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Movie Review: Moana, or Disney's First Non-Caucasian CGI Princess

Moana dreading any sort of sex scene with Maui.

Moana is the second Disney release this year, tailing Zootopia, the studio's first animated 2016 release way back in January. They've had a good year this year with two releases, compared to Pixar's lone release Finding Dory, which as a sequel does not stand up to Moana's original screenplay. But enough comparing. Is Moana as good as we hoped it would be? Just what makes a good Disney movie?

Great story
Disney has made efforts to be inclusive of different cultures since Pocahontas and Mulan, incorporating Native American and Chinese characters and stories, respectively, into its films. However, since the start of the "CG Renaissance"–that point in time when Disney shifted its animation medium from traditional 2D to computer-generated 3D–Disney’s princess movies have reverted back to Caucasian female leads with Tangled and Frozen. With Moana, however, Disney has expanded once more to include Polynesian folklore.

Another great thing about the story is that it doesn’t attempt to force any romantic angle. Sorry, fans, but there won’t be any demigod-on-mortal romance brewing here, despite that happening a lot in Greek and Roman mythology.

Great characters
The most memorable character here, of course, would be the title character Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), Disney’s first non-Caucasian CGI princess. She has no superpowers unlike Elsa, yet she is badass nonetheless. It’s also a big step in casting, as Cravalho is a relative unknown who got the part for her singing prowess and ethnic background.

The second best character here, hands down, would be the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Aside from having animated tattoos and awesome shape-shifting powers, The Rock showcases his musical talents here. Who knew, right? Who actually knew that Dwayne Johnson could carry a tune? I mean, with that eyebrow-raising and all. Totally unexpected.

"What, you don't like my eyebrows?"

Among the non-human characters would have to be Tamatoa the giant crab, voiced by the funny Jemaine Clement, who is actually known for his singing abilities. But as he himself points out, his character would’ve probably been more memorable if he spoke with a Jamaican accent, a reference to another Disney crustacean who dwells under the sea.

All Disney princesses are known for their mostly non-human sidekicks, and this film is no different in that regard. The sidekick here is the stupid chicken Heihei, voiced by the great Alan Tudyk, which in my opinion is a total waste of Alan Tudyk, as Heihei only talks by squawking and clucking.

Great songs
No Disney movie is complete without the songs, and of course Moana prides itself in having the songwriting powerhouse of Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina (who also composed the score), and the great Lin-Manuel Miranda. There’s the glamorous “Shiny”, sung by Jemaine Clement; the damn catchy “You’re Welcome”, The Rock’s only song which he sings with surprisingly little effort; and of course Auli’i Cravalho’s “How Far I’ll Go”, which is this movie’s “Let It Go”. Miranda’s success with Hamilton will probably ensure that he will get more screen musicals thrown his way in the near future, and I do hope Disney signs him on for another animated musical.

Tamatoa can crush Sebastian in an underwater match any day.

Moana. USA. 2016.

Original rating: 7.8/10
Maui's tattoos: +.1
The Rock's singing voice: +0.1
Jemaine Clement: +0.1
Final rating: 8.1/10


Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, or J.K. Rowling's Successful But Not-So-Stellar Screenplay

Yes, Scamander's suitcase is like the TARDIS.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling. For a lot of things.

While a part of the movie-going populace laments the lack of original screenplays in Hollywood, you have given us something new with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Well, it's not wholly original in the sense that Inception and Interstellar were original; I meant original in the sense that this wasn't adapted from any existing literary material. Technically, this movie would be classified as a spin-off, very (very) loosely based on the book of the same title released as part of Comic Relief in 2001, which was basically you bringing one of Harry Potter's fictional textbooks to life. I guess an original spin-off is way better than an adapted screenplay.

Cover of the original Comic Relief book.

Thank you for bringing magic across the pond to America. Your skill in creating a solid fictional universe is unparalleled, rivalled only by maybe George Lucas. I think Fantastic Beasts is more than just a mere spin-off. It's like a break-away religion that has taken a life of its own, and after the five movies you promised, the American wizarding world could be even bigger and more complex than the one in Britain.

"Honestly, I'm not happy that I won't be back for the sequels."

Thank you also for the great casting choices. Much like you had a hand in casting Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, I'm sure you also had the final say in the casting of Fantastic Beasts. Eddie Redmayne seems perfect as the bumbling magizoologist who's like a duck out of water, although I wonder if Matt Smith could have played the role with equal brilliance. Colin Farrell is spot-on, if only because the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay describes his character Percival Graves as "very handsome, early middle age". Alison Sudol also gave a very convincing performance as the blonde bimbo American witch Queenie Goldstein, and I'm rather interested in how her skill in Legilimency will play out throughout the franchise. Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald was surprising (I had no idea coming into the cinema), and I hope his future performances as Grindelwald show no trace of Captain Jack Sparrow, a role he has a habit of falling back on. My most favourite character in this movie, however, is the Muggle No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, an actor I liked since Balls of Fury and Fanboys. He serves as the audience's anchor point for this franchise, someone non-magical folk can relate to, much like Harry Potter was the anchor point for the previous franchise.

