Thursday, September 30, 2010

Zac Efron Simmers in Lukewarm Yarn "Charlie St. Cloud"

Life doesn't always turn out the way we want them to be. Even the best laid plans can do a 180 degree spin and remind us of the ephemeral nature of life and the volatility of dreams.


Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) lives a charmed life with his 11 year old brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) and his nurse mother (Kim Basinger). He gets headlined in local papers, and girls bat their eyelashes at him. He even wins his sailing regattas. Moreover, he is about to start his Stanford scholarship in autumn. But before he leaves, he promised his younger brother he'd teach him how to play baseball, everyday at sunset until college starts. But one night, while driving Sam to see a friend, a tragic accident befalls the siblings. Charlie flatlines, but is revived. Unfortunately, Sam doesn’t make it. This leaves a distraught Charlie who, on the day of Sam’s burial, refuses to finish the ceremony and runs to the woods to mourn. But he finds Sam instead, waiting for him. Remember the deal they made earlier?

Charlie defers his Stanford scholarship and becomes a recluse, working at a graveyard where his brother was buried. For the next 5 years, he plays catch with Sam’s ghost while life around him moves forward. Then he meets Tess (Amanda Crew) who shares his love for sailing. He gets infatuated, but will this mutual attraction take him away from his brother Sam?

The film starts out with a lot of promise, and Zac Efron hooks you from the get go. Not only is he easy on the eyes, but his intensity belies the emotive ability of an actor his age. Everything about Zac as Charlie is believable – except the story. As the narrative moves further on, more and more questions are begging to be asked. The most logical one is, where does Sam go outside their “play catch” – and why can’t Charlie see him anywhere else, at Charlie’s cabin where he stays alone scribbling most of the time? Tess’ character even begs more questions which we refuse to reveal here to avoid spoilers. Why did Charlie’s mom move to Oregon – to escape the tragic memories? Then why does Charlie refuse to take her calls when, more than any one in the story, he was more to blame?

As the film draws to a close, there wasn’t even a sense of closure for the grieving mother who was totally forgotten from the picture. How can they forget Kim Basinger? LOL. The character of Alistair (Augustus Prew), Charlie’s heavily accented best friend, succeeded to be distracting and immensely annoying. The location is one of jaw-dropping beauty (Vancouver) it felt like earth’s version of what could be heaven. You’d understand why Charlie refused to move away (aside from the obvious).

Zac Efron is nothing short of brilliant, this much is clear. He cajoles us with his grief, and we sit back and sympathize. He smolders even in his most pensive moments. Unfortunately, (Efron's “17 Again” director) Burr Steers’ movie is too whimsical – and, well, unreal – to be appreciated.

Tess and Charlie share their love of sailing.

"There is a reason why you came back to life," Charlie is reminded.

Fun time at the set.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Thaw - Prehistoric "Parasites" in the Arctic

I am re-posting this blog written last March 22. How was I to know it will be shown in commercial theaters and re-titled "Parasites" by its brain-deficient distributors?


Snow and the freezing environment in vast, unpredictable terrains as backdrop in movies have always fascinated me. This probably roots from my childhood memories of frolics in Lake Tahoe or those memorable journeys to snowcapped Colorado mountains. So if you give me a film that has snow, add a dash of horror or suspense, then I am a happy soul! Mark A. Lewis' "The Thaw" intrigued me, though I have to admit it isn't brilliant movie-making!

Three of Dr. David Kruipen's students have been invited to join him at the Canadian Arctic for his scientific experiments. His estranged daughter Evelyn (Martha McIsaac) joins them for the ride (just so she can get her inheritance - not unlike KC Concepcion in "I'll Be There"). But unknown to the thermally-challenged crew, Dr. Kruipen (Val Kilmer) has discovered a mysterious thawing mammoth, a prehistoric animal that is believed to be the evolutionary "predecessor" of present-day elephants (Haven't you seen any of the "Ice Age" movies?). As he examines further, he unearths a virulently spreading prehistoric vertebrate parasites that can decimate flesh in minutes! When the parasites finally catch up with the guests, the remaining survivor must do everything to contain the "bugs" from reaching the civilized world!

