Tag Archives: Movie reviews

tv + film by Philbert Dy

A Lack of Mindfulness Leads ‘Extra Service’ into Questionable Choices

Because yellowface is not okay in 2017.

NBHD movie 1 ticketExtra Service tells the story of Aw, Em and Gie (Arci Muñoz, Colleen Garcia, and Jessy Mendiola), who all work at a massage parlor. Except it turns out that they aren’t just masseuses: they are also very highly skilled thieves that secretly do work for a syndicate. Their latest job turns out to be a setup: a test from a secret government organization that then blackmails them into doing a job for them. The girls have been tasked to steal three very valuable pearls currently in the possession of a powerful criminal family.5What plays out is very schematic nonsense. The film clearly revels in absurdity, but it puts it all within a very conventional framework that reveals weirdly conservative roots. The film lays out its plot in a simple pattern. The movie builds itself around three heists, during which the three lead actresses are invariably wearing chintzy costumes that are presumably meant to read as sexy. In between the heists, the film stuffs in perfunctory interpersonal drama that never really turns into anything substantial, and a bunch of romantic subplots that seem to contradict whatever aspirations this film might have had towards depicting these women as strong and independent.1The film just makes questionable choices all around. Let’s start with the most discomfiting one: casting Arlene Muhlach to play a Japanese matriarch who is also a Yakuza boss. She speaks in an accent that mixes up Ls and Rs, wears a kimono and makeup that’s probably meant to recall a geisha, and holds a mixed martial arts tournament set in a sumo ring where the toughest fighter is dressed as Pikachu. It’s 2017. The movie really shouldn’t be given a pass for such casual yellowface. It isn’t so much that it’s offensive, though it might, but it indicates a general lack of mindfulness in the film as it executes it comedy.3It just doesn’t feel like the film is trying to earn its laughs. This kind of nonsense tends to work better when you can see the effort in putting it together. So much of this movie feels thrown away. The first heist sequence, for example, makes absolutely no logical sense. In it, the girls go through a lot of trouble to stay undetected in a house they have already somehow snuck into undetected anyway, only to immediately break cover to confront guards in one of the film’s very shaky fight sequences. Had the heist just made any bit of logistical or logical sense, the comedy would likely have stood out more. As it stands, it just feels like the film is actively trying to waste everyone’s time.4None of it looks very good. There is a clear thrust towards camp, but it’s undone by an impulse towards emulating the coolness of the genre they’re imitating. The use of visual effects, like in so many other local films, feels more like a product of a rushed shoot than a genuine need for them. The three actresses playing the lead roles are game, and that helps. But the writing just never helps them out. The movie is more prone to giving juicy scenes to its male supporting cast, who all get to at one point or another get these heroines out of a bind.2One can certainly sense the possibility of subversion in Extra Service. One might even feel the intention to do so. But to accomplish those ambitions would call for effort and mindfulness that just isn’t present in any single frame of this movie. In the end, all this movie wants to do is put its three lead actresses in various costumes and have them hook up with an appropriately attractive beau. Everything else is treated as chaff, and this leads the film into its most questionable portions.

EXTRA SERVICE IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM STAR CINEMA.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

A Major Narrative Compromise Doesn’t Derail the Reality of ‘Patriots Day’

In paying tribute to the people in Boston, Patriots Day equally succeeds in capturing humanity’s true nature.

