Bamboo Dogs (2018)

Bamboo Dogs is set in the ’90s, said to be based on actual events. Four criminals were arrested and brought to the precinct due to miscommunication between different police departments. They are police “assets” as said repeatedly by one of the cops. And so they had to be brought to the camp and to be released later, as ordered by a certain “chief.” The road trip begins: four guys and four cops inside an old L300. Might probably be best not to know which actual events this was based on — to keep one guessing, or keep one from having expectations. Not that we can’t expect Khavn to do something “twisted,” or make his own version of the “official” report that we got from the news. It does have the elements to be expected in a road movie — a Khavn road movie that is: a freak parade, song numbers, a cat caught and obliterated in the van’s wheel, jokes about sex, women, and jokes about the youngest gang member — because he’s 14 and still a virgin, still uncircumcised — “supot” just like Sylvester Stallone in one of those “bold” movies. Interactions both rowdy and earnest help flesh out these characters. They’re most probably “assets,” but some of them have families too waiting for them at home, just like the two officers tasked to transfer them to the HQ, Esquivel (Dido dela Paz) and Corazon (Sue Prado), who just happened to be the ones “assigned” to do “the task.” Curiously, the two other cops sitting in front of the van were kept in the shade for most of the movie. Their stories, the playful back-and-forth make obvious the link between the two groups — the cops and the crooks — something those who were behind the actual events wanted to bury, liquidate. At 80 minutes, Bamboo Dogs is relatively easier to sit thru than Balangiga. It’s dark, twisted, pointedly critical, and oftentimes funny — with a surreal ‘life flashing before your eyes’ moment near the end, and a Rez Cortez dance number in the credits.

Ang Babaeng Walang Pakiramdam (2021)

Not really into movie love teams. But if this real-life couple, this Kim-Jerald tandem (not that Kim-Gerald, this Kim-Jerald) is considered such, then I am somewhat into this particular pair. There are bits that are laugh out loud funny (you probably saw already in the trailers e.g., Pinoy Henyo, pork & beans, the lugaw/goto scene), and there are annoying unfunny parts. Candy Pangilinan as the tsimosa/kapitbahay kills it as usual, even if she’s playing a type. But that bit about parents not wanting to see their child get bullied/get hurt/feel pain and child wishing to spare the parents from experiencing and sharing the same, is played so straightforward, so “undramatic,” thus making it a genuine MMK moment. It’s dramatic, minus all the drama, if that makes sense. Makes you wonder how a movie so un-PC and “insensitive” could also say something about trauma, bullying, suicide that actually rings true. That despite all the ngongo jokes and gags about Tasha’s inability to feel pain, it also managed to be (somewhat) sincere? And best of all, this movie has a WTF ending — probably my favorite WTF ending of the year.

Violator (2014)

Five men find themselves stranded inside a police station during a typhoon. And with them is a prisoner who may o may not be the devil. Violator seems to be about ‘beliefs’, preconceived notions, about life, death, religion, among other things. About how one’s belief is confronted — usually by horrifying experience (e.g., a dead student with pig’s head in a classroom, witnessing a cop casually murder a captured drug pusher), or how others confront their beliefs by doing horrifying things (e.g., committing suicide, shooting at the statues of the Sto. Niňo). Not a big fan of the “flashing light” effects. Find it more annoying than scary/disorienting/whatever it was intended for. But of the last three esoteric/mind fuck/horror movies I’ve seen, this one I liked the most. Violator (2014), In the Earth (2021), Midnight in the Perfect World (2021) (set in a future where smartphones don’t have LED flashlights?) — in that order, if I have to rank them. In the Earth has the most fully realized psychedelic nightmare, the annoying strobe lights notwithstanding. But Violator has the better story — stories — about ghosts, demonic possessions, religious cults, the inner workings of the police organization. The movie doesn’t seem to have a plot, at least not until the second half, when the puzzle pieces start falling into place. Even then, the pacing doesn’t necessarily pick up. There’s a sense of constant dread, that something isn’t right, but it never quite builds up. The devil may not be in the details, but the devil is the movie’s most interesting creation. And leaves you a hanging question: If you believe in the devil, does it mean you also believe in God?

King of Comedy (1999)

There’s a stitched together quality to Stephen Chow’s and Lee Lik-chi’s King of Comedy as Sin-Tau (Chow) goes through boom and bust cycles (more like bust, bust, boom, bust… really) trying to land an acting job while frequenting a movie set where a production crew is shooting an action film starring Hong Kong superstar Cucko (Karen Mok). That said, King of Comedy is also terribly funny, full of hilarious stuff. The scene where Sin-Tau finally gets to audition for the male lead opposite Cucko, is hands down one of the funniest gag ever. The third act, which seems to come out of nowhere, where Chow goes undercover posing as a lunchbox delivery man to infiltrate a triad, is both tense and swift. Tense like Leonardo di Caprio in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (which, by the way, is a remake of Hong Kong triad movie Infernal Affairs) and swift like Tony Leung in a movie by John Woo, whose over-the-top gunfights, this movie spoofed in one of its movie set sequence where Sin-Tau plays a background character — church shootouts, Mexican stand-offs, doves, heroine with arms outstretched firing two handguns, you name it. Some say this might be Stephen Chow’s most heartfelt film. Probably the most grounded too—no high flying soccer players, no mermaids, no kung fu masters. Just Chow playing a bit player trying to make it big in the movies, and Cecilia Cheung playing hooker with a heart of gold and transcending hooker with a heart of gold types. If you like Chow’s other movies like God of Cookery and Kung Fu Hustle, you’d like this one for sure.

