Pinocchio: Korean Drama Review

Pinocchio23It took me a while before I finally broke down to watch the final two episodes of Park Shin Hye (The Heirs, He’s Beautiful), and Lee Jong Suk’s (I Can Hear Your Voice) Pinocchio series. Its not because the drama was horrible, but because it was actually too good. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters so I held out for as long as I could (two weeks) before finishing the drama.

Pinocchio revolves around Ki Ha Myung/ Choi Dal Po (Lee Jong Suk), who was orphaned at an early age because his father was wrongly accused of causing the death of nine firemen under his charge during a chemical explosion. His family was ostracized by the public because of unethical media coverage led by MSC’s star reporter Sung Cha Ok, who happens to be the mother of Choi In Ha (Park Shin Hye), a girl with the (fictional) Pinocchio syndrome which prompts her to hiccup uncontrollably when she lies. Their paths intersect when Ha Myung is adopted by In Ha’s family. They grow up together and fall in love and embark on a journey to become reporters, In Ha so she could get close to her mother and Ha Myung to find justice for his father.

I loved that this drama worked in so many levels. It worked as a love story because the lead characters had excellent rapport and chemistry. It worked as a workplace drama, as it delved into the world of journalism, and the ethics in performing the job of a reporter. I loved that it was able to chronicle the mistakes that journalists sometimes commit and highlight its impact on public opinion. Not only that, the series was also able to showcase the amount of influence viewership plays in the overall scheme of things — which stories to run, what angles to use, which really happens in real life newsrooms. It also worked as a family drama.

I loved that the entire cast came out with excellent performances — from the lead characters Lee Jong Suk, who I think has the potential to be the next Kwon Sang Woo. This kid is a gifted actor. I don’t know how he does it but he approaches every scene with a certain level of intensity that it just comes naturally for the audience to believe whatever it is that he is portraying. Park Shin Hye, on the other hand, was very good in her role, but even better than in previous roles because she seemed more comfortable with Jong Suk than any of her other leading men. These two are so charming on the light scenes and so heartbreaking in the heavy drama stuff that its magic when they get together. The secondary characters were perfectly  cast — its hard not to fall in love with them but my favorites were Lee Yu-bi as Yoon Yoo Rae, Kim Young Kwang as Seo Bom Jo, Yoon Kyun Sang as Ki Jae Myung and of course veteran actor Byun Hee Bong as Choi Gong Pil, Dal Po’s adoptive father.

There was also a great balance between the drama and the comedy, so much so that I sometimes feel like a nut fighting back tears one moment and laughing wildly in the next. There was a great core story that enabled the characters to become better connected with the audience, even those who were purported to be villains in the beginning. And the wardrobe — I’ve never seen better dressed reporters (even interns) in real life.

All in all, I loved Pinocchio. It was one of the best Korean dramas I’ve seen in a while and I have a feeling I will be rewatching it soon if only to visit with the characters again. Oh, and I do have one complaint — that Yu Rae and Cap’s story didn’t seem to have closure but that’s about it. All I can say is — watch it if you haven’t yet. You won’t be sorry.

The ABCs of Death 2: Movie Review

Abcs_of_death_2_theatrical26 new directors from around the world are once again given the unique opportunity to be part of the second set of this horror anthology which deals with the concept of death. The first one had a lot of promising shorts. As a matter of fact, this was the movie where I was first introduced to Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the geniuses behind You’re Next.

There were some good films in the sequel too, but overall, I would say The ABCs of Death 2 was more weird than scary.

Unlike in my first review of the original movie, I’m just going to talk about the standouts in this round.

B is for Badger by Julian Barratt

A documentary style short about a douchebag wildlife show host who gets his comeuppance when he becomes the victim of a giant badger his team is doing a feature on.

I really liked this because it was very simple, it was able to make good use of its time to establish the characters and the story so the audience was able to respond appropriately to the ending.

E is for Equlibrium by Alejandro Brugues

Two guys stuck on an island find a beautiful girl who washes ashore. However, their friendship is tested when they start to develop feelings towards the stranger.

With  no dialogue and just some island music as background, director Alejandro Brugues was able to tell the story of a bromance that ends in horror but the twist in how it happens.

H is for Head Games by Bill Plympton

An animated (and literal) take on the title.

While the short was quite literal, I appreciate the artwork and the hard work that went with developing this idea.

I is for Invincible by Erik Matti

Four children try to kill their mother to get their inheritance but the old woman cannot be killed because she carries the stone of immortality that she needs one of her offspring to accept before she can die.

