Interstellar – When Science Speaks To Humanity

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The movie Gravity was said to have established the standard when it comes to movies depicting fairly accurate scientific laws and theories. But ever since the release of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, it seems that Gravity does not hold this recognition any longer – not because its depiction of science wasn’t in the same level of accuracy than Interstellar, but rather that Interstellar depicted a mind blowing and beautiful visualization of theoretical physics that seemed more enticing than “flying space objects”.

Of course, such comparative analysis may seem shallow as it sounds like I’m only tackling the visual effects – but it is not easy to simplify theoretical physics in such a way that the movie utilizes it as several plot devices spread over to transform its narrative. Indeed, to “laymanize” theoretical physics alone is an amazing feat in itself. But what Interstellar did was to go beyond the said challenge, using scientific concepts as a device in telling a great story!

The movie begins upon the premise of Earth’s impending doom. Mankind is challenged by the notion that sooner or later, it must find a new home somewhere in the stars. While seemingly sounding like another “doomsday movie”, Interstellar refreshes the theme by asking difficult moral choices both implied and explicit throughout the decisions and dialogues of its several characters. The machiavellians clash with the liberals within the film, of which Interstellar drums up the dramatization just enough to get its audience hooked while leaving out the cheesiness. This movie is definitely for the “thinking layman”. For every morally grey question posed by the film, it entices us to ask ourselves if the survival of humanity is worth the actions we decide. It’s through this constant self-assessment to which Interstellar hooks its audience until the end of the film.

As mentioned, science as a utility plays a deep role within the story. Interstellar is able to simplify the complex mumbo-jumbo of theoretical physics mostly through dialogues among the characters. While this serves as a challenge for the film to keep its audience interested, such tactics worked for Interstellar. This is because the movie never bothered to separate morality from science itself. Instead, the movie’s narrative presented it in a single package, to which these ideas sometime clash – and at other times play in unison. In fact, the narrative presents its characters as being challenged and flabbergasted by this question.

“Does it necessitate to sacrifice our humanity to save humanity?”

Once you watch the entire movie, you will probably understand this question even more. And that’s what makes Interstellar so compelling. The fair accuracy of its science is great, but the movie’s continuous focus on morality – and the hard truths that come with it – is what gives this movie the potential to become an Oscar-winner. The manner to which the scenes are presented are done so in harmony of the movie’s general themes. The characters are relatable in a way, but not necessarily through their characteristics; but more so through their struggles. These struggles were presented and directed in a visually tense form, compounding the already great narrative of the movie.

There have been some minor issues that I faced with the film, such as in some of the scenes where I could barely understand Matthew McConaughey’s accent. But such “nitpickish” problems did not stray me away from the movie. There’s so much more for me to say about the film, but I’d rather that you watch it yourself.

Of course, there have been those who may have been confused with some of the science depicted in the film – and it’s alright if you got a bit confused with those scenes mentioned. Youtube and 9gag have several charts and videos to help you untie those confusions. Yet, I’d personally say that the experience of watching Interstellar is even greater if you at least understand some of the basics of general relativity and quantum mechanics. It makes the movie experience so much better.

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Don’t worry, you don’t need to read on the hard maths of general relativity. Wikipedia is there to the rescue!

Overall, I’d give the movie a 9/10. Fairly accurate science, great story, and more exciting than Gravity in my point of view. And, of course, theoretical physics is sexy!

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That Thing Called Tadhana – Where Bitter People Go To Watch

That Thing Called Tadhana is not a romantic film, nor a film that defends the sanctity of romance – such perspectives in reference to the opinion that regardless of tribulations, a relationship must last forever. This is because the film’s premise bases itself on the very simple fact that “forever” does not exist. It is an hobbesian presentation of an unsweetened and harsh truth that as life itself is brutish, so must romance be decided on this very similar basis.

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Baguio? Sagada? Nope, probably in your room. Alone. Asking yourself why you’re terribly single.

Indeed, the beginning of the movie alone already dictates the flow and entirety of the film. It begins with Mace (played by Angelica Panganiban) coming home from Rome right after her huge breakup with her ex-boyfriend of 8 or so years. Her current circumstances lead her to meeting Anthony (played by JM de Guzman) as the two go on a journey in decoding Mace’s very insecurities and frustrations from her past romantic relationship. It definitely sounds like your average (non) romantic flick, but That Thing Called Tadhana relies strongly on execution to deliver its message to the audience. Personally, I didn’t really feel any sort of romantic chemistry between the two protagonists. But that’s exactly the point that the movie is trying to portray its characters. Mace and Anthony were never meant to have chemistry, to which the story frankly strays away from the cliched “strangers turned lovers” storyline. Such tropes aren’t fitting for the film’s plot.

There are times though that I could barely hear the dialogue between Mace and Anthony. While such deliverance of dialogues are indeed realistic – going against your average “I must shout to state my opinion in a overtly dramatic way” cliche of Filipino romance – it seems that the sound director forgot to make their character’s discussions comfortably audible where you don’t need to raise sound volumes to full levels. But audibility problems in the film were more of a nuisance rather than a major errata. I also didn’t like how JM De Guzman would always have his mouth slightly open while staring at something or at blank space. Actually, you should be noticing by now that I’m nitpicking, but only because the film was well executed. Acting was decent and believable. Visuals were cutely drawn and well done in enriching the movie’s story. It had a simple plot, which is girl needs to move on with some guy’s help. A 5th grader can conceive of such a storyline, but to execute it requires a mix of patience and talent.