Monrak Transistor (2001)

Monrak Transistor (Transistor Love Story) reminds me of the stories we used to get from TV soaps. The setting, the characters, and mainly, for the amount of “bad luck” that befell the characters. But was it really bad luck? Wasn’t it just the choices they made? Maybe both. Pan gets drafted into the army and has to leave Sadaw, his wife, pregnant with their first child. Sadaw is left with a transistor radio, Pan’s gift to her on their wedding day. Pan writes to her every day and sings “Mai Leum” (“Never Forget”) for her, amidst a military training montage. Until one day he stops. Because he doesn’t know how to tell her that he went AWOL, and joined a pop music group in the city. If only his love for her was bigger than his dream to become a singing star. From there, the movie seamlessly transitions from bucolic rom-com, to a musical melodrama, an action movie, and tragic crime thriller. Like in that Belle & Sebastian song, Pan thought “there was love in everything and everyone.” Unlike the story in the song though, Pan didn’t succeed — not with a winning smile, not with his naivety. After years of mopping floors and toiling in prison, finally, it brings him back to where it started. Back to Sadaw. Except they aren’t the same persons anymore, not the same enamored couple we meet earlier in the movie. When they see each other again near the end, you can’t help but feel the weight of the years they spent apart, the hardships that they went through. It’s a wonderfully bittersweet ending. And like the boy in that Belle & Sebastian song — not trying to make excuses here — oh boy, do I always cry at endings.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021)

This is multitasking at its best. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier tackles racism, US war vets treatment, refugees, extremism, the next black Captain America, The Blip, among other things. Too bad Bucky got the short shrift of it, despite his name in the show’s title. His quest for internal peace and atonement was just kind of there, easily resolved in the end and barely mattered to the bigger story.

Same goes for Sam’s family’s financial trouble, symbolized by an old family boat, which eventually got fixed thru the help of other people — not in the name of solidarity, not because they’re grateful Sam helped save the world from Thanos, but because Sam’s folks were such a really nice couple and these people haven’t forgotten their kindness. Um, okay… That also makes sense but, anyway.

Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo turns out to be the most watchable character in the series, upstaging both Sam and Bucky in their scenes together. Wyatt Russell’s John Walker, the most interesting. TFATWS has some interesting stories to tell, valid points to say (i.e., Falcon’s speech tells more truth than any of the previous Captain America movies). But the show punches way above its weight, bites more than it can chew, tells multiple narrative threads more than the show could fully develop, much less tell and resolve in compelling and entertaining manner. The show clearly wants to do a lot of things, just like the last Captain America movie.

In the end, we learn a few things about Sam, about Bucky, but not much. We probably learned more about Zemo. There’s a pervading drabness to it all. The buddy comedy isn’t really funny, there’s barely any character drama, and the action, just standard MCU fare–mediocre. We’re supposed to expect more from a 6-hour mini-series/movie. Multitasking is OK, if you want to tackle multiple characters/issues on surface level. As the famous saying goes, “Why fuck up a single thing when you can fuck up several things together?”

The Suicide Squad (2021)

James Gunn’s return to the big screen marks the long awaited return of your favorite anti-heroes, A-holes, criminals. The Guardians of the Ga… Oh, wait, it’s from the other universe. They’re called Suicide Squad. No, THE Suicide Squad. And it’s the best comic-book/superhero movie (if you ask me) since Deadpool 2. Assembled from a group of dangerous supervillains, the US government sent The Suicide Squad to Corto Maltese, an island-country in South America, where the new government (“virulently anti-American”) is “suspected” to be in possession of alien technology equivalent to “weapons of mass destruction.” The movie’s full of zip from the get-go. From one character drowning, to one getting shot like Boltie (Super), to the squad unknowingly killing those who were part of the resistance—what fun would this be if there isn’t a series of fuck-ups, right? This has perhaps the best in-movie appearance of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. And John Cena was somehow able to inject some Chris Hemsworth-like ‘complexity’ into his butt-end-of-the-joke version of Captain America. The extended and massive third act may be lacking a little more tension, but it didn’t run out of energy. While it is another one of those final battles with massive destruction and collateral damages, props to Gunn for making it one bizarre colorful mix of blood and viscera. Only Gunn would’ve come up with this brightly colored Lovecraftian kaiju, this side of Godzilla. Bloodsport’s and Ratcatcher II’s father-daughter pairing doesn’t quite reach GotG-levels, but I really like how the movie is about “American supersoldiers in foreign soil,” in a very un-MCU kind of way. The movie addresses the issue in ways the MCU just won’t.

Black Widow (2021)

Black Widow is pretty much like the majority of MCU movies: fairly entertaining, CGI-bloated, middling action scenes, doesn’t pack much emotions, and somewhat forgettable especially for those who aren’t really too invested in its characters. Florence Pugh is great. Scarlett Johansson, well, she seems Continue reading “Black Widow (2021)”

Terminator Genisys (2015)

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Was finally able to see this. What took me so long? Well, one, there’s the generally mixed to negative reviews. And two, life gets in the way. Work, too. Well, I don’t really care about Rotten Tomatoes. So, it’s really just the last two. And probably the endless and countless streams of choices we have Continue reading “Terminator Genisys (2015)”

Crawl (2019)/ Piranha 3D (2010)/ Horns (2013)

Crawl (2019)
In the middle of a Category 5 hurricane, in their old house by the lake, Haley and her father find themselves trapped in the flooded crawl space. And they must fight for their lives against some hungry predators. The tension never lets up in Alexandre Aja’s claustrophobic horror movie. The suspense slowly builds up as the floodwater rises from the crawl space to the attic. The alligator attacks are scary, fucking scary. The building tension and the many close calls will make you hold on to your seat. And there’s one ingenious sequence where an alligator ends up being trapped in bathroom. It helps that Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is a swimmer, and her relationship with her estranged father (Barry Pepper) is hinged on this. He was her coach when she was young, and used to encourage her with this ‘apex predator’ shit, which gets a life-affirming callback, when Kaya declares “Apex predator all day, baby!” later in the final third. I’ll give this a five out of five awesome alligator clips.

Piranha 3D (2010)
When underwater earthquake is caused by a beer bottle being dropped in a lake, thousands of flesh-eating piranhas are unleashed into the water not so far from a town during spring break. Horny spring breakers, pornstars and pornographers, and fucktards who won’t make like a tree when told to stay out of the water—they’re the piranhas’ victims. Promiscuity is the cardinal sin and death-by-piranhas is the punishment. The town’s sheriff (Elisabeth Shue) and her deputies try to get everyone to safety (the operative word being “try”). While her eldest, together with his two young siblings, are trapped in a boat somewhere in the lake. Yes, like Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, this is about a family trying to survive, wading through piranhas, bloodied water, and dead bodies. And there’s probably more blood spilled here than in Saving Private Ryan‘s Omaha Beach D-Day sequence. Not to be mistaken with its reportedly awful sequel Piranha 3DD (2012), this loose remake of the Joe Dante original just have the right amount of boobs, blood, and fun. And it’s not to be missed if you’re fan of gore-filled horror comedies.