Though the story feels derivative - there have been great titles like Bille August's "Smilla's Sense of Snow" (with Julia Ormond), Zacharias Kunuk's "Atanarruat - The Fast Runner", Asif Kapadia's "Far North" (with Michelle Yeoh), even Kate Beckinsale's recent "Whiteout"? - I still relished on the element of isolation, the immense power of a harsh environment against human will, and the indomitable spirit that permeate this arctic thriller! It would have been the perfect avenue for searing character studies. Unfortunately, the story teller just isn't that insightful. If you were bored at home, this would be an acceptable alternative to counting the nails on your ceiling. Other than that, I can go back to daydreaming about Lake Tahoe.

Val Kilmer is ecologist Dr. David Kruipen.

Aaron Ashmore is ecology student Atom. Ashmore is a veteran to several suspense-thriller and horror films. The latest I saw just a few days ago was "Fear Island" (a TV movie) with Haylie Duff and Lucy Hale. Interestingly, Ashmore appears alongside Kyle Schmid in "The Thaw" and Michael Storey's "Fear Island". What are the odds of that happening?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Muli" - Nothing But A One-Way Road to Affection

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you would already be familiar with two names that frequently crop up here - supporting characters in my film-watching adventures: my friends Kyle and Iya. They frequently join me in my cinema adventures. Though we’d have fun night outs together – three of us, it is seldom that I get to take both of them with me in one movie. Iya and Kyle have been with me since high school, way through college. Kyle (who’s the cutest gay guy I’ve ever laid eyes on - and he's been approached by several to do commercials) would take me with him when there are gay films and those god-awful Pinoy indies being shown. Iya, my "sister" during shoe shopping haunts, joins me in Hollywood blockbusters and english films when she doesn’t have a date with her Topher. My mom (sometimes my dad, along with my brat of a brother – “God’s gift to girls” himself) would take me to mainstream Tagalog films. As you can see, I get to cover most of whatever is shown on commercial theaters. Thus makemeblush was born to document them!

But Adolfo Alix’s “Muli” succeeded the impossible. It drew Kyle and Iyaya and me to the cinema together, and I am almost thankful to Mr. Alix for this one-in-a-lifetime event! Or should I?

Cogie Domingo and Sid Lucero play once-a-year lovers Errol and Jun, respectively.


Jun Bernabe is an ex-seminarian who teaches in Baguio City. It’s 1968 and he inherits an “inn” from her mother. Aside from running the guesthouse, Jun belongs to a local communist group that follows stringent rules about their ideology, as well as their lifestyles (governing even their romantic involvements). Meanwhile, there is Errol Agabin (Cogie Domingo), a law student from Manila who occasionally heads to the city of pines whenever he’s in a bind, emotional or otherwise (his parents’ separation, his impending marriage, etc). He would check-in at Jun’s guesthouse, but nothing else goes on between them. Things change between them when Celest (the Communist Organization’s leader – and Jun’s erstwhile lover, played by Arnold Reyes) gets shot and dies, leaving Jun lonely. One night, while helping his drunken guest to his bed, Jun is unable to control himself – and steals a kiss from Errol!

The morning after, Errol feigns ignorance from the event that transpired the night before, and bids Jun goodbye. But we find Errol returning sometime thereafter to finally consummate their growing attraction. Errol eventually returns to Manila for his studies. It would take 3 years before he is able to come back. Unfortunately, he bears news of his impending marriage to his girlfriend Mina (Max Eigenmann). And Jun is left eternally anticipating Errol’s rare yearly visits (if he’s lucky, that is). He would stare at the distance, hopelessly pining for Errol’s kisses. He would write him letters, but never gathering enough courage to mail them. Along the way, he meets interested lovers with whom he couldn’t fully commit – his student Ayer (was that “Santuaryo’s” Ardie Bascara?) and Roland (Rocky Salumbides), a miner from Nueva Ecija. But Jun keeps his Aprils free for the elusive lawyer who visits yearly (every 2nd week of April, in fact). Will Jun ever find happiness more than their fleeting April rendezvous every year?