Director and Writer (Antoinette Jadaone) seems to have both skill traits. After all, she was also involved in the equally successful romantic Filipino film, English Only, Please. The difference, of course, between the two films is very evident. Jadaone’s previous work – English Only, Please – seeks to refresh Filipino romantic films within the confines of mainstream criteria. In contrast, That Thing Called Tadhana worked with the presumption that it would only cater to viewers of independent films. Little did we expect that the movie would garner mainstream status.

And I’d gladly emphasize that it is the very indie nature of That Thing Called Tadhana that made it alluring to the public. After all, niches in the local movie industry are slowly evolving. The age of ultra-cliched romantic movies have come to pass. They’re stale, boring – and no amount of star power could save this cliched trend from utter irrelevancy. Instead, they are monopolized among groups of teen romance die hard fans. But not everyone are die hard fans of love teams. With social media driving trends on romance to be more personal, more accurate, That Thing Called Tadhana was simply the right film in the right moment to capture this hunger for such demand.

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Yeah, not everyone is a fan of Mr. “We got it all for you!”. Neseye ne eng lehet, right?

And with the movie capturing a huge box office of P120 million, this may only set the precedence for more similarly constructed films to be shown to the mainstream public. Of course, cliched romantic films will still exist – but will move to more limited roles with a much more defined audience. But if you’re interested in seeing a grittier and personal take on romance – or the lack of it – then That Thing Called Tadhana is the perfect medicine for such desires. It does not pander to romantic dialogues, nor star power tandems – but at least it’s honest. It’s this very honesty that made it a successful and well executed movie in the first place.

Review Score: 8/10

50 Shades of Grey – Terrible

The movie was shit, and that’s pretty much the summary of the review.

Of course being a review, this blog needs to justify the shitty nature of the film itself.

Everyone is correct to expect that the film is horrible. Just buying the ticket alone, I actually hesitated if I even wanted to push through with the review in the first place. If the book is horrible, then certainly the movie must be worse. That is, after all, the unwritten rule of cinema. The book is always better. But in the context of 50 Shades of Grey, better isn’t even good to begin with.

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50 shades of fucked up

The movie does not hesitate to go straight to the famous interview scene” that introduces us to the protagonists: Anastasia Steel (or Steele, I forgot) and Christian Grey. And just looking at the name of Anastasia alone, you know that it’s gonna be a terrible movie. What kind of an author names their character “Anastasia Steel” anyway?

But going back, the first 10 minutes of movie alone would make you regret watching the movie. It just spoonfeeds its audience with every single detail, most of which wouldn’t even matter in the grander scale of the narrative.

Hey Anastasia, you think you can handle the interview?

Well, I have a 4.0 GPA so I think I can handle it.

*sigh* We get it. Anastasia is suppose to be this perfect innocent and intelligent girl – while Christian Grey is suppose to be this perfect sex god/billionaire/guy of your sexual dreams. If there is any movie that does not hesitate to use super cliche devices or overused tropes, 50 Shades of Grey is that kind of movie.

And if you think that the characterization is bad (if there is any to be honest), wait ’til you get to see the acting itself. We finally have a contender for the Kristen Stewart emoteless actress award. Thank you Anastasia for showing the audience that there is someone out there who is capable of being as bad or even a bit worse than Kristen Stewart’s acting skills!

I shit you not! The actress of Anastasia Steel (or Steele, whatever) can give Kristen Stewart a run for her money!

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Another title for the movie: Kristen Stewart in a porno

Moreover, there’s barely any consistency with the way the actors portray Anastasia and Christian. Most of the time, you’d see these 2 characters as they are: lame ducks. It’s only in the sex scenes where they start portraying these one-dimensional horny individuals. Fans would say that it is justified as during the sex scenes, the characters open up and show their true selves to each other. But if that’s the case, there should be a transition that’s evident with it – that transition was never present in the film.

What you get to see instead is the narrative forcefully justifying the horny nature of the characters, which when executed by the movie looks very unnatural. The protagonists just become lustful and addicted to sexual pleasure out of convenience to the overall plot and to the audience. It’s lazy storytelling truth be told.

Most scenes in the movie don’t really push the narrative into a higher level. You never get immersed in the movie, because there’s not reason to. It’s just stuck in a vicious cycle present in most pornography.

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50 Shades of Grey Plot Cycle

And that’s the biggest failure of the movie itself. 50 Shades of Grey is simply a highly-financed and big-budgeted porno. It doesn’t help the fact that I was surrounded by 30+ year old women actually being turned on by Christian Grey’s pseudo-BDSM while I was watching it in the cinema. When you watch 50 Shades of Grey, it means you’re paying 240 pesos for a terrible porno. Yeah, sex is great! But you can download shit better than this for free. Have you heard of YouPorn?

Of course, 50 Shades of Grey defenders would argue that the story is about two lovers in an abusive and not-so-normal relationship. Yeah well take your pick. The book glorifies this kind of violence and presents it as being romantic. On the other hand the movie one-ups the book by not necessarily glorifying sex without consent, but it never really focuses on the psychological dispositions of the protagonists either. It’s quite evident that the movie’s focus is to see two-people bang each other.

No matter how much you want to defend the movie, the truth is that the plot is shallow, characters are reduced to bipolar sexual caricatures layered with a cliched guy-girl relationship, and that the script writing looks as if that it never had a second draft.

“Thanks for the ride” as Anastasia terribly implies the sexual ride she had with Christian Grey

“Laterz baby” as Christian jokingly mocks his brother’s vocabulary with Anastasia, but says the same line again 30 minutes after in a more serious tone

“I want to touch you. Let me touch you” as Anastasia complains to Christian the she wants more than a sexual relationship, by having more sex (if that makes sense to you)

I swear, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Twilight movie series had a better scriptwriting than this bullshit. Those lines that I just showed you aren’t from the book either, they’re from the movie. But I can’t believe that the movie has the same unpoetic disaster that its source material also suffers from. It’s for this reason and more that the movie deserves a 2/10 score. It’s not even a good rating for well-made pornography standards.