Horns (2013)
Ignatius or Ig (Daniel Radcliffe, still looking like that boy wizard only with facial hair) one day discovers horns sprouting out of his temple. Horns that give him some paranormal abilities i.e., he can force people to reveal their deepest desires and darkest secrets. Special powers which should come handy in solving movie’s central mystery: the death of his ex-girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), for which he is the primary suspect. She was murdered the same night that she dumped him. “Are you horny?” Merrin asks Ig at one point. This movie works best when it’s darkly funny, when Ig’s horns makes people horny, do crazy stuff, or brutally honest (his father tells Ig he’s worthless). One time he goes to the doctor to get his horns amputated, he wakes up to the moans of the nurse and the surgeon banging each other on a swivel chair. But this movie’s mainly a whodunit, with psychological, supernatural, and religious elements in the mix. With a bit of Nicholas Sparks-y romance too. It doesn’t quite work as a whole, occasionally funny but tonally inconsistent. Watch this only if you’re curious how horny Hairy Potter is (or how hairy Horny Peter is) in this movie.

Ekis (1999)/ Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles (2012)/ Dos Ekis (2001)

Ekis (1999)
Erik Matti’s second film is about a group of kidnappers, in hiding and waiting for the ransom money. Tagalized Tarantino this quite isn’t, more like Peque Gallaga meets John Woo’s heroic bloodshed, with reams of dialogues from formulaic 90’s pinoy action movies finally put to good use. It’s a variation on the heist-gone-wrong type with a cast that doesn’t need to be color-coded to be memorable. Hot-headed and mutinous Roger (Raymond Bagatsing) is a hoot, especially around the usually reserved Gene (Albert Matinez), who’s seemingly torn between his criminal wrongdoings and the promise of escape to a normal life. A sense of normalcy, is what he gets it seems, every time he goes to Dolor (Sunshine Cruz) to do the “dirty work” — um, y’know, fixing pipe leaks, changing the fridge bulb, cleaning the aquarium. This may not be on par with Matti’s later works (On the Job, Honor Thy Father) but it’s occasionally funny. The look on their faces when they find two dead bodies in the trunk — priceless. For an action movie, this has, well, sex and violence. And there’s one scene clearly inspired by Polanski’s Lunes de fiel. This has the looks of a decent noir-ish thriller i.e., one can almost smell the dark dingy corners of the group’s hideout. And one thing you can count on in most of Matti’s movies, is that the sets are mostly detailed, look real, feel real — even if the plot/story sometimes doesn’t.

Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles (2012)
Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles is a horror story within another. It’s ‘meet the parents’ horror comedy within the bigger aswang story. Good-for-nothing boyfriend/husband and domineering matriarch, tropes maybe older than John en Marsha, are both served and subverted. And this has aswang lore that’s probably never used before in other aswang movies (i.e., an aswang turned himself into a pig and sold to the unsuspecting family). Jokes about giant wooden fork and spoon and Lipps candies are references definitely older than internet jokes about computer mouse and hard-boiled eggs. This is both fun and clumsy in the same way Gwapings: The First Adventure was. The use of pesticide sprayer and Boy Bawang blowgun is quite a hoot but the mostly CGI buntot-pagi disappoints. The movie’s shot entirely in chroma key and it looks okay considering they didn’t have Hollywood budget. Though I wish Erik Matti stuck with actors/make-up/practical effects, instead of purely CGI monsters, the same way Richard Somes did with the similarly-themed Lihim Ng San Joaquin.

Dos Ekis (2001)
Benito (Mark Anthony Fernandez) is a hardware store worker who frequents a nightclub just to see Charisse (Rica Peralejo), one of the club’s buxom dancers. An altercation between Charisse and her pimp Bunny (a pre-Heneral Luna John Arcilla) turns into a riot when Benito gets involved, and the two ends up running away with the club’s money. If the first movie has somewhat memorable characters, Dos Ekis is saddled with seemingly bored passive characters, and imposing but ultimately disposable villains. Instead of the amusing back-and-forths in the first, this has villains making lengthy monologues (John Arcilla’s pimp and Godfather figure played by Celso Ad. Castillo). But again, the set design is something to look at. Bunny’s nightclub is all lights, smoke, and mirrors. And Benito’s bedspace is located behind the silverscreen in an old theater — he can watch movies for free but the images are reversed. This doesn’t offer much in terms of story or characters. But there’s a steamy dance number in a makeshift shower that recalls both Ekis and Burlesk Queen. And there’s an extended sex on a couch while in the background, Ang Utol Kong Hoodlum II plays on the movie screen.

The Night Comes For Us (2018)/ Honor Thy Father (2015)/ The Yellow Sea (2010)

The Night Comes For Us (2018)
Underneath all the carnage, this is actually about something. It’s about Ito (Joe Taslim) trying to save himself — by saving the little girl Reina (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez). It’s about two friends who dreamt of “making it big” by joining the Triad — big brother Ito warning the younger Arian (Iko Uwais) not to make same mistakes he did. “Don’t join the Triad. Been there and it wasn’t all that great. There are chicks, booze, and stuff all around but ain’t got time for that, because all we do is traffic drugs and kill [mostly] innocent people.” Okay, he didn’t really say that. It seems that way anyway. Ito probably couldn’t even enjoy a good lay anymore, or have a guilt-free sleep at night. See, it’s not easy being one of the bad guys, with all this “guilt and conscience” stuff eating you inside. So when Ito saw a glimpse of redemption in Reina, he took a 180 degrees turn (also, literally) — killed his men, took the girl, went into hiding. And what follows is a zombie apocalypse — minus the zombies — a series of action setpieces, meticulously crafted as they are horrifyingly graphic, with all sorts of bad people trying to get their hands on Reina, Ito, and his friends. Most of the fights are pretty bonkers, with blood and violence, dialed to eleven. The two-against-one brawl between Julie, Alma and Elena is definitely one for the books. And for the movie’s final fight, well, I’d probably never look at a box cutter the same way ever again.

