Quezon’s Game


Another scene of indifferent dramatic tension.

(2018) Biographical Drama (ABS-CBNRaymond Batagsing, Rachel Alejandro, Kate Alejandrino, Billy Ray Gallion, David Bianco, Jennifer Blair-Bianco, Tony Ahn, James Paoleli, Jeremy Domingo, Ross Barnaby McLeod. Directed by Matthew E. Rosen

 

It is to the world’s shame that when the unfolding horrors of the Holocaust were taking place in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the world – including the United States – largely turned a blind eye. There were, however, some individuals who saw what was coming and took commendable action to save as many as they could.

One such was the President of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon (Batagsing). A young, charismatic leader, he would be forever remembered in his home country as the man who negotiated his country’s freedom from being an American protectorate. His role in the Holocaust is a story that isn’t often told, not even in his native land.

He faced an uphill battle. In attempting to grant visas for 10,000 Jews trapped in the ghettos of Austria and Germany, he ran into all kinds of American red tape and resistance. He would be aided in his quest by Jewish-American businessman Alexander Frieder (Gallion), British diplomat Paul McNutt (Paoleli) and future American president Dwight D. Eisenhower (Bianco). He was also supported by his wife Aurora (Alejandro), despite whispers of an extramarital affair with a torch singer (for which there is little historical corroboration). He also did this while negotiating with the Americans for the independence of his nation – and battling the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him six years later.

This Filipino production has a bit of irony to it, considering the anti-immigration stance that has resurfaced in the United States in the lat few years. The current President of the Philippines also suffers in comparison to Quezon, not just in his hagiographic portrayal here but to the historical figure who did so much for his people. That the kind of political forces that Quezon fought have reared their ugly heads 80 years after the fact is not so much terrifying as it is disappointing.

Quezon’s story deserves to be told in a grand way, but the production is hampered by budgetary constraints. While the locations do a good job of presenting 1938 Manila, the script tends to have characters describing events rather than showing them onscreen. I’m not sure if this was a budgetary thing, but the color is often washed out to being nearly black and white, then reverting to full color without any rhyme or reason. It’s annoying and unnecessary.

With the exception of Batagsing who gives a decent performance as the late Filipino President, the acting is often stiff and uneven. It doesn’t help that the subplot of the affair that Aurora suspects her husband is having is shoehorned in and seems at odds with the rest of the film; the more than two hour length could well have been trimmed somewhat.

On the positive side, Dean Rosen’s Philip Glass-inspired score is quite haunting and serves the film well, but there is a bit too much speechifying and posturing to make this truly entertaining. It’s a real shame too, because this is a story that deserves to be told, especially in these times. I hope someday someone tells it a bit better than this.

REASONS TO SEE: Tells a story not often told in the West. The score is beautiful and seems to be inspired by Philip Glass. The actors resemble their historic counterparts keenly.
REASONS TO AVOID: Uneven performances throughout. The black and white and color imagery seems to be too arbitrarily done. Overly long and overly sudsy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Quezon City, at one time the capitol of the Philippines, was partially designed by Quezon and bears his name.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/11/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews: Metacritic: 36/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Schindler’s List
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
After Parkland

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Sid & Aya (not a love story)


My blue heaven.

(2018) Romance (Viva) Dingdong Dantes, Anne Curtis, Gabby Elgenmann, Cholo Barretto, Bubbles Paraiso, Josef Elizalde, Pio Balbuena, Gab Lagman, Joey Marquez, Jobelle Salvador, Johnny Revilla. Directed by Irene Villamor

Some movie titles tell you exactly what the movie is about. Others are a little more sly. Occasionally, a title lies outright about what the movie is. This is one of those.

Sid (Dantes) is a Manila-based stockbroker with insomnia. He works for a corporation full of sharks – and is a shark himself – on the fast track to become partners in a company where the only partners are part of the same family. But at night, he wanders the streets, hangs out in bars and clubs until they close and then in coffee shops until he heads back to his swanky apartment for a couple hours of rest before he goes back into the salt mines. Sid’s girlfriend (Paraiso) is out of town for an extended people so he’s a bit lonely.

