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Enemy (2013)
Of Doppelgangers, Spiders and that WTH Ending!, 30 July 2014

Adam Bell is a lonely history professor with a boring repetitive routine in life. Each day after school, he goes home and gets visits from his girlfriend. One day, he was watching a movie and was surprised to see an actor there named Daniel Saint Claire that looked exactly like him. This leads Adam on a obsessive quest to seek out his doppelganger, drawing him into a swirling vortex of his own psychological delusions.

"Enemy" is not an easy movie to watch. It is very very quiet and unfolds very very slowly. Its running time is only an hour and a half, but it feels interminable due to its glacial pace. There is a lot of strange imagery, particularly a recurring reference to spiders, which will make many a viewer scratch his head in bewilderment.

However, I have to say it is riveting. You will want to know how Adam confronts his double and if he can figure out his confusion. You will want to know how the teacher's girlfriend and the actor's pregnant wife figure into this complex web. The build-up during the last fifteen minutes was intense and puzzling at the same time. It all builds up to a final scene that will make you exclaim "WTH was that?!"

Jake Gyllenhaal is an A-list actor with big commercial films like "Prince of Persia" and "Love and Other Drugs". However, he also has some serious film projects such as "Brokeback Mountain" (where he was nominated for an Oscar) and just last year "Prisoners" (also directed by Denis Villeneuve). Here in "Enemy", Gyllenhaal again impresses us with a sublime double performance as the mousy teacher Adam and the cocky actor Daniel.

This is again one of those films which most audiences will find weird and baffling. If you are patient enough to reach the end, you will either hate yourself for wasting 90 minutes of your life, or you will be intrigued enough to contemplate on the film's deeper messages and symbolisms. The quote at the beginning of the film is a challenge to the viewer, "Chaos is order yet undeciphered." Will you be able to figure out what this conundrum of a film is about?

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Excellent Chemistry Times Two!, 29 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Kenji delos Reyes is one of the passengers of a plane that crashed en route to Bicol. His son Kenneth, a rebellious teenager who just wished his dad dead the night before, wants to go there to look for him. Kelay is a kooky girl who also wants to look for Mr. delos Reyes because she wants to reunite him with his first love, her aunt Athena, who is on her death bed. As typical local rom-coms go, Kenneth and Kelay start out hating each others guts. As circumstances forced to them to take a long road trip to Bicol together, Kenneth gets to know his dad more and the pivotal role Athena played in his father's life.

This film is by now a certified blockbuster and for good reason, it is very good as far as local mainstream films go. A big part of its success is the superb casting of today's most popular teen love team, Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo, both as Kenneth and Kelay of the present day, and Kenji and Athena of a generation ago. It was also an inspired casting coup to get the biggest love team twenty years ago, Richard Gomez and Dawn Zulueta to play the senior Kenji and Athena.

Both sets of actors have so much positive chemistry with each other that it radiates through the screen into the movie theater. They do not even have to speak to titillate their rapt audiences. The best scenes of the film did not have words: Daniel riding to school on his skateboard, Kathryn smiling with her new haircut, Richard carrying Dawn from the wheelchair to the bench, Dawn radiantly coming into view from the bedroom. Director Cathy Garcia-Molina knows how to use the best assets of her actors to convey the most emotion, even without words.

Confused and Convoluted, 28 July 2014

"Black Butler" is a beloved manga that my daughter and friends liked very much. So when a movie version came out, they were all excited to go see it. I have not read the manga "Kuroshitsuji" yet, so I felt I needed to see the film first myself before she does to see if it is okay for her age group. The local film classification board had rated it R- 13, but they had not been entirely consistent the way they classify films per appropriate age.

The beginning narration sets the film in a near future time, when the world was divided into East and West. The West was headed by a Queen who sent her "watchdogs" to keep her enemies at check.

In such a world, a "Demon's Curse" killer is going around killing diplomats by some sort of gruesome instant mummification process. Alarmed, the Queen chooses an orphaned aristocrat, Earl Genpo Kiyoharu, as her "watchdog" to get to the bottom of this matter.

The young Earl has under his service a butler of many skills, Sebastian, who does whatever his young master wills him to. It turns out that Sebastian's talents are because of his demonic nature, for which the Earl will have to pay for with his soul.

