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.

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?

Feng Shui 2: Movie Review

fengshui-posterThe 40th Metro Manila Film Festivals is rife with follow ups to popular horror franchises and this year, among the entries is the sequel to one of the most successful Filipino horror movies of all time, director Chito Rono’s Feng Shui. The sequel, unlike other franchises, took its sweet time to develop and 10 years after the original’s release, Kris Aquino’s character Joy Ramirez returns to the big screen to end (?) the reign of the cursed Bagua that took her family a decade ago.

Lester Anonuevo (Coco Martin), is a young man from the squatters’ area trying to support his alcoholic mother and make ends meet by whatever means possible. He is hired by a Chinese family to steal a mysterious item from the Taoist temple for a fee and he completes the job without any incident, except that he took a peek at the item (the cursed bagua) before turning it over to his employers. And so begins the new wave of good luck and subsequent horror caused by the raging spirit of Lotus Feet. This time, the stakes are higher as Lotus Feet is able to strengthen her powers by taking one of her kin in her killing spree. Now, all the surviving owners (past and present) must work together to put to rest the curse of the bagua.

There was a reason the original Feng Shui movie was so good. And that was because it managed to tap into the Filipinos’ innate nature to believe in anything that will bring them good luck (the reason why many Filipinos engage in good luck rituals on Chinese New Year), and because Chinese tradition is so closely linked to Filipinos because of the sheer number of Filipino Chinese community in the Philippines.

When director Chito Rono came out with the story of the bagua that took its victims based on their Chinese zodiac, it was an immediate hit because not only could viewers relate to the tale but because the story was so strong that the excellent execution of the horror was just a bonus.

In the 10 years that followed after Feng Shui’s release, the film was able to build such a solid following that nobody in the audience of the second movie needed an explanation on the mechanics of the Lotus Feet curse, and this worked well for the sequel as it didn’t need too long of a sequence to connect the two movies. Everybody was on the same page from the moment they entered the cinema. Everybody knew what to expect and it felt familiar — like visiting an old friend after 10 years.

Suffice to say, the first film was still better but the second movie was no laggard in serving up the scares. What I liked about the movie was that it remained consistent with the first that you could watch them one after the other and still feel like they’re of a similar vein.

It also chose its moments, building up and shocking the audience time and again. While the death scenes in the first movie were much more obvious in their connection with the Chinese zodiacs, Feng Shui 2 did make up for it by killing off people in style. It also did not overdo the CGI, and used good make up and effects that made deaths more credible. Still, there were some scenes that were more comedic than menacing without intending to but more than anything, it made the film more entertaining.

What’s great about Feng Shui 2 was the inclusion of Kris Aquino in a more subdued version of her character. As part of the Feng Shui legacy, she owned her scenes but made sure to give the floor to Coco Martin, the main star of the movie as much as possible. Mr. Liao (Joonee Gamboa) was also given a much lengthier and substantial role in the sequel and I really enjoyed his narrative way of speaking (I felt like Panday was going to appear any minute).

Of course, as with the first movie, there were product placements of the brands that Kris Aquino endorsed but this time around, they were more tastefully done and more subtle in their inclusion.

All in all, Feng Shui 2 was a great sequel to the 2004 horror hit. While it failed to win big at the awards, it was able to hold up the franchise and turn up a solid and entertaining horror film that brought the story full circle, ending it on a positive note.

Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles Movie Review

KubotI really loved the first installment of Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles because it was innovative, edgy and super entertaining. When my brother, sis in law and I learned that there was going to be a sequel, we were super excited to see what it was all about. Aside from some initial reservations upon seeing the trailer, we still went ahead and saw the movie. It looked cool, but there was definitely something missing from the original that could have made the difference.

After wiping out the Tiktik (mythical creatures who prey on pregnant women) in Pulupandan, what remained of Macky’s (Dingdong Dantes) family — his girlfriend Sonia (now played by Hannah Ledesma), Sonia’s father Nestor (Joey Marquez) and their neighbor Aling Pacing (Rina Reyes) try to flee to Manila to start afresh. But even before they are able to leave, the Kubot (mythical creatures who have powerful hair to cause damage) take their revenge on the group for killing their kin. Two years later, Macky and Nestor find themselves in the midst of another aswang attack, this time involving a new race of aswangs who use tainted hotdogs to turn people into monsters.

Kubot was very consistent with the original, which was unsurprising seeing as the same writer, director and producer Eric Matti helmed the movie. True to form, it retained the classic comic book approach it used in the first movie. It was obvious from the opening sequence that it was going to be loads of fun like the original.

Kubot delivered on the mirth in spades, thanks to the presence of Joey Marquez and Lotlot de Leon. My favorite scenes in the movie were always with their two characters, their countless punchlines and just their sheer commitment to the comedy that just made the movie come alive (UPDATE: Marquez and de Leon won best supporting honors at the 40th MMFF awards night, deservedly so). Ramon Bautista, who returns to the franchise in a different role, was teamed up this time with Bogart the Explorer as a bumbling law enforcement officer, whose overconfidence and miscalculation led him to his doom. For sure, the MVPs for the movie were the supporting cast members.

In contrast, it felt like lead stars Dingdong Dantes and Isabelle Daza were trying too hard or too little that they never quite hit the right note in their portrayal. In almost 90 percent of the scenes he was in, Dantes oversold the embittered and uncaring tough guy act while Isabelle Daza, while quite beautiful, seemed not quite ready for a lead role just yet. She was great in some comedic scenes and she seemed quite comfortable in the action department but frankly, her acting was really subpar.

As for the main villain KC Montero, it bothered me that he looked too much like Captain Spaulding (Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses) and that his powers were too similar to Resident Evil zombies that he felt like a watered down version of a bad guy. The church scene, on the other hand, seemed like it was inspired by an episode of The Originals. I, for one, couldn’t really get behind his grand plan. The idea was gross, true, but because the gore was kind of sanitized by the comic book approach to the sequence, the horror aspect seemed diluted.

The cinematography, on the other hand, was very good. As was the fight choreography. Given the small budget of this movie, it really stretched each buck and made everything work out overall. I also appreciated the fact the Tarantino-inspired editing that made the movie fast paced and edgy.

However, because it set the bar high with the first movie, there was a lot of room for comparison, and sadly, with each aspect, the second film felt short of expectation.

All in all, while Kubot was a strong fantasy horror in its own right, I felt like it was trying too hard to be Hollywood with the introduction of Sci-Fi effects like Macky’s mechanical arm that it neglected the Filipino aspect of the film which made the first movie so cool in the first place. I missed the focus on the traditional aswangs, which are a strong part of Filipino folklore. Instead, the Kubot, which should have been front and center as the main villains like the Tiktik, were pushed aside to accommodate a cocky Fil Am baddie with a penchant for making speeches.