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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


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