Tag Archives: Philbert Dy

tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Never Not Love You’ Smartly Examines Romance in Pragmatic Terms

There’s a lot to like in the new James Reid-Nadine Lustre film

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Never Not Love You tells the story of a romance between two very different young people. Joanne (Nadine Lustre) is a probinsyana trying to make good in the big city, with modest dreams of becoming a brand manager in two years and providing for her family back in Zambales. Gio (James Reid) is a graphic designer and artist living off the support of his father, only occasionally doing work when it suits him. The story kicks off with their very first meeting at a tattoo shop, and follows them through the ups and downs of their relationship.

It’s mostly ups, really. At least for the first half. Early on, the movie is able to convey just how special this relationship is, in spite of its newness, in spite of its youngness. There isn’t some elaborate meet-cute that brings these two together, no amazing set of circumstances that forces them to spend time with each other. The two meet, and there’s immediately something there. They date. They open up to each other. They fall in love. What the film does better than most local romantic films is capture that first heady rush of romance, those lovely first few months when just being around someone makes your heart beat faster.

Of course, the movie is about really testing that love, pushing this young couple into a less-than-ideal situation that causes fights and hurt feelings. The story takes them to London, where an amazing job opportunity gives Gio a chance to grow. The career-driven Joanne, on the other hand, finds herself stalling. It’s a conflict we’ve certainly seen before in local movies, but Never Not Love You finds new, painful angles, its investment in its characters paying off in emotional dividends as they struggle with the idea of finding their own individual happiness.

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There’s a lot to like in all that. The film smartly examines modern romance in oddly pragmatic terms, almost every decision made with the weight of practical, personal considerations in mind. Almost. The movie loses something in its last narrative stretch as it reaches for a resolution it doesn’t quite earn. The film actually comes close to pulling it off, with a heavy silence providing space for something more substantial than your standard contrived happy ending. But it still feels weirdly rushed, with the characters not allowed the same thoughtfulness provided in the earlier conflicts.

But overall, the movie still works pretty well. There is just something to the film’s smallness, its willingness to just linger in small, meaningful moments. And it feels like the film’s two stars have really grown in these roles. James Reid really leans into the entitlement of his character, playing it as an uncompromising anger bubbling underneath his placid exterior. But it’s Nadine Lustre who really shines in this movie, the character’s history on display in practically every scene that she’s in, her every choice put into the context of the accumulation of Joanne’s experiences. She just makes everything feel meaningful. And together, the two display a familiarity and chemistry that might just be unmatched.

Never Not Love You is really lovely all in all. It’s still tough to buy into the film’s last narrative stretch, the movie tumbling into a conclusion that feels a little easier than it really ought to be. So much of this film is about making tough choices, and it kind of feels like this production just kind of ran out of ideas for its last little bit. Having said that, there are still more ups than downs, many more highs than lows. It’s one of those romances that seems to recognize just how profound it is that people find each other, that they fall in love, and that they have to make compromises to make things work. In the smallest of moments, this film often finds grace.

NEVER NOT LOVE YOU IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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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

Fantasy and Tragedy Dance in ‘I Kill Giants’

An astounding central performance anchors a somewhat uneven adaptation

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I Kill Giants is about middle schooler Barbara (Madison Wolfe), who we first meet smearing a strange goo on some shrubs in the forest. We soon learn that she’s setting bait for traps, and what she’s hunting are giants. In Barbara’s world, giants are real, and they’re the cause of everything terrible in the world. So she prepares herself to battle the giants threatening to destroy her coastal Long Island town. She makes a new friend, Sophia (Sydney Wade), and catches the attention of school psychologist Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana). The two of them get caught up in Barbara’s quest, and they try to learn the truth behind the fantasy.

The movie is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura. The screenplay was written by Kelly himself, and the film version is pretty faithful to the original. But some things have morphed in translation, the differences of the medium creating new demands for the narrative. And this is where things get tricky. The movie is full of lovely moments, and manages to create a very unique character along the way. But some of the bite of the story is taken out by the attempts to fit it into a feature film structure.

The most remarkable thing about the movie is the main character. There aren’t a lot of female characters like Barbara in cinema in general: a genuine outsider prone to genuinely weird behavior that hasn’t been generally in the realm of female characters in movies. And she’s a hero. She displays a level of courage and self-assuredness that feels unusual in a movie about a teenager, even if part of that seems to draw from a larger delusion. But it is striking anyway, and it is just part of a film that seems to just take extra steps in building up its female characters.