I believe that this film deviates much from the book by making Kiyoharu to be actually a girl Shiori pretending to be a boy in order to secretly exact revenge on her parents' killers. This also made it possible for a love angle to develop between master and servant, which of course was not in the original manga. The original setting in the manga was Victorian England, but here we only get the Victorian-looking grand manor and colorful gardens of the Genpo family instead.

The opening sequence alone where Sebastian takes on an entire warehouse full of gangsters only with his butter knife sets the incredible whimsical tone for the whole film. There would be violent fight scenes, murder scenes, death scenes, as well as scenes of drug abuse, and the disturbing demonic subplot, which would automatically make this film rated R-16 in my book. In between these violent scenes though, the film's momentum dips a lot with long talky explanatory scenes.

The acting department is on the campy side. The lead actors playing Sebastian and Kiyoharu are both androgynous-looking which seems to be the current rage among the younger generation. There was even more campy acting from the actors playing the clumsy maid Lynn and Kiyoharu's guardian, his Auntie Hanae. All the one-dimensional villains they faced also come from the same school of exaggerated campy acting.

Overall, this is a confused film with a rather convoluted plot which did not have a clear direction that it wanted to take. If we were to only judge it with this film, it does make me wonder what those fans of the original manga loved in it. This film alone is occasionally entertaining anyway but it most probably could have been done or adapted much better than what came out now.

Hercules (2014)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Sword and Sandal Version of "The A-Team", 27 July 2014

In this latest film with the Greek hero in the title, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) is shown to be a mercenary for hire, who uses his mythic demigod origins and legendary "labors" to advertise himself. He has with him his band of cohorts, the loyal Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the mad fighter Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), the Amazon archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), the young storyteller Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) and the seer Amphiaurus (Ian McShane).

The king of Thrace Cotys (John Hurt) hires Hercules to beef up his army against the vicious centaurs led by Rhesus (Tobias Santellman). However, ulterior motives and political ambitions are soon revealed such that Hercules had to dig deep into himself in order to break free of the nightmares that haunt him and draw out the real hero in him.

When I saw the trailer with the hydra, boar and lion, I thought this Hercules film would be tackling the legendary labors of this Greek hero. So despite the fact that I found Dwayne Johnson's Hercules hairstyle very awkward-looking, we still went to watch it, in 3D no less. I was disappointed that this sequence would be over and done with in the first few minutes of the film. The rest of the film was just like a "sword- and-sandal" version of the "A-Team".

Despite the story, the action sequences were quite good though. There was that very long battle sequence with graphic close-up violence which looked more realistic than the stylized battles in the "300" films. Director Brett Ratner is known for his action films and his skills show in these exciting scenes. The 3D effects were also very good, with all the arrows, spears and debris hurtling out at us as we watched. The cinematography and visual effects were also well-done.

Dwayne Johnson could not seem to get himself into the period. Even if he is wearing those ancient warrior costumes, he speaks and acts as if he was in the present day. You can't deny his good-guy charisma though. Ian McShane stands out as the prophet Amphiaurus. He figures in the single LOL-moment in the film, which was really came at the most welcome moment to break the grim monotony. It was good to see Joseph Fiennes back on the big screen after a long absence, albeit for a short role. He plays King Eurystheus of Greece, with whom Hercules had a major falling out.

In the technical aspects, this is still better than the Kellan Lutz film "Legend of Hercules" we saw earlier this year. Overall though, mindless popcorn that it is, "Hercules" was still an entertaining action film aimed to get our adrenaline going.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Bizarrely Mesmerizing, 23 July 2014

From the beginning shot of this film depicting lights and eclipses, we will already see that this will not be just another run-of-the-mill motion picture. When we see a nude Scarlett Johansson for the first time in that pristine white room, we definitely know we are in for a different sort of ride.

A woman drives around Scotland. She strikes up conversations with various men she picks up along the way. She will seduce them into coming with her and they follow her into her black void of a house. However, as this woman encounters more men, she will also realize and discover new things about herself.

Despite the presence of a big name star Scarlett Johansson, this is not a mainstream film. The techniques are unmistakably art-house, with long stretches of silence, of Johansson just driving around, of random people just going about their daily routines. It is said that to be realistic, the film makers shot Johansson picking up real men off the street (not actors) and interviewed them without a script as they were driving around. The thick Scottish accents may be unintelligible.