NBHD movie 4 ticketsPatriots Day dramatizes the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It mainly follows the investigation through the eyes of homicide detective Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), an amalgam of several figures involved in tracking down and eventually capturing the suspects. He is there at the finish line when the bomb goes off, and he finds himself involved in every part of the ensuing investigation. The film pretty rigorously depicts the hundred or so hours following the attack, checking in on the police, civilians caught up in the attack, and even on the terrorists themselves as the entire city of Boston grapples with the ramifications of the event.2This is an unwieldy narrative for a movie, because there are no real main characters. The character of Tommy Saunders exists as the necessary compromise to make this story feel more like a movie, giving the narrative a heroic focal point. The character is a pretty clumsy creation, though, Saunders standing out for being a collection of tropes among the film’s general sense of subdued realism. And the movie often has to twist itself around in order to justify his presence in several scenes, once again cutting into its appealing rigor.3But that one compromise doesn’t invalidate everything else that this film does. It wisely doesn’t try to build a complex arc around its fictional hero. He’s just there to experience events as they happened, the film still placing the sequence of events as its main priority. A rigid, linear structure makes it easy to keep track of what’s going on, even as the film documents the chaos and confusion that came to define this whole ordeal. And in all that chaos, the movie is able to say some really interesting things about the nature of terrorism and the way that people respond to it.5These ideas seem to emerge almost in spite of what the film is driving at. Or maybe the film is just trying to conceal some of its more complex concepts behind a smokescreen of unimpeachable positivity over the city of Boston. Either way, the film builds something compelling in the consistent inability of those given power to really deal with the threat. People keep making mistakes, and progress seems to come exclusively through dumb luck and the aid of normal people. Every imposing figure in the film is proven ineffectual, their vast resources and expertise ultimately futile in trying to find these two anonymous perpetrators.7The goes to great lengths to show the absurdities inherent in something as serious as tracking down terrorists. There is tension between local police and federal agent, which the film is able to depict in different situations to be both comedic and tragic. The loose, hungry camera always seems to be searching for the most pertinent piece of footage, and to the film’s credit, it often gets it. Mark Wahlberg plays the fictional cop at the heart of this story, and he does what he generally does best. The rest of the very large cast struggles to find moments within this sprawling narrative to stand out. Within this context, Jimmy O. Yang really picks his moments and makes the best out of them.4Patriots Day basically ends by outing itself as a very sincere tribute to the people of Boston. It’s an interesting statement to make. These recent films that tackle real life drama have tended to err on the side of lionizing singular individuals that managed to overcome great, dangerous odds. But this film takes on a much more difficult, much more complex path in telling the story of terror. The film almost seems to say that we will never truly be safe from the scourge of a few individuals that seeks to do harm against many. No Jack Bauers or even Tommy Saundereses really exist to save us from all evil. But on the fringes of the thriller that is the war on terrorism is the true victory against evil: just good people helping each other out, staying good in spite of all the damage that has been done.

PATRIOTS DAY IS NOW SHOWING IN SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Mang Kepweng Returns’ Doesn’t Set a Very High Bar

Mang Kepweng Returns feels like it was just thrown together.

NBHD movie 1-2 ticketsMang Kepweng Returns casts Vhong Navarro as Kiefer, a son of Chiquito’s original Mang Kepweng. Kiefer’s mother Milagros (Jaclyn Jose) has kept the truth behind Kiefer’s parentage a secret in order to keep him safe from dark forces that seek to destroy anyone related to Mang Kepweng. But an attack in their home forces her to tell her son the truth. Kiefer claims the magical bandana from his half-brother Zacharias (James Blanco) and claims the mantle of Mang Kepweng. He happily begins a new life as a healer, but will later have to confront Ingkong Kapiz (Pen Medina) an evil albularyo that is trying to harm the people around him.screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-16-27-pmIt takes a while for this movie to really get started. The movie starts out pretty crowded, introducing the main character and his three best friends and his mother and his two adopted kids and a couple of characters from the Zumba class that he leads. And then there’s the half-brother he hasn’t met yet and the gang of characters that surround him. The movie gets pretty busy establishing all these different personalities through a series of pretty discordant scenes. While Zacharias is earnestly trying to save the woman he loves, Kiefer is making silly mistakes at the barbershop he works at.screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-13-34-pmWe are pretty deep into the movie by the time Kiefer gets his hands on the magical bandana. But even then, the story hardly moves forward. The initiating action that led Kiefer to seek out his half-brother in the first place is quickly placed on the back burner. It instead goes into a series of gag scenes of varying quality and relevance to the very slight plot. And then there’s the requisite romantic subplot, for which the film produces a female character (played by Kim Domingo) given nothing to do outside of the context of her interactions with the main character.

screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-16-41-pmThere are probably some okay gags in there, but they’re pretty hard to pick out. Everything feels a little too slowly paced to land effectively. This is a film that will linger on a punchline, explain it, and then repeat it for good measure. This is bad enough on the jokes that kind of work. The effect is even worse when the movie lingers on the type of humor that we ought to have really moved on from by now. Too often, the joke in this movie is that a person is fat or ugly or old or maybe gay. The movie can certainly do better than that.screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-16-09-pmThe production is pretty shaky. The handheld camerawork feels like an odd fit for the movie, the story not exactly requiring a sense of naturalism in its scenes. If anything, it feels like it gets in the way of the rhythm of the scenes. The acting is pretty broad, but there are some bright spots in there. Jaclyn Jose really sells every silly joke that she’s given. Her deadpan delivery stands in pretty stark contrast to almost everything else in the film, further highlighting the humor that she brings. Vhong Navarro mugs pretty hard in every scene, but there’s some charm left in that.screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-18-22-pmMang Kepweng Returns feels like it was just thrown together. To be fair to the film, it does capture a little slice of the spirit of the Filipino comedy films of the late 70s and early 80s. Those too were overstuffed affairs barely held together by a plot that always inexplicably led to an action confrontation. But that’s not really a great thing when all is said and done. It just feels like the film doesn’t set a very high bar for itself. Like so many other films of its ilk, it just doesn’t think that audiences are ready for anything more.