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It should probably be noted that there are hardly any speaking male roles at all in this movie, and that alone makes the movie feel really different in approach. And unlike many films that play around in this age group, none of the characters are really thinking about guys at all. And this feels somewhat profound, though it doesn’t quite solve some of the film’s weaknesses. The movie is never really able to make the fantasy side of this story feel like a complete world. And the way it withholds certain revelations makes them end up feeling cornier than they should.

Having said that, there are more pluses than minuses. The film gets downright Spielbergian in some of its sequences, and it hits its most emotional beats pretty hard. And the real key to this whole film is the central performance. Madison Wolfe is astounding as Barbara. The character feels fully drawn, Wolfe making choices in her body language that convey even more than the words already do. She makes the social anxiety of the character deeply felt, a small change in posture and expression speaking volumes whenever there’s another person within her proximity.

I Kill Giants has some real high points, but one can certainly feel the struggle of adaptation here. What’s little that’s added just stretches out the story, and what’s little that’s changed seems to have been designed to soften the edges of this deeply sad and strange story. Overall, though, it’s still a really worthy piece of cinema. There are certainly other movies like it—A Monster Calls and Where the Wild Things Are come to mind—but working within this familiar framework, the movie still manages to find something unique and necessary in its presentation.

I KILL GIANTS IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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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 Meticulosly Crafted ‘Wonderstruck’ Brings Plenty of Warmth

Arthouse favorite Todd Haynes directs a really unusual children’s movie

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Wonderstruck splits its attention between the stories of two children. In 1927, the young Rose (Millicent Simmonds) runs away from her Hoboken home, hoping to find her mother, a famous silent film actress. In 1977, Ben (Oakes Fegley) runs away from his home in Minnesota after an accident, following a lead on the identity of his father. Both of them end up in New York City, which proves to be both wondrous and dangerous. Their separate journeys converge in unexpected ways, their fates connected as they wander through the same city streets and end up in the same museums, discovering worlds far larger than they have ever known.

Wonderstruck is an adaptation of an illustrated children’s book by Brian Selznick, best known for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which became the Martin Scorsese movie Hugo. In the director’s chair this time, though, is Todd Haynes, an auteur whose oeuvre would never have indicated that he would ever make a film intended for children. And it is this odd mix that the movie represents. The film displays many of the same qualities that Haynes is known for: a certain sense of loving nostalgia harnesses to tell a story that is essentially about loneliness. But it’s now tempered with an unmistakable sweetness that makes for a compelling brew of a film.

The elements of the story allow for some interesting experiments in form. The parallel stories has the film cutting often between the two children, their separate narratives at times presented as a seamless sequence. And the circumstances that the characters find themselves in provide a platform for some sumptious visual storytelling. A lot of the film plays out without dialogue, mimicking the aesthetics of silent cinema. It’s a challenge that the movie more than conquers; the cinematography, the music, and the direction just all coming together to perfectly craft one sequence after another.

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The story itself is strange for a children’s film. It unfolds slowly, with long sequences that don’t seem designed to really push things forward. It withholds satisfaction, and lingers in sequences where nothing important is really happening. There are a couple of chase-like sequences, but there’s hardly ever a sense of danger. The movie instead delivers a sense of warmth, its strongest moments built on a foundation of kindness and wonder. There isn’t so much a plot, as there are just a series of encounters establishing the ways in which a big city like New York can be strange, terrifying, sad, lonely, and at times, wondrous.

Haynes reunites with some of his collaborators from his last film Carol, and it’s a good fit for what the film has to offer. Carter Burwell’s score is integral to the way the movie presents its story, and it’s thoroughly wonderful. Edward Lachman’s cinematography captures two very different spirits of New York. The two children at the center of this story, Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds, do a fine job in their respective sequences. In the supporting cast, Julianne Moore graces another movie with her tremendous presence.

Wonderstruck is an odd film, to be certain, but it’s odd in really interesting ways. One just wonders if it’s the kind of thing that actual kids will be into. It might feel a little slow, or a little too obsessed with aesthetics that they weren’t around to experience. But then again, people have been complaining for decades that a lot of entertainment aimed at children is dumb. Wonderstruck is certainly not that. It’s a meticulously constructed film that exudes warmth in every frame. That’s something worth seeking out.

