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tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘The Significant Other’ is Completely Insignificant

The latest film to tackle infidelity fails to find any meaning in the madness

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The Significant Other concerns Nicole, a small-town girl trying to make it big as a model in Manila. A manager advises her to go to a cosmetic surgeon to have a large birthmark removed. She is referred to Edward (Tom Rodriguez), who flirts with her as they have their sessions together. Soon enough, Nicole becomes pretty infatuated with the doctor. Unfortunately, it turns out that Edward is married. Worse yet, it just so happens that his wife is Maxene (Lovi Poe), a recently returned model that Nicole greatly admires, and someone who has just recently become a close friend and a mentor.

It is actually challenging to articulate the ways in which this movie is terrible. At times, it feels like the creators are just playing a joke on us, or are acting on dares to go lower, to find new depths of cinematic laziness. This is the only way in which the movie could be considered daring. It is drowning in banality, in spite of the fact that its infidelity plot is contrived to ridiculous lengths. It is badly produced and horribly acted, its very presence in our cinemas an indictment on the industry that allowed any of this to happen.

As with all of these infidelity films, the whole point seems to be getting women to deliver labored withering lines to each other. The story is actually told out of order, the movie apparently not patient enough to set things up before getting the women to get to catty bon mots. It then spends a good chunk of its time establishing the elements it just gave away. It devotes much of its narrative contrivances to making sure that Nicole remains blameless in all of this, the young woman kept completely in the dark about the marital status of her new beau.

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In order to sell this point, the movie has to sell us on something very strange: a famous model who is apparently able to keep the existence of her husband and child a secret from the public. This is, to put it mildly, stupid. But even if we are to accept it, there is a complete lack of curiosity to Nicole that makes her out to be more naive than a reasonably person should ever be. The question here is who the audience is meant to care about in any of this. The film is very bad at selling us the appeal of any of these characters, or any of these relationships. It’s all so facile, the movie never really putting in the effort to make their interactions feel the slightest bit meaningful.

The title of the movie is actually an indication of this. The film plays that phrase as something important in these relationships, as the very height of commitment and romance. Never mind that this isn’t actually something that a real person would say, much less value. It’s just something the movie can toss out and pretend is meaningful. None of the actors come out looking good in this mess. Lovi Poe, Erich Gonzalez and Tom Rodriguez may as well be replaced by mannequins, as that is about the level of emotion that they are able to get out of the material.

The Significant Other feels like a trick that’s being played on the audience. We have been promised a movie, and we are instead treated to a pile of garbage; one that wasn’t even lovingly assembled. It feels like a bunch of professionals cranked out a film in their spare time, caring little for the actual quality of the final product, and pawned it off to an unwitting public as something worthy of taking up space in cinemas. It is the kind of awful that is genuinely baffling. There are many bad films, but there are few that express such a deep, insulting level of apathy.

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

Frailty Fuels ‘The Post’

Though a little unfocused, Spielberg’s latest delivers a message worth hearing

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The Post mainly takes place in 1971 and deals with the events surrounding the Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers. Publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is preparing to take the company public, and she’s struggling with the perception of her as the owner of the paper. The Pentagon Papers are leaked, and the New York Times gets the scoop. Executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and his newsroom try to catch up with them, when an injunction keeps the New York paper from publishing anything more about leaked study. When the Post gets a copy of the Pentagon Papers, they are presented with a difficult choice: risk the government’s wrath by publishing, or ensure the survival of the newspaper by holding off.

It is a little odd that a film about the publication of the Pentagon Papers would focus so much on the Washington Post, when the bulk of the activity surrounding that particular chapter of American history happened at another paper. But it turns out that The Post isn’t really a movie about the leak. It isn’t really about the kind of heroic journalism as seen in movies like All the President’s Men or Spotlight. It is instead a story of personal frailties giving way to a greater cause. The film lays it on pretty thick, but in the end the movie delivers a message worth hearing.

The dramatic core of the film lies in the relationships between people in power and the people that are meant to keep them in check. The film posits that what ultimately unites the socialite publisher Kay Graham and the gruff editor Ben Bradlee is that they have both to some degree compromised their integrity through their friendships with people in government. This puts the Washington Post in an interesting light: it still seen as a local paper back then, and the sheer proximity of its journalists to the seats of power implies a certain level of familiarity not afforded to any other publication. In building the story on a foundation of weakness and compromise, the film projects a compelling arc.