At one of the coffee shops he meets Aya (Curtis), an outgoing, pretty and fearless young woman. The two get to talking and eventually hit it off. The insomniac Sid enjoys hanging out with her – and is willing to pay for the privilege. Aya, who works three jobs to support her ailing father and her siblings who are looking to get a higher education, is at first skeptical but eventually agrees.

The two are from diametrically different social classes but they see something in each other that draws them closer together. The two end up headed in the direction you might expect – but the destination turns out to be a lot different than whatever expectation you might have.

This is not your typical romance, although it might seem to be developing in that direction at first. Villamor, who also wrote the film, shows a sharp mind and a good sense of changing things up when you least expect them. She also cast the leads just about perfectly; Aya comes off a little bit like a Filipina Zooey Deschanel. She’s absolutely delightful and it’s not hard to see why Sid was attracted to her.

And that’s not as easy a matter as you might think Sid is the sort of guy who pushes people away from him – unless he needs something from them. He is as self-absorbed as any human could imaginably be, and yet Dantes still infuses him with a certain amount of likability that as the film goes on we end up rooting for him. It takes a great deal of screen charm to do that and Dantes has that in abundance. I’m not sure his first name will play well in the States but with the right management he has the presence and the looks to go far.

The movie seems to have a fixation on wealth and on the trappings of it. I wondered for awhile if there was some wealth worshiping going on – although the end message is that money can’t buy the important things in life there and that it corrupts, it almost feels rote. There’s too much focus on the beautiful apartment, the fast cars, the ability to go and do anything, anytime you want. I found it a bit off-putting to be honest but that may be an overreaction on my part so take it with a grain of salt.

What you can take to the bank with more certainty is that there are a few rom-com clichés particularly in the last 30 minutes of the movie and what had once been a delightfully unpredictable movie settled into a typical rut. That’s a shame because if the last third of the movie had been as good as the first two thirds, this could have been a worldwide hit. Even so, it’s one of the strongest romantic dramas to come out of the Philippines in quite awhile.

REASONS TO GO: Aya is a Filipina version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Dantes has a ton of presence.
REASONS TO STAY: There are too many rom-com clichés. There is some wealth worship going on here as well.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content, drug use and more than some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although this is the first time Dantes and Curtis have aappeared together in a feature film, they have worked on several projects together going back to their student days.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pretty Woman
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls

 

The Bourne Legacy


 

The Bourne Legacy

Jeremy Renner is having to get serious about fighting the women off.

(2012) Action (Universal) Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy, Joan Allen, Zeljko Ivanek, Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Oscar Isaac, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Shane Jacobson, Michael Papajohn, Elizabeth Marvel. Directed by Tony Gilroy

 

We aren’t content to let things just go their own course. We have a habit of meddling, intruding, making changes willy-nilly without first considering the consequences of our actions. This continually gets us into trouble but if you think it’s a catastrophe-maker for you, think of it on an institutional scale; what happens when a government messes up?

Aaron Cross (Renner) is in Alaska on a training evaluation. He is climbing rocks, fighting off wolves, taking blood samples from himself and taking a little blue pill (no, not that one) and a little green pill; the first, as we will find out, improves his mental acuity; the second, his physical.

At last he reaches a remote cabin where a fellow operative (from Project Outcome, as we also later find out – you’re going to find a lot of things out later, trust me) who is known only as Number Three (Isaac) – best not to be known as Number One or Number Two – has been exiled to wait for agents like him and turn in their blood samples for analysis.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the next mission. Aaron hears a strange noise outside the cabin and goes to investigate it. That strange noise turns out to be a U-CAV drone firing a missile that essentially vaporizes the cabin and everything in it, including the little green and blue pills which Aaron is going to need. He escapes the drone by doing a little homemade self-surgery on himself, removing a tracking device and placing it in a hapless wolf (wolf lovers, turn away from this one). He decides to head down to the lower 48 to find out what’s going on.