I mean, come on, look at Kowalski's face. 

Thank you, Ms. Rowling, for your hyperactive imagination. These beasts you conjure from your imagination are awesome, although almost of these creatures have already made their debut in the Comic Relief book. The niffler is so adorable, although of course I wouldn't want to have a kleptomaniac for a pet. The demiguise still has the most awesome ability of them all – invisibility. The erumpent is just too big to be allowed, even in Scamander's TARDIS-like suitcase (bigger on the inside). And the thunderbird, oh what a glorious beast. Thank you also for designing the sorting test for Ilvermorny, because I took the test and got House Thunderbird.

Now isn't that a majestic creature?

And finally, thank you for ensuring that all screenplays of Newt Scamander's franchise will be penned by you. What better way to preserve the voice and feel of the original wizarding world we all grew up with. I eagerly await the second film in this series with as much anticipation as I had waiting for the Harry Potter books to come out.

"Bravo, Jo Rowling. Bravo."

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. UK/USA. 2016.

Original rating: 8.1/10
Gemma Chan as Madam Ya Zhou: +0.1
Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski: +0.1
The niffler: +0.1
No wizard-on-no-maj sex: -0.1
Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald: +0.1
Jon Voight not playing a wizard: -0.1
Ezra Miller's weirdly nice face: +0.1
Ron Perlman looking like Gnarlak: +0.1
Pacing of screenplay: -0.1
Final rating: 8.4/10


Movie Review: Doctor Strange IMAX 3D, or A Marvel Movie on Magic Mushrooms

"This anti-constipation spell isn't working!"

(I have a strict cinematic code, in that I do not watch converted 3D and IMAX releases that were not shot in native IMAX. Doctor Strange was neither shot in IMAX nor in 3D, but I've decided to make an exception, and I think my decision was worth it.)

Marvel Studios releases its most visually stunning spectacle yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). And of course, I don't mean "visually stunning" like "beautifully photographed vistas and sceneries", but rather "intense psychedelic head trip sequences". Think Marvel on acid. Or wait, I got a better one: Marvel movie on magic mushrooms. Four-hit alliteration combo.

Since Marvel is introducing the character of Doctor Strange in his eventual role in the Infinity War, it only makes sense that this will be an origin story. We start with surgeon supreme Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in his natural habitat–the hospital–where he shows off his skill with a scalpel. After an automobile accident renders his hands useless, he is forced to search for a cure to his nerve damage. Western medicine is unable to help him, but he learns of the curious case of Benjamin Bratt's character, who successfully recovered from paralysis thanks to the help of mystics from the East. He undergoes the voyage himself, ending up in the mountains of Nepal, and with the help of Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), gains access to Kamar-Taj, the mystical monastery in the mountains. Here he is trained by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and with the help of the librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), Doctor Strange learns the magical arts of spell casting, astral projection, inter-dimensional travel, and control of time and space, among others. Everything he learns is put to the test when he confronts the rogue mystic Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen), with a final epic battle in Hong Kong against the Dormammu, a powerful being from the dark dimension.

"What do you mean I'm under a multi-picture contract?"

Doctor Strange feels very much in sync with the rest of the films in the MCU, and it has the same feel as the first Iron Man film in tackling the origin of the hero, with Cumberbatch and Wong's onscreen chemistry playing a big part in the film's use of humour to strengthen its comic book tone. This film's strongest suit is, of course, its visual effects and its mind-blowing action sequences, thanks to the real-life technical wizards at Industrial Light and Magic. It's like they all dropped acid and decided to take the space-shifting in Inception and the fifth dimension visuals of Interstellar and pushed the envelope by making it ten times more intense.

See? Psychedelia.

Some people are complaining about the villain Kaecillius, saying his character should've been fleshed out more, and that his lack of character arc is unbefitting someone who serves as the main antagonist to the Sorcerer Supreme. On one hand, I would tend to agree, but only because I see it as a waste of Mads Mikkelsen's acting ability, which director Scott Derrickson should have highlighted onscreen extensively. On the other hand, I see no real harm done, but only because in my opinion, the filmmakers set up Mordo's character arc brilliantly, making the viewer realise in the end that Chiwetel Ejiofor was the actual villain of this story all along.

Every superhero film needs a non-superhero character. For Iron Man, it's Pepper Potts; for Thor, it's Jane Foster; for Doctor Strange, it's Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Their purpose, narratively speaking, is to provide the audience (who are made up of regular, non-superhero people) with someone they can relate to. Christine doesn't serve as Strange's love interest (although romantic tension and history are hinted at), and if viewers find very little with her they can relate to, it shouldn't matter. I think the character of Stephen Strange is who the viewers should be relating to, because he was just ordinary before he decided to take up the mantle of magic. Strange's journey should mirror our own, where we journey from having an inflated ego and a sense of self-importance to the realisation that we know nothing and that we are but a small speck in a vast multiverse.

"I. Want. To. Try. Peyote!"

