put you at the edge of your seat, it also pokes fun to some scary things. You’ll never know if you are going to be scared or not at all. What’s interesting is at some point, Pennywise stops being ‘scary’ and starts being annoying. Wellm that depends if you are not really afraid of clowns. But in this film being almost three hours long you’ll be scared more of what will happen to the characters (plus those intense scary popups that literally put a shock). It really takes you to uneasy comfort, you’ll be scared or maybe you will even laugh at it. Overall it is well-balanced on being scary and funny because at some point, it stops to poke fun at the ridiculousness of its story. A special mention to Bill Hader’s Richie, who points out how dumb Pennywise’s little jig is. He’s seen what the clown can do to people and the many monstrous forms it can take, but he also knows that if he’s going to die, he might as well crack a couple jokes while he’s got the time which makes this film horrifyingly fun at all.

It is engaging and beautifully inspired by the books, without having to resort to having too much horror, romance, and comedy. It’s well balanced and more disturbing than anything in chapter one. Director Muschietti is not playing it safe with this one. It is amazingly an adult territory, enormously troubling to witness, let alone a more gruesome grown up film. The film literally throws all the monsters most people were afraid of as this was the final face-off of The Losers Club with Pennywise. There are exquisitely executed scares with various nightmares, from unsettling spine-chillers to a full-force fright. It is both classy and disgusting; the monsters were design wonderfully and all out in the service of scaring its audiences. From the opening to the climax, Muschietti successfully keeps the horror going on throughout its whole runtime.

It Chapter Two takes almost three hours long for a horror film. That’s not to say that it isn’t a solid horror film—it is, but it’s trying to do something more than just frighten you for a few hours with a story about a bunch of kids who are now grown-up adults fighting a crazy clown. It really, really wants to make you laugh. But it is the best long hour for a horror film by far. While you don’t absolutely need to have seen the first film to be familiar with the premise, it would be a lie to say that It Chapter Two isn’t made better by having the first half still somewhat fresh in your mind. It shows how the now-adult Losers have gone about their lives as the film opens, and we’re reintroduced to each character in small slice of life moments that give you just enough information to understand what kind of people they’ve all become. It’s one of the best scenes of the film showing these adults Losers reeling on some struggles from the past that they had to overcome. Despite delivering many subplots, the film leaves you with a feeling of wanting more.

The cast members are absolutely the best thing that this film had. The film gives its leads the idea of being the grown-up versions of the younger counterparts from the first film (who greatly reprise their roles adding some cuteness and innocent feels for the viewers). Their inclusion in the film makes interesting scenes where the adult Losers relive their memories in a dynamic way. James Ransone’s Eddie is one you’ll definitely see as the perfect adult version of Jack Dylan Grazer. He’s matches every emotion, jokes, and scared face of the young Eddie. His fun partner Richie played by Bill Hader is one of the more surprising gems tucked into this film. Seeing them exchange scenes together turns the film in both fun and emotional ways. Other characters like Jessica Chastain and Jay Ryan, who become that hot adult version of Ben, come across as rather extra special characters that are just going through the motions in a good way. James McAvoy on the other hand, clearly did the best of himself playing the adult version of Bill.

Overall, Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is the real deal in this film. His comeback is an absolute horrible as a clown. His first appearance is surprisingly nasty, and then so are all the others. He is indeed a brilliant actor, he inhabits Pennywise to diabolical degrees, with or without CGI he is next-level creepy as hell.

Beware if you are afraid of clowns because It Chapter Two will make you shout, groan, and look away, but it’ll also make you laugh and appreciate children who have the common sense to stay the hell away from them, You’ll have a fun, horrific ride as you enjoy the characters more than you expected.

3.5 out of 5 stars
IT Chapter Two stars James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Bill Skarsgard, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Jaeden Lieberher, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Finn Wolfhard. Directed by Andy Muschietti. Runtime: 2hrs and 55 mins

MOVIE REVIEWS: Cinemalaya Film Festival 2019 (Part 1)

Here’s the first part of our festival report on Cinemalaya 2019, in which we cover Belle Douleur, Edward, John Denver TrendingMalamaya, Tabon and Shorts A. The 15th edition of Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival runs from August 7 to 15, 2019 in select Ayala Malls Cinemas and Vista Cinemas nationwide.