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Not all of it is successful. The movie at times still falls into the trap of inflating the Washington Post’s role in this incident. The film is better when it downplays the uplifting rhetoric and instead focuses on the personal struggles of these characters. The movie as a whole plays things broadly, but it’s all easier to swallow when the film really drills down on the frailties of these characters: Graham, who at this point still feels unsure of herself, and Bradlee, who at first seems to be as dismissive of Graham as everyone else.

The acting is good, but that’s the only possible result given who was cast in this film. If anything, it feels like the movie loses something by playing things a little safe. But yes, Meryl Streep continues to exhibit a level of talent that is pretty unimpeachable, and Tom Hanks puts up a fine performance that only pales in comparison to Jason Robards’ earlier portrayal of Bradlee. The supporting cast offers up an even greater embarrassment of riches, with the likes of Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemmons, Tracy Letts, and Michael Stuhlbarg lighting up the scenes that they’re in. Matthew Rhys shines the hardest playing Dan Ellsberg, his studied intensity giving weight to the film’s central event.

The Post does feel a little unfocused at times. The Pentagon Papers hold the story together, but the connections it holds are tenuous at best. There are other things that the film seems to want to say, other issues it wants to tackle in bits and pieces of narrative. And they don’t always resolve in a satisfying way. It is probably worth noting that this film seems to have been rushed into production, and some of its pieces don’t quite feel as polished as they could be. But it was rushed for a reason: it’s a film that speaks directly of our times, in a world where government seems to be taking an increasingly adversarial posture against the press. It’s a story that’s worth telling right now, even if the telling of it isn’t quite as perfect as it could be.

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

‘Every Day’ has an Intriguing Concept that Gets Problematic Really Quickly

This body-switching teenage romance is burdened with practical concerns

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Every Day begins with a rather unusual day for 16-year-old Rhiannon (Angourie Rice). She and her boyfriend Justin (Justice Smith) skip out on school to spend the day together. Justin isn’t acting quite like himself, but Rhiannon really ends up enjoying the day. But the next day, Justin doesn’t remember their time together. And soon, we learn of the existence of a being called “A,” who wakes up in a different body every day, and controls that body until midnight. A doesn’t get to choose the person, but it’s always someone around the same age, always someone within a certain proximity, and never the same person twice.

So, the film starts to sketch out an impossible romance. Rhiannon has made an indelible impression on A, and A approaches her again and reveals the truth to her while in a different body. While Rhiannon at first thinks that she’s just being pranked, she comes to believe A. And the two actually start to fall in love. But of course, A’s situation presents some interesting challenges. Not knowing who A will be or what situation the host will be in quickly becomes an issue. And A is forced to reckon with the ethics of using these unwitting people to carry out the romance with Rhiannon.

It’s an intriguing concept, but one with more obstacles than benefits. The main benefit lies in how the idea creates a tangible context for the search of teenage identity, and in how the film is able to take that idea as a means of stumping for compassion above all things. But it’s a real stretch as a romance. There are too many practical plot concerns to make this idea work, and the film isn’t really imaginative or bold enough to make any of it seem particularly reasonable. A’s very existence is problematic, and the pursuit of Rhiannon, in which several unwitting people lose their agency and are basically taken advantage of, is doubly so.

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A lot can be glossed over in the name of young romance, but the more the story goes on, the more difficult it is to accept all the things this story is throwing at the audience. The more trouble that these two go through for their fleeting moments together start to feel pretty foolish. The two continue to be portrayed as good people, even as they seem to completely ignore the possible consequences of their actions. The main conflict of the story doesn’t really get much more complex than this, and that the characters take so long to realize it makes them seem to be more troubling than they really ought to be.

The filmmaking doesn’t really do much to make any of this any more convincing. It’s plain to the point of being a little boring, peppered with a few too many grainy drone shots serving as lazy transitions between scenes. Angourie Rice is charming enough, but she never quite turns Rhiannon into anything more than a creature of strange impulses. The multitude of teenage actors portraying A, including Rice, all do a fine enough job, though there is very little sense of A as a singular character.

Every Day doesn’t feel entirely thought through. One could point to how it keeps changing the rules, the effects and consequences of A’s possessions changing depending on what the plot needs. Or one could point to the bigger issues. There are many ways this concept could be explored, and putting it into the context of teenage romance brings up more problems than the film seems to be willing to reckon with. And the benefits of this romantic concept seem relatively minor in the context of this story. The film just doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

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 Shape of Water’ is Wonderful

Guillermo del Toro’s fish man romance reckons with the heart of America

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The protagonist of The Shape of Water doesn’t speak. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is mute. She lives in an apartment above a movie theater in 1960s Baltimore. She works in the cleaning staff of an underground government facility. Her routine is interrupted by the arrival of Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon), who has brought with him a captured amphibian man from the jungles of South America. Elisa forms a connection with the strange fish creature, and once she learns of Strickland’s intentions, hatches a plan to free the fish man from government captivity.