50 Shades of Grey should be called out for what it really is, a money-making scheme that’s never intended to entertain anyone. It just simply aims to capitalize on the success of the book, and worse off the movie itself is self-aware. It knows that its target audience only wish to enjoy the sex scenes, and being that the customer is always right, it does so with no questions asked.

We the audience are the ones responsible for creating this monstrosity. And so long as we continue to contribute to 50 Shades of Grey’s movie sales, we’re only signaling to its Hollywood producers that this will be the trajectory of the greater movie industry: cheap films for big bucks.

In this battle, corporate interest has won over artistic talent – and 50 Shades of Grey is its vanguard.

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Universal Studios is pleased with your undying devotion to 50 Shades of Grey. Who knows? Maybe next time we might get to see a 50 Shades-themed ride at Universal Studios!

She’s Dating the Gangster – Another Generic Teen Flick

The recent Papal Visit in the Philippines taught me much about mercy and compassion, but it seems that I could not show mercy nor compassion for this film. That’s right, it’s the movie based on a Wattpad fan fiction called She’s Dating the Gangster.

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*sigh*

The movie is obviously meant for the KatNiel fandom. You know, the Kathryn Bernardo – Daniel Padilla romantic combination sweeping the Philippines? But of course, just like how religion is not excused from criticism – same goes with films obviously meant as a cash cow to milk its fan base.

One thing I noticed is that the movie decided not to follow its source material. It’s great in a way, because the source material had an awkwardly-constructed narrative with an overdose of cheesiness. What’s not great, however, is that the movie decided to replace the original source material’s story with another awkwardly-constructed narrative of its own.

I mean the scenes alone were constructed by the scriptwriters to force the two protagonists to fall in love with each other. Actually, make that 4 protagonists. That’s right! Remember when I said that the movie decided to move away from its source material? That’s because the script writer felt like they wanted to portray two storylines at the same time! Which is great if executed well, but not really as you’ll see in a bit.

Of course, being a movie that was constructed as a means to milk cash from its fandom – they decided that the other 2 protagonists/teen couples should also be portrayed by THE SAME actors. So we have Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla playing 2 ROLES in 1 MOVIE! What a great idea!

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And just in case you didn’t get my sarcasm in my last sentence

I mean, of all the KatNiel films that had so many crazy ideas to cash on the KatNiel craze – this idea takes the cake! You want more KatNiel? Let’s put them into 2 roles at the same time! But I digress.

Going back to the scenes. It felt forced. I understand how circumstances have more liberties within the cinema world, I mean sure that’s artistic liberty. But it starts getting even more irrational when you have so many plot devices that’s forcing the romantic couples to fall in love with each other. It just doesn’t feel natural. And the fact that it feels forced, that means you have a terrible film direction.

Speaking of film direction, it also feels annoying how Kathryn Bernardo’s 2 female roles need to have the same pa landi trait that doesn’t change based on circumstance. I mean, is this suppose to be romantic? Cause the romantic background music that’s playing right now is telling me that it should be? But no, it’s not. It’s annoying. In happy moments, Kathryn is being flirtatious. In normal moments, Kathryn is being flirtatious. If not flirtatious, she’s being kikay or low brow. In fact, those are the only 2 characterizations that Kathryn can portray for her characters – either flirtatious or low brow.

I mean sure, Kathryn’s characters have to relate with the audience – with the audience being mostly the type who enjoy low brow entertainment – but what’s lacking for most of Kathryn’s acting is that she couldn’t show the natural side of her character or any sort of unique development. Forget about the 2 characters that Kathryn is portraying, because they’re practically the same! There’s no character differentiation.

Same goes with Daniel Padilla’s 2 roles.  The way that Daniel and Kathryn portray their characters are simply generic cut outs of some script. It feels unnatural, and they portray the characters so unnaturally that I’m not even sure how the audience can relate with them.

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Kenji who? I forgot the character’s name seeing how generic they are. I’ll just call you Daniel 1, and the other guy Daniel 2

Okay fine. To be fair, there were some moments of greatness that the movie could have capitalized on. Yes, I’m serious! There was this one scene in Kenji’s house – in which, Daniel Padilla was portraying Kenji – where he was confessing to Kathryn about how he misses his big sister or what not. In that scene, Daniel and Kathryn’s acting were actually pretty okay! I mean, I could really feel the emotion from the two. And these scenes are great because we don’t see a cut out cardboard of Daniel and Kathryn. We actually see the characters themselves having a unique identity of their own separate from their actors.

But what ruins most of these genuinely great scenes is the generic love songs that keeps on playing. I mean, sure there are times that it’s good to play background music as a means to strengthen the emotional aspect of a scene – but for the movie, it’s just overused! Never mind that the background music used were pretty generic, the way that they were overused gets pretty annoying. And the movie is 2 hours! That’s right, 2 HOURS. For most of the 2 hours, you hear a generic love song or a generic sad song that makes the movie look more like a 2 hour music video than a film.

Maybe I’m just pretty harsh with my critique. The fact that you constantly see KatNiel trending in Philippine twitter-space everyday get’s pretty annoying. But suspending my bias against KatNiel, what’s bad about this film is not necessarily the generic and awkwardly-constructed storyline. What’s saddening about this film is really on its execution. Honestly, if the movie knew how to focus on its strong points without pandering the typical movie cliches – this could have actually been a decent film. No joke!