BELLE DOULEUR (BEAUTIFUL PAIN)

Kit Thompson (Josh) and Mylene Dizon (Liz) in Belle Douleur.

The first of the two entries dealing on the burgeoning subject matter of May-December love affairs features a palpable and electric chemistry between Mylene Dizon and Kit Thompson. Like the recent Glorious, it’s filled to the brim with wish fulfillment – gratuitous and torrid love scenes that’s otherwise substantiated with better screenplay and direction. By the way its characters are constructed, it perfectly makes sense for both to latch onto each other. Liz (Mylene Dizon) is a child psychologist in her 40’s who struggles dealing with the passing of her mother, as seen through her heavy attachment to her mom’s antique items. Enter an attractive Josh in his late 20’s who shows an odd fascination for the same stuff. Upon the suggestion of her friends, Liz does something “reckless and irresponsible.” You can tell where the story goes from here. 

Make no mistake, this is not a case of Oedipal complex for Josh. He genuinely wants to have a committed relationship with Liz, the latter even insisting to be the nurturer. Naturally, Liz wants to do her mutual end in the relationship as well, but she’s taken aback each time he accuses her of being too much of a mother figure. Liz might have escaped the stigma of being a single, middle-aged woman but she finds herself trapped into a new one.

The narrative unfolds and more relationship cracks are revealed – there are some things that Liz simply can’t provide. Generational conflict arises and compromises must be made. At which point, Belle Douleur slugs at its pacing with its prolonged honeymoon and frustration phases, none of which are really new and ground-breaking per se. The film could have sacrificed some of its sequences – particularly a subplot involving a friend’s infidelity issue – to reserve time for its rushed ending that should hold up the titular theme “beautiful pain.” 

The conclusion is up for a different discussion – somehow the female empowerment message feels an odd fit to Liz’s actions towards the end. Belle Douleur is a sentimental and heartfelt love affair that can either get too saccharine or exasperating for some viewer’s tastes. Regardless, the film hooks your attention, much owing to Dizon’s impeccable and subdued performance.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Joji V. Alonso and written by Therese Cayaba, ‘Belle Douleur’ stars Mylene Dizon, Kit Thompson, Marlon Rivera, Jenny Jamora and Hannah Ledesma. 98 minutes. R-13.

EDWARD

Ella Cruz and Louise Abuel in Edward.

Edward opens with an impressive one-shot sequence that lays out the chaotic workings of a public hospital – the understaffed crew, the lack of sufficient equipment and facilities, the depressing resuscitation performed in hallway, etc. Such hyper-realism foreshadows the harsh awakening that this sullen place holds store for the titular young lad, charmingly played by Louise Abuel. Left by his half-brother, he is tasked with taking care of his ill father – actor Dido De La Paz whose labored breathing and violent coughs alone warrant a supporting actor nomination. Edward quickly accustoms himself to the environment – when not tending to his father or serving as an errand boy, he would goof around with his best friend Renz (Elijah Canlas) as they use wheelchairs for thrill rides and bet on critically-ill patients. 

I actually came here expecting more of the father and son dynamic to be fleshed out – as what director Thop Nazareno deftly did in Kiko Boksingero. Halfway through, however, the film’s romcom aspects become more prominent as Edward befriends and falls for a girl patient named Agnes (Ella Cruz). Personally, the film could have enriched its coming of age arc more had the focus is on the paternal relationship. But in here, Edward often neglects his duties to his estranged father. Perhaps it speaks to the general immaturity of youth, of how sometimes teens prioritize romantic endeavors over family emergencies. Hence, the film lacks a better resolution for Edward and his father – or maybe that’s just how life is, sometimes you don’t get it. 