Honor Thy Father (2015)
Kaye and Edgar get caught in financial ruin after being involved in an investment scam. The promise of get-rich-quick suddenly becomes a living nightmare, when Kaye’s father turns up dead, the money, all gone. And their friends, co-parishioners at the Church of Yeshua, quickly turns on them, demanding their money back. But they are just small fry compared to some influential people, demanding a much bigger sum from the couple, in exchange for their daughter’s safety, and eventually, their lives. As a devoted member of the church, Kaye pleads for help. “Yeshua will provide,” said the Bishop. But he can’t help them, the money isn’t his, it’s the church’s. This leaves Edgar with only few options. Even so, he still sees to it that he goes with the lesser evil, until he’s cornered with no other option but the worst. Honor Thy Father is not something good to watch when you’re worrying about something or after stressful day at work. The movie makes little difference between scam investments and toxic religious groups. It gets a little too real sometimes, too close to home (i.e., financial troubles, sans the death threats of course). It is that good. An assuredly paced thriller that’s able to sustain its edge-of-your-seat atmosphere for long. A bleak crime drama with a little bit of The Bank Job, minus Princess Margaret’s naked pictures in a vault. It’s thrilling and despairing at the same time. And that ending, man, that ending. Really powerful stuff.

The Yellow Sea (2010)
Taxi driver Gu-nam is in serious debt. And he’s yet to hear from his wife, who left months ago to work in South Korea. Worse, he’s having nightmares of her being with another man. When local gangster Myun Jung-hak offers him a job to be able to settle his debt, he takes his chances. The job, go to South Korea and carry out a hit; his target, a professor named Kim Seung-hyun, later revealed to be gangster. When the hit doesn’t go as planned (turns out there’s more than one party who wanted Kim dead) Gu-nam finds himself running away from the cops, the gangsters, and eventually, from Myun, who travels to Korea to tie up the loose ends. Triple-crossed by Myun, and with no chance to return to Yanji, Gu-nam makes it his goal to find out who actually hired him (Myun was a middleman). The Yellow Sea works best when it’s a tight crime thriller, particularly in the first and second act. When it switches to gangster mode, it gets a little overbearing, especially when they bring out their axes/knives for the nth time. Whether or not it’s saying ‘this is how gun control looks like,’ this movie features, almost exclusively, knives, and the stabbiest of fights. Beneath the nihilistic bloodshed, it doesn’t seem to say much. And if there’s anything Gu-nam learns in the end, it’s probably that some men will go at great lengths, when they learn they’re being cheated on by their wives.

DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)/ Mortal Kombat (2021)/ Mortal Kombat (1995)

DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)
DOA: Dead or Alive is one of those rare movies usually found in the bargain bins that gives you exactly what the cover says — sometimes more, depending on which DVD cover you got. It’s a video game-movie that knows fully well what it is. Story may be as flimsy as the kimono Devon Aoki wears early in the movie but the fight scenes are oftentimes sharp — like the katana that cuts the said kimono in half, in the movie’s opening sequence. Aoki plays ninja/princess, out for her missing brother, and Jaime Pressly is a pro-wrestler who wants to prove she can do better than fake-fights. And Holly Valance, well, she’s got the best introductory part, where she beats up some cops in a hotel room while putting on her panties and bra. There’s fair amount of fanservice in this movie, but it also has some ‘girl power’ vibes. The girls of DOA can definitely kick some serious ass. The fights may not be as great as Corey Yuen’s work in So Close, but competent enough for fans of the genre, and with sexy ninja babes to make up for it. There’s a swordfight in the middle of bamboo trees that’s House of Flying Daggers-worthy. And there’s also a sexy volleyball match on the beach! Some of the fights may be goofy (e.g., the final fight with Julia Robert’s brother), but there’s just enough good stuff to keep it fast, furious, and fun. DOA is a good-bad movie that’s terrible and terribly good at the same time.

Mortal Kombat (2021)
Video game franchise gets some Marvel-like upgrade in this new movie that combines CGI, superhero fights, and characters’ origin stories — most memorable of them, is of one mouthy side character who shoots beams from his eye. Yes, talking about Kano because the heroes were kind of bland. Compared with the first movie, this has better action, better fights. That the VFX and the sets are quite impressive, is pretty much a given, it’s already 2021. Still, I thought Joe Taslim (The Raid, The Night Comes For Us) was somewhat wasted in this one. The frequent cutting during the fight scenes seems to hide most of the hits, which is disappointing given that most of the cast could actually fight. Fans of the 1995 Paul (before he earned his “W.S.”) Anderson movie will find plenty things familiar. For one, it’s the same “chosen ones not quite ready to be heroes yet” all over again. Plus the odd choice of putting one new character at its center, with Deadpool 2 punchline/Shatterstar actor in the role, in a costume that seems to be a cross between Black Panther’s and Aquaman’s. Which gave me second thoughts on whether it would’ve been better if the movie focused more instead, on the game’s two most popular characters, whose origin story of sorts in the opening minutes, packs action, pathos, and blood — the combination of all three, the movie was never able to deliver for the rest of its running time.

Mortal Kombat (1995)
There’s hardly any exciting combat in here, much less mortal danger. Unless, you fear that Sonya Blade will get killed (in the movie, highly unlikely) or get hurt for real (which is likely), because fight Bridgette Wilson obviously can’t. Ditto with Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage, martial artist/Hollywood actor who’s so eager to prove that those fights in his movies weren’t fake, that he’s a legit martial artist. And then figures in yet another silly looking fight that’s incompetently staged — maybe an unintended self-reference, in a movie seemingly not afraid to make fun of itself. Obviously, only three (or four) characters in the movie can actually fight: Liu Kang, Sub-Zero, Scorpion, maybe, Reptile. The movie’s a bit of a dozy in parts. And all you can do is try not to shut your eyes and think pray hard Princess Kitana (model-actress Talisa Soto, lovely) is in every fight. By the way, when the hell did Raiden/Rayden become a white guy? Did all those years of beheading Immortals finally earned Connor MacLeod a seat with the gods? I don’t know, there isn’t really much in here. Well, at least Liu Kang gets to do his bicycle kick (I heard there isn’t a single “sonic boom” in that Street Fighter movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme), and Johhny Cage gets the funniest lines.