The Shape of Water can be most broadly defined as a fairy tale: a little riff on the genre that mashes up Beauty and the Beast with The Little Mermaid. This is, at least, what gives the film its structure. But it is also a story that attempts to reckon with the heart of America. In the age of “Make America Great Again,” the film casts the nation’s idealized past as a nightmare of monstrous proportions, ultraconservative ideals thrown into sharp relief against a romance that transcends all difference. It is a fairy tale filtered through a more grown-up lens, with characters that struggle against a more recognizable ugliness.

There’s actually a lot going on beyond the central fairy tale romance of the film. The supporting characters are all pretty much given their own full narratives to fill out. There is Giles, Elisa’s closeted ad man neighbor, who is looking for his own little slice of romance. There is Zelda (Octavia Spencer), Elisa’s co-worker, who we hear getting disenchanted about her marriage. There is Dr. Hoffstetler, the unlikely ally living a double life. And there is Strickland himself, who the movie follows home, where he gets to live out the photo album version of the American dream. It is in this diversity of stories that the movie reveals its openness of heart, its generosity of spirit. Even as it casts characters as heroes and villains, it finds the time to detail the specific peculiarities of their existence.

And the film does get peculiar. This is, after all, the story of a woman that falls in love with a fish man. The film’s full commitment to that idea sets the stage for everything else that’s going on. Because the film speaks most eloquently when it makes the case for this odd romance. It speaks of compassion and difference with an earnestness that belies the fantastic approach. The creature at the center of this film may not be human in a technical sense, but the emotions that the film imparts through Elisa’s relationship with it feel deeply human anyway.

A lot of this is due to the incredible central performance from Sally Hawkins. Hawkins practically dances through this movie, her character’s thoughts conveyed through movement. And even without saying anything, she makes it easy to understand what her character sees in the fish man. Doug Jones plays the amphibian man inside a rubber suit, and he leans into the alien qualities of the creature. Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Stuhlbarg are all equally wonderful in this movie. We’ve seen Michael Shannon play this kind of role before, and he handles it with his typical aplomb.

The Shape of Water is to put it simply, wonderful. It would be worth recommending for the images that it puts together alone, with Guillermo del Toro displaying his usual visual flair, creating dramatic frames that feel imbued with magic. But its appeal goes far beyond how it looks. This is, after all, a movie that speaks directly about appearances, that urges for an understanding of otherness in an age where we all seem to be going backward in time. Its magic doesn’t just lie in the fantasies that it contrives, but in the tougher, grown-up realities that intrude into this fairy tale milieu. In the intermingling of these seemingly disparate elements, it finds something indelible.

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

‘My Fairy Tail Love Story’ Has Issues, but is Clever All the Same

This mermaid story subverts expectations, even as it clings to some old tropes

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My Fairy Tail Love Story is about Chantel (Janella Salvador), the only daughter of a rich, separated couple. After making a scene at her debut, her dad makes it up to her by sending her and her friends on a trip to a private island. While there, she contracts a magical curse, and wakes up the next day in her bed as a mermaid. Her best friend Noah (Elmo Magalona) is the first to discover this, and he helps her try to break the curse. She becomes convinced that the key is getting true love’s kiss, which she thinks she’s going to get from celebrity DJ Ethan (Kiko Estrada). But Noah has been harboring feelings for his best friend, and he struggles on the sidelines as he watches their relationship blossom.

The relationship between Chantel and Noah becomes the most problematic portion of this movie, which otherwise makes pretty good efforts at subverting the clichéd young romance tropes that have plagued the genre for years. The film is smart enough to mostly avoid glorifying his pining for his best friend, but still ends up playing at a version of harmful co-dependence that doesn’t seem entirely fitting given what the film is ostensibly trying to do. But overall, this is a pretty clever, often funny little film that questions the magic of fairy tales in order to deliver something a little more reasonable.