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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Collateral Beauty’’s Narrative Acrobatics Dehumanize Grief

This movie just exhibits bad judgment all around.

NBHD movie 1 ticketCollateral Beauty is about Howard (Will Smith), who is initially introduced as a brilliant advertising mogul at the height of his powers. Three years later, he’s falling apart following the death of his six-year-old daughter. While his business partners try to find a way to save the firm, they discover that Howard has been dealing with his loss by writing letters to the abstract concepts of love, time, and death. Howard’s best friend Whit (Edward Norton) hires three actors to take on the role of these three concepts and answer Howard’s letters, hoping that this radical approach will help him heal. Failing that, they’re hoping to just get some footage that proves that Howard isn’t fit to be running the firm anymore.screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-11-38-12-amAdding contrivance to this already shaky premise are the personal struggles of each of Howard’s business partners. Whit, who deals with the actress playing Love (Keira Knightley), happens to be trying to connect with his daughter, who has come to hate him following his divorce. Claire (Kate Winslet), who is briefing the ersatz Time (Jacob Latimore), is considering making up for lost time by having a baby. And Simon (Michael Peña), who talks with Death (Helen Mirren), has a terminal illness that he is hiding from everyone. And there’s an added wrinkle that involves Howard and a woman from a support group that is better left not discussed.screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-11-39-05-amAmazingly, none of this is a joke. Everyone involved in this production read this screenplay, mulled over the strange premise of actors pretending to be abstract concepts in an attempt to rile a sad millionaire out of his grief, and then later doing it again for the sake of attaining digitally manipulated footage that proves his unstable state of mind and somehow decided that this was a worthy dramatization of how people deal with grief. The overly contrived structure, which has the film filling out an easy narrative pattern of scenes, is so removed from human experience that it is difficult to fathom how no one among the considerable talents that took part in this picture seems to have brought up any objections.screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-11-41-27-amThis movie just exhibits bad judgment all around. Right from the start, it seems bent on telling the audience everything they need to know, rather than showing them. This is a movie basically made up of conversations, its prestige aspirations apparently keeping it from showing us anything more visually exciting than dominos falling over. The suffocating seriousness keeps the camera from doing anything remotely interesting. The film seems thoroughly convinced that all of its value can be found in these actors delivering their overly explanatory dialogue.

screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-11-36-00-amAnd this proves to be a poor investment, especially in the final portions. The film has one last twist to deploy, and it’s a doozy. It is just another step away from the simple humanity of grief, these characters becoming so far removed from reality that their emotions become unrecognizable. It does help that Will Smith seems to have decided that the best way to convey his character’s complex feeling is to not move his face a lot. The combined might of Mirren, Norton, Knightley, Peña and Winslet do nothing to salvage this bizarrely pitched screenplay.screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-11-37-41-amCollateral Beauty is the kind of film that may lead you to suspect that Hollywood is indeed out of touch with the common man. Perhaps the people involved have become so successful that they no longer no how to function like regular human beings. Because this film paints a picture of grief and recovery that goes to a pretty ludicrous extreme and treats it like it’s supposed to be heartwarming. But it is bizarre and inhuman, the narrative acrobatics of the script taking priority over any sort of emotional verisimilitude.

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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Sing’ Treats Story as an Obligation

Strong animation and vocal performances don’t quite make up for this animated musical’s lack of story.