Bounty Killer (2013)/ Willy’s Wonderland (2021)/ Jiu Jitsu (2020)

Bounty Killer (2013)
Bounty Killer is a post-apocalyptic action comedy about celebrity assassins who hunt the yellow-tied corporate criminals responsible for the apocalypse. Celebrity assassins, bounty hunters who compete for fame, body count, and um, bounties. While also trying to put an end to the plague of corporate greed. Because it isn’t really capitalism that’s bad — as the movie seems to imply anyway — it’s greed. For a movie based on a graphic novel most likely inspired by Mad Max movies, it looks and sounds like a graphic novel comes to life. This movie looks cool, and our heroine Mary Death (Christian Pitre), is sexy, dangerous, and maybe not just a little bit objectified. Our hero, Drifter (Matthew Marsden), kind of looks like Tom Hardy in that other George Miller movie. The deaths are bloody gory and the action is well-done, sick, cool and fun. The vintage cars looks, um, vintage. And cool. Bounty Killer is high octane, sexy, mindless fun. But it struggles to be funny, as much as it struggles to generate any tension or drama, or even have an interesting plot within its simplistic view of retribution and corporate greed. Bounty Killer is a good-looking B-movie that’s just happy to sit idly within the confines of a B-movie. It’s OK-ish, I guess. If only the jokes and one-liners were memorable and funny.

Willy’s Wonderland (2021)
When his car breaks down, a quiet loner (Nic Cage) agrees to clean an abandoned family fun center in exchange for repairs. He soon finds himself waging war against possessed animatronic mascots while trapped inside Willy’s Wonderland. Willy’s Wonderland is the type of movie that possesses the deadly combination of Nicolas Cage doing Nicolas Cage-y stuff and horny/stupid teenagers diving head on to their deaths. If you can take either or both, plus the old school appeal of animatronics and practical effects, then this action horror movie might be for you. Nic Cage just cleans countertops, toilets, etc., takes a break, drinks soda, plays pinball, and then fights and kills animatronic mascots one at a time. Wash, rinse, repeat. While the stupid teens who went there to save him do nothing but die bloody gory deaths one after another. It’s kind of boring actually. It is a little fun the first few times. Then it just gets repetitive and predictable as it goes. By the way, Cage never speak a word in this movie. Probably one of the cooler thing he’s ever done in his entire career. The not speaking, not the movie.

Jiu Jitsu (2020)
Every six years, an ancient order of jiu-jitsu fighters join forces to battle a vicious race of alien invaders. “Why?” Because said aliens brought jiu-jitsu to Earth. And they want to fight Earth’s best jiu-jitsu fighters. “What!?” Nevermind. Jiu Jitsu has Tony Jaa, Frank Grillo, and some other guys. I’m not really sure how this got made. But one thing I’m sure of, this is not “Mortal Ong-Bak”. Jiu Jitsu is probably the slightest among my recently seen action movies. It’s a martial arts-Predator rip-off that’s probably even worse than the worst Predator movie. This looks like just a series of stunts to me, with corny graphic novel chapter breaks and lazily written dialogues in between. You might be better off watching other videos online than this (e.g., parkour stuff, clips from better movies, etc). This is quite bad. Not even sword-wielding Nicolas Cage could make this worth wasting your time.

Re-watch: Spider-Man 2 (2004) / Far From Home (2019)

Recently re-watched Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man: Far From Home. The former is generally regarded as the best Spider-Man movie, and not only that, one of the best comic book movies, alongside Logan, The Dark Knight, and Watchmen (just kidding). And the latter, I’d say the best among recent Continue reading “Re-watch: Spider-Man 2 (2004) / Far From Home (2019)”

Movies: Shadow in the Clouds, The God of Cookery, Resident Evil

Near the end of the movie, my knuckles hurt while watching Chloe Grace Moretz punch the gremlin’s ugly toothy mouth. Not only that, I had to pick my jaw from the floor by the time the credits roll. Nevermind my heart, wherever it landed after it jumped out of my chest while Moretz was crawling underneath that B-17 bomber like she was Spider-Gwen or Tom Cruise. That is, Shadow in the Clouds (2020) is a well-made, relentless, fun, action horror movie. Sure, the plot surrounding the secret package was kind of stupid, but it’s the fun kind of stupid. Not like Snakes On A Plane “really stupid” stupid, if you know what I mean. And even though it wasn’t a “full-on” creature movie as I’ve expected, I wasn’t disappointed. Even if first half of the movie deals with “boys being boys” and “men saying women can’t do this or that.” Y’know, I’m not really the type who gets offended by movies like this or Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman. In fact, I find the first half of the movie to be very good, very tight. Specially when the gremlin first appeared and she was stuck in the turret and it was claustrophobic as fuck.

I’m not really a fan of cooking shows. Or cooking in general. One time I watched a local cooking show, I thought the judges’ reactions were mostly cringe. After that, I had this general impression that judges in these shows had the cringest things to say. It’s like they were describing sex or something. Or they were competing for the Bad Sex Award. I mean, how do you exactly say delicious in more than five words. Exactly, you can’t. But a movie about cooking and cooking shows? Well, that’s a different story. Especially, if the movie we’re talking about is The God of Cookery (1996). Sure, some might say Stephen Chow’s rise-fall-redemption arc has been overused to death in his movies. But it isn’t really the predictability of the arc that matters, it’s how the said arc is presented, how it is told. And with Chow, it usually involves hilarious gags, over the top action and sometimes, a physically unattractive woman. In Shaolin Soccer, Shao Wei’s Mui had to deal with exaggeratedly huge shoulder pads and acne. In this movie, Karen Mok (So Close) is almost unrecognizable with her false teeth and facial scars. How did they make cooking more exciting? Mixed it with kung fu, some Buddhist wisdom, and well, plenty of heart.