But Doctor Strange will not go down in cinematic history as the film with the trippiest visuals ever made. I believe this film's contribution to cinema would be its use of magic, not just as a gimmick or some fictional device. The Harry Potter saga was rooted in magic, but only as an element of its fictional universe. Author J.K. Rowling didn't write it as something that she openly advocates and preaches; if anything, it was merely the backdrop of her idea for telling the story of a boy who turns out to be the chosen one. The Wachowski's The Matrix came close to introducing the concepts of high mysticism and new age spirituality to a modern audience desperately in need of a spiritual renaissance, but the problem with it was the science fiction backdrop of the story drowned out any of the messages the filmmakers wanted to send out. Enter now Doctor Strange in 2016, which is the first film I've encountered to actively preach the mystical side of science and spirituality, using actual concepts from Eastern philosophy. True, the space-shifting that's able to bend entire city blocks may be a bit too far out to be considered plausible by the average moviegoer who has never tried any psychedelic substance. But the concepts of energy, the multiverse, and the interconnectedness of all life have been known by sages and shamans for millenia, and it's only high time that Hollywood start making these ideas mainstream.

The Ancient One gives free out-of-body experiences.

Doctor Strange. USA. 2016.

Original rating: 7.9/10
Fight sequences: +0.1
No Rachel McAdams nudity: -0.1
Wong's Beyoncé addiction: +0.1
Magical hand gestures: +0.1
Final rating: 8.1/10


Movie Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, or This May Be Tim Burton's First Superhero Movie

Twin children everywhere will probably dress up like the creepy twins this Halloween.

The title pretty much gives you the premise of the entire movie. It pretty much sounds like an institution, sort of like an orphanage, the wards of which are children with peculiarities, under the guardianship of a lady named Miss Peregrine. And although this very much sounds like the uncanny X-Men (replace "institution" with "school for the gifted", "peculiar children" with "mutants", and "Miss Peregrine" with "Professor Charles Xavier"), this is not a superhero movie.

First off, it's not based on a comic book by Marvel, but from a novel by author Ransom Riggs. Second, it's not science fiction, and neither is it fantasy, despite the fantastical elements of the story. The proper literary term for this is magical realism, a genre that Netflix has tried to force on their Pablo Escobar series Narcos.

Tim Burton is one of the few directors that can tackle magical realism quite effortlessly. It's like his default genre, the way the suspense thriller is Alfred Hitchcock's or the biopic is Ron Howard's. Visually, this film definitely has Burton's trademark look, accentuated by the excellent costume designs by his frequent collaborator Colleen Atwood. The bleak Welsh atmosphere captured perfectly by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, who also did Inside Llewyn Davis, a film which also utilised the bleach-bypass look, which is a technique with film negatives, though I'm not sure if Delbonnel shot on video.

Would've been nice if one of them had the power to blow endless streams of marijuana smoke.

The strength of this film is not in its story. Although I haven't read the source material, I think the screen adaptation hasn't fully captured what the book has to offer. It's like somehow, you can feel that there's more to this story which the two-hour running time failed to translate. That said, the screenplay isn't bad. But it isn't great either. The actual strength of this Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children lies in the performances. Of course, I'm not talking about Asa Butterfield, who's already hit the awkward stage of his adolescence. With his gangly frame and commendable American accent, he just can't outshine the adults; none of the children can, actually, even with Ella Purnell's promising talent.

Samuel L. Jackson as the Barron might seem like his standard villain performance, but the fact that he never utters any curse word or profanity is a big achievement in itself. I was always half-expecting him to say something like "motherfucker", until I remembered that this was supposed to be a young adult film adapted from a young adult novel. Chris O'Dowd is brilliant as Jake's dad, playing the comic relief with just the right subtlety, and impressing Hollywood with his near-perfect American accent. And of course, Miss Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is splendid as always, and although she plays the title role, she is not the main protagonist in this film. Despite her screen time being comparatively limited, she manages to outshine everyone else here. The only one who could've upstaged her would be Dame Judi Dench as Miss Avocet, so it's probably a good thing that Dame Judi had way less screen time, and spent a significant part of that as a bird.

"Dame Judi ain't upstaging me."

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. USA/UK/Belgium. 2016.

Original rating: 7/10
Terence Stamp's short screen time: -0.1
Ella Purnell's pretty face: +0.1
Time travel element: +0.1
Enoch's power of necro-puppetry: +0.1
Emma's power to control air: +0.1
Jake's power to see the monsters: -0.1
Hugh's power of bees in his mouth: -0.1
Bronwyn's super strength: +0.1
Claire and the mouth behind her head: -0.1
Fiona's power to make things grow fast: +0.1
Horace's power to project his dreams from his eye: +0.1
Olive's pyrokinesis: +0.1
Millard's power of invisibility: +0.1
Twin gorgons: +0.1
Final rating: 7.6/10


Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven, or Seven Magnificent Things About This Film

Vincent D'Onofrio should count as two persons.