Sid Lucero and Rocky Salumbides as Jun and Roland.

Sid Lucero and Ardie Bascara as Jun and Ayer.

The narrative is set against the country’s shaky political goins-on (from Marcos’ Martial Law declaration to the rise of the Arroyo presidency) employing intermittent TV footages of the strife that our country has endured all through the years to remind us of the timeline. This actually gives the story a delicate edge as we are made witness to Jun’s personal and social upheavals (he gets suspended from his leftish group when they learned of his sexual alliances with Celest). The first third of the story is particularly arresting as mood and atmosphere are heightened by heavy fogging and mist-laden mountainsides. Unfortunately, as the story unravels further, we get the picture of an unbalanced relationship between Jun and Errol. The story gradually descends into Danielle Steel territory.

Consider this: They share a night of passion. Then Errol leaves, and never returns for 3 long years! If you were a smart cookie, wouldn't you consider that as a mere one-night-stand, instead of serious relationship? It’s not like Errol was Jun's romantic first time - or the epitome of naivety, for that matter. One night of wild shagging with no follow-through letters or phone calls for years should be an easy clue that it was just hormones on overdrive. How can you even pine for someone who loves you only once a year? If that's even love! Moments of tenderness and affection outside coitus were conveniently absent. Did I even hear Errol profess his love for Jun? Isn't it clear then that, where Errol is concerned, Jun is nothing but an afterthought of his occasional itch?

The movie's early publicity would have you believe that it is a sprawling romantic epic of an enduring love between two people. How deceptive! There is just too much undeserved romanticizing of a relationship that doesn’t really hold a lot of historical baggage together, except of course that the other guy enduringly waits for a chance to get shagged once a year. If that doesn't make him a joke, I dunno what would. Meanwhile, the other party gets on with his life, raises a family, takes his kids to Disneyland, and climbs the social ladder. The equation in “Muli” is rather too simplistic, but the numbers leading to its conclusion don’t quite add up!

Sid Lucero wanted to become an actor like Cogie Domingo and Baron Geisler before he started in the business.

At times, it feels like a Star Cinema production – but with gay people in it. It is such a gay world indeed. And didn't you notice - even Jun's Communist Party has half of its population closeted gays? The thought brings me a sense of frivolity. Masaya ang mundo!

Cogie Domingo, who was already an intuitive actor in “Deathrow” eons ago, withholds his emotions too well. He is unsatisfactorily too detached from the story, probably because his character is muted by his indecision. In “Muli”, Cogie is obviously out of his depth. Sid Lucero’s Jun Bernabe is bemused by his own self-inflicted tragedy. And Lucero magnificently plunges head on into an array of emotions that plays out naturally and sympathetically on screen. He is charming, affecting, believable and just astonishing, even in the scenes where he quietly cries.

Maxie Evangelista, who plays Kaloy (he works for Jun at the inn), turns in a revelatory performance. After years of mediocre and distracting presence in most of Alix’s films, Evangelista has finally hit the cinematic jackpot with a moving performance of the out-and-out “parlorista” who subscribes to the precept that if he wants a slice of happiness, he has to find it himself - even at the risk of rejection or injury.

Rocky Salumbides plays the role of Roland, Jun’s devoted lover, who’s willing to introduce him to his mother. He is unaware of Jun’s occasional tryst wit the “attorney”. Despite Salumbides’ international success as a model, we find it odd why he doesn’t register as impressively on screen as I expected him to. He works hard but he appears awkward and, for the most part, inadequate. But he’s a newbie so this shouldn’t discourage him. For the genitalia-weaned gay crowd, you won’t find penises here, although Domingo and Salumbides share a lot of backsides.

Angeli Bayani does well with her part, but not "excellent" the way some writers make it to be. I couldn't reconcile her character's pining for Jun and her desperation to get married to Niles (Marco Alcaraz). "When we're both old and single, let's marry each other," she offered Jun. Ano to, "Kung Ako Na Lang Sana Part 2" (that Sharon Cuneta-Aga Muhlach movie)?