Director Erik Matti used the Filipino folklore on a mythical monster called aswang as inspiration for this tale and while there was little time to tell his story, I think he was able to communicate the gist of the tale to the audience.

J is for Jesus by Dennison Ramalho

A gay man is kidnapped by religious fanatics and tortured into denouncing his “evil” ways. His dead lover comes to his aid.

The short is unique because its not just a horror, its a social commentary on religion, acceptance and tolerance. It was able to communicate the hatred and apathy of people towards members of the LGBT community which is a horror in itself.

K is for Knell by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper

A mysterious black ink turns people into killers.

I loved the genuine feel of horror in the shots used in this short. Its style was reminiscent of Pulse and Cloverfield but it maintained its uniqueness with its hanging ending.

M is for Masticate by Robert Boocheck

A man in dirty underwear runs amuck in the streets of London.

This is one of my favorites because its just so fun to watch an overweight guy in slow motion attacking random people in the street. The cinematography was good, as was the editing and the story was really good for a short film.

Q is for Questionnaire by Rodney Ascher

A man answers a set of questions to test his intelligence only to receive a horrific prize.

I liked this short because of its unique balance of calmness and frenzy intersped with each other. Director Rodney Ascher was able to interpose two separate segments of the story together flawlessly. Great editing and storytelling.

R is four Roulette by Marven Kren

A couple and another man are forced to play a game of Russian Roulette in a basement for an unknown reason.

Unlike the other shorts, I did not have an trouble figuring out the title for this one. It was good because director Marven Kren was able to establish an air of suspense throughout the film and using black and white also added an air of vintage sophistication to his feature.

S is for Split by Juan Martinez Moreno

A man’s home is attacked while he is on a business trip and he frantically tries to get help for his wife and baby only to find out that the assailant is someone he knows.

I loved this film because it was able to maximize the time allotted to it, telling a complicated story and depicting a sense of heart pounding urgency by using multiple panels of sequences of events happening simultaneously. The ending is awesome.

Y is for Youth by Soichi Umezawa

A teenager fantasizes about the violent deaths of her abusive parents.

One of the weirdest horror movies in the last ABCs of Death anthology was Z is Zetsumetsu by Yoshihiro Nishimura and this year, director Soichi Umezawa proves that the Japanese are consistent in this respect. Youth was edgy, violent and surreal but in the end, it was able to deliver a good horror short, even if it was just in its lead character’s head.

Z is for Zygote by Chris Nash

A woman staves off giving birth for 13 years, waiting for her husband to come home.

This is yet another short film in my top three. It was gross, it was disturbing, and it was a successful horror not just cinematically but psychologically as well. It was well crafted from the story to the execution.

All in all, I think the ABCs of Death 2 did not quite measure up to the original because directors had more trouble creating concepts with the restriction of letters assigned to them. Many of the stories felt forced and some were not able to deliver on the limited time allotted to them. There were good films in the lot for sure, and I’m sure there will still be more to watch out for in the third installment in 2016, but for now, I’m just going to settle for giving this installment a passing mark. No more, no less.

That Thing Called Tadhana (destiny): Movie Review

tadhanaI never really connected to the term #hugotfeels, a recent expression that means connecting with a deep feeling until I watched That Thing Called Tadhana, an indie movie written and directed by Antoinette Jadaone for the Cinema One Originals competition. It was a low budget movie that even had to ask for people’s donations in the last leg of filming because the producers were asked to pay P220,000 for the rights of using the song “Where do Broken Hearts Go?” as part of the movie. The song cost was more already over the actual production of the movie but according to the filmmakers, it was totally worth it. In the end, the movie got made and lead actress Angelica Panganiban, was awarded for her performance in the movie. It was recently released in mainsteam cinema and already garnered P120 million in box office sales.

After finding out that her boyfriend of eight years cheated on her when she had already packed her bags and used her savings to surprise him in Italy, brokenhearted Mace (Angelica Panganiban) meets Anthony (JM de Guzman) at the airport when the latter tries to help her out with her excess luggage. They spend the next few hours of the flight seated next to each other and soon find themselves on an extended road trip to Sagada in an effort to heal Mace’s broken heart and forget about the ex who hurt her deeply.

I have to give credit to writer/director Antoinette Jadaone for making this movie. Simply said, it was superb. Unlike other breakup movies, it did not go overboard and simply drew from reality, making the emotions come naturally for both the actors and the viewers. The story was easy to connect to. The dialogue was great. It sounded like real things real people would say and lead actors Angelica Panganiban and JM de Guzman truly dug deep to deliver on excellent performances. It did not feel forced. It was realistic, with the exception of going on a road trip with a complete stranger (c’mon ladies, even if the guy was as hot as JM, it could still be dangerous). Even the ending felt right. It was not spoonfed and in a sense, it involved the audience in the outcome — which is always a good takeaway for the viewer.

