Tag Archives: Movie reviews

tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Sunday Beauty Queen’ is a Bittersweet Cinderella Story

The first documentary to compete at the MMFF paints a portrait of the Filipina OFW and her symbiotic relationship with Hong Kong.

NBHD movie 4-2 ticketsSunday Beauty Queen is the very first documentary to ever compete in the Metro Manila Film Festival. Some opening text frames the entire movie thusly: the Filipinas working as domestic helpers in Hong Kong more often than not have a live-in arrangement with their employers. They are basically at work 24 hours a day, for six days a week. Sunday is their only day off. The film then goes into what it is that these women spend their Sundays on. Rather than just get the rest and relaxation that they need and deserve, they put up and compete in beauty pageants.screenshot_20161222-141820Shot over the course of around three years, the movie ends up following a bunch of different Filipino women working in Hong Kong. Most prominent among them is Leo, who organizes these beauty pageants, and seems to serve as a de facto leader for the community as a whole. Leo serves as a focal point for the film, providing a solid center from which the movie can explore different aspects of life for domestic workers in Hong Kong.screenshot_20161222-141145
The film paints a varied portrait of life there. The women do tell stories of the poor, dehumanizing treatment that they’ve encountered from their employers. And there is talk of the unfairness of the system as a whole, and the dissatisfaction with the Philippine consul and its seeming unwillingness to stand up for these women. But there is sweetness here as well. The film eschews the pity that usually comes with these stories of OFWs, and instead tries to capture a more complex portrait of their life abroad. There are women who do find themselves in pretty good working situations, and some actually form a genuine bond with their employers.screenshot_20161222-141210
What the film ends up revealing is a strange, symbiotic relationship that doesn’t quite lose the stain of injustice. There are seemingly positive interviews with employers that express their need and appreciation for these women. But in those same interviews, there is the implication that part of that appreciation stems from these women’s willingness to be paid much less than a local. And this is where the film consistently gets subversive. It finds these seemingly happy moments and just lets the latent tragedy show through.screenshot_20161222-141414
The film is filled with scenes like this. A beautiful sunset accompanies a woman who has to watch her son’s graduation on her phone. An employer speaks highly of her helper, while in the background the said helper is doing some cleaning. And the beauty pageant itself is emblematic of that bittersweet tinge that hangs over the entire film. It is this odd spectacle that can feel chintzy and exploitative, but within the film’s context, it feels utterly necessary. The film doesn’t quite put into words what makes these pageants worthwhile when that same effort could be put into something else. But it’s up there on screen, and every smile shown seems to make the case anyway.screenshot_20161222-141752
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doesn’t get everything it needs. It ends up following too many women, some of their stories overlapping in ways that don’t really benefit the narrative. But what’s in the movie is pretty lovely, and at times downright moving. It captures something vital about the OFW experience: that even when things are going well, even when one ends up in the best possible scenario, it’s still an inherently tragic situation. It’s always going to be bittersweet, like the smile of a beauty queen who knows full well that when Monday comes around, she goes back to being Cinderella, with no Prince Charming out there to save her.

SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN 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

‘Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank 2’ is Short on Jokes

This sequel doesn’t actually have a lot to say about the modern local romcom.