WONDERSTRUCK IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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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

‘Unsane’ is a Woke Grindhouse Movie

Schlock is elevated in the latest Soderbergh experiment

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Unsane tells the story of Sawyer (Claire Foy), who has just moved to a new city following an ugly incident in Boston involving a stalker. Still struggling with the fear that she developed, she goes to a mental treatment facility with the intention of just talking to a therapist. She is instead admitted into the facility, the doctors claiming that she might be a danger to herself and others. She protests, but it soon becomes clear that her protests are simply being treated as more evidence of a disorder. And then she learns that the man that she’s been trying to escape from is actually working in the hospital.

The tension at first seems to be about whether or not all of this is just in Sawyer’s head. But the film doesn’t really make that much of an effort to pretend that there isn’t something sinister going on. It instead plies something far weirder and more interesting: it starts exploring the ways in which broken systems and institutions create genuine reasons to be paranoid. By the end of it, it feels plausible that society at large is insane, resulting in a culture of fear and injustice that places the onus of safety on victims of abuse.

The plot does strain credulity at points, especially as the movie ramps up the danger for the characters. It can feel strange, for example, that Sawyer continues to act against her own self-interest. But this seems to be baked into the design of the movie, which is really concerned with how powerless victims can be, and how little society at large seems to care about their plight. It might seem at first that everyone is a little too quick to dismiss the fears of the main character, but the movie then takes great pains to show the bigger context. There is a dynamic at play that transcends the practical details of the thriller plot.

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And it all serves the greater purpose of achieving the strange, lurid thrills of grindhouse cinema. And that’s what this is ultimately, though with a much greater awareness of real issues. It allows itself a measure of excess in service of delivering a narrative that uses somewhat trashy elements to explore the issue at hand. This approach ties into the method of shooting. It should be mentioned that the entire film was shot on a smartphone, and this lends it an eerie, low-budget feel that fits terrifically with grindhouse aesthetic.

There’s a certain digital grain to the footage, and an almost unnatural sense of focus. This movie is remarkable simply for what it does within the limits of the equipment, Soderbergh bringing his usual directorial verve to the shooting. More than usual, the camera feels like an intruder in this movie, spying in from odd angles, making the characters feel extra vulnerable. Claire Foy is terrific in the lead role. There is a very clear grasp of who this character is, so every line of dialogue is imbued with gravity and history. The character is always playing angles, and the intention behind every word is clear. This is her movie through and through.

Unsane is a really intriguing piece of cinema. Its method of shooting alone piques curiosity, and the way Soderbergh leans into the flaws of the image creates something uniquely compelling. The movie ends up harnessing its schlocky genre trappings to discuss very real ills in society, albeit in a context that can feel ludicruous at points. It’s a daring piece of work from a filmmaker with enough gumption and freedom to still experiment. And while it doesn’t all work, the exploration in itself can feel thrilling.

UNSANE IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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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

‘Game Night’ is a Solid Comedy with Surprising Visual Touches

An absurd premise is taken to greater heights with the help of strong direction and a talented cast

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Game Night follows married couple Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams), who host a regular game night at their house for their friends. This routine is broken up when Max’s affluent brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) sets up a more elaborate game for everyone: a mystery night where one of them is kidnap and the others are meant to follow clues to find the missing person. But then two assailants break into the house and kidnap Brooks for real. Max, Annie and their friends initially assume that it’s all just part of the game, but soon enough it becomes clear that there’s something else going on.

It’s an absurd premise, but the film embraces it wholeheartedly. It just keeps ramping up the absurdity until it becomes almost reasonable within the context of the story that these mild-mannered if overly competitive characters find themselves in the situations that they’re in. The film gives up the confusion pretty quickly, and instead has the characters just charging their way into the criminal underworld, completely ill-equipped yet somehow squeezing through anyway, thanks largely to the machinations of a universe that has a sick sense of humor.

The movie actually begins with the first meeting of Max and Annie at a pub trivia night, before rushing through their relationship into their eventual marriage. In this mad rush, the movie establishes a certain tone that makes it clear that everything is just fun and games. It then moves quickly through the emotional stakes: Max and Annie want to have a kid, and Max has also had a chip on his shoulder about his more successful brother. Once it gets that out of the way, it just keeps pushing forward through one comedic scene after another, delivering laughs on a fairly consistent basis.