How to watch a two-hour long movie when you kind of doubt it’s worth it? And you don’t want to skip chapters because you might miss some of the plot. Well, here’s what I did (and turns out, there isn’t much to be missed). I watched Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) at x1.60 speed and here’s what I found: Sienna Guillory’s acting as Jill Valentine was so wooden I kept wondering if her character was really CGI. I mean, her character looks like CGI. Just look at her hair. And who the hell goes to battle in a tube? Well, Jill Valentine, obviously. The action scenes were so incoherently cut and edited that I sometimes had to play the movie at slower speed just to make sense of them. Guess what, they still hardly make sense even at x0.5 speed. Anyway, for the later half of the movie, I got distracted by Milla Jovovich’s pants, which got ripped off on one leg from her thigh down to her knee. How did she keep the lower half from falling? With all those jumping and kicking and running? Maybe it’s some kind of mid-aughts fashion statement (just like Jill’s weapons-grade tube). They even put it on the movie posters (link).

Woman by the Window (1998)

I remember sitting in a sordid theater in the north by northwest somewhere in Isabela to be inexact watching a double feature, one featuring Rosanna Roces and one with the hot newcomer Klaudia Koronel, the title of which, I’m not going to reveal here. The first one is a Chito Rono film, a sexy noir that mixes Tsai Ming Lai, Scorpio Nights and Hitchcockian thriller.

The second one is a campy affair that only reminds me how huge people are when they are in the nude and on the big screen. In one scene, Klaudia Koronal went skinny dipping. Everything’s so big—and they’re even bigger on the big screen—she looked like a giant Amazonian—and the water, so pristine that you could see the waves and the swirling vortices glides by her nude figure.

Going back to Babae sa Bintana (Woman by the Window), according to Letterboxd, the synopsis of which goes like this: Abandoned by his wife, Mitch (Richard Gomez) finds respite from his depression by spying on beautiful new neighbor Jack (Rosanna Roces); next thing you know, the pair becomes intimately acquainted. But trouble lies ahead: It seems that Jack’s lover (John Estrada) has ties to Manila’s underworld, and Mitch soon finds himself in grave danger. That’s like 50-plus words, by the way. So, if you want to write longer… you know what to do.

So, Mitch was feeling depressed, kind of. And to drag him out of it, his friends tried to entertain him by having Efren Reyes, Jr. dress in drag and sing and dance for him. It didn’t work. Of course, it wouldn’t. Efren Reyes, Jr. is well-known as a ruthless baddie in action movies, he kills innocent people and if he needs to, he rapes anyone related to the hero (the hero’s sister, his girlfriend, wife, dentist, make-up artist, even the hero’s PA). Even if it isn’t in the script. All for the sake of being in character. If he was in Game of Thrones, I’m sure he’d be the one to kill Sean Bean’s character. And to have him in drag and sing and dance like an idiot, definitely a stroke of genius from director Chito Rono.

As I was saying, it didn’t work; tall dark and handsome Mitch was still depressed. And so they hired a prostitute, played by Janice Jurado, who then proceeded to seduce Mitch and shoved his Richard Gomez face into her mighty Twin Peaks. It still didn’t work. Goma wasn’t turned on, not even a bit. Despite his face being pressed and squeezed between two huge mountains like Bernardo Carpio.

Depressed and disappointed, Goma called for an emergency meeting with the producers, the screenwriters and direk. “Direk, wala na bang mas OK na ka-eksena d’yan? ‘Yung pwedeng pang-FAMAS.” Goma explained that there’s no way he’s going to get turned on by a fearsome thug in drag (Reyes) or an aging sexy star from the 80’s (Jurado). Nor were they going to get him out of depression.

Enter Rossana Roces. Fresh from the box office success of a string of movies she had recently starred in, the titles of which I’m too lazy to Google now (implying I haven’t seen them – not gonna lie, I really haven’t seen them, in the movies or on VCD). To cut the story short, Osang was in, and Goma had his hardest hard-on ever. It was like the Incredible Hulk’s coming out/“I’m always angry” scene from that movie The Avengers (not the 1998 movie with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, the 2012 one from Marvel).

In a not so subtle reference to Rear Window, Mitch (Gomez) spied on Jill—or was it Jack, whatever—and Jill caught him. Thus, they ended up in bed, together, because the screenplay said they should be. And what follows is montage of Jack and Jill’s affair and it was the most realistic relationship ever played on screen: it was all sex, all day, all night, and no talking. Or maybe I’m just remembering it wrong. Sorry, it has been two full decades already.

So they had sex all night long. They did it in bed, between the sheets, without the sheets, on the floor, on the kitchen floor. They did it naked, half naked, with the camera man watching and a handful of prod assistants standing around trying to focus on doing their job while at the same time can’t stop looking at two naked stars doing their best to act in a simulated sex scene that would make us believe they’re really doing it when in fact they’re actually not.

They even did it even when it’s raining and the water was pouring out from the holes on the roof because the carpenters won’t fix it because Chito Rono told them not to. It was raining so hard and they were fucking so hard that there’s even a small palanggana beside them to catch the falling rainwater even though it wasn’t really rainwater—it’s water from the fire truck rented by the producers.

After the sex comes violence. And this is where John Estrada forgets that Goma has been a Palibhasa Lalake mainstay (together with Joey Marquez) long before John was in show business. John probably said sorry to Goma before he gave him the nastiest bits of violence Goma ever tasted in his whole showbiz career but John had no other choice, he had to stay in character.

All these events, eventually, would inspire Goma, later in his life, to become our very own Vincent Van Gogh. He may not have survived by the movie’s end, but he went on with his life, became a town mayor and painted his obra maestra. And in case you’ve been wondering who was the inspiration for those gigantic paintings, NO, it wasn’t Lucy Torres. It was Rosanna Roces all along. Always has been.