NBHD movie 2 ticketsAng Babae sa Septic Tank 2 is once again about filmmaker Rainier (Kean Cipriano), who has apparently found some success from his film in the previous movie. He has written a new film about a couple trying to salvage their relationship by taking a trip to Baguio and all the places where they once fell in love. He is once again casting Eugene Domingo in his movie, and he and his crew meet with her at a first class resort to talk about the project. Over the course of their stay, amidst various spa treatments, Domingo makes several suggestions that radically differ from Rainier’s vision of his film.screenshot_20161222-134035
Like the first movie, this sequel is mainly made up of little movie-within-the-movie vignettes, all the humor stemming from the replication of various elements of filmmaking. The entire arc here is that Eugene Domingo is trying to turn Rainier’s moody little drama about a relationship in free fall into something Star Cinema might release. The flaw here, like in the first film, is that the movie doesn’t really seem to have much sympathy for its main characters. There seems to be some sort of an attempt here to provide an emotional framework to help us understand the artist at the heart of this story, but it really doesn’t work.screenshot_20161222-134209
Over the course of the film, we learn that there is a reason that this particular script is so important to the filmmaker. But these reasons don’t result in anything particularly affecting. The movie doesn’t really get to properly address the narrative arc that it’s suggesting. Instead, the movie just circles around a single point: mainstream movies are very artificial. Every “suggestion” that Domingo offers up is just the same iteration of the same joke, the movie methodically excising the verisimilitude from Rainier’s film in order to make it more appealing to the masses.screenshot_20161222-134506
So the theoretical star is replaced and a best friend character is added. There is a long sequence that explains the various types of hugot lines that might be used in a movie like this. It all feels terribly empty and mean-spirited. This kind of parody tends to work best when there is a genuine affection for the material being made fun of. Like the first movie, this sequel exudes a sense of superiority that doesn’t feel at all justified. It may be true that the Eugene Domingo character’s suggestions seem to be pretty bad, but the movie doesn’t really offer very many reasons to care.screenshot_20161222-134153
And unlike the first film, this movie doesn’t have the one sustained sequence of absurdity that nearly saves the whole thing. It attempts to stretch out the same joke over the course of the entire film, but it never comes close to the sublime heights of the visit to Eugene Domingo’s house in the first movie.screenshot_20161222-134108Domingo, to be fair, is trying everything she can to sell the joke of the film, but there aren’t really that many jokes. Kean Cipriano is unable to glean any sympathy for his character, though there just isn’t any there to be found. Cai Cortez is back, and is now speaking, but her role is empty. Khalil Ramos takes up the role that Cortez had in the first film but with none of the purpose.screenshot_20161222-134334
Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2, apart from a very committed performance from Eugene Domingo and a funny little turn from Joel Torre, doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. The thing is, it doesn’t actually have a lot to say about the modern local romcom. It’s just pointing out the recognizable elements, making it out like the mere identification of them is a joke in itself. This is the same problem I had with the first movie, and things just haven’t gotten any better in the years since then.

ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK 2 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

‘Seklusyon’ Corrupts Absolutely

Seklusyon capitalizes on the inherent creepiness of religious imagery as it tells this story of young men haunted by the sins of their past.

NBHD movie 4 ticketsSeklusyon follows four deacons (Ronnie Alonte, Dominic Roque, John Vic Dr Guzman and JR Versales) in 1947 on the week before their ordination as priests. They head into a remote house for a period of seclusion, the four isolated from the rest of the world in order to protect themselves from the demonic influences. Inside the house, each of these priestly hopefuls is confronted with the sins of his past. Things get more complicated when the child Anghela (Rhed Bustamante), who has exhibited the seemingly miraculous power to heal people, is also brought into the house. Her presence only seems to ramp up the strangeness in the house, and the young deacons are truly tested.seklusyon-1

Religion has always been a rich vein from which to extract horror. It is, after all, the most ubiquitous link that we have to the supernatural, our belief in something beyond this material plane also serving the purpose of instilling the fear of all things beyond our ken. And on a basic level, this fear is what Seklusyon runs on—the movie capitalizing on the inherent creepiness of religious imagery as it tells this story of young men haunted by the very real sins of their past. And then it derives even greater horror as it delves into themes that point to more palpable horrors; the kind of mundane evil that may be seen in this very material existence.

Those are the only two ingredients that a horror movie really needs: solid mechanics and interesting subtext. On the surface, the movie builds an uneasy atmosphere, the film materializing the various neuroses of these characters to varying degrees of terror. Some scenes work better than others, but the film is most successful when it embraces the religious context of the story. Inasmuch as religious imagery can bring comfort, it can easily be subverted to bring about a sense of general unease. The mere thought of that which is holy being subverted to evil ends is inherently horrifying, and the movie has moments that fully capitalize on that fear.seklusyon-3
In general, the film is stronger when it’s being mysterious. A subplot that has a priest investigating the origin of the nun accompanying Anghela yields very little narrative benefit. And it introduces a visual element to the picture that later goes a bit too far in explaining the themes of the film. The movie seems to make compromises for the sake of appealing to a broader audience, and while that is not a bad thing in itself, its ultimate approach to doing that seems dubious at best. It ends up overexplaining the horror, taking away some of the power built into the mystery of these beings.seklusyon-5