And this is what separates romantic films like English Only, Please and She’s Dating the Gangster – it really boils down to execution. Unfortunately, She’s Dating the Gangster chooses to spoon feed its audience instead of taking risks. This is why the movie deserves a 3/10 score.

What makes this movie a bit tolerable are the few gems such as the set design and the few workable scenes. It’s always great to relive the 90s and its gadgets! But for the rest of the movie, it’s a living nightmare. Never mind the terrible fashion of the movie’s 90s universe, the execution alone would make you cringe.

The Theory of Everything – More Than Just the Fault in Our Stars

When you have some reviewers that criticize the movie for lessening its focus on Hawking’s work, it’s more or less that they miss the point. Some would cite BBC’s Hawking as a good film that balances the focus between Stephen Hawking’s life and his work – particularly in his days in Cambridge. But that’s pretty much the point. We already know a lot about Hawking the Physicist, but we are yet to know much about Hawking the Human.

The Theory of Everything plans to discover the humanity of Stephen Hawking, and the significance of Jane Wilde in his life. While it is true that it is Hawking’s work that made him world famous, it can be argued that it’s his personal challenges that gave way for his intentions. This is pretty much the narrative of the movie. It is a story of hope amid adversity. It’s not just about the relationship of Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde – full stop – but how their relationship fares the harshness of reality.

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“While there is life, there is hope” – which means that there’s still hope for you to get a girlfriend. 

It’s this type of narrative which the movie was able to portray so perfectly. From the setting, right down to the everyday objects used by the characters; it feels as if that the movie was able to give some sort of significance to it. This is evident when in the movie, Stephen Hawking received his all too familiar machine that gives him his robotic voice. By that alone, the object itself becomes significant because it is given meaning by the film – and we are very much familiar with Stephen Hawking’s robotic voice, that went on to become a part of his identity even.

I’m not really sure if the movie’s portrayal of Hawking’s life is done in the most honest way possible. Of course, it is more or less possible that there were some scenes that may have been inspired more by artistic liberty rather than mundane honesty. Nonetheless, whatever the truth is may not necessarily matter if the movie’s focus is more of the narrative rather than historical accuracy. If the directors and producers of the film wanted an honest biography, they would have instead made a normal and undramatic documentary.

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Besides, Stephen Hawking himself endorsed the film. So it’s probably true, “probably” being so-so.

But if the movie’s focus is in the overall narrative, does it play well? I’d say yes. The Theory of Everything knows which scenes to place in the overall arch of the story. It knows which scenes to focus on, how they relate with each other, and how side stories would just mesh perfectly by driving the story even further. The beauty of the film is that – although it puts much focus on Stephen Hawking – it was also able to journey through Jane Wilde’s challenges and frustrations. It does so without necessarily leaving Hawking’s story behind, but rather actually complementing his story even.

Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking himself was a magnificent feat. His portrayal of Stephen Hawking’s gradual evolution of his motor neuron disease was convincing at best. But it was not only that act alone that made Eddie’s acting shine – he was still able to give a strong presence and character to Stephen Hawking, much more in the latter part of the movie where he was only limited to a few words due to said disability. It’s through these acts where it made his character look legitimate. It felt like I was seeing the actual Stephen Hawking.

Felicity Jones portrayal of Jane Wilde was also done well. Her acting would make you cheer for her support of Stephen Hawking. Although the movie wonderfully puts the chess pieces in place for audiences to see Jane Wilde’s struggles, it was Felicity Jones’ acting that sealed the deal. It’s through her portrayal of Jane Wilde that made her insecurities and frustrations seemed real.

Eddie Redmayne’s strong presence and Felicity Jones’ legitimate portrayal was the perfect combination needed by the movie itself. When you see these two facing the tribulations set by the movie’s plot devices, you just can’t help but cheer for them no matter the impossibility. You see these two grow a bond that changes their characters for better or worse. This is only possible because of the two’s superb acting and the movie’s wonderful storytelling.

And what better way to tell a story by not just simply having a well executed plot, but also having perfected the music and set design that tells a story of its own. The Theory of Everything makes no expense that whatever is seen or heard in the film continues to have relevance to the plot – from the background music, to the side characters, right down to the objects. The movie just doesn’t put the characters in a setting just because it looks nice, but rather because it enriches the narrative itself. The movie doesn’t play a background music just because it sounds dramatic, but because it has a role to play in the story. Every line, every object, even the pacing of the story itself gives meaning to the overall narrative of the movie.

From its well-placed British humor to the depressing but self-actualizing dramatic moments – The Theory of Everything is just worth watching. It not only entertains the audience, but let’s you appreciate the artistry of the film itself. It’s due to this that I’d give the movie an overall score of 9/10. No amount of words can fully describe the beauty of the movie. I mean, just at 900 words alone and I am still challenged by how I can just simply describe the magnificence of the film without spoiling much of its plot. No matter, just go and watch it! If you want a movie that sends you on a feels trip, this is definitely the right film for you.

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They should change the title of the movie to “The Feels of Everything”. That’s pretty much what the movie really is about.

English Only, Please – One Big Hugot

Whenever we are reminded of our bittersweet past – particularly with that-person-who-must-not-be-named – Filipinos have a tendency to mention the all too common expression: hugot.

We dig deep into our innermost being, recalling experiences ala psychotherapy Freudian style. English Only, Please is a movie that explores the Filipino hugot. It does so by mostly forgoing traditional formulas of FIlipino romantic comedies, rather taking inspiration from more internet meme worthy experiences that we see too often in Facebook and Twitter. For words like hugot, motmot, nosebleed and whatever known Filipino jargon we see and hear in everyday Filipino pop culture – English Only, Please pokes fun at these narratives. It does so by remaining down to earth in its interpretation of the not-so-modern Filipino relationship.