Many audiences may just dismiss this as a fruitless waste of 100 minutes, since on paper, the plot seems to be simple enough for a single "X-Files" episode. However, serious cinephiles will be enraptured by the film's bizarre cinematographic beauty, deeper symbolic meaning and recall films by hallowed directors like Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch.

There are carefully orchestrated shots of seduction, very effective (of course with Johansson in various stages of undress) and mysterious (with that pitch black shiny room and that eerie piercing music by Mica Levi). There was a scene with a couple, their baby and their dog on an isolated windswept beach which will disturb you. There was a scene involving a man with a disfigured face which will haunt you.

"Under the Skin" is a unique artistic movie experience which will polarize audiences. Director Jonathan Glazer has created a bleak masterpiece which will visually mesmerize and thematically baffle his viewers. So, are you seduced to take up this challenge? 7/10.

Open Grave (2013)
Zombie Twist, 21 July 2014

A man wakes up in what looks like an open grave site, atop a huge pile of corpses. He does not remember his name or how he got there. He joins a group of other survivors, all of whom were in various stages of memory loss and violent paranoia. Who is he, the hero or the villain? Who is that Chinese lady who rescued him from the pit? Why are there dead people all around them? Why are there zombies going after them?

This film was released in the US as "Open Grave," but for some reason, local distributors chose to cut that title to a single word "Graves." Newspaper ads made it look like it was going to be just a another B- horror film. That was unfortunate because as it turned out, it wasn't. Yes, there were zombies in there and there was gore, but "Graves" was more than that. It will make you think and try to figure out along with all the characters who they really were and what the heck was going on around them.

There was only one recognizable actor and that is Sharlto Copley, whom I first knew of in the excellent alien invasion film "District 9" and most recently as the errant king in "Maleficent." He gives the ideal face for the lead character John/Jonah -- a face you cannot trust. However, he still manages to make us empathize with him in his journey of discovery as to who he really was and his exact role in the calamity that has transpired. The other actors are mostly unknown, but they do lend credible support, particularly Erin Richards, who played the lead female character Sharon.

Fans of the zombie sub-genre will like "Graves" because it gives yet another new twist and viewpoint to the familiar story line. The special effects and the make-up were very believable. You will see some elements common with other successful zombie films such as "28 Days Later" or "World War Z", but "Graves" has its own surprises up its sleeve. 5/10.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The Music Uplifts the Story, 17 July 2014

"The Jersey Boys" brings us all back to the early 1960s, young Francis Castelluccio, a hairdresser's apprentice with a unique high falsetto singing voice, takes on the name Frankie Valli. Together with a couple of petty criminals named Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, they would sing in small gigs around town, going nowhere, except in jail when caught. When they meet a hot singer-songwriter named Bob Gaudio, they called themselves the Four Seasons and started a hot streak of Number One hits on the radio. However, their connections to the mob and loan sharks lead to strains within the group and their families.

It is the timeless music of the Four Seasons that keep this rather heavy-handed biopic afloat. It was hard to imagine that this film gets its origins from a successful original Broadway musical. Director Clint Eastwood takes things a little too seriously. It actually lacked excitement, humor and joy until they break into those unforgettable hit songs such as "Sherry", "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man".

It was strange that they play "My Eyes Adored You" (a solo Number One hit for Valli in 1975) before we see Valli perform his first solo hit, the Number 2 song "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." It was also odd to hear that the producers at that time considered the very catchy "Can't" to be an experimental song that was unlikely to be a hit.

The four lead actors were unknown to me. They were supposed to have sung these songs themselves which is very impressive. The actor who played Frankie Valli is John Lloyd Young, who actually won a Tony for this same role in Broadway. His singing voice is unmistakably similar in quality to Valli's, and his singing scenes were glorious. However, he did look a bit old to play a 16-year old at the start. Also, in the non-singing parts, his theatrical style of acting was too dour and mannered for the big screen.

Doing better were the other three guys in the group. I liked the way Eastwood made them relate the story to the audience while they were still in the scene, like breaking the fourth wall. Vincent Piazza did not originate from the stage version, but he really shone as the rouge Tommy. Michael Lomenda had his musical and serio-comic moments as the deep-voiced Nick. However, the most potent screen charisma was from Erich Bergen as the clean-cut Bob.

