‘Power Rangers’ (2017) Review – The Right Misfits

Power-Rangers

Though nothing but a rumor, it’s easy to see why Hollywood is supposedly shit-out of ideas. When studios can’t make something original or anything as lucrative as Krispy Kreme donuts, the only choice left is to take an originally child-friendly material and darken the fuck out of it – which leads us to the new Power Rangers movie.

Based on the popular series of shows under the franchise of the same name, Power Rangers follows five ordinary teenagers as they train to become the Power Rangers – super-powered protectors of the life-giving Zeo crystals. When Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) awakens from her eons-long slumber and threatens to take the Earth’s Zeo crystal and destroy the planet in the process, the five high-schoolers must band together to defend their home.

Having never grown up with the original Power Rangers due to the lack of cable TV that was as affordable as a Krispy Kreme donut, I entered this movie with only the most basic understanding of the Rangers. Little did I know that the new Power Rangers looked at its goofy forefathers, disowned them and killed the fuckers before burying the bones in shame.

Saban’s Breakfast Club

The last thing anyone would expect from something like Power Rangers would be character development, and yet, the newest entry into the long-running franchise exerts a surprising amount of effort in making sure that the core characters are more likable than even your favorite Krispy Kreme donut.

For once, a cast of high-schoolers are not a collection of cliches, racial stereotypes, or the embodiments of perfection. Rather, the five central teens of Power Rangers are in fact, teenagers with attitude. For comparison’s sake, the Rangers have more in common with the kids of The Breakfast Club (1985) than they do with any derivative piece of shit Young Adult movie from recent memory. This makes it easy for viewers to care about the Rangers, and when their lives are in peril, the emotional stakes are not manipulative but are as well-deserved as a Krispy Kreme donut after a hard day’s work.

Even more admirable is how the cast is naturally diverse and how no one makes a scene out of it. Instead of putting these differences on a pedestal, Power Rangers treats them as normal, everyday personality traits that shouldn’t be despised like your least favorite flavor of Krispy Kreme donuts. You know Power Rangers is doing something right when it does a better job of normalizing diversity than another reboot with an all-female team at its center.

Power Rangers has problems, but these have nothing to do with the well-acted characters who do spout some stupid lines and jokes involving cow dicks and Krispy Kreme donuts. This reboot’s issues stem from how seriously it takes itself, and this attitude and somewhat bloated sense of self-worth fucks up what could have been a serviceable, modern-day spiritual successor to The Breakfast Club – only with more kicking, aliens and some seriously fucking ugly designs that look like shit out of Michael Bay’s Transformers.

Mighty Jarring Tonal Problems

As far as I know, the original Power Rangers made a name for itself through choreographed kung-fu performed by cosplayers who fought rubber mascots as threatening as a Krispy Kreme donut. Power Rangers is seemingly ashamed of its origins, and sadly joins other modern film adaptations with needlessly dark overtones in dire need of self-awareness. It doesn’t go overboard, but Power Rangers really needed to lighten up.

Despite its title and the accompanying nostalgia, there is a painfully obvious lack of Power Rangers in a movie titled Power fucking Rangers – similar to how crippling the lack of coffee with your Krispy Kreme donuts can feel. The titular Power Rangers appear in all their silly, fun, action-packed glory (i.e. the selling point of the franchise) in the last 20 minutes or so, and the fights are quickly concluded because the movie couldn’t stand having a bright color scheme for more than two seconds.

For most of its duration, Power Rangers prioritizes the high-schoolers’ lives as misfits and justifying jargon like “Morphin” or “Zord” without showing a fucking Ranger kicking something every once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, the back-stories for the heroes are not only well-realized but are legitimately compelling as well. But when the action in a blockbuster action movie becomes a distraction to the quiet, character-driven scenes, you know that someone in the filmmaking crew didn’t have enough Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast.

Worsening this jarring tonal shift is the presence of Rita Repulsa and some of the Rangers’ own comedic hijinks. For a relatively bleak story, Rita seems like the only character who knows what defined the original Power Rangers: over-the-top insanity. Elizabeth Banks chews scenery and Krispy Kreme donuts wherever she goes, giving a performance that feels more at home in an old-school, schlocky B-horror movie instead of a serious retelling of the Power Rangers.

If Power Rangers settled for just one tone (whether serious or campy), the entire experience wouldn’t have been as confusing as choosing which delicious, sugar-coated donut to buy at the local Krispy Kreme.

So So Ranger Reboot

In a time when reboots are generally hated, Power Rangers differs for being passable and progressive, despite its glaring flaws. These issues don’t wreck the entire movie, but they do stick out like Krispy Kreme donuts in a bucket of chicken, and it would be hard not to call attention to them.

At worst, Power Rangers is imbalanced, and jarring at worst. For someone like myself who never really gave a fuck about the Rangers, this new take on the characters was an unexpectedly fun and entertaining introduction to a franchise my friends loved more than Krispy Kreme donuts.

The movie did its job of showing a world I’m open to seeing more of, though it’s hard for Power Rangers to stand out in the plethora of gritty reboots that currently fill the blockbuster season as much as Krispy Kreme donuts do in a happy person’s gut.


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‘Ghost In The Shell’ (2017) Review – Live-Action Anime Interface

Ghost-In-The-Shell

Given Americans’ tendency to fuck up every anime adaptation they make, the concern from fans of the 1995 animated classic mindfuck Ghost In The Shell is understandable. But since we live in a time when man-children are fit to serve in public office, of course a surprisingly decent live-action Ghost In The Shell could exist.

Based on the manga/anime of the same name, Ghost In The Shell follows Major (Scarlett Johansson) and the counter-terrorist force Section 9 as they pursue Kuze (Michael Pitt) – an  elusive assassin who targets Hanka Robotics’ high-rankers. As Major gets closer to Kuze, she begins to learn more about her past while also questioning the very essence of humanity, or the lack thereof.

Following the horrendous track record of American-made anime adaptations, it seemed that Ghost In The Shell was destined for failure from the start. Leave it to the director of none other than the hilariously stupid Snow White And The Huntsman to finally break this curse and redeem a subgenre of movies that always get the short end of the stick.