Before anything else, let me just say that this movie isn't an original. It's a remake. The original film of the same title was released in 1960, directed by John Sturges, and starred Hollywood powerhouse actors Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn, among others. But that film was also a remake (a more precise term would be a "transposition") of the great Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. So you could say this film is a remake of a remake.

Anyway, whether or not you're iffy about remakes, or if you lament the lack of original screenplays in Hollywood, here are seven magnificent reasons to go see this film.

1. It's a Western
Yes, Westerns are a western genre (See what I did there?). Well, not just the West in general, but America in particular, because it was only their country that had the westward expansion. But apart from cowboys and Indians, Westerns embody something much more than its geographical setting. Westerns take us back to the grit of the past, when social relationships were wilder, when death was an everyday occurrence, and when the line between banditry and chivalry was blurred at best.

See? Western.

2. Peter Sarsgaard is despicable
I first saw Peter Sarsgaard in An Education alongside Carey Mulligan. He comes off as a nice guy, with a sort of Paul Rudd vibe, so seeing him in a villainous role is a huge break from character. And no, he is not related to Stellan Skarsgård.

Great goatees always indicate villains.

3. Chris Pratt is funny
Chris Pratt never really broke away from the comedic mold he was known for in Parks and Recreation. Even after shedding some weight and buffing up for his roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, his comedy chops still remained a part of his acting arsenal. In this film, he gets the funniest lines, making him the unofficial comic relief.

Chris Pratt, in his best "I'm-no-comic-relief" pose.

4. Denzel Washington is, well, Denzel
Don't get me wrong, Denzel Washington is the manliest of the Magnificent Seven. He is indeed the most alpha-male among the cast. My only problem? He's black. No, I'm not being racist. Hear me out. I just think it's not historically accurate. The movie has no date of reference, so let's peg it at sometime around the real-life Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which was in 1881. Slavery officially ended in the United States after the Emancipation Proclamation in 22 September 1862. Chisolm, Denzel's character, wouldn't have been out of place then as a free man in the Wild West. But for him to lead five white men and a Native American? Highly unlikely. The African-American Civil Rights Movement went full swing in the 1960s, and before that, black people were segregated to the back of buses. What I'm saying is, if this film were historically accurate, Chisolm would've been lynched within the first fifteen minutes.

"I'm still pissed about his Oscar win for Training Day."

5. Antoine Fuqua is brilliant
Aside from directing both Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington in Training Day, Antoine Fuqua also directed King Arthur, the period film which launched Clive Owen's Hollywood career. Like King Arthur, The Magnificent Seven is an ensemble film starring multiple cast members, and Fuqua seems to have action films like these covered. It's a wonder Disney hasn't asked him to direct a Marvel flick. He'd be great at it. Or maybe they already did, and he declined. Whatever.

"You know why Chisolm's black? That's right, motherfucker."

6. Haley Bennett is pretty... good
Yes, Haley Bennett is a good actress. But what I really want to say is, damn, she is really pretty. In the film, it's not that noticeable, because of the grit and grime from the dust of the wild west. But once I saw the real Haley Bennett, I was like, "Damn, what a beauty".

I mean, come on. Look at her.

7. Some characters died (Spoilers ahead)
So this is the story of seven men who risked their lives to thwart evil and save innocent lives. With such a noble premise as this, one should already expect that there will indeed be deaths, innocent or otherwise. Not all of the Magnificent Seven made it alive; that would be too implausible, too Hollywood. But not all of them died, either, which made it more realistic. Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) died like Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, shot with arrows. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and the Chinaman Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) died in the sniper's nest up in the church steeple. And Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) had the most magnificent death of them all: sacrificing himself to take out the big guns with a stick of dynamite. Among the seven, the last ones standing were Chisolm the negroe (Washington), Vasquez the Mexican (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest the Indian (Martin Sensmeier), which is probably a statement about how the ethnic minorities will be the last ones standing after a gunfight.

The boys doing the mandatory "Armageddon walk".

The Magnificent Seven. USA. 2016.

Original rating: 7/10
No Haley Bennett nudity: -0.1
Gunfights: +0.1
Vincent D'Onofrio's horse-bump: +0.1
Final rating: 7/10


Movie Review: The Beatles: Eight Days a Week–The Touring Years, or A Beatles Documentary For Millenials

Apple Corps via The Daily Mail
Sleepovers were probably awesome. 

Some of you may be wondering, "Do we really need a new Beatles documentary?" The answer is, well, it depends. If you're a millenial who only discovered the Beatles on Spotify, then yes, we do. If you're an old fan who was already alive when all four Beatles were, then yes, we do. Okay, so it doesn't really depend. The world does need a new Beatles documentary.

Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years is as the title suggests–a documentary about the touring years of the Beatles, from their early road struggles in Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany in 1960 up to their last live concert in Candlestick Park, San Francisco in 1966. As a treat, however, director Ron Howard threw in their gig at the rooftop of the Apple Corps. office in 1969 which, although not part of the touring years, was the Fab Four's final live performance.

Before they had moptops. Circa 1957.