Otherwise, the movie is all right. It helps that it isn’t just trying to startle people. When it sets out to scare its audience, it digs deep and unleashes some genuinely disturbing stuff. Sound design could be better, but the technical package as a whole is pretty solid. The four main actors at the center of the story could clearly use a little more experience, but they’re okay when they’re just reacting to all the craziness around them. The real star here is Rhed Bustamante, the young actress fully embodying the strangeness of her character—her every move suggesting something beyond her tiny frame. On the periphery, Lou Veloso, Neil Ryan Sese, and Phoebe Walker all fulfill their roles very well.
Seklusyon has its flaws, but what it ends up delivering is still pretty impressive.seklusyon-4 The heart of genre cinema lies in harnessing thrilling elements and using them to address issues in our society. This is a gutsy movie that does just that; exploring the heart of corruption through a story of young men running away from their respective pasts, confronted with the possibility of a miracle of salvation. It paints an allegorical picture of our society today, and points to problems that persist through the decades.

Though the film ends up revealing a bit too much, it still stands as a worthy piece of entertainment with a capacity for thoughtful provocation.

SEKLUSYON 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

‘Mano Po 7: Chinoy’ Wears Its Cheongsams in Spirit

Historically, the Mano Po movies have done little more than build scenes around recognizable bits of Chinese culture.

NBHD movie 1 ticketMano Po 7 attempts to tell several stories about one Chinese family. Wilson Wong (Richard Yap) is a very successful businessman whose devotion to his business has caused him to grow distant from his family. His wife Debbie (Jean Garcia) is feeling neglected, and begins to entertain the attentions of a young customer at her jewelry shop. Eldest son Wilson Jr. (Enchong Dee) has been doing drugs, and is sent to rehab. Teenage daughter Carol (Janella Salvador) feels pressured to take up the cello in college, even though her heart is in singing.screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-3-07-26-pm
And that’s not all. Occasionally, we get a glimpse into Wilson’s childhood. It turns out that there are some old wounds in his family concerning his older brother (Eric Quizon). And at rehab, Wilson Jr. meets another patient at the facility that becomes pretty important to him. Also, while in class, Carol catches the eye of her professor (Kean Cipriano), who has some bad intentions for the teenage girl. There are certainly a lot of events to enumerate here, but not a lot of story to tell. This is one of those films where a lot of things happen, but there isn’t really much to care about.screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-3-10-30-pm
Historically, the Mano Po movies have done little more than build scenes around recognizable bits of Chinese culture. One could easily point out how in previous films the characters seemed to always be dressed in cheongsams or changshans, despite the fact that most Chinese people wear regular clothes like regular people. The cheongsams are gone in this film, but they’re there in spirit. The film just includes scenes that seem to serve no purpose beyond the indication of something that is distinctly Chinese about these characters.screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-3-11-32-pm
In one particularly baffling scene, Wilson receives a gift of Mooncakes at his office. There has no indication prior to this point that the movie was taking place around the Mooncake festival, but that’s beside the point. Wilson then goes into a flashback of him as a kid, getting chastised in class for running a Mooncake game. Then we cut back to the present, where he is still staring at a gift, before moving on to the next scene. None of this comes back later in the movie. The gift is never mentioned. The flashback is completely irrelevant. But it’s there, because it’s recognizably Chinese.screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-3-09-01-pm
That scene is an exemplar of pretty much everything that goes wrong in this film. It doesn’t really feel like a story. It’s a collection of scenes built around this very shallow understanding of the Filipino-Chinese experience. It is a first draft of a hastily researched script that never got around to being filled out with actual narrative and drama.screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-3-16-30-pm
The film makes odd errors in shooting, too. There are at least a couple of very obvious instances where the movie breaks the 180-degree rule. This is filmmaking 101, and an error like that has no place in a professional production. The cast mainly overacts through every scene, wearing expressions that would feel much more appropriate in a soap.screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-3-12-28-pm
I can speak on Mano Po 7 not just as a film critic, but also as a member of the Filipino-Chinese community. These films have always been baffling to me, because they do not represent an experience that I can recognize as someone who grew up Chinese. Visually, this film tones down the odd localized Orientalism of the previous movies, but deep in its heart, the thing it most wants to say about being Chinese in the Philippines is that we speak Chinese, eat at Gloria Maris, and give each other Mooncakes sometimes. It would be insulting if it weren’t so absolutely boring.