Stand Alone Complex

For the most part, Ghost In The Shell brings its source material to life. This adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s magnum opus maximizes today’s computer wizardry that modern filmmaking is capable of. The futuristic cyberpunk cityscapes of Ghost In The Shell are impressive, and looking at them is enough to feel how appropriately seedy the urban concrete jungle the Major operates in is.

The same could be said for the action, which could have been better. While Ghost In The Shell thankfully lacks the epileptic bullshit of shaky cam and quick cuts, the action is merely “safe” at best. Due to the amount of special effects and slow motion, the fights felt more like video game playthroughs than visceral confrontations. As pretty as the visuals were, Ghost In The Shell is yet another movie that could have benefited from a gritty, hard R-Rating – especially when considering the fact that the original manga had a lesbian orgy in cyberspace.

The characters were all well-cast, and their looks onscreen were thankfully more than just glorified cosplays. But with someone like Scarlett Johansonn leading the story, one has to wonder why an evidently capable group of performers acted like they didn’t give a fuck about what was going on and just flatly recited their designated lines. The worst offender is the normally eccentric “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, who portrays Section 9’s Chief Aramaki. It’s one thing to be aloof and basically anti-social, but it’s another thing to clearly not give a shit when the fate of a group of people under your command is threatened by the obviously evil corporate bitch. Kitano floats through his scenes, and makes Johansonn’s robotic (but somewhat justified) monotone sound like Shakespeare in the goddamned park.

Ghost In The Shell works as a stand-alone for those not familiar with the anime, but let’s face it, most of this film’s viewers are those who watched the previous anime incarnations. As an adaptation of a classic brainfuck, Ghost In The Shell suffers from some glitches that cost it the chance to truly break the mold.

Ghost In A Nutshell

Ghost In The Shell is equal parts black-ops operations and mindfucking, but its live-action adaptation merely glosses over both these defining aspects.

Saying the central case of Ghost In The Shell was unnecessary would be too nice. Kuze may have been introduced as a terrorist with goals beyond mere chaos, but he just disappears by the halfway point, only to reappear in the end without doing much. All in all, Kuze was a lazy bum who didn’t have long-term goals when you stop to think about it. Because Ghost In The Shell was an origin story like any modern superhero movie, Major’s transformation from civilian to cybernetic superhero takes priority, leaving development for Kuze and Section 9 (which is mostly non-existent in the movie) behind. Then the movie goes on and waters down what made the originals memorable in the first place.

Since the original Ghost In The Shell tends to straddle between convoluted and pretentious, dumbing the story down for people who only took up basic philosophy in college (like yours truly) was not only a welcome sight, but a necessity. But in the case of the remake, this went too far to the point where it had more in common with any late-90’s cyberpunk movie than a truly thought-provoking, psychological story.

Major’s identity crisis was befitting of the movie’s predecessors, but it’s basically the original plot written in bullet points. This is evident in how everyone spoon-feeds their existential issues to audiences in the most basic philosophical jargon imaginable. Ghost In The Shell leaves no cerebral matter to the imagination, opting to explain everything the characters think about. The original is considered to be a classic because of how much could be derived from its subtext, not because Major stopped working to moan out loud about how lame being a half-robot is.

Arising From Mediocrity

Having seen most of the anime incarnations of Ghost In The Shell with the exception of the painful bore that is Arise, it’s safe to say that I was unsurprisingly concerned about the live-action adaptation, what with all the controversy about whitewashing (which is justified through a questionable plot-point) among others making the rounds online.

Compared to cynical reinterpretations of old titles that were made to siphon money from nostalgic nerds, Ghost In The Shell was made by filmmakers who admired and loved the iconic source materials. This adaptation doubles as a good introduction for newcomers, and a heartfelt, respectful homage for fans like myself.

It’s generic by Science-Fiction standards and it won’t redefine an entire genre like what its animated predecessors did, but Ghost in The Shell is still the one to beat in terms of future American anime-adaptations. And I say this not as a consolation for a subgenre with standards at an all time low, but because the movie is pretty fucking decent on its own.


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‘Kong Skull Island’ (2017) Review: Viet Kong Lite

Kong-Skull-Island

Ever since his debut, the towering ape known as King Kong dominated the monster movie scene despite being one of the least creative giants to ever grace the big screen when compared to his truly monstrous contemporaries. Given today’s technology, it was only a matter of time before Kong returned to the big screen, which led to Kong: Skull Island.

The monster homeland of Skull Island has been uncharted for decades, until representatives of the covert organization Monarch set out an expedition to put the island on the map. Helping them are the expert tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), the war photographer Weaver (Brie Larson), and a battalion of air cavalry men led by Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). On the island, they discover Kong and worse creatures whose emergence could mean the end of humanity.

Kong has been a pop culture mainstay for as long as anyone could remember, but it’s only now someone tried to inject new life into the story – a noble effort that both invigorated and shackled the giant primate’s latest outing.

Gorilla Warfare

If there’s anyone aside from Captain America and motherfuckers like Adolf Hitler who goes hand in hand with the 1930’s, it’s King Kong. As honored as the 30’s setting may be, it’s beyond stale at this point, which makes the choice to update the setting of the Kong mythos to the early ’70s and the end of the Vietnam War an inspired decision.

By evoking the tensions of the time period and paying tribute to classic ‘Nam movies, Kong: Skull Island opens the doors of the monster movie to new creative directions. Instead of being yet another movie about nameless dudes running away from a monstrous visual effect, Kong: Skull Island tells a story of survival where characters desperately try to get off the titular island.

Doing so showed how insignificant humankind was when compared to the giants, a theme that has been running since the rebooted Godzilla (2014). Kong: Skull Island organically carries on these themes to emphasize the stakes of the setting, and this adds surprising subtext to what is essentially a brainless monster mash.

There is almost never a boring moment in the movie, and it quickly gets to the action after the obligatory character introductions. Kong: Skull Island takes no breaks, and each succeeding sequence features new monsters or increased dangers. It seems like the movie was tailor-made in direct response to the criticism of the glorified cocktease that was Godzilla, and the fact that producers listened is an incredible miracle on its own.