The duo of Derek Ramsey and Jennylyn Mercado was unexpected. Honestly when I first saw the trailer, I was skeptical if their chemistry could be brought to – at least – workable levels. Last time I saw Derek Ramsey in a romantic film, it was from those secret affair themed movies that didn’t really do wonders for him. In those films, he was pretty much just a walking hunk of plot device only to exist as a cause for conflict between two women. He was not really a character per se. Heck, it would have probably been more entertaining if we just replaced Derek Ramsey with a bank account, and the two women turned into Jews.

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Just imagine the hilarity if No Other Woman was about two Jews fighting over a bank account instead. Racist, but hilarious!

But kidding aside, Derek Ramsey’s portrayal of Julian Parker was actually pretty convincing. His acting was very natural, it’s as if that audiences were really seeing a Filipino-American that has no knowledge of Filipino customs whatsoever. Jennylyn Mercado’s portrayal of Tere Madlansacay was well done too. We already know that Jennylyn has this kikay side, and to portray a kikay character in the movie was probably not too difficult her. Of course, we always see kikay characters in local movies. What makes Tere Madlansacay different from the generic kikays of Philippine Cinema is that she doesn’t bank so much on over-the-top acting. Jennylyn Mercado gives us a character that we can actually relate with. Just like any other Filipina, Tere Madlansacay shares the same struggles and imperfections that we are all too familiar.

The two personalities just click. Not necessarily because they had the right chemistry, but because Tere Madlansacay and Julian Parker are seen slowly building each other’s characters for the better. Unlike other films, English Only, Please does not give us a guy-needs-girl or girl-needs-guy sort of narrative. These tropes are outdated, and have been saturated already by not-so-wonderful romantic comedies. The movie gives us – instead – two characters willing to learn the complexities of love; no matter the consequences.

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And love is definitely complicated. Just ask this love guru, even he’s confused about it.

English Only, Please knows very well when to make audiences laugh, and when to give them the feels. Unlike Praybeyt Benjamin 2, the movie doesn’t choose to bank on outlandish humor. For most of the movie’s jokes, comedy is based on circumstance. A character gives out the perfect timing to be witty or sarcastic, and fate – or should I say, the movie’s screenplay – wonderfully puts all the chess pieces into place. The events portrayed just work out for movie, enriching the narrative and driving it into deeper levels. For a movie with a simple plot, execution matters – and English Only, Please executes its story wonderfully so.

The movie has its flaws, such as that there are some scenes where things become too cheesy for its own good. It would have also been nice if the movie went deeper with Julian Parker’s frustrations, instead of focusing too much on Tere Madlansacay. Nonetheless, such flaws did not necessarily affect the overall narrative. In fact, they were pretty subtle if viewed by an average audience. This is because the movie knows its strengths, and focuses on it for the entire screen time.

English Only, Please is one of the few gems that you could see in the current list of MMFF films. It definitely deserves the awards and distinctions that it has received so far. Derek Ramsey and Jennylyn Mercado are great actors – not because they were the best, but because they were able to relate their characters so well with its audience; and they were able to do so in the most natural way possible. Its narrative may be simple – and falls short of truly innovating romantic comedy. Yet, English Only, Please is like a simple cake that’s well done – and its simple but well executed story line is what makes it work!

It is this fact alone, that I’d give the movie a 7/10 overall score. English Only, Please would take you to familiar romantic comedy cliches, but twist it in an inherently Filipino experience. You will fall in love with Tere Madlansacay’s bubbly character, and you will find it cute to see Julian Parker try to familiarize himself with Filipino pop culture and jargon. For most of the movie though, you will follow the two characters into a journey that untangles the complexities of love – admitting to yourself that to a certain extent, we are all Julian Parkers and Tere Madlansacays. We are all idiots in love.

Praybeyt Benjamin 2 – A Movie Desperate for Laughs

“It’s either you watch the one with Vic Sotto or the movie with the gay comedian. Personally, I’d go with the gay comedian.”

And that – my friends – is why I decided to watch Praybeyt Benjamin 2 over My Big Bossing. You can thank my big sis for helping me out pick which MMFF film to review next. Besides, I was genuinely curious in knowing how Praybeyt Benjamin 2 became MMFF’s blockbuster darling. People expect that it’s going to be horrible, but to make such a claim means that you still have to watch and review it nonetheless.

Being MMFF’s blockbuster darling, it’s quite evident that the movie has been reviewed several times. There’s even one in Rappler, which greatly summarizes what the movie really is about. But if that’s the case? Then why should I review it when it has already been done so in the past, several times even? It’s more of I noticed – at least, personally – that most of the reviews come from people within the movie or commercial art industry. Yet, I rarely see any reviews from average Filipinos like us. I mean, before you try and claim that I’m not part of the target audience – meaning, I’m not part of the masa – consider this.

Just by buying the movie tickets alone, I saw a huge line of people just waiting to get their opportunity to watch Praybeyt Benjamin 2. Sure, you can argue that SM Bicutan is known to be the hangout of jejemons ang gangstahs, but do remember that SM Bicutan is also visited frequently by the middle class. The mall itself is within the vicinity of one of the country’s largest middle class subdivisions – Better Living. Evidently, it can be said that Vice Ganda’s allure is not strictly limited with the masa, but has also spilled over among the Filipino middle class. This can be attributed to Vice Ganda’s strong personality making her the country’s most famous comedian, for better or worse.

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And yes, I’ll be referring to Vice Ganda as a “her”. You know why? Cause social justice, bitch. 