MANO PO 7: CHINOY OPENS IN LOCAL CINEMAS ON DECEMBER 14.
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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

‘Rogue One’ Adds a Layer of Complexity to the Star Wars Universe

Rogue One kind of feels like fan fiction—with all the baggage that the term brings.

NBHD movie 4 ticketsRogue One: A Star Wars Story is an entire feature film that basically fills in a narrative gap in the original trilogy. It builds its whole story around the theft of the Death Star plans first mentioned in Episode IV, that would give the Rebel Alliance the key to destroying the Imperial superweapon. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of the engineer that designed the Death Star. She is sprung from captivity and coerced into helping the Rebellion make contact with an old extremist friend that may have information concerning her father and the weapon that he’s created.

One of the criticisms lobbied against The Force Awakens is that it was much too beholden to what’s already been done by the series. This movie, given that its premise is entirely based on filling in an offscreen plot point in the first Star Wars film, is even more beholden to the past. It kind of feels like fan fiction—with all the baggage that the term brings. But within this limited narrative playground, the movie makes interesting steps towards adding complexity to the Star Wars Universe. And it executes these steps with distinct flair; the movie making much more of an effort to develop an aesthetic that separates it from every other Star Wars movie to date.

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The Star Wars movies have largely painted the galactic struggle as a clear battle between good and evil. A group of virtuous freedom fighters are taking on a Nazi-like Imperialist force. The boldest move that this film makes is suggesting that the Rebellion might not be above treacherous methods. This is war, after all, and whenever there is violence involved, nobody can really come out clean. It isn’t the fullest explorations of the lengths that the Rebel Alliance might have gone to, but the movie adds a noticeable layer of complexity to a universe defined by the extremes of light and dark.

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The same complexity doesn’t entirely apply to the writing of the characters. They come out a little thin, an entire ensemble of one-note characters with very defined arcs that don’t leave much room for emotional nuance. Once we get to the second act, the movie seems almost hesitant to allow its characters to veer into making the tough choices, leaving much of the dramatic development to come as a result of external circumstances. And for all the grandeur presented in the film’s expertly constructed action sequences, the script seems unable to provide the characters any goals that don’t involve finding and pulling a switch.

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This is all to say that the movie isn’t quite as thematically rich as it could be. Having said that, it’s still a lot of fun. It moves briskly, even though it still spends a little too much time lingering on intertextual references. It also helps that the movie looks and feels so different from the other installments of the franchise. There is a genuine sense of dread in many of its scenes, and the camera lets a lot of appealing darkness creep in. Felicity Jones is an appealing lead, though I did end up wanting to see more of the version of the character we got in the first trailer. Diego Luna makes every moment count, even when the script isn’t giving him a lot to hold on to. And Donnie Yen delivers a magnetic turn that really ought to make him the Hollywood star that he ought to be.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a good, engaging blockbuster that just feels a little compromised. One can certainly feel the fact that they had to do extensive reshoots, that these characters had to be retooled for the sake of appealing to a mass audience. But its attempt to add complexity to the mythological struggle of Star Wars universe remains intact, and in spite of all the baggage weighing it down, the movie feels fresh and smart. And with any luck, it shows us a direction that this whole franchise might later commit to.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY OPENS IN LOCAL CINEMAS ON DECEMBER 15.
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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

‘Your Name’ is Three Great Stories Bound Together as a Thrilling Romance

This is a story about comets and magic and body switching, but at its heart it’s really just a story about being in love.

NBHD movie 5 ticketsYour Name concerns two teenagers. Mitsuha (Mone Kamishirashi) is the daughter of the mayor of a small mountain town in the western part of Japan. Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) lives in Tokyo with his father. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between the two, except two to three times a week, seemingly at random, they wake up in each other’s body. Now for most films, this body switch mechanic would be the whole story. But Your Name basically rushes through the two trying to make the best out of the situation, revealing a much deeper, much more emotional cosmic narrative as it goes on.
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There’s a lot more to this movie than the seemingly cutesy premise. The film really starts taking off when these two characters start trying to look for each other. It turns out that neither Mitsuha nor Taki can exactly remember their time inside the other’s body. The memories fade like a distant dream, leaving only a vague longing. And it turns out that the separation between them may be more than just geographic. The film ends up bending time and space itself as it sketches out this delicate romance between two people connected by the cosmos in a completely inexplicable and latently tragic way.