NBHD movie 2-2 ticketsSing barely cobbles together a plot to provide connective tissue for its sequences of funny looking animals singing pop songs. It involves a koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), who is living his dream of running his own theater. Unfortunately, the place is falling apart, and he’s on the verge of losing the theater. And so, he decides that the best thing to do would be to hold a singing contest. He accidentally advertises a prize that he can’t afford to pay, and soon has every animal in the city lining up to audition. He gathers a select few and tries to get them ready for a show that he hopes will save his theater.screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-4-15-12-pmEach of these characters is given a perfunctory plot as well. Gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton) is the son of a criminal, but dreams of singing. Pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) is a hardworking housewife who has fallen into a rut. Porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson) is in a band with her domineering boyfriend, but is forced to strike out on her own when she’s the only one selected. Mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane) is just in it for the money, and has already started to spend beyond his means. Elephant Meena (Tori Kelly) is too shy to actually audition, but Buster takes her on as a stage manager as she tries to gain the courage to finally sing. screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-4-17-56-pmThe story is an obligation at best. The movie doesn’t offer much meat on its way to resolving these characters’ various stories. Take Mike’s story as a particularly shaky example. For the entirety of the film, he is a pretty terrible person. There is no real arc to his character, no real sense of what it is that he’s supposed to accomplish. The film seems to ultimately say that the character is worthy of redemption because he can sing. He isn’t even really necessary in the third act, but the film seems to be entirely enamored by the image of a tiny mouse in a suit with Seth MacFarlane’s voice singing Sinatra.screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-4-37-51-pmAnd to be completely fair, there is indeed some appeal to a tiny mouse in a suit with Seth MacFarlane’s voice singing Sinatra. If it were presented as an isolated Youtube clip, it would be completely amusing. But in the context of a feature film, its appeal is tempered by the overall looseness of the narrative. At nearly 110 minutes, the film ends up feeling pretty shaggy. And by the end of it all, the whole idea of Buster Moon keeping this theater running still feels like a pretty flimsy premise for all this action. The film never really manages to make much of a case for its main character, who achieves his goals largely through the efforts and talents of others.
screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-4-36-20-pmThe film’s main virtue is its look. Sing differentiates itself from every other talking animal movie by embracing the bestial nature of its characters. There is still cuteness to the designs, but what’s more interesting is just how much these animals end up looking like actual animals. The animation on display in general is clearly on the cutting edge, with genuinely awe-inspiring lighting effects giving some of these sequences a real wow factor. Voice work is pretty terrific all around. Matthew McCounaughey is making really interesting choices with his animated work. Here, he is practically unrecognizable as Buster Moon, eschewing his signature drawl and really projecting the character’s false bravado.screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-4-15-36-pmSing doesn’t really seem to want to do more than string together a bunch of scenes of animals incongruously singing pop tunes. It is a movie that pretty much takes American Idol as its peg, using slivers of backstory to prop up the various performance sequences. The movie only really comes alive when there’s someone singing on screen. The rest of the movie, while brought to life by pretty strong animation, just doesn’t provide enough narrative to justify the entire venture.

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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Passengers’ is Problematic to the Core

This film might be set in the future, but its values feel terribly regressive.

NBHD movie 2 ticketsPassengers is set aboard a spaceship carrying five thousand would-be planetary settlers in suspended animation. The film begins with the said ship going through an asteroid field. This results in passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) waking up from his hibernation ninety years too early into a schedule 120-year trip. For a while, the film follows Jim as he tries to find a solution to this very unique problem. And failing that, the film tracks Jim’s slow descent as the isolation starts to take its toll.

And then things take a turn. At some point, Jim catches sight of fellow passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), still in her hibernation pod. Jim is smitten, and is then faced with an impossible moral dilemma: he knows how to wake her up, but in so doing he would doom her to the same fate that he’s facing. The film doesn’t take too long, however, to mull over this choice. Though conflicted, Jim ultimately chooses to wake Aurora up, and he feigns innocence as he begins a strange, isolated courtship in the darkness of space.screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-11-46-14-am
With the film quickly establishing that there isn’t really any way for them to get back into hibernation, the romance between the two characters becomes the main focus, with Jim’s initial betrayal casting a dark cloud over everything. Except the movie doesn’t really play up the creepiness inherent to his choice. It takes pains to show that he was conflicted in making that choice, and that at heart, even though what he did is not okay, he’s still just a nice guy at heart. The depth of the betrayal is ultimately deflected as the film sends its characters off to deal with a catastrophe, their various interpersonal problems suppressed in the name of making repairs.screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-11-43-50-amThere’s a lot to like on the surface of this movie. It has a nice, shiny setting that nicely imagines the details of the future of commercial space travel. The camerawork is clean and functional, ably capturing both the scale of the environment and the strange intimacy that grows between the characters. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are both terribly charming. Pratt will always be an appealing presence on screen, and Lawrence is the type of actress that can take a sliver of emotion and turn it into something heart-rending.screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-11-47-48-amBut look any deeper, and the film reveals a rotten core. The film seems to spend its time trying to justify the initial unforgiveable act of betrayal. It ends up painting this whole ordeal as something worth aspiring to, rather than the violation that it began as. It feels like a failure of gumption, because this same premise could have been pushed into other, more interesting directions. To paint it as a redemptive romance feels wrongheaded. This film might be set in the future, but its values feel terribly regressive.screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-11-48-32-am
Passengers feels like it’s just telling the wrong story. It doesn’t really reckon with the wrongness of what its main character does. It keeps painting him as a well-meaning puppy dog that just made one wrong choice. But everything after that choice is also a betrayal. And in telling the story that it does, the film makes its female character feel like even more of a victim than she already is. She becomes little more than an indicator for Jim’s emotional journey, the external source of approval that will ultimately signify the end of his journey. Because it doesn’t really matter what she went through. What matters more is that Jim is really just a nice guy.

PASSENGERS OPENS IN LOCAL CINEMAS ON JANUARY 4.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

Elements of the Video Game are a Burden to ‘Assassin’s Creed’

Assassin’s Creed is another example of how certain elements in one medium just don’t work when translated into another.