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It would have probably been enough to mine comedy out of these hapless fools bumbling their way through dangerous situations. But the movie builds its comedic foundation on the relationship dynamics of these characters. Max and Annie are funny because they’re both insanely competitive. Their friends Kevin and Michelle are given an issue in the first act that plays out pretty hilariously. And the other pair in this ensemble, Ryan and Sarah, are playing out a classic opposites attract scenario, with the smart, withering Brit alternately charmed and annoyed by her dense partner.

But what really sets this movie apart from most mainstream comedies nowadays is that it really makes an effort in putting together its visuals. It uses tilt-shift shots for that odd effect of making real footage look like that of a game. The action sequences are surprisingly dynamic. There’s a high-stakes game of keepaway in the middle of the move that plays out as a single shot. There are no weaknesses in the cast, either. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are a real team here, and they provide a solid center for a film that just spirals out into pure wackiness.

Game Night has a pretty silly premise, and the movie knows it. The plot won’t stand up to a whole lot of scrutiny, its twisty construction creating holes that entire characters could walk through. But it’s easy enough to forgive all that, since the movie delivers on the laughs. And more than that, the film actually delivers on a technical level. This is just one of those movies that’s trying to do more than what’s expected. And this kind of surprise is always welcome.

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

‘ A Wrinkle in Time’ Gets Better as it Gets Smaller

Blockbuster spectacle proves to be an awkward fit for this adaptation

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A Wrinkle in Time adapts Madeleine L’Engle’s classic 1962 novel. It follows Meg Murry (Storm Reid), a middle school student whose father (Chris Pine) has been missing for four years. He vanished a short time after the adoption of Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), who has since grown up to display a level of genius that belies his age. Meanwhile, Meg has grown up to be sullen and self-loathing. Then the magical Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) shows up at their house one day, pledging her aid in traveling the universe to find their father.

It feels like there are two movies being created in this movie. There is a big-budget blockbuster spectacle, a VFX-driven adventure that follows three kids through magical lands taking on an evil force. As far as that goes, the movie is kind of a bust. While there are a lot of interesting visuals along the way, this isn’t really a story suited to that kind of treatment. The novel, while nominally an adventure, was really built on symbols rather than the kind of action that does well on screen.

Where the movie gets more successful is in the smaller bits. This is other movie that has been created: a moody little family drama that zeroes in on something that’s still unusual in cinema. There are plenty of stories with outsider teenage characters, but they tend to be self-possessed to an extent. What’s kind of strange and daring about A Wrinkle in Time is it has a main character who openly states that she doesn’t like herself very much. And this gives the film its strongest emotional beats. When the movie gets small, when it really gets down to the struggle of its main character, it occasionally pulls up something profound.

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This doesn’t forgive the other half of the film, which just generally doesn’t work. It never feels comfortable as a spectacle, the plot generally too quirky to provide the kind of amazing moments one desires of a movie of this scale. But there really is something to be said about the personal journey that Meg ends up taking. The movie works a little too hard to telegraph her arc, but it still manages hit these potent emotional moments that speak of a struggle for identity and deliver a big hearted call for empathy.

The visual effects are fine, but never really deliver anything particularly exciting. DuVernay’s direction just favors smaller moments, a preference for extreme close-ups serving conversations well, wringing every bit of drama out of the slightest bit of self-examination. Storm Reid delivers on this end as well, the young actress more than able to convey her character’s struggle. The acting is generally fine all around, even though the dialogue can get really clumsy along the way.

A Wrinkle of Time feels pretty clumsy overall. The more it tries to delivers a big VFX-driven adventure, the more it feels off-base. But when it does find its center, when it concentrates on the internal struggle of its main character, it conjures up some genuine magic. It doesn’t fix the overall picture, the film leaning toward the wrong side of this dramatic spectrum. But it cannot be dismissed, either. There’s something beautiful in the middle of this film that cuts through the excess. It just feels like it’s in the wrong package.

A WRINKLE IN TIME IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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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

‘My Perfect You’ is Extremely Weird

Romcom aesthetics cannot properly address this story’s more serious narrative elements

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My Perfect You concerns Burn (Gerald Anderson), a graphic designer with rage issues whose life falls apart after his girlfriend turns down his marriage proposal. One day, he snaps and just starts driving in a rage. He ends up crashing his car in the wilderness, and he stumbles on to an isolated resort in the middle of nowhere. The resort is run by the eccentric Abi (Pia Wurtzbach), who is desperate for customers after two years of having no guests. With no means of getting back home or getting in touch with anyone, Burn stays at Abi’s resort, and he finds new purpose in trying to help bring the place back to life.