The film operates on a keen awareness of the tropes of the fairy tale. It pretty much hangs a lampshade on its fairy tale inspiration, building its story around characters who realize that they’re taking part in some sort of magical narrative. Right from the start, the film is openly subverting these bits, injecting interesting little bits of reality that build to a grander theme. It pretty much begins on the idea that Chantel’s parents are separated and don’t get along. The movie quickly introduces the idea that this is a world where couples may not necessarily end up happily ever after.

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From there, though, the plot becomes founded on the love triangle, and it doesn’t really play to the movie’s strengths. We’ve seen this scenario far too many times: there might be a magical context to it, and the film does throw in a couple of twists, but it’s still the same story of the “nice guy” secretly pining for his best friend, who in turn is throwing herself at a more naturally charismatic fellow. The movie struggles when it’s trying to make it out that Noah is someone worth rooting for in this scenario. It gets better when it lets that idea fall to the wayside.

The movie does have a pretty compelling lead performance. Janella Salvador fully commits to her character, and manages to score laughs from the specifics of her transformation. She is, however, burdened with leading men that can’t quite keep up. Elmo Magalona plays Noah with a weird smugness that makes it extra difficult to swallow his character’s somewhat toxic tendencies. Kiko Estrada fares a bit better in comparison, though he has some pretty apparent limitations on screen.

My Fairy Tail Love Story has issues, but on the whole it kind of works for what it’s trying to do. The movie does do some clever things within the context of fairy tale magic, adding little modern touches that provide a more realistic perspective to love and relationship. And it manages to do it while staying within the boundaries of a family friendly film. That deserves some real credit. It visibly stumbles here and there, its steps feeling a little uneasy as it plies the same tropes it’s criticizing. But it’s still making steps in the right direction, and that counts for something.

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

‘Black Panther’ Takes Power and Responsibility to the State Level

The latest Marvel movie is a superhero film with a lot on its mind

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Black Panther begins with a prologue that takes place in 1992 in Oakland, introducing an incident involving King T’chaka of Wakanda and his brother. In present day, T’challa (Chadwick Boseman) is newly crowned the king of the hidden high tech African nation, and his first duty as king is to find justice for his subjects by capturing the arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and bringing him back to Wakanda. But things don’t go as planned, thanks partly to the efforts of Erik (Michael B. Jordan), a highly trained operative who is the product of the legacy of the Black Panther.

This is an oddly structured film, with the meat of the plot mostly in the back end. The film has other things on its mind: it practically builds its own little universe as it shows us Wakanda. It is something that we have never really been shown before: a society that melds traditional culture with advanced technology, an entire people modeled through the lens of African futurism. It is a meticulously designed vision, from architecture to technology to fashion, that provides a powerful visual and thematic hook to this film. The film makes clear in the introduction of Wakanda that it is a place worth fighting for.

The film takes its time introducing a large cast of characters we’ve never met before. This film may be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but more than any other in recent memory, it seems to stand on its own. And it reaches out to the world in ways that we haven’t really seen from the other superhero movies. Though heroes are constantly facing global peril, their stories are more or less always personal. This film reckons with the same themes of power and responsibility, but scales the dilemma to the state level. And in doing so, the film offers the opportunity to tangle with bigger issues.

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And it does. The question at the heart of the film is what responsibility nations have over the plight of their neighbors, and on a larger scale, what role a technologically advanced society should play on a world stage filled with injustice. The film is about a fictional African nation, but more than other Marvel movie, it feels like a film about our own world. It presents arguments about refugees and isolationism as easily as it mounts an exciting action set piece. It manages to talk about a lot of these things through a truly compelling antagonist, who speaks convincingly in the language of militant activism. The film mostly achieves the rather amazing feat of integrating a higher purpose within the demands of creating entertaining big-budget spectacle.

That’s “mostly,” because the film action set pieces aren’t particularly memorable. The climactic sequence is a hoot, but the others feel kind of underwhelming. But that’s mostly a function of holding them up in comparison to what the rest of the film delivers. All the new characters are so rich, with practically all of them given interesting inner lives that exceed their time on screen. Everyone’s given several notes to play with, and everyone hits those notes perfectly. Chadwick Boseman is great in the lead role, but he has to make way for Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and the film’s breakout star, Letitia Wright. Wright plays Shuri, T’challa’s younger sister, and she is the most delightful thing in a movie filled with delights.

Black Panther only suffers for how much it has to do. It isn’t operating on the same mathematics as your typical big budget superhero film. It is trying to express so much more, trying to reckon with bigger dilemmas than are generally faced by your average superpowered protagonist. And it is presenting an original vision filtered through the lens of an underrepresented culture in cinema, crafting a utopia unlike any we’ve ever seen, filled with enough visual and aural bravado to fill two movies of its size. There are flaws, certainly, but there’s just much more to like, especially given the film’s ambition.