The story was unique. Usually in Asian movies, surly successful guys fall in love with bubbly and cheerful girl next door types who are usually carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders behind their happy facade. This time, it was the sensitive, charming guy who rescues the feisty, yet broken stranger on the plane, who wore no make up, bawled for the better part of the 17 hour flight from Rome to Manila and talked about her ex every chance she got.

Angelica Panganiban deserved her award. She really gave her portrayal her all, but it was JM’s quiet presence that really got me to tear up in this movie. This guy is a charmer, true, but more than that, he’s a really good actor. I believe he should have at least gotten a nomination for his acting in Tadhana. Personally, I think these two actors were really effective because they have suffered real heartbreak in their own lives. As such, they have a strong foundation in which to source their emotions from and the movie was all the better for it.

I loved the film’s constant reference to John Lloyd Cruz and his movies which are considered some of the best breakup movies in Philippine cinema (Note: He’s Angelica’s boyfriend in real life so at times, it feels like an inside joke, especially when she is extolling JLC’s virtues). In making constant references to its predecessors in the genre, it just felt like Tadhana deserves a spot among those movies as one of the most sincere and heartfelt love stories in this contemporary age.

Speaking of references, it did not escape my attention that Tadhana constantly cited One More Chance as having excellent cinematography — For the record, Tadhana HAD excellent cinematography. It made me want to retrace Mace and Anthony’s steps and go on the same road trip myself.

All in all, I loved That Thing Called Tadhana. For a movie that had a low budget, it spoke of quality all the way through — from the story, to cinematography, to scoring, to acting. Everything was great. It was very endearing as it was entertaining. I didn’t think I would laugh so hard at a breakup movie but I did, and I did cry a time or two. (I’m sure those who have experienced heartbreak would have to bring towels to dry their eyes). Tadhana was more than a love story, it was a life story. It was not just about moving on, it was about finding yourself before moving forward to become the great person you are destined to be. An all around source of good vibes and hugotfeels, for sure.

Feng Shui Essentials for 2015

(Photo by: Myra Abando)

(Photo by: Myra Abando)

Celebrating Chinese New Year has somewhat become part of Filipino tradition. So much so that Filipinos are even the first ones in the supermarkets buying round fruits to bring their homes good luck when this day arrives, even partaking of tikoy (glutinous rice) to promote unity among family members and friends.

The President has even declared the day a holiday owing to the number of the Filipino Chinese community in various parts of the country.

Filipinos have embraced Chinese customs and traditions for the Lunar New Year, and for good reason. Filipinos, like the Chinese share common values like love for family, religiosity and belief in starting the year right to inspire many happy returns.

This is why Pinoys are increasingly fascinated by feng shui, which translates to wind and water – the art of harmonizing one’s life with the elements to encourage positive things in life.

2015 is the year of the wooden goat. According to Feng Shui Master Joseph Chau Kam Shing, the year is filled with both positive and negative elements so it is helpful for believers to sport lucky charms to counteract the negative forces and channel them into positive energy.

In his book Feng Shui Essentials published by the Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp., Master Chau warns people who are born in the years of the goat, ox, rat and dog to be extra careful as they are offending the Tai Suey, or the star opposite Jupiter. While some difficulties await them, all hope is not lost as there are means to protect them from the negative elements.

Those born under the dragon (wood, gold), goat (metal), ox (water, earth) and dog (water) signs are also asked to refrain from going to funerals and burials this year.

Protection
According to Master Chau, the Master Protection Pendant should be worn by those who are born in the year of the rat, horse, rabbit, and ox and people whose surname are beginning in C, M, N, K, S and Y in order to counter the negative energy surrounding them this year. He says this is one of the best all round ways to remove bad luck, conflict and accidents.

For travelers, he advised the Safety Medallion to avoid road mishaps, and avoid evil spirits.

Health
Females are in need of the Health Medallion this year because of the prevalence of the Serious Sickness Star in the Southeast. Master Chau advises women to carry the medallion in their wallets or put one in the Southeast area of their homes, bedrooms or offices.

Money
Master Chau shares a variety of charms to enhance money luck this year. First, there is the Wealth Bucket, which symbolizes steady wealth and prosperity to the bearer. This item should be placed in one’s safety box, house or office to ensure stable income.