There is more going on, but it wouldn’t be right to just give it away. It should just be said that the movie attempts to tackle a much more serious subject than the synopsis might indicate. And this becomes a real problem. Up to a certain point, the movie is mostly a flighty little romance, the plot driven by wacky characters doing fairly wacky things. And then the story takes a more serious turn, and the wacky romcom aesthetic ends up feeling strange and inappropriate.

It’s difficult to talk about without really getting into specifics. Suffice it to say that the major mid-movie revelation changes the context of the primary romance. And it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. To be completely fair to the film, the context of the big reveal adds a layer of nuance to Abi as Burn’s manic pixie dream girl. It creates a particular dimension that sort of justifies the way in which she seems to exist solely as a means to help Burn get over his issues. Having said that, any attempt to parse what goes on makes the narrative fall apart.

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A lot of it has to do with choices in the depiction of particular maladies plaguing the characters. The film touches on a sensitive subject, and there just isn’t a whole of sensitivity being plied in the portrayal. The film wields its central conceit like a blunt instrument, and has to spend a good amount of time having characters explain things that don’t feel real. This all dovetails into one of the strangest sequences to ever be put together in one of these romantic films, juxtaposing a sweet, dramatic confrontation with the depiction of a rather brutal process that isn’t even really appropriate for what the character is going through.

One could almost see this premise working had the treatment been a little more nuanced. But it still plays like a regular local romcom, which means outsized performances that leave little room for the sensitivity that the subject calls for. Gerald Anderson is all right in the movie, though it does feel like he shortchanges the growth of his character. Pia Wurtzbach is showing improvement from her previous movie appearance. Her greatest asset so far is her willingness to commit to anything that she’s given. But she’s still playing second fiddle in this movie, and it remains to be seen if she can do more.

My Perfect You is extremely weird, and not really in a good way. The strangeness of this movie feels like they’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, the most serious elements just not fitting into the movie’s otherwise bouncy, romantic tone. And really, one has to put to question the way the movie depicts its more serious elements. At best, it just feels uncomfortable. At worst, it feels deeply miscalculated, the movie creating strange juxtapositions that don’t benefit either side.

MY PERFECT YOU IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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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

‘Magbuwag Ta Kay’ Offers a New Perspective

While technically rough around the edges, this Cebuano film has considerable charm

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Magbuwag Ta Kay follows young couple Roy and Kay (Rowell Ucat and Akiko Solon). The story kicks off with Kay announces to her boyfriend that her family is moving her to Toronto in about month. And rather than face the prospect of struggling through a long-distance relationship, the two mutually resolve to break it off. Except they don’t do it right away. With one last month together, they take a stroll down memory lane, spend some time with friends, and run away together for a little while, looking for some way to deal with what’s become inevitable.

It should be mentioned that this film is Cebuano, and apart from some English dialogue, it is almost entirely in Bisaya. This is an interesting development in local cinema, as regional films to date have mostly been exhibited only within the confines of festivals. But it’s easy enough to see why Viva was willing to give this film a national platform. While it is a little rough around the edges, particularly when it comes to technique, it’s a perfectly sweet little film that deserves to earn a larger audience. It’s a youthful romantic movie that puts its heart in the right place.

The movie’s scope is pretty small. There are quirky little flashbacks to how the two met, but it isn’t at all about how they fell in love. The film instead details the comfort of a long-term relationship, Roy and Kay displaying a rapport that feels like it was built over a substantial amount stretch of their lives. It’s clear enough that the two actual have something to lose, despite being really young. They’re genuinely part of each other’s life, and even as they pretend that the breakup won’t hurt, the depth of their potential loss is pretty evident.

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And this becomes key as the movie tries to play around with more intriguing themes. The two are trying very hard to hold on to what little time they have, but there are also other people in their lives. The movie’s most interesting dimension lies in its depiction of how all-consuming this crisis is for these characters, and how it doesn’t just let them get away with it. It doesn’t let their impending breakup be an excuse for mistreating the other people in their lives, the hurt they cause their loved ones popping up in the fringes. It gives these characters a measure of surprising depth, balancing out the occasional bout of overt quirkiness.