NBHD movie 2 ticketsAssassin’s Creed has a lot of lore to explain, so it dives into the exposition right away. Some opening text introduces the idea that The Knights Templar have been in search of the Apple of Eden for centuries, believing that it contains the power to strip people of free will. Standing against the Knights Templar are the Assassins, who fight from the shadows to keep the holy order from reaching their goals. The main character of the movie is Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender), who is the last descendant of Aguilar (also played by Fassbender), an assassin from 15th century Spain who last possessed the apple.4And so, Cal, who begins the movie on death row, is secretly taken away to a hidden facility somewhere in Europe. Sofia (Marion Cotillard), a brilliant scientist and daughter of a powerful member of the modern Knights Templar, is trying to unlock Cal’s genetic memories through the Animus, a revolutionary technology that allows him to relive the experiences of his Assassin ancestor. Through this, she hopes to discover the location of the Apple of Eden. Cal doesn’t really know what to make of all this, but his participation in unlocking Aguilar’s memories gives him access to skills he didn’t know he had, and a heritage that comes to define his place in the world.1There is certainly ambition embedded in this story. There is a moral complexity inherent to the premise, which positions the unrepentant killers as the heroes of a tale standing against a villainous holy order that seeks to bring peace to the world. But the sci-fi elements of this narrative just don’t make for a very good movie. It largely strips the main character of agency, having him run through several fait accompli scenarios that don’t do much to build tension.5
The main conceit is an integral element of the source material, of course. The Animus and its faux-time-travel hijinks are a central part of how the video games work. The difference is that in the video, there is a chance of failure. The player can mess up, or simply fail to handle the challenge presented by the artificially intelligent hordes. In the movie, the very concept gets in the way of telling a story. Almost all the action is taking place in the past, and we know right from the start that Aguilar somehow gets away with the Apple. Meanwhile, in the present, Cal is literally going through the motions of his ancestor’s various challenges.3
The resulting narrative is strikingly cold. All the personal struggle is in the present, but all the action takes place in the distant past, where the ultimate fate of the characters is never in doubt. This might have been bearable had the action scenes been competently directed, but they’re all empty flash. The camera has trouble keeping track of the characters, and so the acrobatics and violence end up feeling distant and abstract. This is a severe waste of the acting talent on hand, which includes Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, and Brendan Gleeson. Each does what one can, but there just isn’t a whole lot to work with.screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-3-10-26-pm
Assassin’s Creed is another example of how certain elements in one medium just don’t work when translated into another. This isn’t unique to video games; novels, comic books, plays, and television shows have all had their struggles in moving to the big screen. Perhaps the central conceit of reliving memories would have worked better if the film weren’t so tied down to using the Animus as a means of generating action sequences. There are certainly greater ideas at play here, but the film can’t exactly get to them as it cuts back and forth between its shakily directed chase sequences and scenes of Michael Fassbender swinging at holographic foes.

ASSASSIN’S CREED OPENS IN LOCAL CINEMAS ON JANUARY 4.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Kabisera’ is Reluctant to Get Into Specifics

Kabisera takes on the issue of extrajudicial killings, but it does so from a very limited perspective.

 NBHD movie 2-2 ticketsKabisera is based on a true story, and attempts to address a very timely issue. Mercy (Nora Aunor) is the matriarch of the De Dios family. Her husband Tunying (Ricky Davao) is a barangay captain who seems to be involved in some shady business. This business puts him in the crosshairs of some powerful people, and soon enough, Mercy and her kids find themselves in the middle of a firestorm. The mother is forced to step up to face the same powerful forces in order to find justice and keep her family safe.screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-4-28-59-pm
Kabisera takes on the issue of extrajudicial killings, but it does so from a very limited perspective. It allows the dark forces behind the killings to remain in the shadows, the main character never getting to fully confront her antagonists. It never really makes clear what it is that Tunying was really into, the movie seemingly reluctant to explore the specifics of his corruption. Compounded with odd directorial choices and an overlong runtime, Kabisera can test one’s patience even as it dramatizes a worthy subject.screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-4-31-08-pm
The film invests so much in the idea that Mercy and her family know absolutely nothing about Tunying’s activities or who it is that he’s running up against because of the things he does. Politics can certainly be an arcane business, but at some point you just want the film to go into some detail. Even if the family is kept out of it, it might have done the film some good for the sake of the narrative to really explore the chain of causality that would lead Tunying into the line of fire. It doesn’t need to provide hard answers, but even a sense of a direction would have helped a lot. The film doesn’t risk much in its lack of conjecture, and it ends up feeling vague and unfocused in its delivery.screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-4-29-26-pm