If Kong: Skull Island were rated on looks and themes alone, it would be a solid blockbuster movie. But alas, it’s still a monster movie about a giant monkey fucking up gunships to the tune of ’70s rock bands.

Marvel Goes To War

It’s no secret that Kong: Skull Island is a set-up for the monster-verse where Kong and Godzilla will fight in the future, and the flaws that have become synonymous with the modern day shared cinematic universe pioneer, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, rear their ugly heads here.

As distinct as they may be, none of the cast in Kong: Skull Island could be described as “complex human beings.” Rather, they are a mix of flat characters and exposition mouthpieces, where majority of them serve as cannon fodder and/or monster chow. Granted, Kong: Skull Island is a monster movie at the end of the day – meaning that character development isn’t exactly a priority. But just like a Marvel movie, the cast is made up of talented actors whose skills are squandered in favor of the flattest possible roles imaginable.

Conrad and the nigh-insignificant Weaver merely exist to look hot in the jungle and ask the stranded World War 2-era pilot Marlow (John C. Reilly) expository questions, while Packard and the Monarch agent Randa (John Goodman) do their best to shine despite their one-note personalities. The worst part is that these characters have interesting backstories and motivations, none of which are fully developed. Though they’re still better and more entertaining than the cardboard cut-outs in Godzilla, they’re as disposable and interchangeable as any Marvel superhero origin story that came out after Iron Man (2008).

It could be argued that Kong: Skull Island is a monster movie first, and what audiences are really in for are the big fights. But even these spectacles are only decent at best, as bombastic as the opening slaughter was. There’s a reliance of slow-motion in Kong: Skull Island, and while it’s thankfully easy to follow the action, it gets to a point where the nth time Kong skull-fucks a Skullcrawler in slow-motion loses impact. That, and it’s a monster/war movie mash-up that needs an R-rating, not a fucking child-friendly PG-13.

A Monstrous New Universe

What makes Kong: Skull Island special and a good introduction into the newest shared universe is just how honest it is. Not only is it a heartfelt homage to two old genres, but what makes it better is the fact that it knows exactly what it is.

Compared to Godzilla, Kong’s latest outing has no pretenses and just gives audiences what they want – giant fucking monsters duking it out while the humans try to get out of dodge. Instead of meandering and needlessly philosophizing about humanity’s place in nature despite the obvious having already been stated five minutes ago, Kong: Skull Island jumps right into the carnage and doesn’t let up for a single second.

Kong: Skull Island may be as deep as a B-Monster movie and a pulpy comic book, but by god, is it one of the better made popcorn movies seen in recent memory. For the most part, the upcoming monster universe Kong: Skull Island heralds is one shared cinematic universe I’ll be looking forward to. Kong: Skull Island is a good way to burn two hours on a weekend, but don’t expect to remember it a few days after viewing, because the shared universe loving producers of Warner Brothers sure as shit didn’t.


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‘Beauty And The Beast’ (2017) Review – Ever Just The Same

Booty-And-The-Beast

Because The Jungle Book made a metric shit-ton of money last year, a live-action remake of the animated classic Beauty And The Beast was bound to happen. So here we are with the expensive alternative to buying a DVD of the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.

To save her father from certain death, Belle (Emma Watson) takes his place as the prisoner of the Beast (Dan Stevens) – a mysterious monster cursed to such a fate. Over time, Belle and the Beast begin to develop feelings for each other, as dangerous forces that threaten their lives begin to grow in power.

Given how popular the original is, Beauty And The Beast may have easily been one of the most cynically made movies to ever hit the big screen, but thankfully, it’s more than just a glorified cash-grab. Just don’t expect it to be a classic any time soon.

New Age Fairy Tales

For those who went into Beauty And The Beast looking for a fancy trip down memory lane, the remake doesn’t disappoint. The cast give it their all despite a weak script, the musical numbers are on point for the most part even if the actors aren’t the best singers out there and even if their singing is almost nigh incomprehensible thanks to the loud background noise and bad sound editing, and the whole movie is just fucking gorgeous to look at.

From a technical standpoint, Beauty And The Beast does its job of bringing a memorable story to new life with living, breathing human beings and special effects. The movie takes advantage of today’s best computer effects to show just how fantastical it would be to live in a version of France where an incredibly vindicative hobo can be more powerful than God for some undisclosed reason.

Though the graphics aren’t anything new, especially in a decade where orgies of special effects are a must in blockbusters, they still suck viewers into its magical romance. They may look lifelike, but the sentient household items and the Beast are as realistic as characters rendered in a tech demo reel, not a truly immersive movie. For comparison’s sake, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) from Pirates Of The Caribbean looked more believable than the Beast.

But for those who were wondering what new things the live-action adaptation brings to the table, only good intentioned disappointments await them. Beauty And The Beast may look stunning, but there’s not much else to it, despite how exquisite and ridiculously expensive the wrapping it came in may be.

Be Kind, Don’t Rewind

Beauty And The Beast may be an animated classic, but it’s far from perfect. Not only did it skimp over some much needed characterization, but it had a lot of unfortunate implications that have become the stuff of memes and overly-analytical jokes to this very day (i.e.Stockholm Syndrome, etc.). Most of these could be forgiven since the original is an old-school animated movie, meaning a lot of  corners had to be cut.

The live-action adaptation had the chance to rectify these errors and go to places an animated children’s movie would be restricted from even talking about. But that would be expecting too much from a cinematic fairy tale that only wanted to mesmerize audiences with a romance that accidentally legitimized furry porn and haunted furniture with the capability to sing and dance.

To catch up with the times, Beauty And The Beast incorporates contemporary social themes, such as: feminism, the importance of education, independence, the (VERY relevant) faults of populism and even a gay LeFou (Josh Gad) that is somehow more offensive than a woman fucking a fanged beast-man thing. As admirable and noble as they were, these additions do nothing for the plot because they are unceremoniously dropped the moment Belle gets it on with the Beast. After being shown for a single scene in the opening act, these themes are glossed over and forgotten in favor of simply recreating iconic scenes from the 1991 original.