For the new fans, they'll get to see footage of the Beatles in their prime, showing how John, Paul, George, and Ringo became the biggest band in the UK and how they seamlessly transitioned across the pond to become the biggest band in the English-speaking world. For old fans, especially the die-hard ones who've seen hours of Beatles videos before this, they'll get to see all-new never-before-seen footage of the Beatles, gathered from fans' home movies which were filmed during the actual tour dates.

The film features archive interviews from the late Messrs. Lennon and Harrison, as well as new interviews from Sir Paul McCartney (who doesn't seem to have aged well), and the great Ringo Starr (who seems to have looked cooler with age). Then there are also celebrity memoirs, recounting their fond and nostalgic memories of Beatlemania, including Elvis Costello, Eddie Izzard, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sigourney Weaver.

Back in their Cavern days.

Pretty noticeable was how cool the Beatles were. Aside from being very cheeky, especially in interviews, they seem to exude that happy-go-lucky attitude, making their performances seem like playtime, when in reality, that's one of the most gruelling tasks a human being can endure. They never do seem to take themselves seriously except when making music and writing songs. That's their craft, that's what they do best, and that's something they really take seriously.

The Beatles weren't really after the fame nor the prestige; these were just a by-product of their excellent music. Well, yes they did want to reach the "toppermost of the poppermost", but what they really wanted was to be the best in songwriting and music-making. They put premium on the music and the performances, and when all the screaming fans couldn't give them the best of what a live musical experience should be, they ditched that and concentrated on giving their best in the studio. After their retirement from live performances, the world didn't really mourn the loss of Beatles music, because their remaining years in Abbey Road gave us some of the best recorded albums in history, forever cementing their legacy in music history.

One of their last live gigs at Shea Stadium.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week–The Touring Years. USA/UK. 2016.

Original rating: 8/10
The Cavern footage: +0.2
Not enough Cavern footage: -0.1
Not enough Hamburg footage: -0.1
Manila footage: +0.2
Not enough Manila footage: -0.1
The Beatles against segregation: +0.1
Final rating: 8.2/10


Movie Review: Train to Busan, or Zombies on a Bullet Train

The true hero of this film. In my opinion.

The premise of Train to Busan is pretty simple and straightforward: Zombies on a train. And the final product doesn't suck like another movie with a simple and straightforward premise, Snakes on a Plane.

Now, there are no actual zombies in real life. In the movies, however, there are two types: we have the slow, lumbering ones (like in The Walking Dead), and we have the fast, athletic ones (like in 2004's Dawn of the Dead). In Train to Busan, the zombies move as quickly as Korea's bullet trains–figuratively, of course, but they are still fast as hell. Actually, they kind of embody both speed characteristics of popular zombies. When they're not chasing any uninfected humans, they just stand around loitering like homeless people waiting for free food. But once they spot a potential meal, they go berserk, and start running so fast that they could chase a regular train down if they wanted to. Oh, and also, as long as they don't see you, you don't exist to them–sort of like the Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park, but not quite.

The good thing about this: NOT CGI.

Another notable feature of Train to Busan is its seeming lack of back story. The story focuses more on the human relationships, such as the father-daughter drama, the husband-pregnant wife drama (future dad is our favourite character), the teenage lovers tragedy, and the evil CEO (or was he a COO?) angle. We've actually resorted to creating nicknames for the characters, because calling them by their Korean names would still be confusing since we don't speak Korean (they all sound alike). We've called the dad-to-be "Baby", his wife as "Preggy Mommy", and the teenage couple "KathNiel".

Kath without the 'Niel.

The suspense and the thriller take center stage, of course, because this is a zombie flick. But saturating the film with blood and gore wouldn't help tell a good story, because it's the humans who are the stars here, not the zombies. So to create a balance, writer-director Sang-ho Yeon injected humour, and was very generous with the dramatic moments. It's the human drama, after all, that makes the deaths more painful to watch.

How or why the zombie outbreak happened is not the concern of the narrative, because in a real-life zombie pandemic, it's the living, breathing, uninfected humans we'll be concerned about. To hell with the infected. Also, if you're interested in the backstory, you can check out the animated prequel, Seoul Station, which was also written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon.

Basically, Metro Manila's rush hour train crowd.

Busanhaeng (Train to Busan). South Korea. 2016.

Original rating: 8.5/10
Use of fast zombies: +0.1
Death of "Baby": -0.1
Death of Little Girl's dad: -0.1
Final rating: 8.4/10


Movie Review: War Dogs, or Jonah Hill Is Fat But Brilliant

"What do you think, Miles? Should I aim for 'Best Actor'?"

For two guys in a buddy flick, Jonah Hill and Miles Teller exhibit great chemistry, which I assume extends offscreen.