The film’s biggest weak point is its technical package. Its attempts at being cinematic feel pretty facile, and they do little to contribute to the overall feeling of the film. The sound design could use some work as well. Rowell Ucat and Akiko Solon are pretty watchable together. Ucat doesn’t always look comfortable on screen, but there’s an earnestness to his performance that sells the appeal of his character. Solon is a pretty radiant presence on screen, and she is more than able to handle the film’s bigger dramatic turns.

Magbuwag Ta Kay is probably worth recommending just for the fact that it doesn’t come from Manila. Regional cinema is the most exciting aspect of our local film scene, and any effort to move it out of the fringes of the national conversations is welcome. But it’s also worth recommending just for how sweet it is, and how it delivers what feels like a new perspective on the romantic comedy. The production values could be better, but that will come with time, especially if the industry becomes willing to invest in these talents.

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

‘Ang Pambansang Third Wheel’ Forgets the Basics

While the movie does some interesting things, it falters in just telling the story of its romance

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Ang Pambansang Third Wheel tells the story of Trina (Yassi Pressman), who thanks to a string of bad relationships, as resigned herself to being the third wheel to her coupled-up friends. But then she meets Neo (Sam Milby), who becomes her creative partner at the ad agency they both work at. Trina opens up to him, and she lets herself consider falling in love. And that’s when she meets Neo’s young son Murphy (Alonzo Muhlach). Trina struggles with the complications of having to deal with all the added baggage that Neo brings with him into her life. And she’s soon forced to make tough choices for both her and her new beau.

The movie gets through a lot in its first act. It conveys Trina’s painful romantic past, her relationships with her friends and her dad, the introduction of Neo and their subsequent courtship, which dovetails with the story of her first trial in her new role as an advertising copy writer. The sheer density of this setup makes the the central relationship a little shaky. The movie doesn’t invest enough time to build the depth necessary to justify a lot of what goes on in the meat of the narrative. It at times feels like the characters are talking about a love that we don’t really get to see.

There is a real disparity between the seriousness of the relationship and the seriousness of the obstacles that the characters have to face. The film is never really able to sell this pairing as valuable enough to put up with that level of struggle. What’s worse is that the film cheats through its resolution, denying the characters the chance to work through the obstacles, and instead just conveniently removes them from the picture. The film plays at the same highs as every other romantic comedy, but hardly does the work to earn any of it.

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The aesthetic of this film could be described as “Ally McBeal.” It functions on about the same level of quirk as that show, and it’s prone to the same kind of surreal fantasy sequences that speak of the main character’s mental state at any given moment. While it doesn’t feel entirely original, it does feel somewhat fresh for the genre locally. And it allows the film to make some interesting choices, Trina allowed a measure of frankness that is unusual for films of this ilk. But this does become excessive after a point, the ongoing narration of the character tending to overexplain simple concepts.

The pairing of Yassi Pressman and Sam Milby doesn’t feel entirely right. It could just be the difference in age, but their attraction in the film feels like a put-on. They’re just bringing completely different energies to their characters, and it never really clicks. It’s pretty clear, though, that there’s still a lot of upside to Pressman. The commitment that she brings to this role goes a pretty long way, even if the character doesn’t seem very different from others that she’s played. It might be interesting to see the actress being taken out of this comfort zone.

To its credit, Ang Pambansa Third Wheel does do some interesting things. It has at least one really bracing moment, where the character’s ability to step into fantasy is broken down, and she is confronted with a reality that she isn’t prepared to deal with. But while the film displays cleverness, it fails to make its more basic elements work out. The central relationship never quite feels like it’s worth fighting for, and in the end, it feels like the film comes to the same conclusion. Rather than having these characters go through their obstacles, it magically removes what was keeping them apart.

 

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

‘Tomb Raider’ Keeps the Focus on the Action

This reboot has a plot that doesn’t make much sense, but it makes up for it through sheer velocity.

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Tomb Raider casts Alicia Vikander in the role of video game icon Lara Croft. The movie follows the character seven years after the disappearance of her father Richard (Dominic West). She has been refusing to legally acknowledge his death, and has thus been deprived of an inheritance. But she ends up receiving one last message from her father, which leads her on a journey to an uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific, which might have been his final destination. And there she discovers the truth about her father’s disappearance, as well the existence of a mysterious organization that seeks to use relics as weapons.