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

‘Darkest Hour’ Coasts on Absolutes

Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill in a movie that doesn’t challenge the hero

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Darkest Hour takes place over the month of May in 1940, beginning with Neville Chamberlain having to resign as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), a contentious figure within his own party, takes the seat mainly because he is the only person that the opposition would accept. Churchill is faced with the responsibility of leading the nation through war, the deaths of thousands of British soldiers weighing on him while the other members of the war cabinet push for negotiations with Hitler.

The film limits its scope to Churchill’s greatest moment in his career as a British politician. Going wider would present a more complex, problematic figure: a man not just prone to compelling angry outbursts, but one whose actions directly led to some truly horrifying disasters, many of them involving the loss of human life as the cost of empire. The film chooses not to get too deep into the fascinating, nuanced figured that Churchill was, and instead decides to be a rousing spectacle of political heroism. And it succeeds mainly in being a rousing spectacle, indeed. But as a portrait of a man, it isn’t particularly compelling.

The film is basically built around the performance. Gary Oldman dons a fat suit and pounds of makeup to resemble Churchill. Oldman doesn’t completely disappear inside all that, but that’s not a terrible thing in the end. His Churchill isn’t just an impression: it’s an interpretation of the historical figure that fits within what the film is trying to deliver. The film is basically building to a big speech, and beyond the showy dramatics of the character’s outbursts, Oldman finds something engaging in the way he plays Churchill’s ability with language. It always feels like the character is actively finding the right words, and delights in the deployment of the absolute best sequence of phrases.

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But the performance only goes so far, because the character only goes so far. The film certainly lets Churchill be difficult, and it gives him moments of doubt, but it mostly handles him with the same fawning reverence that we’ve already seen from so many other films. The performance is good, but a lot of it just feels like bluster. That’s all the writing really calls for. The movie even simplifies Churchill’s boldest choice by fabricating an entire sequence that basically confirms the righteousness of his convictions through total cornball theatrics.

This isn’t to say that the movie is bad, exactly. It does succeed at what it’s trying to do. It’s an entertaining little film that lionizes Winston Churchill, praising him for sticking to his convictions in wanting to fight Hitler instead of capitulating to the fascists. It is well shot, and pretty well paced. The production values are high, and the performances are strong. But the film isn’t risking anything in telling the story that it does. It feels calculated to the point of being contrived, which is a strange thing for a film that is based on true historical events.

Darkest Hour has plenty of obvious merit, but as a whole, it isn’t a particularly interesting film. It tells a story that coasts on absolutes: we all already agree that Hitler was horrible, and that Churchill was right to want to keep fighting him. The film just isn’t presenting anything that’s even mildly controversial, its plot driven mostly by the absolute rightness of this one person in this one instance in history. And while we can certainly take some pleasure in celebrating this one turning point in history where someone made the absolute right choice, it just doesn’t feel all that compelling in the end. Dunkirk, a film concerned with even greater spectacle, managed to find some nuance amid that heroic moment. It is a wonder that this film couldn’t find the same.

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

‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ Revels in the Messiness of Humanity

Incredible performances bring difficult character to life in Martin McDonagh’s latest film

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri centers on the tough-as-nails, painfully blunt Mildred (Frances McDormand), who sets off the action of the movie by buying the titular ad space. Her daughter was raped and murdered some time back, and she rents the billboards to send a message to Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), shaming him for his inability to grant her justice. This sets off a firestorm in the town of Ebbing, Missouri, with people taking sides, and being led into action that will cause plenty of harm along the way.

This movie gets pretty dark pretty quickly. Mildred isn’t a simple underdog hero fighting for the cause of justice. Over the course of the film, we get to question her single-minded focus, and the righteousness of everything she’s doing. We get to see the humanity of people who on first impression are outright villains. The film offers up an acre of messy gray area to wade through, its world broadly defined yet complex in detail. The enjoyment it derives from the darkness can feel questionable at times, but driven as it is by some of the best performances of last year, it is a queasiness that might be worth experiencing anyway.

What is most surprising about this movie is that it’s really mostly about empathy. It goes pretty deep into the pain of the characters, offering up these complex portraits of humanity within familiar character types. Their choices are still often shocking and unpleasant, but the film does the work of building up these characters to the point where their decisions can be understood. It is a movie that can be described as surprising and unpredictable, but the developments always seem oddly reasonable within the world that the movie sets up.