These additions not only needlessly pad, but they also condescend on viewers, even if unintentionally. There’s a crippling lack of subtlety in the new Beauty And The Beast, and this takes some of the magic away. The remake explains everything without leaving anything to the imagination. Instead of deepening the story’s players, revelations about dead parents and daddy issues serve as cheap excuses for shitty behaviors and quirks rather than compelling backstories. Part of what made the animated feature a classic is the amount of unspoken subtext it had, something that the remake lost in translation.

This is because, despite the attempts to modernize the story, Beauty And The Beast doesn’t aspire to do anything outside of recapturing the magic of a 26 year old cartoon. All it does is try to repeat what the original already did – only now with people and even lazier than any motherfucker in the Filipino congress.

Expensive Musical Re-Runs

Remakes are not inherently bad, since there really are some old cinematic ideas and stories worth revisiting. Beauty And The Beast may not join the likes of Nicolas Cage’s hilariously horrid The Wicker Man (2005) revival, but it’s the kind of remake whose existence begs a lot of questions.

Whereas last year’s The Jungle Book brought a surprising sense of maturity and mystery to its animated predecessor, the new Beauty And The Beast only brings a multi-million Dollar budget and too many well-intentioned ideas that go nowhere. On paper, Beauty And The Beast may have looked like the fairy tale meant for today’s audiences. In practice, the remake only reminds viewers of everything that made the original so beloved in the first place.

Though entertaining, Beauty And The Beast is too concerned with reliving its glory days and trying to be hip instead of being its own strong, independent musical and still wholly unnecessary. It may be decent and passable on its own, but it bears the heavy burden of forever being compared to an unforgettable animated feature.


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‘Logan’ (2017) Review – Mutants Of The Old West

logan-mainThanks to the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the clusterfuck that DC calls an Extended Universe, superhero movies are often dismissed as childish soap operas where costumed elitists resolve drama by punching each other for 15 minutes. Logan averts this so much that it could be mistaken for a Western if not for its protagonist who has knives in his knuckles.

In a bleak future, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are two of the few remaining mutants, who are now nearing extinction. Living in isolation and tired of life, Logan is forced to become the hero he once was when the life of the mysterious girl Laura (Dafne Keen), who has abilities similar to his, is threatened by sinister forces.

As shown in the trailers, Logan promised to be a different kind of superhero movie. The third Wolverine entry succeeded in not only fulfilling these promises, but in setting a new standard for a genre nearing dangerous levels of saturation and repetition.

From Spandex To Alcoholism

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Given how Logan is still a modern superhero movie by association, some might worry that the film would one more set-up to yet another planned franchise of interconnected movies. Instead, Logan is the mature stand-alone story that fans of Jackman’s career-making performance have been waiting for.

Gone are the epic fights where the X-Men fought threats to peace between humanity and mutantkind. In these heroes’ place is a lonely, broken Logan who relies more on alcohol poisoning than his healing abilities to mend his scars. For his last run as the titular character, Jackman gives it his all and delivers a performance that somehow turns gore and the word “Fuck” into emotional beats that hammer in the hopeless atmosphere Logan avoids by drinking himself to death.

Without a team of mutants (or otherwise) to crowd the screen, the latest X-Men spin-off gives more than enough screen time to every member of its small cast. Doing so makes each individual’s story just as compelling as Logan’s, but not enough to overshadow the central arc. The minimalist nature of Logan in comparison to other examples of the genre drives home the point that it is a personal story about an old man who just so happens to have the best immune system ever known to man.

In a time when cinematic superheroes almost always end up as toys being sold to kids, Logan is more than just a change of pace that brings a mature understanding of grit to the genre. Logan also serves as the much needed wake-up call for superheroes to grow the fuck up.

Darkly Comical

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Despite being a grounded and serious adaptation of an X-Men character, Logan is still a comic book movie at heart. While its characters deal with relatively mundane problems like balancing jobs and buying medicine, they still live in a world where the Cuban Missile Crisis was instigated by an evil super-powered Kevin Bacon, not communists or the allies of the Soviet Union. Due to the trappings of comic book movies, the progression of events in Logan may come off as predictable to observant viewers. But even if this may be the case, Logan is told with such skill that the movie’s more harrowing scenes successfully draw the desired emotional response from audiences.

I can attest to this because there were some moments when I was close to crying like a bitch.

It also says something about the filmmakers’ capabilities when outlandish elements like mad scientists, cybernetically enhanced soldiers and a surprisingly foul-mouthed Patrick Stewart don’t tone down the story’s tension and bitterness. Even if one particular character who shows up halfway through the movie may be considered to be too much of a “comic book moment” to be taken seriously, this newcomer still manages to be an intimidating presence who may be deemed forced rather than dramatically ironic by some jaded audience members (i.e. killjoys), such as yours truly.

Yet even if it had the right to shit all over the recent X-Men movies for being too similar to what Marvel churns out on a biannual basis, Logan instead pays tribute to its predecessors. Whereas Zack Snyder used Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice to insult Superman’s altruistic legacy because the director’s disturbing Batman-themed fascist power fantasies get him hot and bothered at night, director James Mangold used Logan to show a fan-favorite character at his most adult and visceral form.

Seeing ageless action figures punch evil things while spouting quips may be fun, but the party can only last so long. Logan knows this, and shows audiences the logical, cynical extreme of an aged superhero. Thankfully, this is done in a respectable manner that it come as timely for older viewers instead of mean-spirited, like an entire movie dedicated to showing how useless Superman is.

We’ll Miss Him So

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Outside of a middle act that bogs down the pacing, there’s little else to say about Logan. What few faults I cited can be chalked up to personal preference, since these gripes do little to affect the movie as a whole. Logan is a well-made superhero take on age and mortality that has more similarities to an old-school Western than a blockbuster superhero movie, and yet it still proudly shows off its comic book roots.

Jackman’s finale for a character he cares for is currently the closest thing to superhero movie perfection. It’s obvious that Fox won’t stop making more X-Men movies, but the generation of mutants that Jackman and Stewart defined is definitely over. As painful as this may be for nostalgic fans, there is no other fitting swan song for Xavier’s gifted children than Logan. The movie’s lack of the obligatory post-credits scene speaks volumes in a landscape dominated by superhero franchises.

Logan is different, emotional, and something fans should not miss. For those who outgrew the indistinguishable heroics of standard superhero fare, Logan is the depressing breath of fresh air that proves that comic superheroes can mature when given the chance.