The film mostly plays on a comical tone largely helped by the bleak humor generated by its supporting cast and cheery musical scoring. But never underestimate the darker tones beneath, because once they kick in, the effect is poignant and heartbreaking. As the blow by blow tragic events happen, poor Edward finds himself worn out from the roller-coaster of emotions he experienced within his short stay in the hospital. Edward is a liberation from the cusp of innocence.

With its documentary-like sensibilities, the film also serves as a somber commentary where patients die because of the inept healthcare system. It can be a helpless and maddening experience to know that we’re living in that type of reality. After all, there’s an ‘Edward’ in all of us.

4 out of 5 stars

Directed by Thop Nazareno and written by John Paul Bedia and Thop Nazareno, ‘Edward’ stars Louise Abuel, Dido dela Paz, Elijah Canlas, Manuel Chua and Ella Cruz. 90 minutes. R-13.

JOHN DENVER TRENDING

Meryll Soriano and Jansen Magpusao in John Denver Trending.

If there’s an entry here that speaks to the heart of a social media driven generation today, it’s definitely John Denver Trending. From cyber-bullying, proliferation of fake news, bandwagon mentality, uprise of keyboard warriors and a self-righteous society mostly motivated by emotions and not reasons – the film bares it all. Juxtaposed with meaningful symbolism of superstitions and rituals, director/writer Arden Rod Condez makes an effort not to deliver heavy handed commentaries.

In it, John Denver Cabungcal (a promising debut by Jansen Magpusao) gets caught on video beating up a classmate. The latter’s friend uploads the said clip on Facebook with claims that John stole his iPad and acted hostile upon confrontation. What the netizens don’t see is that he’s innocent and he actually just fought back to get his bag. The film also mines much empathy in Meryll Soriano’s effective portrayal of John’s strong-willed mother who does her best to acquit his son from the accusations.

There might be some reservations towards the film’s nihilistic conclusion but I personally think that the screenplay’s build up satisfies the film’s bold choices. Overall, John Denver Trending is a very powerful and humbling film that I can wholeheartedly champion for everyone to see.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Directed and written by Arden Rod Condez, ‘John Denver Trending’ stars Jansen Magpusao, Meryll Soriano, Glenn Mas, Sammy Rubido, Vince Philip Alegre, Jofranz Ambubuyog and Christian Alarcon. 96 minutes. PG.

MALAMAYA (THE COLOR OF ASH)

Enzo Pineda and Sunshine Cruz in Malamaya.

Effectively works as a double feature with Belle Douleur, Malamaya leaves you pondering with its themes on solitary, generational gap beliefs, artistic schools of thought and many other things. Directors Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez leaves plenty of room for dissection. In a way, it’s like looking at an art exhibit. You can look at the film in multiple angles, some might find it a pretentious feminist film while some may say it’s worthy of viewing. I fall into a latter category, with few reservations.

Much of my fascination falls on a temperemental and unaplogetic painter Nora who refuses to take crap from anyone. This girl can detect BS from a mile away. She may not be always right but she makes sure that she stands firm with her opinion. She takes an arrogant young photography hobbyist named Migs (Enzo Pineda) under her wing and having the same passion for art, steamy love scenes are bound to fly. It feels rote and familar by now but given that we are in for a modest level of crazy character introspection, Malamaya takes an orthodox and more artful approach than Belle Douleur. Just to be clear, Nora does not need men saving her. She can use them for her benefit but she never bows down to their whims.

It feels refreshing to see Sunshine Cruz act again as this film reminds us of her capabilities as an actress. Malamaya can be burdened by characterization flaws to fully deliver a concrete message but perhaps this is just a reflection of the captivating and erratic emotional and mental state of artists. Elsewhere, the film’s aesthetic visuals and production values are pleasing to the eye. It never hurts for a second viewing.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez, written by Leilani Chavez and Liberty Trinidad, ‘Malamaya’ stars Enzo Pineda, Sunshine Cruz, Raymond Bagatsing and Bernadette Allyson. 80 minutes. R-13.

TABON

Christopher Roxas in Tabon.