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And this results in some rather incredible drama. The film is able to explore extremes that just aren’t typical to the cinema we’re familiar with. It plumbs dramatic depths to extract a level of rage and hurt that goes beyond what most people are willing to deal with. And it studies that anger, studies the ways in which it causes people to want to do harm to others. And through that, it finds a strange route to compassion that forms the basis of this film’s soul. It is an unpleasant soul, granted, and one that might not be fully equipped to handle everything that the movie touches on, but it is one worth contemplating.

The story goes all over the place with tones, but the movie keeps it all together mainly through the strength of the performances. Frances McDormand is probably the only actress who could have pulled off Mildred. What’s most astonishing in her performance isn’t the steely bravado, but the few, fleeting moments where we see the cracks in that façade. Woody Harrelson brings typical rustic charm, but then matches it with existential dread. And Sam Rockwell delivers the performance of a lifetime with the film’s most difficult, most problematic character. It is an unenviable role that Rockwell takes head on, and he emerges the better for it.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has faced plenty of backlash in the last few months, and it’s entirely understandable. The world of the film is a deeply troubled one, filled with characters that represent the worst of us. And it is perfectly reasonable to dislike the film simply for that: engagement with a movie tends to mean having to build empathy for its characters, and it can be a tough thing to consider given the deep awfulness of some of these people. But this is precisely what the film seems to be trying to confront: the compassion that grow out of people in spite of all the awfulness. And while the film doesn’t always succeed in building up that compassion, the attempt is pretty admirable.

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

‘Sin Island’ is Embarrassingly Bad

This movie about infidelity feels like children playing at being adults

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Sin Island is about married couple David and Kanika (Xian Lim and Colleen Garcia). David is a successful photographer, but his career goes into a downward spiral after an accident that leads to a lawsuit. This puts a strain on their marriage, which leads Kanika into an emotional affair with an airline pilot. When David finds out about this, he runs away to Sinilaban Island. And there, he meets Tasha (Nathalie Hart), who he ends up sleeping with. Kanika travels to the island to patch things up, and David seems willing to reconcile. But Tasha isn’t ready to give David up just yet.

You might note the word “emotional” in describing the affair that Kanika has with the pilot. It ends up being a big part of this movie: while David actually goes on to sleep with someone else, Kanika’s unfulfilled desires are treated as an equal sin. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the film didn’t dedicate a pretty long stretch to figuring out the math of their infidelity. As it is, the math is awfully unequal, and ends up giving voice to some toxic attitudes about sex. It also makes the story pretty uninteresting, as it means that it never really reckons with the real effects of infidelity.

In lieu of any discussion about how these two can actually try to work toward fixing their relationship, the film mainly gets into a thriller plot involving Tasha, because it turns out she’s crazy. And not just the kind of crazy that might have her doing nude yoga on a beach. The kind of crazy that turns murderous. It’s a development that has become a cliché of the local film that involves infidelity, which is less about trying to unpack the serious repercussions of that kind of betrayal, and is instead mostly about mounting scenes in which women behave very badly in the name of fighting over a man.

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To that end, the film somewhat delivers. There are a couple of idiotic, gonzo scenes that have the women involved acting really crazy. It’s fun only to the extent that really dumb things can be fun. The fun isn’t derived from the film exhibiting any sort of creativity or ingenuity. It is drawn instead from its inability to mount anything in a way that makes any sense. Consider the sequence where David arrives on Sinilaban. Someone from the hotel says, “welcome to Sin Island.” Rather than immediately connecting the dots, David looks puzzled. The hotel employee helpfully explains that it’s short for Sinilaban Island. Because clearly, no one could have figured that out.

It’s in the most basic elements that the film really struggles. The setup to David’s initial industry downfall is labored and contrived, the film going through hoops to make sure that the character isn’t really at fault. Supporting characters exist to voice the most inane things to the leads. The technical package is subpar, particularly in the sound mix. There are sequences where it doesn’t even feel like the characters are talking in the same room. Performances are not great all around. But it’s hard to know what the actors are supposed to be doing under these unenviable circumstances.

Sin Island feels like children playing at being adults. It feels so completely juvenile in its attempt to address the complexities of marital infidelity. As it goes on, it just gets puerile, getting off on poorly staged sex and violence, while still pushing toward a conventional conclusion that seems to ignore the utter insanity that these characters went through. It is in fact so bad that there is a chance this film might go down as an ironic favorite for fans of terrible cinema. Except it isn’t actually interesting in the way a lot of the best bad movies are. It’s mostly just embarrassing.