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The story just goes in unexpected directions. It plays out as three separate chapters, each with its own distinct style and tone. The first third is a funny little comedy about a very strange situation. The second part is like a Haruki Murakami story, documenting an odd romantic search for a memory that isn’t quite there, for a love that might not even be possible. And the third part is an adventure climax that offers up a thrilling race against time. And it all works together, the three fantastical sections all grounded with the same depth of feeling. This is a story about comets and magic and body switching, but at its heart it’s really just a story about being young and confused and in love.

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And it all looks amazing, too. The visuals also contribute to holding this weirdly massive story together. The character animation is simple, but crisp. And when the film decides to go stylized, the result is just gorgeous. But where the film really comes alive is in the background. The digitally painted backdrops are just brimming with life in a way that just undeniably beautiful. No one draws a sky like Makoto Shinkai, and every time this film tilts the camera up, it evokes a sense of wonder that goes beyond what should be possible with a drawing.screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-2-50-01-pm
The film does rely a bit too much on montages that play out like music videos. It at times feels like it’s forced to rush through things, and it’s just relying on the music to convey the relevant emotions at any given portion. Thankfully, the music, provided by the Japanese band Radwimps, is pretty catchy. The soundtrack seems to have been conceived as a whole album from the band, and one does get a sense of how they all fit together.

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Your Name is a thrilling piece of animation. It just goes so big and so strange, unafraid to go into grander, more complex directions as it tells this story of two kids who don’t really know how they’re connected. It just starts to tell a story about Japan as a whole, about the neuroses of a generation growing up in a nation still so in touch with tradition while also being one of the most modern, technologically advanced places in the world. The film brings them together underneath the same beautifully drawn sky, looking through past, present, and future for whatever it is that they’re supposed to be looking for.

YOUR NAME OPENS IN LOCAL CINEMAS ON DECEMBER 15.
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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

‘Your Lie in April’ Loses Something in its Transition to Live Action

Your Lie in April is adapted from a manga/anime series and it shows.

NBHD movie 2 ticketsYour Lie in April is adapted from a manga/anime series, and it shows. It can’t really hide its episodic structure, and the general broadness of its scenes indicates the necessary truncation of the emotional story. The film follows Kosei (Kenta Yamazaki), a teenage piano prodigy who hasn’t seriously played the piano in years. A trauma in his past has rendered him unable to hear the music when he’s deep into a piece. And then he meets Kaori (Hirose Suzu), a wildly talented violinist who eschews accuracy for passion in her performances. She pushes the sullen Kosei to take up the piano again so that he can be her accompanist in a national competition.

It plays out pretty much as one would expect, especially if one has ever seen a romantic anime. The persistent Kaori wears down the sullen Kosei, and as they spend time with each other, they start to develop feelings. It’s all very sweet, if a little broad and rushed. One gets the implication that the various configurations of relationships in this story should matter more, but there isn’t really enough time to get to know the characters sufficiently to make any of that matter. There are dramatic beats in the story that simply don’t work, the characters not having expressed enough of themselves to bring the intended emotions to the surface.
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And then there’s more. The film takes a turn about halfway through that changes the complexion of everything. It turns out that this isn’t just some cute romantic story between musicians. The story makes an attempt at a depth of feeling that goes well beyond the blush of a first love. And again, this seems like the kind of story that worked better on the page or on the small screen. The film has to rush through the complexity of the pain that these characters are going through, and it basically ends up making its main character look completely unsympathetic.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-1-39-07-pm
It’s still very sweet, but it all gets painfully broad. Though no longer in animated form, these characters are still very much cartoons, especially when we get into the supporting players. There are actually a couple of characters who seem to exist solely to give explanatory commentary on the music being played, each one representing an extreme position on the need for accuracy in playing. We don’t really know anything else about them. And this isn’t nearly as bad as the treatment of a character that only shows up in flashback. The film offers the character little room for tenderness, which makes one of film’s central dramatic arcs feel pretty flimsy.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-1-39-41-pm
It’s all shot pretty plainly, too. The visual transition to live-action doesn’t seem to have involved any thought put towards reflecting the visual style of the source material. Perhaps the broadness might have been more acceptable had the film adopted a more stylized look, allowing for the little bits of unreality that serve to highlight big moments in the TV show. Kenta Yamazaki and Hirose Suzu are cute enough in the lead roles. There isn’t much subtlety in their performance, but there isn’t much subtlety to be found in any part of this movie.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-1-40-45-pm
It’s easy enough to understand the appeal of something like Your Lie in April. It is a sweet story about young, transformative love that reaches for surprising depth. And there are affecting moments even within the film’s rickety construction. But this feels like a cash-in more than anything else. This story did not benefit at all from becoming live-action. If anything, it loses something in the awkward shift into feature film storytelling.