There is also the classic Jade Pei Yau, which is considered a money catcher. This animal is said to have a voracious appetite for money and encourages money to flow freely into the home.

For those having trouble collecting a debt, the Pay Back Collection Set may prove to be helpful. As part of the Financial Acquisition of Treasure (FAT) charm, this helps people collect on debts owed to them in the past.

The Trend Eight Antique Coins, on the other hand, should be placed inside one’s wallet, checkbook, passbook or record book by people having problems collecting on debts or stating out businesses.

Romance
For couples, the Brass Happy Couple encourages partners to have a faithful and harmonious relationship while theBrass Antique Pumpkin, which has carvings depicting long life, conjugal bliss, wealth and other positive relationship traits help couples have good luck and smooth sailing relationships.

The Jade Mandarin Ducks on Plate also depict harmonious relationships which usher in prosperity.

Career, Studies
The Jade Dragonhead Fish or pendant is one the most effective lucky charms for those who are starting out in their careers or needing help with their studies. A caveat is that the jade needs to be of good quality for it to be effective. ACicada charm on the other hand, helps children concentrate on their studies.

All the charms should be energized and blessed by a qualified person so that the positive chi within the ornaments will be activated. If not, the items will not serve its purpose and will only be decorative, Master Chau concludes.

This post was also published on cineramaetcetera’s partner bog Unli in the Philippines.

Taken 3: Movie Review

Taken-3-Film-PosterJust the other day, I was just saying how cool it would be to see a showdown of Keanu Reeves’ John Wick and Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills and now, I am doing this review of the third installment of Taken, the franchise that catapulted Neeson into action stardom.

We’ve seen Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent “with a particular set of skills” save his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from a powerful prostitution ring. We’ve seen him save his wife and his daughter from the relatives of said crime syndicate who wanted to get revenge on him after he decimated the members of the said group which included the infamous Marko from Tropoje. In this final installment to the franchise, Mills is framed for the death of his annoying wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and his daughter is again in danger of suffering the same fate if Bryan doesn’t find out who did it and why they wanted him to take the heat for the crime.

Despite the fact that the same team worked on this final film in the trilogy (Olivier Megaton and Luc Besson), something felt different about Taken 3 straight off the bat. First, it was less intense. The air of danger wasn’t as urgent as the first two because come on, no one would seriously think that Bryan Mills could be taken by a few patrolmen, or detectives, heck even a fleet of law enforcement officers. He took down an ENTIRE CRIME SYNDICATE SINGLEHANDEDLY. Just saying.

Perhaps, it was because the grudge that made the first two movies so successful wasn’t there anymore or perhaps it was because the third film wasn’t doing anything we haven’t seen before. But this weaker storyline truly made the movie suffer in comparison to its predecessors.

There was also a noticeably lower body count, perhaps owing to the fact that the characters were now on American soil, making it really weird if Bryan walked off scott free after all the mayhem. Oh wait, — nah. I wouldn’t want to spoil you.

tak3n-gallery2-gallery-image

FATHER AND DAUGHTER MOMENT. Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace play Bryan and Kim Mills.

On the upside, what was consistent from the first movie remained as its main strength — the chemistry between Mills and his daughter Kim. These two play off each other like a real father and daughter and each line that Neeson says pertaining to his on-screen offspring is delivered with such conviction that audiences can truly relate to his plight.

All in all, while I personally celebrated the fact that the wife was finally killed off, I think Taken 3 suffered from the fact that people had set higher expectations for Bryan Mills because of the first two movies, which was the opposite of what happened before (people having no expectation and being blown away by the first Taken). This time around, they expected Bryan Mills to be a badass and as such, he had to perform well and beyond his previous films to impress the viewers. But the tepid plot and the shallow storyline only gave him so much wiggle room. And no matter how great an actor Neeson was, the story negated what could have been a kickass conclusion to the series and in the end, it seemed more perfunctory than epic. It was’t too bad, it was just subpar in terms of the standards set by the franchise. A bit disappointed.

John Wick: Movie Review

John_Wick_TeaserPosterAdd another name to the list of movie characters you don’t want to mess with.

John Wick (Keany Reeves), a retired assassin who recently lost his wife to a lingering illness is trying to move on with his life in peace and quiet, in the company of his wife’s final gift to him, a puppy by the name of Daisy. An unfortunate circumstance crosses his path with his former boss’s son, a douchebag by the name of Iosef (Alfie Allen, Game of Thrones) who invades his home to steal his car and kill his dog. Enraged, John dusts off his gear to hunt down the arrogant buck and make him pay for his crime. Meanwhile, Iosef’s father, Russian mob leader Viggo (Michael Nyqvits) takes out a $2 million bounty for John to keep him from his objective.