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‘Arrival’ (2016) Review – Pacifist Run: The Movie

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If movies are to be believed, aliens only visit Earth for one of two reasons: colonization or exercising kinks on whoever they abduct. Arrival proposes another invasion, where the aliens instead talk humanity into submission. As boring as that may sound, Arrival takes this premise and delivers one hell of a movie.

When 12 alien spaceships land in different locations around the world, the American military recruits the linguist Louise (Amy Adams) and the scientist Ian (Jeremy Renner) to communicate with the otherworldly strangers. The two race against the clock to decipher the aliens’ motivations before the divided nations of the world accidentally declare war on the visitors.

If you’re the kind of person who can’t wait to show those pesky “libertards” how wrong they are about gun control laws in the midst of an alien invasion, then Arrival is not for you. Arrival relies on emotional investment and patience to get its points across, not knee-jerk reactions and alternative facts born from creative imaginations.

Close Encounters Of A Different Kind

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Rather than highlighting a special effects laden intergalactic war where humanity’s fate is at stake, Arrival focuses on how a first encounter would impact real-world diplomacy and politics. Gone are the bombastic tropes and cliches that make every single big screen alien invasion predictable and nigh indistinguishable, and in its place are careful analyses of the situations at hand and timid human beings who are understandably nervous about the strange visitors.

The end result is a grounded and very human take on a premise that has been done to death, creating an unpredictable chain of events that may or may not lead to armed conflict between species. The tension in Arrival is derived from the miscommunication and the threatened concept of peace on Earth, and this sparks new life into a genre swamped by idiotic action heroes who get a pass because they waved a flag in the face of some alien war machine.

Based on those descriptions, it should be expected that Arrival is a slow-burner. The movie takes its time building up the required atmosphere of uncertainty and tension to emphasize how important every little decision is, but it never feels like it needlessly drags out every second. Arrival uses every chance it gets to develop the characters and show off some nice cinematography, making sure that no minute is wasted.

Because of its narrative style, it’s easy to see why Arrival will not be everybody’s kind of movie. But the fact that the movie puts an emphasis on the meaning of languages over aliens with laser beams fighting flag-humping Alpha Males should have made this point pretty obvious.

Maximum Speech Skills

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Pacifism is usually the last thing characters in alien invasion stories think of, but Arrival shows how powerful the act of talking can be when dealing with the unknown. With a lesson on how much better a pen is than a sword, one can be forgiven for fearing that Arrival would be pretentious and be one of those pompous Sci-Fi movies written by humans with serious self-loathing issues.

Here’s to you, every single fucking Young Adult movie with an alien invasion and a pile of shit masquerading as a plot.

Thankfully, Arrival portrays all sides as evenly and respectfully as possible. The armies of Earth are more than ready to blow the aliens to Kingdom Come, but this is more of a last resort than an impulsive decision. The few who are actually prone to violence get their daily news from glorified conspiracy nuts who think chemicals in the water supply turns frogs gay, making it hard to take them seriously even if their actions do have dire consequences.

Yet as thought provoking as the subtext and messages of Arrival may be, the movie still fails to avoid some pitfalls movies are prone to. By the third act, major plot threads are solved through contrived coincidence. Though the movie gives plausible explanations, one has to wonder how different things would have been with the aliens if the conveniently timed Deus Ex Machinas came in a few seconds too early or otherwise. These are the kinds of afterthoughts that can weaken the impact of what should have been fitting conclusions, and these scenes come off as cinematic obligations rather than the most logical conclusions.

In the same act, characters other than Louise gradually fade into the background to the point of irrelevance. While this may be understandable since Louise is the main character, it would have been better if Arrival balanced out the characterizations from the start instead of showing off an all-star cast of award winning actors before turning into a solo character piece starring Amy Adams.

Language Is Power

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There are a few nitpicks that keep Arrival from becoming perfection incarnate or the greatest Sci-Fi movie ever made, but these issues affect nothing in its overall quality. Even if some parts of the story fall into melodramatic territory and could have been told better, Arrival still stands tall as one of the most significant movies made in recent memory. Not only does it do wonders for the genre in terms of critical recognition, but it’s that rare movie that came out at the right moment.

No matter which side of the political spectrum you may align yourself in, Arrival has a message of understanding and peace that anyone who actually gives a shit about humanity can relate to.

Granted, Arrival is the kind of drama that can bore some people but this is not the movie’s loss or fault. Arrival is a smart and well written Sci-Fi drama that never panders to general audiences, but neither does it claim to be highbrow art that only the culturally enlightened can comprehend. Arrival may succeed more as a message than a mainstream movie, but it’s something that shouldn’t be skipped.

Give it a shot before Hollywood reverts to alien invasions that are as brainless as the aliens who lost their mothership to a ’90s era computer virus.


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‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ (2017) Review – Guess Who’s Back

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After roughly a decade of silence, Keanu Reeves made an explosive comeback with the surprise hit John Wick. The movie proved that Keanu is a 52-year old badass, and the demand for more Keanu branded cans of whoop ass has been satisfied thanks to John Wick: Chapter 2. 

Taking place a few hours after the first movie, John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the titular hitman played by Keanu Reeves dragged back into the life he desperately wants to escape. Bound by a strict blood compact, Wick is forced to take a high-ranking assassination that threatens to wreck havoc in the criminal underworld and in his own life.

John Wick was an unapologetic love-letter to action movies, and Chapter 2 continues this honorable tradition. For those who know of the pain of bad sequels, let it be said that Chapter 2 delivers what’s expected – for better and slightly worse.

Murder Party

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Let’s be real: The main reason why anyone would watch Chapter 2 is to see a seemingly ageless Neo from The Matrix murder as many henchmen as possible. If all you wanted in a movie was merciless action and the high that only well-choreographed gunfights can give, then Chapter 2 does not disappoint.

Once again, Keanu and returning director Chad Stahelski show how action movies should be done. Everything that has made modern action movies intolerable such as epileptic shaky-cam, quick cuts, slow motion montages, and orgies of special effects are thankfully missing. Chapter 2 boasts practical, carefully staged stunts and set-pieces that allow audiences to savor every bit of merciless bodily harm John Wick inflicts on others. 