 

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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

There’s No Blood Left in ‘Underworld: Blood Wars’

That’s right. A fifth Underworld film.

NBHD movie 1-2 ticketsIn acknowledgement of the time that has passed since the last installment, Underworld: Blood Wars opens with a helpful recap of everything that happened in the last four movies. In a nutshell, vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) was once a loyal soldier in the war between her kind of the werewolf Lycans. She was betrayed by her masters, made friends with a hybrid of the two monster types, gave birth to a daughter, and then hid her away to spare her from the horrors of this war. The story proper starts with Selene still on the run, the vampires reeling from a series of defeats, and the Lycans on the rise thanks to their new leader Marius (Tobias Menzies).

The recap doesn’t really help. The movie isn’t really founded on developing ideas from the previous installments. It is mostly trying to do what every other installment did, but on a much smaller scale. Once again, even after all the stuff that’s already happened in four entire feature films, vampires and Lycans are still at war. There are still characters that claim they’re just trying to find a way to end the war, traitors within the vampire ranks, and hybrids that threaten to change everything. In short, it’s another Underworld movie, but not nearly as coherent or as fun.df-01793
The film does introduce a few new concepts. It makes some retroactive changes to some of the characters, revealing aspects of their past that changes the status quo of the series. This might prove to be of some novelty to devotees of the series (if those people exist). It isn’t like people were into Underworld for its rich mythology and complex depiction of vampiric power structures. It also offers a major bit of change for the character of Selene, a moment of growth that grants her new abilities. Unfortunately, the film allows this journey to take place off screen. The most significant change in this movie is something we don’t even get to see.

If one is simply in it for the action, the movie will likely disappoint. The bouts of violence are sporadic, spread out among a series of explanatory sequences in a plot that is too burdened with series history and the perceived need for reversals. And the fights just aren’t very good. Director Anna Foerster, who to this point has only done television, fails to make the action feel cinematic. These powerful creatures are confined to small spaces, often standing still while visual effects act around them. This might be the worst looking of the Underworld films, which might actually be an achievement.

But yes, the film fails to be exciting. Its most creative bits of violence fall short once visualized, a bad mix of poor staging and subpar visual effects getting in the way of the base enjoyment of seeing a monster be destroyed. Kate Beckinsale still fits into the latex suit, but she looks tired of being in it. There is probably something to said here about how there aren’t enough serious roles for actresses, leaving them to cling to flagging franchises like this one. And so there it is. Lara Pulver, perhaps best known for playing Irene Adler on the BBC’s Sherlock, gets to have the most fun slithering her way through the entire movie.bg-day-vampire

Underworld: Blood Wars doesn’t even have the real decency to tell a complete story. It’s basically promising more of the same in a future installment, prolonging an already overstreched narrative to absurd lengths as it introduces a final development that could finally resolve this whole vampire-Lycan war thing that’s played out over five movies. What this movie really makes clear is that we don’t need a sixth Underworld movie. It all feels so tired, and there’s just no blood left to squeeze out of this tired narrative corpse.

 

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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

‘The Super Parental Guardians’ Cynically Assembles the Zeitgeist

This is exactly the kind of film that you’d expect at the Metro Manila Film Festival.

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The Super Parental Guardians
was one of the big studio films rejected from this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, and it certainly feels like a film that would have fit in any of the recent previous editions of the festival. Which is to say: it’s a broad, hastily put together production that cobbles together a series of pop culture references into the vague shape of a story. Paco (Coco Martin) is the leader of a gang in the slums. Arci (Vice Ganda) is the social media manager that works for the spokesperson of the PNP, and a godparent to the children of Paco’s sister Sarah (Matet De Leon). Sarah witnesses a murder, and is subsequently murdered as well. Paco and Arci are then forced to work together to protect Sarah’s kids, and try to unravel the conspiracy behind the spate of murders happening in the slums.screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-28-30-pm