There were a few other things that bothered me. The wig used for the Martial Law years were hilariously bad. The 3rd and last act of the film suddenly turned into mush, concluding into something so unsatisfactory artificial. Would you accept someone who has been taking you for granted – up until he has lost every one else, but you? How convenient, right? As Jun and Errol, now old and gray, dance to a painfully off-key rendition of “Dahil Sa Yo” (surprisingly sang by Cookie Chua), I was awash with bitter emotions of regret and wasted years! God forbid my life will ever be defined by a romance as ungratefully unsatisfactory as this one. Wag na lang!

Cogie Domingo was never believable as a lawyer.

My friends and I saw the film together based on the buzz surrounding this work. It would be unfair to call “Muli” bad. There are several other films this year deserving of the adjective. Unfortunately, I can’t call it a “good” one either, so let's settle with something more appropriate: "middling"! The story is less than adorable, and the pacing sort of drags. As romances go, the story leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. In fact, we came out of the cinema not with a profound sense of affection, but of cynicism. If that's how a romantic film affects its audience, then someone is in trouble.

Director Adolfo Alix used to be the exciting young film maker. He showed a lot of promise, but this year, he made one of the year’s worst: “D’Survivors” (Alix seemed too distracted with his beautiful actors, he actually forgot his audience). He also released “Romeo and Juliet” (with Victor Basa and Alessandra de Rossi), a failed experiment on alternative story telling (see: Hans Canosa’s “Conversations with Other Women” with Helena Bonham-Carter for reference).

Whatever happened to the promise?

Rocky Salumbides

Ardie Bascara

"Yang Yang" - Yu-Chieh Cheng's Excellent Potboiler Should Not Be Missed!

There’s no denying the exquisite artistry in Yu-Chieh Cheng’s “Yang Yang”, the best film in this year’s 1st Taiwan Film Festival at the Shangrila in Mandaluyong City. The film depicts how a young half-French Taiwanese girl Yang Yang (Yung-Yung Chang aka Sandrine Pinna) deals with her seemingly half-charmed existence.

As the film opens, Yang Yang’s mom marries Yang's track-and field coach. Twenty year old Yang is one of the team's rising stars. Her half-sister Xiao-ru is the team’s top athlete, but jealousy is creeping slowly between them. At the fore of this sibling rivalry is Xiao-ru boyfriend Shawn (the adorable Bryant Chang) who treats Yang Yang like a delicate princess, his attraction is quite palpable between their silent scenes together. And at night, Shawn pleasures himself while watching porn videos of a girl in Yang Yang’s likeness. One night, Yang Yang decides to consummate her mutual attraction with Shawn, as long as he agrees to her condition: “Let’s forget who we are – but just for three hours.” However, Shawn is infatuated, intoxicated, he offers to break up with Xiao-ru. Yang Yang declines his offer of commitment, and she steers clear from Shawn.

At the track-and-field meet, Yang Yang wins the competition, but hell hath no fury like a scorned half-sister who eventually finds out about the betrayal. Yang Yang gets kicked out from the team (she was found positive of steroid use, thanks to Xiao-ru). She accepts her fate dejectedly and runs away from home. She hooks up with the slithery Wu Ming-ren (Chien Wei-Wang), a talent manager who’s open to pimping his wards when the occasion calls for it.

Like Manila’s half-breeds, Yang Yang is gradually accepted by the film industry. She appears in print ads, and is starting up on films. But one night, Yang Yang meets a cunning casting director who sweet talks her to join him at his pad. Ming-ren, who took her there, unexpectedly walks away saying, “You’re a grown up lady. You decide if you wanna walk away.” What happens to drunken Yang Yang, who’s gradually falling in love with her talent manager? Will Yang Yang prevent herself from swirling down the slippery slope?

The beauty of this film lies in the authenticity of its characters. It joins a short list of new wave realist films where no character is black or white, but anywhere between hues of gray. This keeps its audience guessing, making this film irresistibly watchable. You didn’t wanna make a run to the loo for fear of missing salient scenes that give clues to each of the character’s motivations. Every character is beautiful, sympathetic, unpredictable – and scary. Check out Chien Wei-Wang’s Ming-ren, for example, who absolutely threw me out of the loop. He deserves to win an award for his performance here (he only got a best supporting actor nomination at the Golden Horse - Taipei's month-long year-ender Chinese-language film festival, when I looked it up). When Shawn finally catches up with Ming-ren who refuses to share Yang Yang’s mobile number, the two guys roll down the floor, and a fisticuff ensues. “Did you sleep with her?” asked Shawn. “I’d rather sleep with you,” replied Ming-ren as he makes a dash out of the restaurant.