While Tabon‘s story clearly has the potential for a mystery/crime thriller, the film is completely let down by its misguided direction, dry screenplay and bland production design. Christopher Roxas (I even forgot his character’s name) plays a thinly-written protagonist that runs around the narrative asking the same questions over and over again, wearing the exact same face of confusion that the viewers bear.

The problem is that Xian Lim, in his directorial debut, seals his lips from the film’s mystery for so long. Not enough breadcrumbs are offered to lead the way or let alone create a proper misdirection. The result is a horror mystery that feels uneventful, dragging and bewildering. Not to mention, a drastic tonal shift involving the use of animation occurs halfway – by then, it’s hard to take what happens next seriously. Plot points are just lost in translation, just like how I can’t fathom the relevance of the film’s title.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Xian Lim and written by Xian Lim and Eseng Cruz, ‘Tabon’ stars Christopher Roxas, Ynna Asistio, Dexter Doria, Bapbap Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias, Leon Miguel, Benjie Felipe, Lao Rodriguez and Richard Manabat. 90 minutes. PG.

SHORTS A

GATILYO (Trigger) has sincere intentions to shed light on PTSD and the lasting effects of war but unfortunately, it plays more as a PSA with nothing really original to latch onto your heartstrings. 2.5/5

Directed by and co-written by Harold Lance Pialda, ‘Gatilyo’ stars Rocky Salumbides, Liya Sarmiento, Bon Andrew Lentejas and Ruby “Ube Lola” Daleon. 19 minutes. PG.

HEIST SCHOOL is an easy crowd-pleaser that garners the biggest laughs in the bunch. The clever screenplay and comedic beats are well-executed. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to this. 4/5

Directed and co-written by Julius Renomeron Jr., ‘Heist School’ stars Jemuel Cedrick Satumba, Bryan Bacalso, Ella Mae Libre, Son De Vera, Teri Lacayanga, Brylle Parzuelo and Kevin Ramos. 17 minutes. PG.

SA GABING TANGING LIWANAG AY PANINIWALA (Belief as the Light in Darkness) is another mystery horror that leaves you confused with its incoherent sequencing rather than investing at a solid character development that should bring out the profound horror underneath. 2/5

Directed and written by Francis Guillermo, ‘Sa Gabing Tanging Liwanag ay Paniniwala’ stars Soliman Cruz, Dylan Ray Talon, Sheryll Ceasico and Stefanoni Nunag. 15 minutes. PG.

DISCONNECTION NOTICE is a heartwarming mundane tale of brothers living under the same roof. It’s sensational cinematography really does help in fleshing out the disposition of its characters. 4.5/5

Directed and written by Glenn Lowell Averia, ‘Disconnection Notice’ stars Jude Matthew Servilla and John Vincent Servilla. 19 minutes. PG.

‘WAG MO ‘KONG KAUSAPIN (Please Stop Talking) feels deeply personal and haunting to begin with. It’s a unique and harrowing manifestation of depression and suppressed ghosts from past. 5/5

Directed and written by Josef Gacutan, ‘Wag Mo ‘Kong Kausapin’ stars Rener Concepcion, Junjun Quintana, Karen Romualdez and Vincent Pajara. 14 minutes. GA.

Stay tuned for the second part of our coverage!

‘Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw’ review: Audacious and ridiculous

Part-car-chase-action, part-buddy-comedy, and arguably part-superhero film, ‘Hobbs and Shaw’ serviceably assembles the requisites for a popcorn blockbuster.

The plot of the Fast & Furious films truly came a long way from illegal street-racing and high speed heists. Its newest spin-off, Hobbs & Shaw, ratchets up the stakes by involving a deadly virus that can wipe out half of the population. Apparently, it boils down to averting a Thanos phenomenon. I’m not sure if screenwriters Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce originally intended their script as a pitch for a Marvel or a Mission: Impossible film, but do we really care? The latest chapter may feature less cars and more formulaic blockbuster elements, yet one thing has always been consistent – the franchise’s over-the-top ambition to wreck your suspension of disbelief. Hobbs & Shaw knows that its explosive stunt choreography is the main reason why we’re along for the ride. It’s outrageously fun and ridiculous.