This is a movie assembled from the zeitgeist. It latches on to anything that people might be talking about. And so, this is a film that touches on extrajudicial killings, Pokemon Go, and Train to Busan. Its broad conception of comedy basically involves audiences recognizing things on screen, even if it doesn’t make any real sense. So at a critical moment in this film, the characters might start throwing Pokeballs at the bad guys, or encounter a bunch of zombies. These elements come out of nowhere, but the film seems convinced that the reference alone is what gives any scene value.screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-28-36-pm

The story is bad. There is no getting around the sheer awfulness of the narrative, the complete lack of thought put towards telling a coherent tale. It’s most evident in the scenes that are ostensibly meant to be touching or emotionally resonant. There comes a point in this movie where Arci is supposed to be conflicted about what she has to do, the character forced to choose between her own comfort and her responsibility to the new people in her life. And this leads to a big confrontation scene where big dramatic things are said, and the characters profess big emotions like love and betrayal. But it all rings hollow

The drama is an obligation. The film, casting a wide net, is just trying to hit imagined targets to give it mass appeal. This emotional narrative doesn’t at all fit into this mess of nonsense references. The film insists that these relationships mean something. The characters certainly say it enough, and they’re even driven to tears expressing those sentiments. But the film just doesn’t do the work to earn any of those moments. It’s too busy wallowing in its nonsense.screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-28-16-pm

And in all that nonsense, the film is only very rarely funny. One actually feels the loss of Wenn Deramas here. Whatever else one might have felt about the director and his oeuvre, he had a very strong understanding of the comedic rhythms of Vice Ganda. Joyce Bernal is a very skilled and smart director, but the scenes she puts together lag behind the rapid fire pace of the star. To be fair, though, this isn’t even the best performance Vice Ganda has given. There’s just no meat in this script, and the star seems content to coast. Coco Martin remains a pretty good sparring partner for the comedian, committing fully to whatever silliness a scene has to offer.screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-47-55-pm

The Super Parental Guardians is exactly the kind of film that you’d expect at the Metro Manila Film Festival; the kind of empty blockbuster with bankable stars and a story that smells of pwede na ‘yan. There’s been a lot of talk about what the festival is for, exactly, and how the poor have been disregarded with the new selection. This is pure bunk, and the implication is that the producers believe that the poor don’t deserve any better than this. And that is what is truly awful.

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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

Everyone’s Too Comfortable in ‘Enteng Kabisote and the Abangers’

Yes, this movie is basically about an argument over a kid playing a game on a tablet.

NBHD movie 0-2 half ticketEnteng Kabisote and the Abangers begins with the introduction of villain Kwak Kwak (Epy Quizon), who is apparently an exile from the magical land of Encantadia, and is in the mortal realm to look for the seven Encantasias that took his towers. It then catches up with the titular hero (Vic Sotto), who is now running a toy/robotics company. The plot revolves around a popular mobile game that hypnotizes its players and causes them to become violent. Enteng happens to enjoy playing the game with his grandson (Alonzo Muhlach), and this brings tension between Enteng and his son (Oyo Boy Sotto) to the surface.

Yes, this movie is basically about an argument over a kid playing a game on a tablet. This all eventually leads to the gathering of the titular Abangers and a big fight with the film’s villain, but most of this story revolves around Enteng feeling alone and betrayed by his family, spurred by the argument over letting his grandson play a mobile game. The film tries to make this out to be a much larger issue than it is. Apparently, Enteng has become too controlling over his family, and is spoiling his grandson. On his part, Enteng is feeling lonely, his family now living their own lives away from him.screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-13-59-pm
Enteng Kabisote is an interesting character in that for all of his adventure, he remains a completely domestic protagonist. The entire conception of the character was based around a very normal guy having to deal with strange circumstances. And so there is merit to the idea that this story could be built around such a mundane argument. But the way the film lets it play out is really dumb, because Enteng here is clearly in the wrong. We know he’s wrong. We see the game doing bad things to people. We see his son dealing with the people affected by the game. He has no reason to doubt his son, but he disregards his opinion anyway.