You see, what is happening is that the Jason Bourne affair has sent the upper echelons of the clandestine government operations – the Division, if you will – into a tizzy and in full panic mode, they enlist retired USAF Black Ops specialist Eric Byer (Norton) to close up shop on Treadstone, Blackbriar and all the related operations – particularly Outcome – and all those who knew what was going on. This involves giving the operatives little yellow pills which cause them to suffer from fatal nosebleeds.

At Sterissyn-Morlanta, which is the essential public face of Outcome, a scientist goes berserk (with a little help from his friends) and shoots everybody in his lab. The only survivor is Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz), who is understandably upset. She gets a lot more upset when a psychologist (Marvel) sent to evaluate her in her Maryland home as she packs for a trip to visit her sister in Canada turns out to be there to terminate her. She is saved by the arrival of Cross who is looking for some pills.

This is bad news for Byer, who thought Cross dead at the cabin. When he discovers Cross has fled with his new friend to Manila, he figures out that Cross is there to get an upgrade which would give him the permanent mental facilities without having to take a pill. He sends in a grim operative from a different project, known only as LARX-3 (Changchien) to clean up the mess. LARX-3 has the same or superior mental and physical skills as Cross and a real dogged determination to see his mission through. Can Shearer and Cross figure out a way to escape from the implacable LARX-3 – not to mention a government with unlimited resources that wants them both dead?

A lot of fans were upset when they heard that the latest Bourne movie would be without Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon in the last three movies of the series, or without director Paul Greengrass, who directed the last two. New director Gilroy does have a connection with the series- he wrote all three of the movies, so he’s very familiar with the world of Jason Bourne. That is a double-edged sword though.

To the good, he understands the backstory and grafts this new branch onto the tree seamlessly, in a way that makes sense and isn’t quite as jarring as seeing a brand new face playing James Bond. To the bad, there are many references to programs and projects from the first three films, with bureaucratic characters from them making an appearance in roles that range from little more than cameos to much more meaningful supporting roles. For those unfamiliar with the first three films it can be mighty confusing, although if you simply choose to ignore all of the code names and characters therein you can enjoy the ride of the movie on its own merits.

Renner, fresh from his acclaimed performance as Hawkeye in The Avengers further cements his place as one of the hottest leading men and action heroes of 2012. He’s got lots of charisma and my female friends tell me he’s rather easy on the eyes. Far be it for me to impugn the veracity of my female friends in matters of male hotness. I just know that when I see the guy onscreen he has my full attention.

Weisz is one of my favorite actresses in terms of performance but she is curiously muted here. There isn’t much energy and few sparks generated between her and Renner. I know why she was cast – few actresses appear to be as smart as she is – but she’s unconvincing in the action context and has little to do but look terrified and/or concerned.

The action sequences are as good as any I’ve seen this year, with pieces set in Dr. Shearing’s Maryland home, in the Alaska woods and a parkour and motorcycle chase in Manila all generating plenty of adrenaline. There is an intelligence here as well that is often missing in other action films, although not to the same degree of the first three Bourne movies which caught the essence of the Robert Ludlum books they were based on if not the plot – the sense of wheels within wheels, conspiracies and political game-playing all just under the surface. While there are all of those things here, they simply aren’t to the same level as, say, The Bourne Ultimatum which was the most recent in the series.

I’d say at the end of the day this is a must-see for action fans and adrenaline junkies, although those who don’t like their cerebellum being disturbed might find this headache-inducing. It’s a lot better than I feared it would be, and a good career move for Renner who looks to be a superstar if not already then dang soon.

REASONS TO GO: Renner is a magnetic lead. Action sequences are top-notch. Continuity between this and first three films is well-done.

REASONS TO STAY: Weisz’ character seems a bit bland. May be a bit hard to follow for those not familiar with the previous three films.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of action, plenty of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The title of the book is the same of the first novel of the series to be written by Eric von Lustbader (after Ludlum passed away) but has nothing to do with the plot.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/12/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100. The reviews are pretty mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Casino Royale

U-CAV LOVERS: An assassination attempt is made by unmanned drones who send missiles into the cabin where Cross had been moments earlier.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Hope Springs