The best part of the sequel’s action scenes are that they drive the story forward instead of serving as empty filler. Chapter 2 effortlessly melds story with violence, making each bullet and punch mean something outside of maiming people. The action scenes are so seamless with the story that cutting even just one would screw the narrative up. Even if John Wick’s aimbot-level perfect aim may seem ridiculous, he never veers into invulnerable superhuman territory like John McClane (Bruce Willis) did in the abysmal A Good Day To Die Hard. This helps make John Wick relatable, since his expertise in shooting people’s brains out can do little to numb the pain of a bullet graze or a knife to the leg. 

At worst, the action in Chapter 2 may feel somewhat familiar because the John Wick movies lost the element of surprise. The sequel also has comparatively fewer action scenes, prioritizing longer and more methodical assaults over the blitz of confrontations from the first chapter. The new fights lack some of the creativity from the previous film, but this small step down does not change the fact that Chapter 2 still succeeded in elevating brutal street brawls and ballads of bullets into a legitimate cinematic art form. 

Action Figures With Depths

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When John Wick hit cinemas, no one expected a heartfelt story about a retired hitman and a well-developed underworld of criminal syndicates and assassins. Just like how easy it was for the titular character to wield a gun after years of retirement, the John Wick sequel easily returns to these plot threads and delves even deeper into them. Despite the carnage, Chapter 2 never forgets that it’s the second part of John Wick’s overlong bad weekend.

In order to show more of the criminal society of the setting, Chapter 2 sacrifices some action scenes for more exposition and world building. The trade-off may sound negative at first, but this allows audiences to become invested in the world John Wick finds himself fighting. Though the high-rankers of this mysterious shadow society are never shown, their near-omniscient presence is more than enough to make viewers worry for John Wick’s well-being.

Chapter 2 falls short in the character of its lead badass. Keanu still pulls off the emotional hitman perfectly, but his new motivations are not as compelling as those in the first film. Where the first movie gave a lot of depth to what could have been the stupidest plot ever written (i.e. unstoppable assassin avenges a dead dog), Chapter 2 is just a straightforward showcase of the underworld’s laws and enforcers. Chapter 2 has a plethora of interesting new characters, but the major players who drive the story through their decisions oftentimes let their stupidity get the better of them.

This, however, is not a glaring issue since their frustrating stupidity actually helps show how human they are. The cast of Chapter 2 are more than just two-dimensional cartoon villains or nameless bloodbags waiting for Keanu to burst them – they’re people who know they fucked with the most badass dude on the planet. It’s just a question if they’ll apologize or do something stupid – like mock the guy who is said to have killed three people with a pencil.

The Art Of War

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There’s no denying that Chapter 2 is basically a badass comic book come to life and nothing more, but dismissing it because of its relative simplicity would be unfair to the sequel’s efforts and its overall entertainment value. Chapter 2 knows what it is and gives audiences what they want by being one of the best action movies of the decade – second only to Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

For some, Chapter 2 is the perfect time killer. But for nostalgic action movie veterans, the sequel to Keanu Reeve’s gun porno means a lot to the entire action genre. In an age of superheroes and child-friendly action “movies” that were most probably filmed by strapping a camera to a dog that’s high off its ass on crack, truly great action movies have become a rarity. John Wick: Chapter 2 brings the genre back to its roots and shows naysayers how the genre can tell compelling stories, even if the constant staccato of gunfire becomes a soundtrack of its own.

Because of the movie’s success, John Wick will definitely spawn too many shoddy imitators, with the totally necessary Robin Hood: Origins being the first. When that inevitability comes to pass, the legend of the Baba Yaga will be known to all.


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‘La La Land’ (2016) Review – No Road But The Jazz Way

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It’s been a while since moviegoers saw a purely original, full-fledged musical hit the big screen, and last year’s critical darling La La Land set out to fill in the void.

La La Land follows the interconnecting lives of the aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and the determined jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) in their hard search for fame and fortune in the place where dreams come true: Hollywood. Though they have differing hopes and dreams, Mia and Seb cross paths and their lives are changed forever.

La La Land scored high critical acclaim from pretty much anyone who paid for the price of admission. Being the pretentious motherfucker that I am often accused of being, it goes without saying that I didn’t like it as much as everyone else, but that doesn’t make La La Land a terrible movie by my standards.  

Dance-Off From The Past

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La La Land was billed as a throwback to the musicals from the ’50s, and this claim was mostly true. In a time when blockbusters are dominated by orgies of computerized special effects, it was both surprising and refreshing to see well choreographed dance numbers done to the tune of uplifting original songs get the praise it deserves. A musical’s visuals may not be as demanding as a superhero movie’s, but it still requires an equal amount of energy and dedication to get them right – all of which La La Land executes perfectly.

Yet as catchy as the songs may be, La La Land’s efforts would’ve meant fuckall if not for its main characters. Credit should be given to both Stone and Gosling for delivering fine performances with what they were given, as they were able to elevate what could have been run-on-the-mill flat characters right out of any generic romance story into grounded, relatable people who you want to find their happy endings.

For movie buffs (aka nitpicky fucksticks with no lives such as myself), La La Land serves as a nostalgic treat that hearkens back to the naive days when movies didn’t acknowledge that people of color actually existed. La La Land is destined to become one of the most memorable modern musicals made, thanks to its heartfelt tributes to a bygone kind of cinema, but not much else.

Jazz Is Love, Jazz Is Life

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La La Land has a bad tendency to lecture its viewers about the importance of art and music instead of getting on with the story. In doing so, the musical aspect (i.e. the most important part) suffers because it’s forced to take the backseat in favor of lessons about how fucking sweet jazz music is. This describes the entire middle act of La La Land, since the musical literally grinds to a halt after the energetic opening act just so that the director can use mouthpieces and strawmen to debate about the importance of traditional, old-school jazz music in today’s modern time period.

Spoiler: Jazz always wins.