Death Sentence (2007)

Fatherly love and sibling rivalry

death-sentence-movie-posterStory-wise, Death Sentence (2007) is just your typical vigilante action movie. The son is murdered by gangsters at a gas station and the father goes after his son’s killers. If you’re expecting any new twist or new ingredients added to this basic story, then this might disappoint. But this isn’t just another vigilante action movie; James Wan’s detour from the horror genre is a potent action-drama. There’s an airtight thrilling chase in a populated business area and parking garage and the movie’s third act boasts a number of impressive, stylishly crafted action set pieces — even if the last sequence borrows heavily from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.

Before the heartbreaking hospital scene at the end of the first act (which had me bawling like child, by the way) is a modestly effective set-up usually uncommon for a film of this sort: a portrait of a happy family—husband, wife, two boys—that’s not without its own little imperfections (there’s a brewing sibling rivalry, the firstborn was the father’s favorite). You somehow expect in advance that their happiness and all this are not going to last. And since you have these likable characters, the bond between them, you also fear for them because you know what’s coming — because that’s how it works in this kind of movies. Someone’s gonna die and someone’s going to avenge their death.

And so the couple never saw their son again. He died on the night he revealed to his dad that he wanted to go to Canada and play Hockey for the rest of his life. Father and son were on their way home and just came from a Hockey game. And his mama never get to him before he died in the hospital. And while the song used in that scene — an emo-pop track from Pilot Speed called “Alright” — took me a bit out of the movie, I thought the scene was powerful enough to be ruined by it.

Death broke every one of them, the father, the mother, the younger brother. When the father learns that there’s a slim chance the killer would stay in jail (there were no other witnesses, no CCTV), he decided to drop the charge and take matters into his own hands.

There’s nothing really new about all this but the movie managed to convincingly portray the father’s descent into the level of the people who perpetrated his son’s murder. The movie shows how stupid his decisions are, how ill-equipped he is against a bunch of criminals and how the people he’s dealing with have really nothing to lose compared to him. It also shows that killing someone isn’t as easy as some movies would like to tell you; it takes its toll mentally, physically, psychologically.

What ultimately made the movie for me, is the part where the father tries to patch things up with his younger son, revealing that he expected him to be like his older brother. And that when the younger son turned out to be not like his firstborn, he was kind of disappointed. And so the younger son gets less attention.

While older movies like this (e.g., Death Wish) can be read as advocating vigilantism, if you look past the stylish and action-overdriven third act, this movie’s undercurrent is no other than the stupidity of it. And there’s one joke in the movie to clearly illustrate that. There is this one scene where, the protagonist, while in his office, talks about risk assessment (he works for an insurance company). For someone who has a lot to lose, it’s the one thing he totally forgets before going after his son’s killer.

On Rob Jara’s Tila (Monsoons)

tilaThe current pandemic, which keeps most of us indoors, gives a new shade of meaning to Rob Jara’s Tila (Monsoons). In real life, we are faced with a virus that’s killed hundreds of thousands all over the world and made us rethink our whole lives over. In the movie, Rob Jara locates his story (maybe) not in a distant future but in an alternate yet familiar present: a Philippines where it’s always raining, where our dry and wet seasons had been reduced to an unending rainy days with varying levels of rainfall throughout the year.

“The rainfall will be kept at Level 3 for the rest of August”, a PAGASA forecast announces on the radio. The sun never comes out, the archipelago always hidden under overcast and nimbus clouds. Like the current pandemic, this fucked-up climate also brought up a new normal: illegal vitamins, expensive bulalo soup, private flood control companies, and maybe, expensive umbrellas. The neverending rain lasted for years and years that there are people who were born without seeing the sun nor experience a sunny day.

Among those are the two main characters in the story: the flood control worker and the call center agent. In one scene, the guy looks up to the sky and asks a co-worker (who’s older than him) what was it like seeing the sun. In another, the call center agent chats with the security guard in the convenience store about how it was before and after the climate changed.

Framed as an unlikely love story, an impending romance after a meet-cute in a convenience store, the movie is also able translate some of our present problems into a (not really) futuristic setting. Like for instance, a college diploma hanging on the guy’s wall tells of underemployment. The company he’s working for is privately owned. Despite the high demand for flood control, there’s a mass layoff near the end of the film. Since it was made in 2014, the movie somehow, predicted a future where “endo” has not ended yet.

Ironically, the flood control worker lives in a house that’s perpetually flooded, sleeps in a bed that more or less doubles as flotation device which may or may not save him from drowning from rainwater while asleep. While call center jobs relatively pays more, there’s a scene where the girl has to work two shifts since her co-worker is going to take a vacation in another country. That her company offers travel packages to other countries “where it’s more fun and sunny” somehow mirrors the gloomy state or lack of job opportunities here as compared overseas.

With limited running time, Tila wasn’t really able to flesh out its will they or won’t they plot—if it’s really that it’s aiming for. But it was able to say a lot. Technically, you’d be impressed on how the filmmakers were able to achieved the movie’s constantly gloomy look. While watching the movie, I thought of how shooting the movie on rainy days must have been a logistics nightmare. It turns out, the rain was actually integrated digitally unto the frames.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Another unnecessary remake?

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Heard about this remake probably two years ago, then kind of forgot it exists. Never cared who’s in it, who’s behind it. Until two days ago, when I caught the movie’s final third. Or should I say, it caught me—off guard—as I found myself transported right in the middle of Rose Creek in the heat of the battle, running for cover Continue reading “The Magnificent Seven (2016)”

The Untamed (2016)

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Too much–of something is bad enough—says the Spice Girls hit song from the ’90s. It applies to a lot of things for sure—if not everything—including sex. Of which Alejandra gets very little, because her husband Angel, who’s also fucking her brother Fabian from behind her back, only knows how to please himself. Her husband’s actually gay, but he couldn’t come out of the closet because his Mama wouldn’t like it and his Papa would most probably disown him. Fabian is a caregiver in a hospital and it’s where he met and befriended Veronica, who would introduce him to the alien kept by an elderly couple in a cabin in the woods. And in case you don’t know, “cabin in the woods” spells horror in movies. Some says “the thing” in the cabin personifies the beast in each of us, our carnal desires. Too much love will kill you, said that song about Freddie Mercury. Too much sex will kill you too, or at least, at first only makes you feel numb. And if I’m making this sound like it’s a light hearted Mexican softcore movie, NO this is not light hearted at ALL. The Untamed (La Region Salvaje) is science fiction meditation on sex wrapped in understated domestic drama that has some really eerie disturbing scenes. I won’t recommend it unless you CAN stomach live action, hentai-like tentacle sex. And I won’t also recommend only if because that is your kind of thing (the movie’s a lot more than just fodder for one’s tentacle porn fetish). Though I’m not saying that one can’t watch the movie and “skip to the good parts” (trademark Mr. Skin). But why go through all the trouble, a clip of it is most definitely up elsewhere. You can try reddit. Or go directly to THE source—it’s most probably on Pornhub. They might even plant a tree if you watch it on repeat.