In War Dogs, the new drama from Todd Philips brings us back to the mid-2000s, back when the war in the Middle East was on the minds of most Americans. We follow David Packouz (Teller) and Efraim Deveroli (Hill), two childhood friends from Miami, as they become professional arms dealers under Deveroli's company AEY. Take note, this is a profession very uncommon among 25-year pot smokers, but through a mixture of determination, talent, and sheer luck, they win a multi-million dollar Pentagon contract to supply arms to armed forces in Afghanistan. This isn't a shady black market deal gone wrong, but it could just as well be, because a few snitches and glitches and double-crosses later, AEY is taken down by the FBI.

Films based on a true story tend to be either serious or boring, which should not be the case, because a lot of times fact trumps fiction in terms of interesting stories. War Dogs is neither serious nor boring; in fact, it's a wild romp. The end credits of the movie says it was based on the Rolling Stone article "Arms and the Dudes", but that is apparently inaccurate. The actual Rolling Stone article is titled "The Stoner Arms Dealers: How Two American Kids Became Big-Time Weapons Traders", written by Guy Lawson back in 2011. He then turned this into a book in 2015, and its Amazon page lists it as Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners From Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History. The question then is: Three? I read the Rolling Stone article, and Alex Podrizki, the third gunrunner, was only mentioned towards the end.

See? No Podrizki. Just two war dogs.

War Dogs is proof that Todd Phillips is a good director. Ordinary, mediocre directors tend to excel in a certain genre only, but shift them to another genre and they flounder. Phillips is known for his weird and offbeat comedies, most famous of which is The Hangover trilogy, yet he transitions to drama seamlessly, and hopeully we can expect more serious flicks with him at the helm. Granted, this film also has some comedic elements going for it, but that's more than welcome if only to diffuse the tension that the really serious topic of gun smuggling brings.

Although Miles Teller is a good actor (remember his fatigue- and angst-ridden drummer in Whiplash?), this film belongs to Jonah Hill. If you can, even for an instant, put his annoying laugh out of your mind, and if you can get past his onscreen obesity, you'd see that Hill has come a long way since his early comedy films such as Superbad. In fact, Jonah Hill is so method in this movie that he gained an unhealthy amount of weight for this role in order to tip the scales, presumably to make his character more despicable. He is, after all, a two-time Oscar nominee.

"Seriously, bro... Am I that fat?"

War Dogs. USA. 2016.

Original rating: 7.5/10
No Ana de Armas nudity: -0.1
Bradley Cooper with facial hair: -0.1
Based on a true story: +0.1
Jonah Hill's laugh: -0.1
Drug use: +0.1
Final rating:7.4/10


Short Film Review: Mower Minions, or Good Thing This Is a Short, Because I Have No Patience

Bananas in pajamas overalls.

As is the current trend with animated feature films, viewers are treated to a preceding short film, which may or may not be related to the main feature. For Illumination Entertainment, the studio behind Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets is its seventh full-length feature release, and its accompanying short, Mower Minions, is the studio’s first short. Oh, and it stars the studio’s poster boys, a.k.a. the Minions.

The short starts out in the Minions’ living room, where they are watching a home shopping channel selling blenders. Realising that they would need this to make banana smoothies, they break open their piggy bank to see how much funds they have. Of course they don’t have any money, so they decide to do some manual labour to earn some extra income. So they head over to Fuzzy Memories Retirement Home to do some yard work, but instead they wreak havoc. What did you expect with Minions and power tools, anyway? What they actually bring to the senior citizens isn’t cleanliness; it’s happiness. Turns out the oldies haven’t laughed hard in a long time, and so the Minions get paid for their destructive antics, which they use to purchase their blender.

Like with babies, the more time you spend with Minions, the more their speech becomes intelligible, and you find yourself recognising more and more words from their very strange and limited vocabulary. But like with true slapstick comedy, words aren’t necessary, as the hilarious actions speak volumes.

In Pixar’s case, the accompanying short films tend to serve as the training ground for directors who will eventually move on to direct their full-length movies. In Illumination’s case, it seems that the shorts serve as nothing more than extra time for the movie patrons to make it to their seats. Mower Minions is still entertaining, though, don’t get me wrong. But if you’re looking for something that could get an Oscar nomination for Best Short, you’re not going to find it here.

Unlike that leaf blower, this short won't blow you away.


Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets, or It's a Pity Kids Don't Know Who Louis C.K. Is

This probably looked good in 3D.

Like most computer-animated films being released nowadays, The Secret Life of Pets is also released with a preceding animated short film. Unlike other computer-animated films, however, this film's short sucks. The plot is about the Minions (those cute/annoying yellow turds from Despicable Me) trying to purchase a blender, then hilarity ensues. For adults, that hilarity is ho-hum. But the kids will probably have a good laugh over it.

The premise of The Secret Life of Pets is basically like Toy Story for animals. It's pretty straightforward in the title: when the owners are away, pets have a secret life, like this classic poodle that plays death metal music while banging its head. The timeline for this movie occurs in one of those periods between the owner's departure and arrival. So that's maybe twelve hours? I wonder how long that is in dog time.

Duke is so cute. Like a walking chocolate carpet.