It could be argued that the second act of La La Land was meant to deconstruct the whimsical and idealistic nature of old-school musicals, and while this argument does hold water, it doesn’t excuse the movie’s decision to stop being creative and consistent, just to point out the obvious in a monotone voice. The bittersweet and realistic aspects of the Mia’s and Seb’s relationship could’ve been executed in their own musical numbers, but La La Land prefers to just narrate things as is while jazz music plays in the background. The leads do deliver the required emotional weight, but La La Land is the rare musical that would’ve benefited from more singing instead of otherwise.

Thankfully, La La Land gets its musical groove back just in time for one of the best musical finales ever filmed. But given how much of a blast the few musical numbers are, it’s a shame that La La Land prioritized the director’s masturbation to all things jazz over the fucking selling-point of a musical. Audiences know that director Damien Chazelle loves jazz because he never stops talking about the fucking thing.

When compared to the director’s previous musical effort (Whiplash), La La Land comes out as condescending since it spells out its messages of artistic integrity to audiences instead of letting the musical segments speak for themselves. Whiplash worked to near-perfection because of its subtle character study, not through a loud show of musical force – lessons that must have flew over La La Land’s head. Ironically for a musical and a musically inclined director, La La Land suffers from a lack of immersive musical numbers due to an abundance of  monologues.

Sing That Joyful Song

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La La Land hits all of the right notes when it comes to giving audiences what they paid for. It has memorable songs, a likable main cast and the filmmakers’ obvious passion for the project at hand. What it lacks, though, is both staying power and a sense of self-awareness, since La La Land is just a really well-made musical that breaks no new ground for the genre. Due in part to the trying and disheartening events of 2016, La La Land may have gotten a critical pass thanks to its bittersweet yet optimistic interpretation of the hardships of life.

Which is not a bad thing at all.

Without getting too fucking political because Lord knows I already went there, the next few years will be difficult for a lot of people, and movie magic can do its part in reminding people of why hope should not be lost. Yes, I am speaking from my personal experience of living in a glorified fascist-wannabe toilet of a country, so grant me this one fucking unfunny soapbox moment.

It’s far from perfect and somewhat overrated, but La La Land is a musical worth watching and it’s also a good reminder of the pursuit of genuine happiness. And most importantly, La La Land reminds viewers of people’s level best and why common human decency should be an everyday occurrence, not a rarity.


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The Eyes Of My Mother (2016) Review: Laughably Disturbing

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The best kind of bad movie is the one that takes itself so seriously, despite it being full of shit. The Eyes Of My Mother fits the above description in every way imaginable – which makes it even more fucking hilarious than it has to be.

The Eyes Of My Mother follows Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) as she grows up after witnessing a violent tragedy befall her family when she was at a young age. The movie shows Francisca’s life from childhood to adulthood, focusing on how she copes with the concepts of love and life’s fragility.

If you ever wanted to see how predictable, juvenile scares could somehow pass as high class art to some film critics, then look no further than the artistically masturbatory bullshit that is The Eyes Of My Mother. 

Artistic Yet Basic

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One look at The Eyes Of The Mother is more than enough to know what it really is at its core: an exploitation horror film. From a mentally disturbed serial killer to an isolated farmhouse to way too much Freudian bullshit, The Eyes Of My Mother has all the trappings of a gory, seedy movie from the ’70s. Normally, I would love a movie for adhering to the days of the self-indulgent grindhouse days since the sub-genre’s existence is a nice, heartfelt “Fuck You” to the self-proclaimed cinematic elite and moral guardians who can’t understand the concept entertaining, cathartic and fictional violence.

But what makes The Eyes Of My Mother stand out and be the exception to my personal preferences is how far up its own ass it is. Instead of simply telling Francisca’s story while indulging in the director’s morbid fantasies, The Eyes Of My Mother tries to elevate a serial killer’s origin story into high art through some of the most painfully highbrow execution I’ve seen in a while.

This movie thinks that it’s an artistic masterpiece, and therefore allowed to do whatever the fuck it wants despite looking like a pretentious art student in the process. But with myself being a pretentious graduate of an arts course, this would be me calling a kettle black.

Driving this point home is the fact that the entire movie is shot in black-and-white. I have nothing against artistic monochrome films, but its use needs to be justified. In this movie’s case, though, the filming technique only masquerades hollow bullshit as fancy, sophisticated filmmaking.

Eyes Up The Ass

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As is common in artistic acts of pretension, The Eyes Of My Mother’s otherwise simple story is bogged down by long, dragging shots that lovingly focus on the obvious horror elements like dead cows, dismembered human body parts, and Gothic countryside scenery. What could have been a straightforward horror movie is instead turned into an overlong montage of static imagery set to laughably creepy music.

One scene sums up everything wrong with this movie. After Francisca violently incapacitates a victim, she calmly comforts a crying baby by humming a lullaby while her hapless victim sputters blood and begs for mercy. Given to another director, this scene may have been unsettling but in The Eyes Of My Mother, not only does it use some of the most overused horror imagery imaginable that one would expect from a sub-par horror movie where spooky children in old-timey outfits dance to “ironically” placed music, but it practically BEGS its viewers to be scared.

News flash: That’s NOT how horror works.

In a good horror movie, subtlety is key and the most effective frights earn the desired reaction through hard work, build-up, and emotional investment. Great modern horror films like The Babadook (2014) or The Witch (2015) don’t shove their scares into audiences’ faces with accompanying cue cards that tell them when to either faint or wet themselves. Instead, they let nature take its course to scare people shitless. Meanwhile, The Eyes Of My Mother has such little regard for its audiences’ intellect that it guides them by the hand and makes them shit themselves on command.

The Adorable Anomaly

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Outside of the haunting yet gorgeous cinematography, there’s little to The Eyes Of My Mother because it’s nothing more than a cheap exploitation movie with a large budget and an artist’s bloated ego. Obviously, art is subjective, fear is relative and there’s nothing wrong with liking this particular movie, but The Eyes Of My Mother fails for me on a personal level.

This movie didn’t make me give the slightest fuck about what was happening because it was more interested in convincing viewers of its artistic value than in telling a disturbing but compelling story about a serial killer who thinks ’50s fashion still rocks. Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut is just another example of pretentious arthouse bullshit despite being a visually stunning debut.