There are at least two more reasons for this spin-off: 1. Vin Diesel and The Rock reportedly had some beef, so both are not exactly thrilled to work together anytime soon; and 2. This actually serves as a way to extend the franchise without the need of having all the A-listers. Hobbs & Shaw capitalizes on two previous anti-heroes and puts them in a buddy action-comedy: a federal law enforcement officer Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and a world class thief/mercenary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Both are epitome of toxic masculinity, but these bald, muscle-bound alpha males are different in many ways and they hate each other’s guts. Soon, they have to work together. For Hobbs it’s another job of saving the world, while for Shaw, it’s a personal quest to save his estranged sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby).

Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) attempt to infiltrate the bad guys’ lair.

Director David Leitch (Deadpool 2 and John Wick) mostly assembles Hobbs & Shaw with spare parts from previous action films – you will be reminded of M:I – Fallout, Mad Max: Fury Road, Skyscraper and even Kingsman at some point. The resulting model feels less like a F&F film and more like the standard flicks that The Rock and Statham have starred in. The film also tries to occupy the comedic lane with its brand of lowbrow banter. And in case it’s not clear, Leitch drops a couple of big star cameos doing gags along the way (they will remain unnamed for your surprise). Or you can just wait for the part where Hobbs and Shaw funnily engage in slow-mo punches. Or the part where Hobbs and his brothers perform a Samoan chant before throwing themselves into battle. Yes, that really happened. Sure enough, the film gets away with its absurd setups with the help of the winning charisma of its leads.

Elsewhere, I saw the order of the epic stunts coming from a mile away – no thanks to the trailers that spilled too much of the set pieces. There’s supposed to be a grave sense of danger – moments where butts should be lifted from seats – but since almost everything here defies physics and common logic, you might as well get a good laugh at its audacity and willingness to lunacy. In one scene, Hobbs fearlessly jumps out of a skyscraper to catch a henchman who’s rappelling down below. Twenty seconds later, he jumps again in pursuit of a different henchman, effortlessly changing the trajectory of his freefall.  And lest we forget the portion where Hobbs holds down a helicopter using his terrific biceps. Captain America would be proud.

Bad guy. Idris Elba plays genetically enhanced MI6 agent Brixton Lore.

And since we’re almost dealing with superheroic stuff now, it’s only fitting that Hobbs & Shaw introduces the franchise’s most formidable villain yet – the Winter Soldier, er, Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a bionic MI6 agent who calls himself as the “Black Superman.” Given his skillset and abilities, he can also be a terminator and a transformer for all we know. Elba knocks his role out of the park, however, the biggest revelation here is neither him or the two leads. Vanessa Kirby’s Hattie steals the show with her exquisite balance of classiness and feistiness. Her character does not succumb as a damsel in distress – she can beat up guys on her own, all while remaining to be the film’s source of emotional friction. Someone please give Kirby a solo action feature.

Vanessa Kirby plays Hattie Shaw, Deckard’s estranged sister.

You can accuse Hobbs & Shaw as a mindless form of entertainment but it’s never soulless. No matter how bonkers the action sequences can get, the film abides by the franchise’s hallmark of putting the family first above anything else. Such a theme can be a contractual obligation by now – both leads here are in need of a family reconciliation. Their respective subplots could’ve been done better as they’re a bit overplayed and underdeveloped. But it’s the sentiment that counts, I guess. 

Overall, this spin-off manages to have fun without having the burden of tying much of its ends to the F&F universe. Leitch keeps the action and comedy running at full speed, even if the pacing starts to drag at times. The outcome is something you’ve seen before – more or less, but it’s still highly enjoyable. And sometimes, that brand of ridiculous and fun is just enough to keep the action aficionados happy.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by David Leitch, written by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw stars Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Eiza González, Eddie Marsan, Cliff Curtis and Helen Mirren. 135 minutes. PG-13.

‘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.