One thing is very clear right from the start: very little in this movie makes sense. The only thing consistent about these characters is that they’re prone to making irrational choices. But it’s clear that the film knows it, too, and it seems to acknowledge that nobody is going into the theater looking for an intricate narrative. So it just keeps pushing out the exposition as fast as it can, leaving more time for the kind of real fun the film can deliver: scenes of its heroine running through jungles, falling into all manner of ridiculous peril, and somehow powering her way out of it.

That’s really all there is to this movie. More often than not, Lara Croft finds her hanging over some impossibly high structure that’s falling apart, and she has to pull herself up. This hanging portion is almost always the climax of some other bit of action: chasing after some thugs, running away from thugs, or narrowly avoiding death by trap. Whatever the case may be, Lara Croft will perform an intensely strenuous pull-up and narrowly save herself from falling into some bottomless pit. And often, it’s just a brief moment of respite before having the rug pulled out from under her and having to rescue herself again.

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So while the film is full of characters that make irrational decisions, and sequences that don’t have a coherent timeline, it’s all in service of delivering the kind of visceral thrills available in the video game, particularly the 2013 reboot that this whole thing is somewhat based on. Like the best bits of the game, it at times feels like Lara Croft is being put through a Rube Goldberg machine of peril, with one bit of danger just leading straight into the next. And this is pretty fun.

Alicia Vikander is also a real strength of the film. It’s clear that she put herself some intense physical training for this film, and it really pays off. She is absolutely convincing in these action sequences, whether she’s grappling with a thug, or trying to pull herself up on to a rusted out airplane wing. And there are even a couple of dramatic moments that Vikander pulls off with aplomb. The supporting roles aren’t written deeply enough for anyone to do anything particularly interesting, but given that, Walton Goggins and Dominic West pull off these archetypes pretty perfectly.

Tomb Raider is a film that keeps it pretty simple. It knows that it can’t get tangled up in an intricate plot, so it just delivers its exposition as quickly as possible, almost shrugging it off as just something it needs to get through. And then it just goes, sending its hero hurtling through a jungle, making it clear that she’s capable but still vulnerable, a fish out of water slowly getting used to her new reality. And she takes on all these challenges, and through sheer strength and determination, she comes out on the other side. The movie could be a lot smarter, but there is value to its velocity.

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

‘Lady Bird’ is an Alluring Memory of a Teenager’s Coming-of-Age

Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut speaks with specificity

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Lady Bird takes place in 2002. Seventeen-year-old Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) dreams of leaving Sacramento for an East-coast liberal arts college. Her family is struggling financially, especially when compared to the families of her classmates at the private Catholic school that she attends. The film follows Lady Bird in her last year of high school, where she joins the theater club, tries to fit in with the cool rich kids, gets into her first relationships, and reckons with her difficult, complicated relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf).

Lady Bird feels like a memory, a recollection of a time and a place and a certain rebellious attitude so vivid that it doesn’t require any real spectacle to feel exciting. Instead, it mines potent humor and drama from the teenage episodes that feel so small in retrospect: the pressures of fitting in, the first boyfriend, the first sexual encounter, the yearning to get away from the environment that raised you. It is a film that becomes extraordinary in the details, in the earnestness in which it portrays these relatively minor up and downs, and gives them perspective by putting them in the context of a world of adults full of genuine tumult.

The movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It is staunchly within the genre of the coming-of-age film, hitting plenty of familiar beats on its journey toward a teenage character that leaves some of the foolishness of youth behind, and gaining a better appreciation of what she already has. It’s a story that’s been told before, but not exactly in the way that Lady Bird tells it. It is uncommonly earnest, functioning on a level of verisimilitude that can actually get a little uncomfortable. It is almost easier to accept the dramatic confrontations of lesser films, because they are entertaining fictions. It is a little harder to sit through the passive aggression that fuels many of the interactions in this movie, because it cuts so close to home.

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It is an appealing discomfort, one that indicates an openness that can be so rare in cinema. This film feels deeply personal, and gains something more genuine in its lack of overt sentimentality. This is a movie where small acts are all the more meaningful. Lady Bird and her mother might argue with each other all the time, but their true feelings shine through in the most mundane of moments: their shared excitement over the perfect dress, or their mutual enjoyment of the fantasy of living in places they could never afford. And this is just one aspect of this story. There is much more to this film than the relationship with her mother, the film containing a richness of setting that speaks to so much of the teenage experience.