The lack of specificity is more glaring in light of what it offers up instead. It often meanders through stock family drama that doesn’t have a chance of getting resolved. The children’s various issues are brought up, but never fully addressed in a way that would make them dramatically satisfying. And then there are scenes that just seem to stretch the story out. They’re mainly poor storytelling choices, like a lengthy overhead drone shot that doesn’t really add anything to the emotion of the scene, or a lengthy search sequence that only ends up mitigating the impact of a tragedy.screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-4-30-08-pm
Nora Aunor, as always, is a pretty compelling reason to see the movie anyway. She delivers every line with conviction, and provides a meaningful center for the film that the script doesn’t quite build by itself. She doesn’t quite get the support that she needs, though. Victor Neri plays his righteous anger in a way that would fit better in a soap. Jason Abalos and JC de Vera aren’t really able to mine depth out of the stock writing of their characters. Ricky Davao and Menggie Cobarrubias acquit themselves best, but the film’s unwillingness to really get its hands dirty makes it feel like we aren’t getting as much out of the actors as we could.screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-4-31-48-pm
Kabisera’s unwillingness to get into specifics is ultimately what makes it so disappointing. There just isn’t a lot of meat to this story, the film itself getting too caught up in other things to really focus on the subject at hand. It falls in love with drone shots, or squanders away its time on extraneous matters. The cause is worthy, but the delivery is flawed. It isn’t enough to say that there are extrajudicial killings. It isn’t enough to say anymore that there are bad forces in our government. These are latent truths at this point, and a stronger film needs to provide greater insight.

KABISERA AND THE OTHER COMPETING FILMS IN THE METRO MANILA FILM FESTIVAL RUN FROM DEC 25 TO JAN 3.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

Youthful Sweetness Makes ‘Vince and Kath and James’ Enjoyable

Vince and Kath and James is essentially Cyrano de Bergerac in the age of texting and social media.

NBHD movie 3-2 ticketsVince and Kath and James is essentially Cyrano de Bergerac in the age of texting and social media. Vince has been harboring a crush on his classmate Kath (Julia Barretto), and he’s been channeling his feelings into an anonymous six-week blog. His much more popular varsity basketball player cousin James (Ronnie Alonte) decides he’s into Kath as well, and he asks Vince to help him woo her. Vince starts texting Kath, pretending to be a secret admirer, and actually wins her over. But then he has to step out of the way to let his cousin take the credit.screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-4-09-59-pmThe movie gets no points for originality, but it offers up a pretty decent iteration of the Cyrano story. In lieu of the big nose, the film smartly provides Vince with self-esteem issues that stem from a messy family situation. There is genuine pathos in the character, his false bravado just another manifestation of the shields that he has to put up to protect himself from his particular reality. Vince ends up valuing his anonymity, the young man only able to really express himself when he is able to remain anonymous. What Vince ends up writing may not quite live up to the Cyrano legacy, but it’s appropriate enough for what it is.And the film manages to be pretty charming along the way. It still suffers from many of the problems inherent to the genre, but it mainly manages to make up for that somewhat by being sweet and youthful. In its best moments, the film captures the feeling of being young and hopeful and looking for love. The characters might be just a hair too old for the puppy love portrayed on screen, but there is also something rather sweet about these kids and their first clumsy steps into romance. The film is pretty good at depicting young people getting along, which is really all that you need.screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-3-56-11-pmThe film does fall apart in the third act, though. It bends too hard towards the melodramatic, and ends up neglecting some of the characters along the way. In resolving the issues between the cousins, Kath kind of becomes an afterthought. She becomes an unwilling pawn in the machinations of one of these boys, and it all leads to an ugly, unforgivable situation that is later too easily forgiven when it comes time to make up. And then as the film makes the family issues much more explicit, it loses some of the grace that it had in the first two acts.screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-3-59-41-pmIt isn’t enough to entirely derail the movie, though. It helps that these kids are so charming. Joshua Garcia pretty much takes the lead here as Vince. The young actor shows a bit of struggle in the scenes where the shields have to go down, but for the most part, he’s pretty much the main reason so much of this film is so watchable. He shares ample chemistry with Julia Barretto, and it can be a joy to watch people who seem to genuinely like spending time with each other. Ronnie Alonte has his strengths as well, and the film uses him pretty well.screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-3-55-25-pmVince and Kath and James isn’t the boldest film in this new era of the MMFF, but it’s a pretty good application of an old formula. Its youthful sweetness is genuinely enjoyable, and the formidable charms of its young cast go a long way in helping forgive its third act failings. It feels like a lot of thought was really put into making this story work on screen, into turning the elements of this strange Internet narrative into a cohesive feature. The results, within limits, are better than you might expect.screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-4-11-09-pm

VINCE AND KATH AND JAMES AND THE OTHER COMPETING FILMS IN THE METRO MANILA FILM FESTIVAL RUN FROM DEC 25 TO JAN 3.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Oro’ Makes Odd Choices in Dramatizing Fascinating Subject Matter

A complex story about small town mining that fails to fully engage its audience.