Its too bad that John Wick didn’t get as much promotion as many other action blockbusters because for a fairly simple plot, it was able to come out with a rather kickass movie.

Sure, it wasn’t perfect. I personally felt that there was too much of a build up for Wick’s character, making him more of an urban legend than a man, especially in the beginning. The first 20 minutes or so of the movie was devoted to following John around while he mourned his dead wife but it was pretty understandable given that they had to stretch the film’s very basic story into an hour and a half movie. I felt like the filmmakers tried to push the drama too much which made the movie kind of lopsided, yet at the same time, it served its purpose of justifying John’s vendetta.

There were a lot of things about this film that I thought were pretty cool. First, the concept of paying with gold coins. Then, there was the exclusivity of the assassin’s club and third, the idea of making “dinner reservations.” A lot of movies have tried to depict assassins as a cool and sophisticated bunch but this movie takes the organization to a whole new level.

The film’s bread and butter was of course, its fight sequences. Kudos to the guys who choreographed the action in this movie. Each move was precise and on point, and at times, it seemed like John was just giving his fellow assassins massages —  with bullets. While the film mainly revolved around John and Viggo, the characters of Marcus (Willem Dafoe) and Winston (Ian McShayne) were also standouts without even trying. Too bad Peter Mensah, who played the badass Oenimaeus on Starz’s Spartacus got stuck with a receptionist role. I would have liked to see him do battle, as well.

There were also some great cars featured in this movie, mainly John Wick’s vintage ’69 Mustang. Too bad most of the vehicles didn’t make it to the finish line. I mourn the destruction of these great rides.

All in all, I liked the fact that they didn’t make John Wick out to be superhuman but rather just a guy who really really knew how to kill people really well. True, it was fairly more violent than 70 percent of movie releases by Hollywood, but it was darned entertaining. It also got me thinking how cool it would be to pit John with Taken’s Bryan Mills. But that’s just wishful thinking.

UP: Movie Review

After sorting through my blogs (yes, I have tried to blog before, not quite successfully), I managed to unearth one in 2009 about one of my favorite animated movies ever Disney-Pixar’s UP.

UPDisney-Pixar scored yet another hit with its latest offering UP! a 3D animation flick premised on an old man who sets out for an adventure of a lifetime to fulfill a promise to his dead wife.

The trailer was good. It piqued the interest of the viewing public by pitting a overly earnest young adventurer with a grumpy old man named Carl Fredericksen who used thousands of helium balloons to make his house fly to the direction of Paradise City, where his deceased wife Ellie wanted to build their house. The movie was even better.

The seamless animation was a given because after all, it was Pixar movie — a master in the field. But, combined with the heartwarming story produced by Disney, the duo proved to be unstoppable. The movie was fun. It was a feast of ironies and one-liners that were not offensive and tickled the funny bones of audiences of all ages. The story had an emotional depth as well, and delivered a heartrending story of love and friendship in a series of montages to explain the evolution of the relationship with Carl and his wife Ellie, how they met, how they became childhood friends and later married each other to have a long and happy life together- until Ellie got sick and died. This was done accompanied with only the movie’s primary musical score but its effect was major. No dialogue but the impact was amazing. Makes one wonder if it was possible, but it was.

The characters were spot on. Russel, the junior adventurer, who at first, Carl saw as an accidental baggage in his adventure, provided most of the comedy with his antics. His exuberance led them from mishap to mishap, all of the funny kind, but he had his emotional moments as well, when he confided to Carl why he so badly wanted the last badge (assisting the elderly) to become a senior wildlife adventurer. He also talked of his family issues, which most kids could also relate to. The manner in which he delivered the information was done with such innocence and earnest, as if he could not really comprehend the volume of his unhappiness, that it manages to melt even the hardest of hearts. For me, the best part about the story was that it was based on a strong and honest truth. People could relate to the characters, for both the protagonists and antagonists alike.

The movie also did not forget to poke fun at the travails that old people have to go through, such as having to move to homes for the elderly, the aches and pains brought on by arthritis and the like. One of my favorite parts was when Carl was fighting off the villain, Charles Muntz — an obsessed adventurer, who like himself was advancing in age, where they both got struck by back pain just as they were about to attack each other. And what about the flying dentures? Priceless.

The movie achieved the perfect between comedy, drama, and adventure that one will have to wonder how Disney could surpass this hit with its next offerings. I posed the same question when I saw Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, and Cars… and now this…. Is it even possible? We’ll just have to wait and see, then won’t we?