This film isn't bad. It's just not Pixar-level good. For adults, it doesn't have that "Aww" factor we associate with animated films that tug at the heartstrings, except maybe for those who are hardcore pet lovers. I wouldn't know, because I'm not hardcore, but there might be a pet reference or two in this film that could be considered as nuggets of wisdom. Again, I wouldn't know, as I mostly just sat back and laughed at the jokes.

Seeing that this film is mainly for children, the casting of voice actors was most likely the studio's attempt to appeal to the grown-up crowd. There's Louis C.K. as Max, Eric Stonestreet as Duke, Kevin Hart as Snowball the bunny, Albert Brooks as Tiberius, Dana Carvey as Pops, among other stars–these are just some of the biggest names in comedy right now, in case you didn't notice (except for Carvey, who was big in the '90s and is making more of a comeback here). These comics are supposed to draw the parents into sharing a two-hour family-friendly movie with their children, although the little kids couldn't really care less about who voices the characters they're seeing onscreen.

That said, The Secret Life of Pets succeeds as a traditional animated film, and I mean traditional in the "cartoons are for children" sense. Adults may not share the same sentiment, especially those who've been exposed to a lot of Pixar and Studio Ghibli.

You just gotta love the texture on that dog's nose.

The Secret Life of Pets. USA. 2016.

Original rating: 6/10
Dana Carvey: +0.1
Taylor Swift's "Welcome to New York" as the opening song: +0.1
Final rating: 6.2/10


Review: The Get Down, o Ang History ng Hip-Hop na Gawa ng Isang White Guy

Graffiti sa tren. New York na New York.

Noong makita niyo ang promotional materials para sa The Get Down, malamang pareho tayo ng naisip: Oh, a show about hip-hop? Malamang parang Empire lang 'to, pero set in the 70s. Well actually, medyo parang Empire siya, pero hindi rin.

Siyempre, dahil si Baz Luhrmann ang co-creator nito, alam mo na more or less kung ano ang ie-expect. Malaking production ito, tulad ng ibang Baz Luhrmann films na Romeo + Juliet at Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby, at Australia. Sinasabi nga na ang The Get Down ay ang most expensive show ng Netflix, at one of the most expensive shows ever produced for television. At dahil si Luhrmann din ang co-writer at director ng pilot, na-set na niya ang standard para sa buong series.

Maganda ang production design ng series, at kasama na rito siyempre ang costume designs. Straight out of the 70s, lalo na ang graffiti sa mga pader ng Bronx, ang red Puma sneakers ni Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), ang afros nina Ezekiel (Justice Smith) at Dizzee (Jaden Smith, na uncredited, surprisingly), at ang disco costume ni Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Hindi ko lang alam kung totoong footage of old school New York ang ibang eksena na ginagamit pang-intercut sa mga scenes. Pwedeng totoong footage 'yun, or pwedeng modern footage na nilagyan nalang ng film grain para magmukhang luma. Si Grandmaster Flash pala ay totoo. I mean, totoong tao siya na master ng turntables at pioneer ng hip-hop music. Sa show, siya ay pino-portray ng isang actor na si Mamoudou Athie. Pero 'yung totoong Grandmaster Flash, na obviously matanda na, ay associate producer sa show na ito.

Shaolin (kanan) at Flash (kaliwa), na medyo kamukha ni Pharrell.

Dahil ito'y tungkol sa hip-hop, hindi talaga maiiwasan ang mga comparison sa Empire, ang hip-hop show ng Fox na lumabas noong 2015. Actually, malayo ito sa Empire. Ang magkatulad lang siguro sa dalawang shows ay ang African-American, hip-hop music, at New York City. Ang Empire ay mas katulad ng Glee, kung saan may mga original songs. Sabi nga ng British rapper na si Rodney P tungkol sa The Get Down, "I was worried. I saw the trailer and I thought, 'This is gonna be like a hip-hop version of Glee." Buti nalang hindi.

Magaling din ang casting para sa show na ito. Maganda ang chemistry ng DJ na si Shaolin at ng kanyang wordsmith na si Ezekiel, a.k.a. Zeke. Ayos din ang magkakapatid na sina Dizzee, Ra-Ra (Skylan Brooks), at Boo-Boo (Tremaine Brown, Jr.), pero parang tinamad ang writers mag-isip ng pangalan nila. Sa adults naman, ang galing ng mga veterans na sina Jimmy Smits at Giancarlo Esposito bilang magkapatid na magkalayo ang hitsura at landas. Pero ang pinakabida talaga rito ay si Mylene (Herizen Guardiola). Ang galing lang ng boses. At ang ganda pa niya.

In terms of narrative pacing, maganda ang pilot dahil na-hook ako agad. Ang isang indicator kung magiging maganda ang series ay ang pilot, dahil kung hindi ka na-hook sa pilot, hindi mo pagtiyatiyagaan panoorin ang mga susunod na episode. Pero ayos ang pilot, at hindi lang dahil si Baz Luhrmann ang nag-direct. Kaso lang, natapos ang six episodes na parang isang buong season na. Mid-season break lang dapat iyon, dahil twelve episodes talaga ang Season 1. Pero buo na siya e, at malamang ang magiging feel ng next six episodes ay Season 2. Hindi lang ako sigurado, so baka may surprises pa si Luhrmann up his sleeve.