This is supposed to be the heart of the movie, but it’s completely empty. And the rest of the film isn’t very good, either. There are very few laughs to be had, and even fewer thrills. This is really just an episode of Eat Bulaga with a much bigger budget. All the same people show up, at times even in the same exact roles. This is all ostensibly a take on the superhero genre, but there isn’t a whole lot there. The action and visual effects aren’t really any better than anything we’ve seen from this tired franchise.screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-14-37-pm

One of the big talking points in this whole MMFF hullabaloo is that Christmas is supposed to be for children. Which is really funny considering that this film is mainly about a grandfather’s insecurities. Its approach to appealing to a younger demographic mainly involves pandering to the idea that kids like video games. The film’s climax is weirdly designed to look like a Mortal Kombat style 2D fighter. It doesn’t work at all as a scene, and the reference feels pretty dated. Vic Sotto, apart from sporting graying hair, doesn’t do anything new. Epy Quizon, as usual, just gives it everything he’s got.screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-13-41-pm
Enteng Kabisote and the Abangers is a film that seems to have been produced by people who have gotten far too comfortable. Its parts don’t even really work together, but no one seems to care. What matters is that all these people are assembled on screen, and some visual effects are thrown in to make things look like they’re expensive. But it’s all so empty. There are no risks taken, no attempt to make the audience really feel anything. Because it doesn’t think very highly of its audience. It just wants to feed them the same slop every year.

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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

‘Moana’ is an Upgrade to a Classic Formula

In his first film review for The Neighborhood, Philbert Dy examines what sets Moana apart from your average Disney princess film.

NBHD movie 5 ticketsMoana could be seen as the final corrective to the Disney princess formula. It is the ultimate expression of decades of rehabilitation, the end of the journey of the female cartoon lead from beautiful sufferer of maladies to complex heroic figure worthy of following on an adventure. The titular character (Auli’i Cravalho) is a chieftain’s daughter. All her life, she’s been drawn to the sea, but her people are content on their little island, and discourage her from exploring beyond the reef. But an encroaching darkness is threatening life on the island, and Moana takes on a quest to find the trickster demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and deliver him to a far off island where he can restore something that was stolen and save the world.moana-2The setup isn’t actually very different from the rest of the Disney canon. This is another story of a young woman who is told that there are limits to what she can do, and then she goes out and tries to overcome them. In fact, directors Ron Clements and John Musker were at the helm of The Little Mermaid, which might be the most beloved iteration of this setup. But the film acknowledges the similarities, and in its details, it improves on every element. And because of these tweaks, it ends up delivering a much more satisfying, much more substantial experience.

The film feels much more focused than any other of the Disney princess films, for example. The middle section isn’t crowded with subplots and side characters. For most of the film, it’s really just Moana and Maui, learning to deal with each other in spite of their differences. And this relationship isn’t cheapened by the suggestion of romance. They are together on an adventure, fighting side-by-side against threats big and small, external and internal. While the characters fend off monsters, they are also in search of identities in a world that seems to have already decided for them.moana-3The film strikes a fine balance between conveying the emotional narratives of these characters and placing them in adventurous contexts. The film doesn’t really do much more than line up a series of obstacles for these characters to overcome, but the threats are visually interesting, and each encounter provides an opportunity to convey personal growth. Together, Moana and Maui face down a swarm of pirates that also happen to be coconuts, and a giant crab that lures prey in with a shell adorned with all manner of treasure. And in these thrilling encounters, the characters and their individual journeys are always in play.

And it’s a musical, too. They’ve tapped Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the songs, and they run an interesting gamut of styles. It seems unlikely that the main theme, How Far I’ll Go will have the same cultural impact as Let It Go, but it’s a pretty good iteration of the Disney princess song. More interesting are You’re Welcome, which sounds the most like a Lin-Manuel Miranda song, and Shiny, a quasi-Bowie riff that’s a perfect fit for Jermaine Clement. The voice cast in general is pretty great. Auli’i Cravalho is terrific in the lead role, and Dwayne Johnson is able to evoke a lot of emotion out of what at first appears to be little more than a broad, cartoonish character.moana-image

Moana is great. There’s a lot bubbling under the surface here; a lot that could be said about the way the movie is telling a story about gender in the context of the Disney princess film. But one doesn’t need to dive very deep to find the merits of this film. Even on the surface, this film charms thoroughly; its narrative, visuals and music combining beautifully to create an experience that’s easy to recommend. It works with classic elements, but delivers something totally modern, and any parent ought to be glad to show this to his or her kid.

Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

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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.