The only reason why I can’t hate The Eyes Of My Mother as much as the shitshow that was Antichrist (2009) is because of how fucking cute it is – it’s just fucking lovable to watch the movie desperately try to be scary. Unlike Antichrist which tried to be a two hour symbol that was ultimately as meaningful as a politician’s promise on election day, The Eyes Of My Mother treated its CreepyPasta video-level scares into something on par with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning (1984). The only thing is, CreepyPasta videos know they’re silly videos meant for a fun scare at two in the morning, nor do they claim to be anything more than a meme. If there’s one thing The Eyes Of My Mother needed, it was a hint of self-awareness. Maybe then, it would be more fun to watch instead of being the chore that it ultimately became.

Where Antichrist serves as the perfect way to see a director make a film with their entire head rammed up their asshole, The Eyes Of My Mother is a good way to see how another director can do the same, but with only half their head shoved up their asshole. It’s not the same shit-stained experience, but getting halfway there isn’t so bad a deal.

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Die Beautiful (2016) Review: Stereotypes With Depth

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The 2016 Metro Manila Film Fest (MMFF) is by far, the country’s most defiant form of cinematic counterculture seen in a while. Die Beautiful continues this trend, if not embodying it in its two hour long span.

Die Beautiful chronicles the life and struggles of Trisha Echevarria (Paolo Ballesteros): an aspiring beauty queen with the weight of the world on her shoulders. The movie shows Trisha go from her childhood to an untimely death, as those important to her recall the best of times they had with her during her wake.

The Filipino indie movie scene is primarily known for generally making only two kinds of films: Poverty exploitation cinema and Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) exploitation. Die Beautiful technically falls in the latter category, but it’s miles beyond its fucking pretentious ilk.

Beauty’s Pain

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While other lesser movies resign themselves and bend over for stereotypes because it was mandated by the film’s financiers and/or egoistic and aging “stars,” Die Beautiful relishes in Filipino LGBTQ cliches if only to fuck with them when no one’s looking.

The movie’s gay characters do everything demanded by the mainstream media (ex. say sassy quotes, engage in cat-fights, be a straight man’s mistress, talk with an exaggerated flamboyant accent, etc.), but these are done in a realistic light. These scenes occur in Die Beautiful not to pander to some lowbrow fuckhead, but to show how they would actually play out in real life – i.e. with certain consequences. The lack of whimsical background music or canned laughter meant to set the mood helps drive the realism home, making Die Beautiful’s brand of humor distinctly deadpan yet genuine.

Die Beautiful also has a good grasp of character development, where it uses a non-linear approach to show the life of Trisha and company. Though it may be a bit confusing at first, Die Beautiful’s non-traditional storytelling eventually grows on viewers and earns their trust, making the characters more than just annoying cliches with legs.

The worst thing about Die Beautiful from a technical standpoint is that the movie would not fucking end. By the time the third act rolled in, Die Beautiful dragged and repeated itself too often. As satisfying as the conclusion was, it would have benefited Die Beautiful (and the audience) if the unnecessary scenes such as cameos and certain flashback scenes were cut or, at the least, shortened.

Too Many Beauty Queens
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On the surface, Die Beautiful is just a more serious version of the stereotypical (and fucking noisy) Filipino Parlor Gay movie. Watching it reveals an unexpected layer of depth that discusses themes of sexual identity, existential matters such as death and one’s postmortem legacy. I am not kidding when I say that a movie where half of the scenes are beauty pageants sprinkled with occasional dick jokes is deeper than an indie movie where characters sulk about life while staring at a sunset for half a fucking hour.

By retelling familiar tropes and cliches associated to Filipino homosexual characters in a more realistic fashion, Die Beautiful makes its seemingly highbrow themes easily accessible. The way the script is written also helps, since characters don’t just stand on soapboxes, point fingers at those who think homosexuality is an affront to nature (Spoiler: IT’S NOT) and basically become sentient editorial cartoons with their heads rammed up their asses. Die Beautiful instead lets the cast’s actions speak for themselves, and it shows the joys and pains someone has to go through when they’re seen as a walking stereotype.

But Die Beautiful bit more than it could chew. Many interesting slices of Trisha’s colorful life are introduced throughout the film, but few are properly developed and concluded. Examples of these many underdeveloped events include: Trisha’s violently homophobic father, her disagreements with her own adopted daughter, and Trisha’s troubled love-life.

Dramatic occurrences, arcs and realizations about life’s limited chances for redemption are only brought up when Die Beautiful thinks it’s time for the audiences to cry like little bitches, instead of allowing these story yarns to fully develop and earn the desired emotional reactions. The end result is a rather crowded narrative that wants to say a lot but has little time to do so, losing many interesting individual points in the shuffle.

Beyond Beauty Pageants

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Die Beautiful originates from a country where stereotypes define the LGBTQ community. Contrary to what some may claim, the Philippines is a country where homosexuality is merely tolerated so long as the funny-looking gays stick to entertaining the masses and stop asking for pesky human rights. After years of seeing this bullshit courtesy of the brain-dead mainstream media and backwards religious doctrines, it’s about time someone called out the stupidity of generalizing an entire group of people for the sake of ratings and ego. Die Beautiful takes up the task of showing the human side of an aged stereotype, and it did its job well even if tripped a bit on its way to the finish line.

I’m a straight guy who may know gay people, but I know fuck-all about experiencing the struggles being gay in the hypocrital shithole we live in. It’s one thing to hear their stories, but it’s another to actually live them. The visual storytelling of Die Beautiful is a good way to get front seat access to the daily trials of gay Filipinos, and for that, Die Beautiful serves as a good eye-opener for those (like myself) who will never know the first-hand experience. While Die Beautiful does paint LGBTQ people in a victimized manner similar to any indie LGBTQ themed movie, it’s still better than most of its pretentious counterparts.

Die Beautiful may be overlong and unfocused, but it still fucks with expectations and standards. Given how entrenched some of the social bullshit Die Beautiful tackles is, seeing a mainstream movie demolish established mindsets while retaining a well-told story that never shoves its head up its asshole was an unexpected and satisfying surprise.

This is the kind of film-making we need, not more paid vacations and cinematic circle-jerking.

Recommended Viewing: Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros (2005), also known as The Blossoming Of Maximo Oliveros. 


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