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

‘Meet Me in St. Gallen’ Deconstructs the Allure of a Fond Memory

Romance doesn’t have to last to be beautiful in this unusual romantic film

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Meet Me in St. Gallen is split up into three parts. Celeste (Bela Padilla) and Jesse (Carlo Aquino) first meet on a night when both of them are at a pretty low point. Celeste just quit her job, and Jesse bombed at a gig for his band. The two hit it off pretty quickly, but they part with the promise that they would keep their encounter perfect by not getting in touch with each other. They run into each other again years later, their one night together clearly having had a profound effect on the two of them.

It’s probably best not to talk about the third part, though this isn’t really the kind of movie that can get spoiled. Its pleasures don’t come from plot developments or surprises. It hinges instead on the appeal of watching two people who like each other play out the dance of romance, with all of its melancholy implications. The movie explores the tempting allure of the past, telling its story through thoroughly imperfect people burdened with the memory of a perfect moment in time.

There isn’t really much more to this film than three extended conversations between two people at different points in their lives. The entire story is predicated on a strange choice made on the first night, when both are at their lowest, looking for a measure of magic in their terribly dreary mundane existence consisting at that point of horrible bosses and equally horrible parents. The film then turns their initial reunion into an unusual escape from the choices that they made since they last met. The two are at different points in their lives, the night affecting them in starkly different ways. And in that difference, the film quietly lays down the brickwork for its denouement.

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It’s really clever, though probably not satisfying in the ways that people are used to. This film isn’t about the rush of a reunion, though that’s kind of there as well. But it’s really about what happens next, with the two having built lives separate from each other, even as the memory of their perfect moment hangs over them. These are characters are constantly conflicted, driven by an ache for the other, but held back by the reality of who they’ve already become. It’s dramatically dynamic, the film deconstructing the appeal of that initial magical chance meeting, turning into something more than just romantic fodder.

The structure works against the film at times, and the characters can be a little grating at points, but the film always hits it when it counts. The writing grows the characters, making them distinct people at different points in time. The performances help a lot with this as well. Carlo Aquino has long been due to be made a leading man, and he doesn’t waste his opportunity here. And Bela Padilla brings compelling realness to her character. She is the one playing up the conflict most of the time, with the clash between romance and reality constantly playing out on her face. And it works pretty well.

Meet Me in St. Gallen mainly feels like a story about growing up, about letting reality intrude into the romantic fantasies we’ve built for ourselves. It tells a story that acknowledges the mistakes that the characters make, and it lets them deal with the consequences in terribly compelling ways, all while still recognizing the odd beauty of their imperfection. The film doesn’t always work: there are bits that feel a little extraneous, and the characters’ navel-gazing can feel excessive at times. But overall, this is a thoroughly mature romantic film that seems to have special insight to what romance is in the real world. It’s a bit of magic that doesn’t have to last to be beautiful.

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

Tension is Missing in ‘Fifty Shades Freed’

The real kink is being rich enough to paper over the problems of your toxic relationship

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Fifty Shades Freed begins with the wedding of Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The two have a pretty blissful honeymoon, but it’s interrupted when Ana’s former-boss-turned-stalker Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) shows up and breaks into one of Christian’s buildings and steals a bunch of personal data. Ana and Christian try to get on with their married life, but they’re forced to be constantly looking over their shoulders, on guard for the people that seem to want to do them harm. And when something unexpected occurs in their relationship, it only adds to the stress of their situation.

This final chapter still pretty much follows the same pattern as the previous two stories. Though the series is ostensibly about kinky sex, the stories are mostly about ostentatious displays of wealth used as a means of atonement for bad behavior. The film mostly carries on in this way, with Ana and Christian having arguments over various things, mostly having to do with Christian’s general possessiveness. But then, Grey shows that he cares by buying Ana a house or flying out her friends on a all-expenses paid vacation in a very fancy mountain resort. The sex is almost incidental to the whole thing.

Adding some intrigue is the whole matter with Ana’s former boss, Jack Hyde. At least in theory. In practice, Hyde isn’t formidable enough a villain to create any suspense for the narrative, especially since the couple is so affluent. Surrounded by security, and having enough to pull to communicate directly with the authorities, Hyde’s tepid machinations hardly cause a ripple in the overall picture. The film also gets into an unlikely connection between Hyde and Grey, but it isn’t very interesting. It just adds another layer of improbable narrative developments in a series that is already plagued with them.