NBHD movie 2-2 ticketsOro takes place in a small island town. The residents of the island make their living through small scale mining. And then one day a group of armed men come into town, claiming to be an environmental patrol. They arrest the miners for mining without a permit, and soon take over the town’s mining operations. The town’s Kapitana (Irma Adlawan) and her right hand man Elmer (Joem Bascon) take the lead in trying to get the town out of this bad situation. While the Kapitana works the bureaucracy to try to get a proper permit, Elmer is left in town to try and keep the peace.

There’s a lot of fascinating detail to be uncovered here. It is quickly revealed, for example, that many of the people in this town, including the Kapitana and Elmer, have pretty storied pasts. The film gains an interesting dimension every time it hints at the history of these characters. There is the suggestion that their oppression is just the next chapter in a neverending parade of ideologies being exploited in order to feed the greed of certain parties.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-10-53-35-pm
That’s a pretty rich thematic vein, but the story itself is oddly dramatized. A lot of its scenes are awkwardly staged, the characters saddled with plenty of clunky, expository dialogue. Much of the forward motion of the story is kept off screen, the Kapitana’s efforts to navigate politics in order to procure the proper permits largely unseen. Meanwhile, Elmer doesn’t actually have a lot to do. His story is basically propped up by the inclusion of a pregnant girlfriend, the movie building up the character through the artificial application of external sentiment. The more interesting aspects of his character lay dormant, often mentioned but never really coming into play.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-10-53-20-pm
Also adding to the awkward are a series of odd directorial choices. Dutch angles are used and then overused, their effect diluted over the course of the movie. Their use never really feels purposeful, the scenes gaining nothing from the tilted framing. It just gets distracting, the angles demanding attention when we should be focusing on what these characters are going through. And then there are scenes that just get weird. In a late scene, the Kapitana greets a succession of visitors at her door, all of them basically delivering the same news. The purpose of the scene is simple, but it goes about it in an unnecessarily convoluted way.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-10-54-30-pm
And so, in spite of the inherently compelling subject matter, the movie fails to fully engage. There is a complex story here about provincial feudalism, the plight of the marginalized, and the means by which the past can catch with people who have tried everything to leave it all behind. But the movie doesn’t quite get there. This is in spite of solid performances from an accomplished cast. Joem Bascon, Mercedes Cabral and Irma Adlawan all exhibit an admirable command of the screen.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-10-55-05-pmThere’s a distinct lack of confidence in the way Oro tells its story. It tends to over-explain, and it filters its brilliant themes through stock family and relationship drama. The film is much more compelling when it gets the relationship drama out of the way and just peels back the layers of these characters’ stories. There is a system to be explored, and histories to be expounded on. Oro still manages to offer up some thought-provoking ideas, but the package in which it does so is found wanting.

ORO AND THE OTHER COMPETING FILMS IN THE METRO MANILA FILM FESTIVAL RUN FROM DEC 25 TO JAN 3.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

A Strong Lead Performance Anchors ‘Die Beautiful’’s Unfocused Narrative

The film creates connections between transformation and identity thanks to Paolo Ballesteros’ earnest performance.

NBHD movie 3 ticketsDie Beautiful skips around in the life of professional gay beauty queen Trisha (Paolo Ballesteros). The movie actually begins with Tricia already dead, her story framed by her week-long wake, where her best friend Barbs (Christian Bables) is making her up to look like difficult celebrities every day. From there, the movie jumps around several chapters of her life. As a teenager, he is still known as Patrick, and is suffering the abuse of his conservative father (Joel Torre). From there, she joins the provincial gay bear pageant circuit, falls in love, gets betrayed, adopts a child, and goes through all manner of trials and tribulations on her way to her greatest triumph and subsequent tragedy.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-36-53-pm
The film does seem to have been built around Paolo Ballesteros’ viral makeup transformations. It’s kind of an odd thing to hang a narrative on, and the movie does struggle to find a focus. It jumps around the timeline, playing out different episodes of this one character’s life, each bit pretty much functioning as a standalone bit of storytelling. The first portion tackles Trisha’s relationship with her adopted daughter, which grows strained as the young Shirley Mae starts to develop an identity apart from her mother. This alone could have been the foundation for an entire narrative, but the movie quickly moves on from that. It doesn’t really resolve anything before going on to the next thing.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-34-49-pm
And the next thing doesn’t really get resolved, either. Or the thing after that. The film is happy to drift between the various episodes, revealing new aspects of the main character’s life. She is a mother. She is a son. She is a lover, a mistress, and a beauty queen. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on, certainly, but the movie never quite gets around to connecting these loose narrative vignettes into a cohesive whole. It ends up feeling unfocused, the succession of transformations the only thing really holding the movie together.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-37-30-pmThere’s still plenty to like here, though. The movie does find some intriguing pathos in the character’s compulsion to transform. There is a trace of something compelling in the movie’s exploration of an entire subculture necessarily obsessed with appearance. The movie manages to wring some genuine emotion out of a spectacle that is inherently facile—even a canned Q&A response turning into an earnest expression of identity. In moments, the film delivers bits of insight that speak to a much larger struggle.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-37-52-pm
Helping anchor this whole thing is a pretty remarkable central performance from Paolo Ballesteros. The nature of the writing necessarily calls on the lead actor to take on a variety of roles. We get to see a pretty broad range of Trisha’s life, the movie depicting her at various points of developing and identity. And Ballesteros handles it all with aplomb. The actor resists going too broad in any direction, and ends up delivering a really earnest performance that grounds the movie through its many episodes. He finds ample support from Christian Bables, who turns a pretty thankless best friend role into something a little more compelling.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-39-06-pm
Any portion of Die Beautiful could probably be expanded into a full feature by itself. There is certainly merit to the approach taken here; the film finding connections between the Trisha’s transformations and the various roles she takes on in her storied life. But it doesn’t entirely come together as a singular whole—the film feeling oddly episodic. Having said that, the strong lead performance gives this film a compelling center. And in moments, the film reveals all manner of beautiful things lurking just beneath the chintzy glamour of the main character’s world.