Praybeyt Benjamin 2 merely legitimizes the extent of which Vice Ganda has a strong influence when it comes to contemporary Filipino pop culture. So long as it has Vice Ganda in it, it will sell – and it will sell big time!

I started waiting in line 20 minutes before the movie began. Boy oh boy, was it crowded! I saw families genuinely excited for the latest Vice Ganda comedic antics. I saw a group of LGBTs pretending to be like Vice Ganda. Everywhere I looked, it seemed that I was the only person not in sync with the Vice Ganda fever sweeping the Philippines. I went in, saw a single seat amid the jam-packed theater – then a loud, generic cinematic background music signaled the appearance of the opening credits. It was then, that I muttered to myself:

“Oh God, what am I doing?”

The movie begins with a scene showing a typical provincial airport in the Philippines. I could see the airport terminal in the background, with several giant cardboard-made letters grouped into a name: Charles de Gaulle Airport. Wait, the setting is suppose to be France? The movie can’t even afford to rent an area within NAIA at least? It’s quite obvious from the get go that the movie would not only be cheap in its jokes, but would also be cheap in its set design. No effort was given from the film makers and producing studio to make the movie feel as legitimate as possible. In the first 10 minutes of the movie alone, I was even questioning myself if I was watching an actual movie in the first place. Because honestly, it felt like watching an expensive student-made video project rather than a studio-funded and produced movie.

No care in the world was given for the outlandish and brainless humor that was portrayed in the film. This was pretty evident when the movie greeted its audiences with Vice Ganda trying to utter terribly-accented French phrases. Oh and since this is a Vice Ganda film, let’s fill the extras with lots and lots of guys with well-chiseled muscles and abs! Yeah, not even the cast’s good looks could hide their terrible acting skills. And the horrible part? That’s just the first 10 minutes. After you bare witness to the brainless humor and terrible acting, it’s segment after segment of jokes from there!

This is the problem with the movie. There is practically no difference between the movie and Vice Ganda’s other tv shows. It is merely a show within a comedy bar trying to portray itself as a film. You want a narrative? There’s practically none! You want characters which you can relate with? What characters? They’re all plot devices for Vice Ganda’s impending ridicule.

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You are better off watching Vice Ganda’s talk show if you’re a fan of her brand of humor. At least her talk show doesn’t pretend to be a movie.

And that’s pretty much the reason why Filipinos go and see Praybeyt Benjamin 2. We don’t watch it for the story, heck not even for the supporting actors present in the film. The reason why Praybeyt Benjamin 2 became an instant hit is because Filipinos love Vice Ganda. Vice Ganda has enthralled us with her brand of comedy bar style of humor, and we pay for it literally with cash – hook, line and sinker. Whether it’s the media’s fault for conditioning us to like this brand of entertainment – or it’s our fault for supporting it in the first place – is up to debate. The point is, her humor sells. The fact that the movie industry has sold out for more profit-oriented causes means that studios will continue making films like these since they’re pretty much cash cows for these companies.

For Vice Ganda and the movie, everything is done for the joke – no matter how brainless or undignifying it is. In fact, a line from the movie perfectly summarizes what Praybeyt Benjamin 2 really is about:

“Ikaw kasi puro ka na lang joke at hirit” (That’s because you only care about joking and ridiculing)

And that’s the entire movie right there folks!  Vice Ganda’s in-movie mother has saved you the trouble of watching an hour and 45 minutes of terrible film making, by summarizing the movie in 5 seconds. Praybeyt Benjamin 2 would take you to the darkest corners of the cinema world just to try and elicit that sweet sound of laughter. They would break any established rule in film making, and do so for all the wrong purposes. Even the more dramatic moments in the movie were not spared by Vice Ganda’s ridicule. It’s in these moments where her jokes are bordering tasteless and disrespectful – and that’s coming from me, who’s usually very liberal when it comes to free speech! It’s just that bad!

Even the most post-modern artworks adhere to certain rules of art. Praybeyt Benjamin 2  takes the rules of cinema making, uses it as toilet paper to rub off shit, flushes it down the toilet and sends it to the most polluted areas of Pasig River. If you think you have the patience and discipline to handle 1 hour and 45 minutes of pure horror, think again.

I honestly wanted to laugh, but any and all efforts to try and look for even the smallest value of comedy was buried alive by Vice Ganda’s lack of demeanor. Okay, there were at least 2 or 3 giggle-worthy moments in the movie – I mean, the president’s portrayal in the film made me giggle a bit – but such gems were quickly thrown away when Vice Ganda decided to stretch the outer limits towards kingdom come. These very few comedic gems within the movie quickly turned sour as soon as you see them. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here – or ye to those who plan to watch Praybeyt Benjamin 2.

The worst part was not the lack of overall narrative, the horribleness of the jokes, nor the one-dimensional character portrayals and acting – which at times, even the remaining dimension of characters would be broken just to support Vice Ganda’s already horrendous jokes. The fact that Bimbi Yap was part of the film, I should have expected that this woman would come along.

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This woman, the final nail to the movie’s coffin

Yup, this woman decided to show her face in the middle part of the film. God, it was her presence and annoying over-the-top acting that made me do the worst thing an audience member can do when watching the movie. I opened my smartphone, accessed the internet, and went online in Facebook. That’s right, I gave the proverbial middle finger to the entire movie. Hey, since Kris Aquino has tagged along with the movie – let’s reference her other movie as well! Oh! Praybeyt Benjamin knows how to reference movies now! Such a smart thing to do, it should be funny.