I was surprised that the local Film Classification Board rated this film as PG when there are a lot of profanity, suggestions of drug abuse and scenes of sexual nature. These will be a bit awkward for parents who bring their kids in to watch. However, it is the music that will remain to be the most memorable aspect of this film. Their final performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 was electric (despite the bad aging make-up). I wanted to stand up and cheer. I positively loved the scene at the end credits set to the tune of "Oh What a Night", which looked like an actual stage curtain call. These final moments certainly buoyed up the whole film and left a good lasting impression and last song syndrome.

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Simian Supremacy, 13 July 2014

I went to watch this film with very high expectations. There was so much acclaim in all these initial reviews that have come out. Everyone extols it as THE best film of this summer. My sons and I went to watch it even if the only screening we can watch at that time was in more expensive 3D. This 3D turned out to be unnecessary, but this film is deserving of all its advanced praise.

The story of "Dawn" picks up ten years after the events of the first film "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Simian flu we saw developed and spread in the first film has now all but decimated most of the human population. In the forests, the mutant apes have established their own system, led by the alpha male ape Caesar.

When a group of survivors enter the forest in order to reactivate an old dam for their energy needs, they meet the apes' wrath. There arose a battle of loyalty, trust and betrayal in both the human and the ape organizations, escalating into a deadly battle royale in the streets of San Francisco.

For a summer blockbuster rich in computer-generated visual effects, "Dawn" is actually a very serious film. The first two acts had more words (many of them written in subtitles) than action, and may make some of the younger viewers impatient. The final act is an action spectacle that will undoubtedly be long remembered with its graphic yet poetic images of warfare.

This sequel is really more about the apes than the humans. The humans were delimited to playing one-dimensional characters with hardly any back story. The lead human character Malcolm, who was assigned to lead the dam repairs, was played by Jason Clarke. He went on his mission with his doctor girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell) and his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The leader of the human settlement is Dreyfus, played by Gary Oldman. You will hate him for what he is saying, but upon reflection, that is typical human behavior that he represents.

But the apes were a different matter. They were all so well-delineated. Each face was different and all so expressive. The actors behind each ape deserve special mention for managing to evoke emotion from beneath make-up and motion capture technology. Tony Kebbel as the tortured Koba, Karin Konoval (a female) as the intellectual orangutan Maurice, and Nick Thurston as Caesar's impetuous eldest son Blue Eyes. Above all, there is the amazing Andy Serkis as Caesar, the quintessential leader of the apes. This is indeed an award-deserving performance.

That is not to say that this film was absolutely perfect. There were some aspects which puzzled me. There seems to be so much more being written in the subtitles than what the apes were signing or gesturing on screen. I know that that scene where Caesar was back in the house of his old friend and trainer Will (James Franco) was nice and sentimental. But it strains logic that a long-abandoned video camera would still have two bars in its battery life. In the bigger scheme of things though, these are minor quibbles.

You should go into this film NOT as you would go into a typical summer blockbuster film. You should prepare your frame of mind before you watch this. This film is not fun, entertaining, nor uplifting. Instead this is dark, thought-provoking and disturbing. There is no denying though that this film is a technological triumph in the area of visual effects, sound effects, film editing, musical scoring, cinematography and its effective direction under Matt Reeves.

The Realities in the Slums, 10 July 2014

This film was Rated A by the local Cinema Evaluation Board, and that distinction made me curious to see it. "Kamkam" (with English title of "Greed") turned out to be a social commentary about the lives of slum dwellers who live illegally on government land in the city.

Johnny (Allen Dizon) is the crime lord in Sitio Cam-cam, a neighborhood of illegal settlers. Salud (Jean Garcia) is his first wife for 22 years and they have three daughters. She is a barangay councilor, and the same time, in charge of the illegal gambling collections. Evelyn (Sunshine Dizon) is his second wife for 20 years, and they have a son Lennon and a daughter Yoko. She is in charge of the illegal water and electricity collections. Everyone lived swimmingly well together in the same area, including Johnny's permissive mother Ditas (Elizabeth Oropesa) and his gay right-hand man Arthur (Jaime Pebangco).