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And so this film totters along, with little in the plot actually moving things forward. But then late in the game an actual development takes place that brings up some potentially interesting questions for this young couple. Unfortunately, a lot of that is waved away, and like in the second chapter, the work of the emotional development required to have these characters have a change of heart is bypassed through the deployment of a preposterous crisis. And this crisis involves the villain of the film continuing to be a pretty bad villain. So, it isn’t anything worth sitting up for.

Dakota Johnson continues to be the best thing about these movies, even though the character she’s playing is about as deep as a wading pool. But when the film gets in close, when it focuses on her face, she is able to convey a level of desire the rest of the film isn’t able to mount. Jamie Dornan is still about as interesting as a granite countertop. To be fair, the character is really just terrible, but Dornan doesn’t appear to care enough to at least make an effort to create a fuller picture of Christian Grey.

Fifty Shades Freed certainly won’t convince anyone of the value of this series, if you aren’t already a fan. This final chapter just leans into what the series has always done: play the fantasy of being rich enough to paper over all the problems of a relationship. Because what’s depicted in the film, even absent the problematic, myopic portrayal of BDSM, is pretty toxic. The real kink here is being able to leave everything behind and fly off to an exotic destination in order to forget for a moment that things are bad between these partners. And far be it for us to kink shame, but that’s just not very interesting to watch.

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

‘Paddington 2’ is Still Wonderful, in Spite of Local Issues

A clunky vocal replacement can’t derail this whimsical, delightful sequel

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Paddington 2 has the titular bear (voiced locally by Xian Lim) trying to find the perfect birthday present for his Aunt Lucy. He finds a rare pop-up book depicting London landmarks, and he takes on a bunch of jobs to earn the money to buy it. Unfortunately, before he makes enough money, the book is stolen, and Paddington is wrongly accused of the deed. He is sent off to prison, where he tries to maintain his sense of civility, while on the outside, the Brown family investigates the theft and tries to clear the name of their beloved adopted bear.

The first Paddington film was a bit of a surprise: an exceedingly clever children’s film that wielded whimsy as it spoke of tolerance and kindness in current times. This sequel doesn’t quite have the relevance that the original did, but it doubles down on the whimsy, in the end creating a delightful, thoroughly good-natured experience that prizes human (and ursine) decency above all. And it combines this approach with dazzling filmmaking craft, putting together some genuinely thrilling sequences in the midst of all the charming, genteel behavior of its characters.

But let’s talk about the elephant in the room, first of all. The local version of this movie replaces the voice of Ben Whishaw with Xian Lim’s. This choice might have worked better if the sound mixing was better. Paddington always sounds like he’s in a different room. But technical issues aside, Lim’s vocal performance doesn’t really feel particularly suited to the character. His vague approximation of a British accent gets distracting, the language basically not sounding right in dialogue with the other characters. It doesn’t ruin the experience as a whole, but it’s an issue that should probably be taken into account in the decision to see this movie.

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But really, the sheer quality of the project as a whole shines through. There are quite a few truly bracing sequences in this movie. Its neatest trick involves a time lapse that takes place during a long tracking shot, the scenery changing dramatically as the camera moves through the space. But it isn’t purely technique that gives the film its appeal. There is a clear sense of artistic vision, an understanding of what kind of story is being told. The film is really good at capturing the depth of kindness that these characters are capable of, and its best, most affecting sequences build something out if little more than a small change in expression.

The film also happens to feature some of the best British talent around. Returning are Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, who even with a little less screen time, are able to get across pretty full character arcs. Brendan Gleeson is wonderful as a prison tough who becomes one of Paddington’s staunchest allies. But this movie fully belongs to Hugh Grant, who as the ex-actor Phoenix Buchanan, gets to ham it up in the best ways possible. The film’s funniest scenes invariably involve Grant alone in a room, just talking to himself. It is a broad performance, certainly, but it feels studied and clever in ways that just lend it an extra bit of panache.

Paddington 2 is still pretty great, in spite of the voice issue. Honestly, it isn’t enough of a detriment to negate all the good that the movie delivers, even if it does get distracting at times. But the appeal of its filmmaking still comes through, and the heart of it remains the same. It’s a very simple film in the end. It’s really just about the power of people being nice to each other. In this day and age, in a time when everything can seem so terrible, this movie feels particularly welcome. We can all use a little more kindness in our lives.

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.