Obviously, I was being sarcastic. Most reviews remain sophisticated in their words when panning Praybeyt Benjamin 2. But for this review, no. This movie doesn’t deserve sophistication, it deserves a no-nonsense review that would directly call out its bullshit. No flowery words, no movie jargons, just pure and honest reviewing.

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I posted this in Facebook while watching the movie. If only reviews can be summarized in a couple of sentences.

This movie is horrible. So horrible, that I’d actually prefer to watch Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender over this! At least The Last Airbender had a plot, even though it was poorly executed. And the fact that we actually found a film more horrible than The Last Airbender, means that Praybeyt Benjamin 2 deserves a 0/10 overall score! Of course, that sounds ridiculous. So the lowest score that I can give is at least a 1/10.

I haven’t even tackled much on how supporting characters would suddenly disappear without any sort of context, or the generic and cheaply done sound and visual effects, or even the sorry ass excuse for action fight scenes. No! They don’t matter anyway for the movie. Because what only matters is that Vice Ganda makes a joke, uses whatever tools at her disposal to make said joke – whether ridiculing a supporting character or herself – then we’re expected to laugh. And to think, that people genuinely find her comedic antics funny. It just goes to show how strong Vice Ganda’s allure is with her fans.

Going beyond Praybeyt Benjamin 2, honestly there are times that I do find her funny. But for most of the time, we find her funny for all the wrong reasons. When we have Praybeyt Benjamin 2 as the #1 grossing movie in the 2014 MMFF, what does that tell us about our movie industry? What does that even tell us as a society? For her fans, you can ridicule me for calling this movie what it really is – garbage.

Oh, but you like movies that also use toilet humor right? What about The Interview? What about Team America: World Police?

Yeah, I’m not even sure why some people would dare to compare Praybeyt Benjamin 2 with these well-made comedy films. You know what’s the difference? Well made comedy films like The Interview or Team America: World Police actually make a strong point through its overall narrative. Toilet humor is merely used as a plot device to drive that point even further. That’s why we genuinely laugh at these types of films, not necessarily for the toilet humor but more because of the point that it’s trying to make. Praybeyt Benjamin 2 sees this as the other way around. It puts central focus on toilet humor, then uses narrative as its plot device.

By doing this, you only get a sorry state of a movie. In fact, the only thing that you’re probably gonna laugh about is not the scenes portrayed in Praybeyt Benjamin 2 – but the circumstance you’re in that you actually decided to watch Vice Ganda’s film in the first place.

Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles – Satire and Disappointment in One Film

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Time to prepare your movie critic starter pack. It’s MMFF season again in the Philippines!

After thinking for several minutes on how I’m going to introduce this review, I still don’t know how. Frankly, my confusion can be compared similarly to how Kubot portrays its story line.

The movie begins with a 10 second recap of the first film – Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles. I felt that the recap was unnecessary.It only showed Makoy killing off several Aswangs in wolf form for 10 seconds, through the lens of a black and white comic book-like filter. Well if that was pretty much the plot of the previous film, then great… I guess?

The movie then proceeds to introduce its prologue. Through the prologue, we see how the movie is gonna run for the rest of its screening. It’s going to satirize popular Filipino culture and mix it with somewhat excessive violence and gore. From the get go, Kubot will also extensively use CGI and sound effects to portray its narrative. The prologue ends with the death of Sonia – Makoy’s love interest from the previous film – in the hands of Veron, the new leader of the Tiktiks of Pulupandan.

The film is quite honest with its premise, it is going to disconnect most of itself from its first film in order to accommodate newer audiences. From the prologue alone, we expect to get a revenge film of sorts that’s different from Tiktik – except that the movie doesn’t give us a revenge film. What the movie gives us for most of its screentime is Makoy’s inner struggle with the tragedy that befell on him due to the death of Sonia. Just like how the Empire Strikes Back was a darker sequel to Star Wars, Kubot aimed to do the same for Tiktik.

In some scenes, the move portrays Makoy’s inner struggle by satirizing other western horror films like The Nightmare of Elm Street. This narrative is supported mostly by side stories satirizing different yet common Filipino experiences. Through these side stories, we are introduced to Dr. Lex – a character that would subsequently help out Makoy in his adventure throughout the film.

Side stories are great in terms of enriching a movie’s narrative and developing its several characters. However, I felt that Kubot gets easily distracted by its side stories – particularly with Dr. Lex. I understand that the movie is a sequel, so it could be that Kubot thinks that it doesn’t need to focus too much on Makoy since his character has already been developed in the first film. This is, of course, a mistake that is done by a lot of sequels both from local and western films. The fact that Makoy is introduced to a more recent struggle would mean that the movie should focus on this aspect. It was the lack of focus on Makoy’s struggle that he wasn’t able to play his role as the movie’s protagonist in the first half of the film. Instead, the movie gets distracted too much by Dr. Lex’s unnecessarily long side story.

It was also due to this lack of focus – particularly on Makoy – that during the movie’s climax, it looked as if that the protagonist’s character development was rushed. Just because a movie completely portrays the stages of a character’s development, doesn’t mean that the character development itself is satisfactory. Story line pacing was awkward at best, rushed in some scenes and too dragging in others. This is worsened by the fact that for all the movie’s side story distractions, even its more important supporting characters did not receive any sort of character development. Supporting characters remain the same throughout the film – no transformation or evolution of character whatsoever. There were even supporting characters that appeared once or twice in the film, then completely disappear throughout the movie even though they played a significant part of the story line.

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The movie’s general lack of focus can be compared to randomly putting this photo in the blog for no apparent reason.