Bryant Chang is quite a looker, he reminds me of Korean superstar Rain. I’ve seen him in the suspense-thriller “Invitation Only” and the pink film, “Eternal Summer”. But the greater news is, he is such an insightful actor he was in perfect synergy with Shawn’s conflicted, tormented soul. And I’ve never seen agony this handsome too, which is such a bonus. And you understand why girls throw themselves at him. I am not aware of a lot of Taiwanese actors except Jerry Yan and his crew, but this film highlights the best of the best of Taiwan’s mostly sappy melodramatic film industry.

Now let me move on to Sandrine Pinna – aka Yung Yung Chang – who paints her cinematic palette with complicated hues of a grief-stricken half-French girl who can’t speak French, and who bitterly fights off any emotions related to references of her French father whom she never knew. Like Bea Alonzo (who’s half British), Sandrine Pinna (who also starred in director Yu-Chieh Cheng’s first feature “Do Over”) can act up a storm. Her emotive ability is intricately heightened and masterfully delineated. Maybe Survivor’s Solenn Heussaff (who’s half-French) would make a terrific actress, was what I was thinking, in awe of Pinna’s superlative performance. The last scene is quite powerful, and when it’s really just a quite walk away from the camera, you would know the strength of its actor (or actress, for this one).

Director Yu-Chieh Cheng employs the use of a handheld camera, further enhancing the voyeuristic experience as we watch Yang Yang’s life unfold before us. The director also succeeds to join this elite list of new wave film makers that I am watching out for. The script is tight and maintains dramatic tension rife with perceptively low key, albeit powerful scenes. If there is only one film to watch at the 1st Taiwan Film Festival at Shangrila, “Yang Yang” should be a no-brainer.

Go watch! No, run, now! Taiwan Film Festival ends on Thursday, September 28th.

Shawn chats with Yang Yang.

Sandrine Pinna aka Yung-Yung Chang

Bryant Chang: pouting lips, good looks and acting chops rolled in one.

Boyish Bryant Chang

Bryant Chang was in the scary "Invitation Only" and the gay romance, "Eternal Summer".

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Moral Rectitude, the "Devil" and Chris Messina

The schemy salesman lectures.

Five people are trapped in an elevator. But just when you thought this was a random accident, director John Erick Dowdle takes us to the realm of moral culpability in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Devil” where a pre-determined gathering of troubled individuals is forced. But every time the lights flicker and electricity fluctuates, characters in this tautly written, briskly paced suspense drama starts dying. Someone murders them – one by one. And Detective Bowden (the delectable Chris Messina) is on site, not just to render a rescue, but to witness a confession that will have the impossibly adorable detective shake his boots!

It will take talent to discuss further into the narrative without dropping a hundred spoilers so I will leave it at that. What drew me into the film is its interplay of cynicism and paranoia, driving the characters into defensive tact, in the process revealing their weaknesses. I am glad for Shyamalan whose career suffered an unflattering denouement in “The Last Airbender”.

Though I have read of unsatisfied viewers referring to the film as having “fizzled out”, I enjoyed the movie. After all, movie going is a subjective experience. I particularly liked how it concluded when Detective Bowden drove the sole survivor to the station. His reaction was pertinent to the whole reason-for-being of this story. Ultimately, his salvation lies in his ability to forgive. If that isn’t a positive message, I don’t know what is.

Another fascinating day in the life of Detective Bowden (Chris Messina).

"Stay away from me," warns the salesman.

Bojana Novakovic is the serial blackmailer.

Logan Marshall-Green is the mechanic, an Afghanistan war veteran.

Detective Bowden and the superstitious security team.

Chris Messina has a lop-sided smile, a girlfriend, and 2 sons.