As writer and director, Greta Gerwig displays a real aptitude for shooting dialogue, and a keen attention to detail that really brings the world of her characters to life. She also surrounds herself with some of the best actors around. Saoirse Ronan is wonderful as the lead character, the young actress achieving a tricky balance between visible bravado and deep, internal insecurity. Laurie Metcalf delivers one of the best performances of the year as Lady Bird’s mother, the actress so specific in her tone that it’s almost scary. And one ought to mention Beanie Feldstein, who plays Lady Bird’s best friend Julie. In a film crowded with amazing veteran actors, Feldstein feels like the discovery, a ray of light in a film already bathed in a warm glow.

I must admit, on a personal note, that Lady Bird speaks to me in very specific ways. I am the same age as Greta Gerwig, and though I was not a teenage girl growing up in Sacramento, there is so much in this milieu that created a twinge of recognition of a shared generational experience. And I am generally suspicious of the appeal of nostalgia, of the ways that art can lure one in simply through the recreation of a memory. But there is much more to Lady Bird than empty nostalgia. It is much more sincere than that, much more specific in the things that it wants to say about a teenager’s relationship to the world. It actively avoids the sentimentality of nostalgia, and gets to something more tangibly genuine.

LADY BIRD IS NOW SHOWING EXCLUSIVELY AT GREENBELT AND TRINOMA CINEMAS.
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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

‘Red Sparrow’ Fails to Sense its Own Silliness

Jennifer Lawrence plays a Russian spy in a ridiculous thriller

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Red Sparrow follows Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence, speaking English with a faux-Russian accent), a ballerina at the Bolshoi with an uncle that works in Russia’s intelligence services. She suffers a career-ending injury, and faces the prospect of losing the modest apartment that she and her mother live in. That’s when her uncle makes her an offer, which eventually leads to her training as a Sparrow, an intelligence agent specifically trained in the arts of seduction. She’s sent to Budapest to connect with CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), who is key to discovering a mole deep inside the KGB.

This is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, and it’s pretty lurid stuff. At one point, Dominika tells her uncle, “you sent me to whore school,” and it’s a completely accurate assessment. Amazingly, in spite of how central sex is to this story, the movie itself isn’t very sexy. Nor does it really have anything interesting to say about sex and the power games that it might entail. Instead, it’s a movie that becomes mostly about poor spycraft, the plot built almost entirely on supposedly elite agents making bad choices.

The film seems ready-made for high camp, with its Russian-accented artificiality and lurid sex-as-a-weapon premise. But the movie seems to mainly treat this stuff seriously, even as things get decidedly silly. It’s really strange to say, but very little in this picture could be called “fun.” It’s ploddingly paced, its runtime extending beyond an unreasonable two hours. There’s very little action, its scenes overly focused on concealing a big twist that isn’t really much of a twist at all. The sex in the movie feels listless and perfunctory, as though everyone involved was just uncomfortable with the content.

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It makes for a very strange conceptual dichotomy, as the film’s mostly stoic tone seems to suggest that they are trying to say something real about Russia or women or sexual power. The script takes great pains to avoid referencing current events, but it openly speaks of Russia as an abstract symbol of general oppression. And inasmuch as Russia and its president factor into the conversation about a lot of nefarious things going on today, to have the film play this pulpy material as plainly as it does feels a little squicky.

The role does fit the strengths of Jennifer Lawrence, whose visible intensity and determination are used to pretty great effect. On the other hand, the choice to have her speak English in a Russian accent creates moments of pure goofiness that detract from her performance. A supporting cast made up of some pretty big names suffers from the same problem. Joel Edgerton displays precious little chemistry with Lawrence, and is never able to make his character work. The standout in this film is Mary-Louise Parker, who seems to be the only person in the cast that embraces the goofiness of the material.

Red Sparrow is a film that doesn’t seem to know what it is. The lurid material calls for something more out there than the workmanlike, professional direction of Francis Lawrence. And it might call for a star without the status of someone like Jennifer Lawrence. There’s so much silliness in it that the gravity and talent of the actress actually works against it. But Hollywood doesn’t really make the kind of full-on trashy cinema that would better suit this kind of source material. And so, we get it all dressed up in weirdly serious trappings, making everyone look kind of ridiculous in the process.

RED SPARROW IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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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.