Nonetheless, I appreciate the film’s satirical take on Filipino society. The movie was pretty honest from its setting, script writing, down to the objects used by the characters themselves. Makoy and the supporting characters are just like any other Filipino. They don’t talk in a balagtasan like sense as portrayed in Filipino soap operas. They say words like pakshet to express their frustrations. When faced with a moment of absurdity, they do what Filipino’s do best – end up being sarcastic. We also see the movie ridiculing Filipino’s obsession with selfies – where in some scenes, this obsession is portrayed to more absurd levels that was genuinely funny. You can’t help but laugh when you see Ramon Bautista and Bogart the Explorer making a point that Filipinos are a narcissistic bunch when it comes to our smartphone cameras.

Yet, it is also the movie’s satire that may have watered down the story itself. Kubot heavily relies on satire to portray its narrative. But sometimes, I felt that the movie didn’t need to satirize – quite literally – every single aspect of the modern Filipino experience. Yes, we do face brown outs. Yes, it’s nice to see a Kill Bill like scene portraying a martial arts school managed by aswangs in Binondo – but in the film’s context and story line, was it even necessary?

It’s due to this excessiveness that I feel that whenever the movie goes into portraying satire in some scenes, it does so not as a means to make a point about our culture. It satirizes just to drag the movie even further without contributing much to the overall narrative. Moreover, even the satirical theme of the movie was lacking focus. In some areas, the movie is portrayed similarly to a comic book. In other areas, we are greeted with a wild wild west package of downtown Manila. In a couple of scenes, we see a satirical take on 1970s Filipino action movies. While it’s great to satirize one of each, you can’t satirize all of it in one film. It would make the movie look bloated, further distracting the audience away from the main plot.

With all the movie’s faults and errors, it still holds promise being that it tries to diverge from traditional Filipino films in general. For the past couple of years, we only get to see Filipino social satire in independent films usually screened in Cinemalaya. Even with the bloated satirical scenes, it’s a breath of fresh air compared to toilet humor usually prevalent with films featuring Vice Ganda or Vic Sotto. What makes the movie’s humor different from the rest is because we genuinely relate with it. It’s not because the protagonist is making a fool out of himself by transforming into a horse, but because the movie elicits to us a reaction that makes us say – Oo nga no? (Oh, right!)

The movie could have fared better if it only knew how to focus itself, and if it gave a satisfying closure without the need for sequel bating (Yes, there’s going to be an Aswang Chronicles 3). The action scenes were decent, but was brought down by the excessive use of slow motion and wire fu. But, is the movie worth watching? Personally, it’s worth watching if you’re going to download it or buy it in DVD. Yet, if you plan to go out with your friends or family and decide on which movie in the MMFF that you want to spend time with – Kubot is a perfect alternative to more traditional and terrible choices like My Big Bossing or Praybet Benjamin.

Overall, I’d rate the film a 5/10. Pretty average, but average is probably as good as it gets with the current list of MMFF films.

Upcoming Reviews on Movies from the Metro Manila Film Festival… Hopefully

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As much as English is the primary language of this blog, the fact that my writings tend to be of a personal note means that you’d probably relate with me even more if you kinda understand popular Filipino culture. If not, that’s okay. I don’t really understand it either.

Inb4 someone accuses me of being a traitor to the motherland

Anyway, Christmas in the Philippines means one thing. That’s right! It’s the Metro Manila Film Festival! (MMFF for short)

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If you’re part of the 1% of the Philippine Elite, this is probably your reaction right now.

Yup, that’s right! For 1 month, the Philippine Government madates any and all local cinemas to force feed its consumers with local films. Well – assuming that you’re a foreigner and have little or no knowledge of the said festival – that sounds like a great idea right? I mean, you get to preserve your traditional culture and shit like that into cinematic form? Well… not unless the films are total crap. I mean… the kind of crap that comes out after an eat-all-you-can burrito festival.

The Metro Manila Film Festival isn’t really known to release the greatest of local films. If you’re a film junky, chances are that you probably heard of outstanding Filipino films like Himala. Well, nope! You don’t get that kind of caliber with the list of films usually shown in the MMFF. For years, the MMFF has been known to show, well, this.

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You know it’s scary when you have a couple of comedians in the film. Can you guess who they are?

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Another horror film, but this time with the President’s sister as part of the main cast! Well, I always found Kris Aquino scary anyway.

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If you thought Arnold Schwarzenegger was bad, wait til you see OUR governor. Yup, that’s him with the photoshopped turban. Helloooooo cultural appropriation!

Well to be fair to the MMFF, there have been a couple of films in the recent years that were actually kinda decent. Of course, majority of the films remain to be C List Films pretending to be A List Films; but I gotta say there’s a trend of slow improvement with some of the films shown in the MMFF. The Asiong Salongga Story – which funnily enough, the protagonist was portrayed by the same governor of ours with the photoshopped turban – was pretty decent compared to other films shown back then. It wasn’t in the same level as films like Himala, but it was nonetheless a breath of fresh air from the usual trend of local films turning out to be an hour length of shallow slapstick humor combined with shameless advertisements.

Last year, another action film – 10,000 hours – was met with great reviews from critics. Even common folks who watched it said that it was like watching a foreign film. In popular Filipino slang, that means that the quality of the movie was great. Well, only time will tell if the MMFF is really heading towards a sort of revival with films like 10,000 hours. Admittedly, there are a couple of films that caught my interest due to their trailers. There’s the historical drama about Andres Bonifacio, and another about an Aswang killer set to the tune similar to Devil May Cry – well hopefully. I’ll definitely be looking forward to this year’s MMFF. 25th December! Gotta save the date!

Speaking of which, I should find a movie date soon.

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On second thought, yeah I think that movie date thing is a bad idea.