The Predator (2018)

Everybody Seems to Hate ‘The Predator’

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I’m not totally sure about this, but Shane Black being attached to write and direct The Predator probably created a lot of buzz. Fans probably had high hopes for a good sequel/soft reboot. Fox probably dreamt of a franchise (re)starter. Black has that Iron Man 3 magic in him. One controversy, a handful re-shoots, and studio wrangling later, all the buzz turned into negative hype. Continue reading “The Predator (2018)”

Tuhog (Larger Than Life) (2001)

148733-larger-than-life-0-230-0-345-cropThe ’90s brought us Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Eraserheads, Rivermaya, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, AND—Carlo J. Caparas movies. The last on that list is an embarrassment of riches: great acting, rape, murder, massacre, drug addicts, and Kris Aquino—all based on “true to life” stories. Couple that with sensationalist TV programs masquerading as public service, and you got surefire box office hits.

Add to that the softcore sex films of the mid ’90s to early ’00s and you get Tuhog (Larger Than Life, 2001), a drama-softcore-comedy film satire on filmmaking malpractice, starring Ina Raymundo and Klaudia Koronel, playing two versions of the same girl, who was raped by her grandfather. Hmm. That last sentence was long.

The film starts with filmmakers interviewing the victim and her mother (Irma Adlawan), who turned out to be a victim herself, propositioning an offer to turn their story into a movie. They were reluctant at first, but eventually gave in. When asked who she wanted to play her character on-screen, Floring (Raymundo) answered Judy Ann Santos. Well, she’s a fine actress. And this is the closest we’d ever see of Judy Ann Santos in an erotic film, playing a rape victim’s character in a movie within the movie. But the filmmakers and the producer, had another thing in mind. (The producer, by the way, agreed to produce the director’s pitch, with one condition, the movie should contain nudity and sex, lots of it.)

Instead of offering the role to Judy Ann, they gave it to Klaudia Koronel, whose previous movie credits include lurid titles such as Pisil, Kesong Puti, and Anakan Mo Ako. Nothing could prepare Floring and her mother for what’s to come. Though the title, Hayok Sa Laman (Lust For Flesh), should have been a dead giveaway. Coming to the city all the way from their hometown, just to see the finished film supposedly based on their lives, they walked out of it before the end credits roll. It’s an abomination—with great bad acting from both Jaclyn Jose and Dante Rivero, and shockingly nuanced and mostly nude performance from Klaudia Koronel.

That is, Hayok Sa Laman is what you’d get if Carlo J. Caparas and Wenn Deramas (RIP) had a child, who turns out to be a tianak (demon baby). This movie within the movie is so bad—you’d want to scrub yourself afterwards. If Pila Balde is sex comedy-Lino Brocka social drama hybrid, Tuhog is a cross  between a Mike de Leon satire and softcore drama comedy. Definitely one of the best films about films in the whole wheat multiverse.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

The Best Spider-Man Movie?

SPIDER-MAN: ™ FAR FROM HOME

There’s probably a lot less at stake in Spider-Man: Far From Home than the last few MCU movies, but Spidey’s second solo MCU outing understands what most Marvel superhero movies don’t: that it takes a lot to beat a super-villain, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Continue reading “Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)”

Pila Balde (1999) / Burlesk Queen Ngayon (1999)

pPila Balde (1999) is a soft core sex film about the people in a low-cost housing development and the neighboring squatter area. Those in the housing, relatively more affluent and gainly employed, take what the slum dwellers deliver: water, laundry services, cheap labor, even sexual services. Those in the slums depends on their more affluent neighbors for employment. Imagine the new Bong Joon-ho film Parasite, but instead of the very rich Park family, you get people from the lower-middle class living in low-cost but decent housing. Instead of the Kims, you’ve got really poor people living in shanties. Written by Armando Lao and directed by Jeffrey Jeturian, Pila Balde is actually a social realist drama in the vein of Lino Brocka—but with heaps of comedy. And sex. Lots of sex—which, I think is forgivable. Or at least understandable. In a time when movies about social ills don’t sell like pancakes anymore but sex flicks does, can you blame the producers if they insist on having more of the latter? That is, Pila Bilda is like those Lino Brocka films set in the slums (there’s even squatter fire near the end of the movie) only it’s more than a bit twisted, mutated and eroticized. But it’s also less despairing.

t58491dlchrIn Burlesk Queen Ngayon (1999), Ina Raymundo plays a young single mother who works as stripper to raise her child. Not a remake of the Celso Ad. Castillo/Vilma Santos classic or anything. Sharing a title with the latter really does it less favor, drawing comparisons that makes it automatically the lesser of the two. And it is. And why it shouldn’t be? It’s a sex flick that cashed in on the then hot fad and Miss Sabado Nights’ popularity. Though it’s not blatantly campy, and treats its story with some sort of reverence not unlike in those serious, well-received Rosanna Roces movies like Ang Lalaki Sa Buhay Ni Selya and Babae sa Bintana. And it has a story to tell, no matter how well-worn or perfunctory. The worse one can say is that the story is just there to hang all the scenes with Ina Raymundo in varying state of undress. But that story isn’t nothing. And once you get past the phase of memorizing every naked this and that, that’s what remains—the story. At least that’s what I remember. That and Ina Raymundo coming out of a huge box cake, wearing only two-piece made of icing. Sweet.