Nakaka-bother ang pekpek shorts ni Boo-Boo.

The Get Down. USA. 2016.

Original na rating: 7/10
Walang Herizen Guardiola nudity: -0.1
Jimmy Smits bilang Papa Fuerte: +0.1
Kevin Corrigan bilang Jackie Moreno: +0.1
Kevin Corrigan na taga-Bronx talaga: +0.1
Medyo corny na rhymes ni Nas: -0.1
NYC graffiti: +0.1
Speech ni Zeke sa Episode 6: +0.1
Grandmaster Flash: +0.1
Final na rating: 7.4/10


Review: Ben-Hur, o Bakit Laging Gwapo ang mga Jesus Christ sa Pelikula?

Podrace sa Tatooine. Joke lang.

Matagal na ang kwento ni Ben-Hur. Ang source material nito ay ang nobelang Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ ni Lew Wallace noong 1880, at mula noon ay nagkaroon ng maraming cinematic adaptation. Ang pinakasikat nito ay 'yung Ben-Hur noong 1959 starring Charlton Heston na nanalo ng Oscar para sa performance niya rito. Kaya sa mga nalilito pa rin, fictional po si Ben-Hur. Hindi po siya historical figure.

Wala namang problema ang pelikulang ito story-wise, kasi nga ito ay pang-ilang remake na ng isang sikat na nobela noong turn of the 20th century. The fact na nakailang remake na ito ay proof na maganda ang kwentong ito, so palakpakan natin si Lew Wallace. Siguro kung may isang problema sa kwento, ito ay ang kakulangan sa exposition ng sitwasyon sa Jerusalem noon. Hindi naman kasi lahat ng manonood nito ay Kristiyano, kaya mas mainam sana kung mas naipaliwanag pa nila ito. Although hindi ko pa nababasa ang libro ni Wallace, sa tingin ko mas malaki ang part ni Jesus Christ sa kwento, kaya nga "A Tale of the Christ" ang subtitle ng libro e. Siguro kung mas nadagdagan pa ang bahagi ni Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus, at kung ang Jesus scenes ay naitahi nang maayos sa main narrative, baka mas nasiyahan pa ang mga critics.

Pa-gwapuhan ang labanan ng mga Jesus Christ sa Hollywood.

Performance-wise, maayos naman ang pinakita ni Jack Huston bilang Judah Ben-Hur (literal translation: Judah, anak ni Hur). Maalala niyo siya bilang hitman na kalahati ang mukha sa TV show na Boardwalk Empire, kung saan ang acting niya ay subtle pero very effective. Dito, ayos naman ang acting niya. He doesn't shine, but he delivers. Si Toby Kebbell, on the other hand, ay magaling. Bilang adopted brother at future rival ni Judah, nakuha niya ang effective villainy, 'yung may transformation pa mula mabait hanggang masama, at kung saan ang kasamaan niya ay hindi niya sinasadya at napilit lang sa kanya.

Sa anggulong ito, medyo kamukha niya 'yung character niya sa Warcraft.

Meanwhile, si Morgan Freeman naman ay typical Morgan Freeman. Masungit pero mabait na old man ang tipong role na swak na swak sa kanya. Halatang sinulit ng producers ang talent fee niya, dahil maririnig sa simula ng pelikula ang boses niya bilang voice-over narration. Nakaka-distract lang ang close-up shots niya, dahil nakikita ko ang mga nunal niya sa mukha na parang monggo bread. Tsaka 'yung dreadlocks, diyos ko po. Parang mop. Pekeng-peke at nakaka-distract.

"Ano ba problema? Hindi ba bagay sa akin ang rasta look?"

Wala rin namang problema sa direksiyon ni Timur Bekmambetov, na kung naaalala niyo ay siya ring nag-direct ng Wanted. Si Bekmambetov ay magaling sa mga action sequence, kaya naman ang sikat na chariot race sequence sa huli ay sobrang nakakadala. Pero honestly, sayang naman ang directing prowess ni Bekmambetov kung another remake lang ang gagawin niya.

Sa palagay ko, the world doesn't need another Ben-Hur movie. Kung gusto ng Hollywood ng mas marami pang sword-and-sandal epics, marami pang magagandang kwento sa Bible na hindi pa naisasa-pelikula. Pero para sa mga kabataan ngayon, dapat niyo nga itong panoorin kung ang kilala niyo lang na Ben-Hur ay si Ben-Hur Abalos.

Hmmm... cross? Okay, gets.

Ben-Hur. USA. 2016.

Original na rating: 7/10
Walang Ayelet Zurer nudity: -0.1
Walang Nazanin Boniadi nudity: -0.1
Chariot race sequence: +0.1
Naval battle sequence: +0.1
Dreadlocks ni Morgan Freeman: -0.1
Kagwapuhan ni Rodrigo Santoro: -0.1
Final na rating: 6.8/10


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