Chris stands 5'9". The New York native has a Best Actor Award for Robert Cary's "Ira and Abby" (2006).

Taiwanese Film - "Fishing Luck" and Love in the Island

Ron Heung is Behong

Love turns idyllic in Wen-Chen Tseng's "Fishing Luck" when a pretty Taipei girl flies to picturesque Orchid Island to do test surveys for her mobile network. She hires the help of Behong (Biung Wang) for her transport needs, renting his newly restored, otherwise run-down Buick. But the fair urbanite Li Zing Zing (aka Ling) is carrying a baggage in the form of a testy relationship. Things don't exactly go her way when she loses her wallet, leaving her with nothing to pay for her hotel or anything else. Furthermore, she can't board the plane back to the big city without an identification card. Behong offers a room in his unfinished house. Meanwhile, Zing is stuck in this fishing village where life isn't equated in terms of money. You head to the ocean for food, or dig the lands for yam or sweet potato. It isn't hard to live off a simpler lifestyle.

When Zing finally lets go of her engagement ring (she throws it out to the sea), she also overcomes her fear of swimming (flashbacks show a traumatic event in the past involving her younger sister). But life isn't that easy. She would have to fly back to Taipei to face her predicament. What becomes of her growing affection with the endearing island boy Behong?

"Fishing Luck" gently treads romance like an unexpected touch. This isn't saying it is unpredictable, but the string of events unravel naturally you wouldn't notice exactly when the "loving" has commenced. I am particularly fond of its use of small island traditions: "fly fishing"; the single police officer who tickets bike drivers wearing no helmet (in an island that doesn't sell one); the daily serving of sweet potato instead of rice; the darker skin of the children who love the sea; and the romantic radio program that broadcasts song requests.

We were surprised to find Ron Heung here, the lead star in the risky, full-frontal Hong Kong drama, "City Without Baseball". In "Fishing Luck", he plays Behong.

Quiet films dispensing lessons on patience and loving are such a delight. Don't miss it at the 1st Taiwanese Film Festival at the Shangrila. Free admissions.

Zing and Behong

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Chocolate Rap" at the 1st Taiwan Film Festival

There's something so artificial about Taiwanese doing a hip hop swagger, it just bothers me. Good thing Hsin-Hung Chen, the lead who plays Chocolate, is a looker.

In Chi Y. Lee's "Chocolate Rap", the story follows 25 year old Hung Chen aka Chocolate whose direction-less life disappoints his father (who works at an ice plant). He would spend his days loafing around Taipei streets and tenements dancing - "breaking" - with his friend Pachinko (Po-Ching Huang). With the arrival of Ally (Megan Lai), a determined pianist who never wins a competition, her presence puts a strain on their relationship when both friends get attracted to her. After a motorcycle accident, where Choco fractures his leg, this further tears them apart. Once healed, Choco tries to ignore dancing altogether, and starts to help his father at the ice plant. But the lure of the beat is just hard to resist. Especially when he gets his father's blessing this time around.

Unlike most dance flicks these days, "Chocolate Rap" succeeds to tell an interesting story that dispenses lessons on growing up and figuring out why you do the things you do; who do you dance for? And such unbelievably existential, philosophical musings uncommon in dance flicks. The director employs a bag of gimmicky scenes, common in music videos, making the movie a little "too commercial" than its theme of "dancing for oneself". However, the climactic dance showdown felt a bit unimpressive.

As the "rivals" dance together at the beach, you get the sensation of watching Hawaii or Miami, instead of Taipei. Camera work takes on a lyrical veneer, and who would complain on that? The role of Ally is underwritten despite the fact that she provided the ensuing conflict within the group. This somehow emits a degree of homoeroticism among the male characters who all seem too devoted, too hung up with each other. Makes me blush.

"Chocolate Rap" has fantastic music and beautiful cinematography. B-boy dancing is impressive too, but it's nothing particularly spectacular from what we've seen in other dance flicks, or "So You Think You Can Dance" for that matter. Don't miss it at the Taiwan Film Festival at the Shangrila this week. Free admission.

Chocolate - Zen and Dancing