That is, until that day when Johnny brought home a much younger third wife, the sexy ex-club waitress Shane (Jackie Rice). When she starts to encroach on the collections of the other two wives, trouble begins to brew in Johnny's little harem. This domestic squabble takes place just when the City Mayor has ordered the demolition of the entire Sitio Cam- Cam to give way to Korean business investors.

The script of Jerry Gracio tries to include all the current problems that exist within local urban poor communities into his story. The director Joel Lamangan makes sure we hear current events, like the PDAF Scam of Janet Napoles from incidental radio broadcasts. The setting is very authentic as the audience can immerse into the slum community themselves with the green garbage-filled esteros and the narrow alleyways filled with drunkards, drug addicts and unsupervised kids. We also see corrupt barangay officials and crooked policemen.

Allen Dizon does creditably well in the lead role, though it still lacks some depth. He can be tough as a notorious criminal, yet he is still respectful and gentle with his ladies. Jean Garcia does her subdued best as she is known for, though she was the one given the chance to create a scandalous public scene, which seemed rather unlikely for her character. Sunshine Dizon has a little sub-story about her character's involvement in a religious cult that gave her a little more acting moments. Jackie Rice pales in comparison with these two more experienced ladies in the acting department. Elizabeth Oropesa steals her scenes. Jaime Pebangco makes his loyal and blindly supportive character very interesting. The young actors who play the kids (Joyce Ching, Hiro Peralta, Lucho Ayala) were all quite a good-looking bunch, but were still a bit self-conscious when they act.

"Kamkam" does not really show anything we do not already know. However, as it brings us inside this world of the slums, something about it somehow lacks the grit and genuineness that many rawer and more intense indie films before. The sex scenes were not really all that necessary for the story. The stabbing scenes did not look too realistic. We still feel we are on the outside looking in, as it does not really draw us into complete immersion as other films have done before. That said, I still think this is nonetheless still worth the time to watch it. 6/10.

Begin Again (2013/II)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Musical Serendipity, 9 July 2014

Dan used to be an maverick indie record producer and family man. However, time and luck turn against him in both aspects of his life. Greta is an idealistic singer-songwriter whose musician boyfriend Dave went astray when he gets entangled with the glare and trappings of commercial fame.

Dan and Greta meet each other at the very depth of their depression. But this fortuitous meeting would bring about a chain of events which may lead to a mutual reversal of fortunes for these two free-spirited individuals. Will these lost stars align once again with their collaboration?

These backgrounds of the lead characters are reminiscent of writer- director John Carney's breakthrough 2006 indie film, the delicate "Once." The story was also about musicians who led sad lives until they meet and click musically. The storytelling was propelled by the beautiful songs they sing. In "Begin Again" though, Carney's first Hollywood film, the setting is upgraded from suburban Ireland to New York City, and the cast is upgraded to A-list stars.

Mark Ruffalo perfectly captures the broken character of Dan, gruff exterior and deep-set cynicism. However, he has this goofy charm that makes you actually root for him to dig himself out of his hole. He seems to have genuine chemistry with all his co-stars, a rare quality.

Keira Knightley started so well in her career, but lately her talent has not been given the right roles to shine. Greta is such an awesome character for Keira, who I am sure no one even thought could sing so well. Everything she sings here I liked and I would like to hear over and over. Beautiful songs all.

Adam Levine plays the erring boyfriend Dave well considering this is his first major movie role. His singing was of course flawless in very catchy songs like the centerpiece tune "Lost Stars", which is this film's answer to "Falling Slowly" from "Once", certainly a contender for Oscar Best Song as well.

James Corden plays Greta's best friend in New York Steve. He provides the comic relief very subtly, a very nice guy. Catherine Keener plays Dan's ex-wife Miriam, who made the most of her little screen time. Hailee Steinfeld plays Dan's confused daughter Violet. Cee-Lo also has a marked cameo as one of Dan's former successful talents.

Like "Once", "Begin Again" is a film that is simply so refreshing and delightful midst all the big and noisy summer blockbusters. The story does not seem so original, that is true. However again, the unbelievably effective cast and the beautiful musical soundtrack both uplift the common story into a much higher level. If the songs speak to you, then you will love this movie. I definitely did. 9/10.

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