DIE BEAUTIFUL AND THE OTHER COMPETING FILMS IN THE METRO MANILA FILM FESTIVAL RUN FROM DEC 25 TO JAN 3.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

Stunning Visuals Help in ‘Saving Sally’

Saving Sally’s visual style makes up for its narrative shortcomings.

NBHD movie 3-2 ticketsSaving Sally is told from the perspective of Marty (Enzo Marcos), who at the start of the movie is a high school senior applying to a university arts program. For years now, he has been harboring a crush on his best friend Sally (Rhian Ramos), who in sophomore year helped him fend off a bully. Sally is an inventor and a free spirit, but she lives under the thumb of abusive, controlling parents. Marty is trying to work up the courage to finally tell her how he feels, but before he can do that, Sally falls in love with Nick (TJ Trinidad).screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-05-28-pm
Talking about the story doesn’t really cover what this film is, though. There’s a lot more to be said about how Saving Sally looks. At the start of the movie, Marty tells us that he sees the world a little differently: he sees monsters everywhere. This little seed forms the basis for the rest of the film’s visual universe. It’s set in a world that is recognizably our own, but it is filtered through an animated lens that draws in elements of fantasy, science fiction, and comic books. It is ultimately the visual style that makes Saving Sally worth a look. The story it ends up telling is a little thin, but there’s a whole other world to explore in the images that the film delivers.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-07-28-pm
The narrative is pretty simple when all is said and done: geeky guy can’t muster up the guts to admit that he likes a girl, and ends up just playing the nice guy when she falls in love with someone else. It’s a romantic premise that has always been problematic, mainly because it inevitably reduces the female romantic interest into a prize for the ineffectual male protagonist, whose borderline creepy pining is taken implicitly as sweet. Somewhere in the middle of this story, it is suggested that there might be more dimension to the characters than previously suggested, but the film never really goes anywhere with that idea. In the end, the heroes are heroes, and the villains are villains.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-08-03-pm
This binary conception of characters leads to a pretty odd climax that feels out of place given the reality already established in the film. The movie either goes fully allegorical, or it presents a really strange scenario that really ought to have greater consequences for the characters. Either way, it all ends up feeling pretty thin. But in the moment, the sheer audacity of the movie’s visual style can make up for whatever narrative shortcomings there might be.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-21-20-pm
Every frame in this film feels meticulously designed. There’s clearly been a lot of thought put into how each and every character looks, or how every weird, clunky invention is supposed to function. The attention to detail goes all the way down to all the names of stores and products in the background. There’s been a lot of talk about how long this film has been in production, and all that time and work is evident in every scene. It just looks great, every single second of this movie just bursting with gorgeous art. Within the context of the visual world of the film, everything does kind of make sense. Even the language, which still feels kind of unnatural in a Filipino film, just sort of fits.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-08-20-pm
In the end, Saving Sally will be remembered more for how it looks than anything that actually happens in it. The narrative even kind of feels like a burden at times, the mundane romantic reality being presented keeping the film from veering off into stranger directions. But that’s okay. The story is slight, but functional, providing a solid platform from which the film can let loose its visual splendor. If anything, it might make one excited for the kind of films that could be made in the future. Now that this is finally out, the possibilities seem endless.

SAVING SALLY AND THE OTHER COMPETING FILMS IN THE METRO MANILA FILM FESTIVAL RUN FROM DEC 25 TO JAN 3.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.