Top 5 Movies of 2015

I watch a lot of movies. And I enjoy persuading or dragging people to watch good movies with me. Here are the top five movies I watched in 2015, and will continue to rewatch in the years to come.

5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

I’m not a big Hunger Games or Jennifer Lawrence fan, but I was still excited to watch the final installment to the Hunger Games series. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Mokingjay, Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off–no flashbacks, no long-winded explanations. This is a war movie now. And with that comes nerve-racking action scenes where no characters are safe. The action scenes are built up really well, too. It’s not one action scene after another. The movie lets the audience breathe, lulling you into a fall sense of security until it’s time to blow up characters again. I found the quieter scenes as compelling as the action scenes because that’s when the the characters reveal their motivations and relationships with each other.

What I really liked about Mockingjay, Part 2 was that it’s not all about good versus evil. Katniss’s motivation for joining the rebellion is mostly selfish–revenge. Her allies are shady. Peeta battles the evil within himself. And even Snow shows morality.

The last scene in Mockingjay, Part 2, which I fully credit to Jennifer Lawrence’s acting, is my favorite. Even though the battle was won, even though Katniss is with someone she loves and who loves her, we see how the effects of war still run deep in her. She may even have mild depression. That Katniss seems the most vulnerable when the world is already at peace was a good contrast and a statement that life goes on.

4. Sicario

I love Emily Blunt and I will watch whatever movie she’s in, and Sicario is one of her best movies to date.

Sicario is a movie about the drug cartel in Juarez, Mexico. Emily Blunt plays Kate, an honest, law-abiding, and capable FBI agent who was recruited by the CIA on a mission to bring down the head of the cartel. She is joined by Josh Brolin who plays Matt, the mission leader, and Benicio del Toro as the scary, mysterious killing machine Alejandro. All of them are amazing in this movie.

Sicario will have you on the edge of your seat until the last second. At the cinema, I felt the audience collectively holding its breath whenever some shit is about to go down. Throughout the movie you’ll fear for Emily Blunt’s character’s life. What makes Sicario suspenseful is its unpredictability; except for Kate, all the characters are shady.

Mexico looks beautiful in the landscape and overhead shots that I want to visit it. But the movie is so effective in showing the perils of Juarez that I’m also scared.

3. Trainwreck

A good-looking guy who sleeps around because he has commitment issues suddenly finds The One. Sounds familiar? Now replace the good-looking guy character with a woman, and you have Trainwreck. Except it’s so much more than that trope.

Trainwreck is a romantic-comedy written and starred by the funny Amy Schumer playing a character named Amy. I use the term romantic-comedy loosely because it’s really more comedy than romance. It follows the rom-com format yet avoids being a cliche. In Trainwreck, Amy is awful to the guys she sleeps with, and the movie doesn’t try to redeem her or make her more palatable to the viewer by making her cutesy. Even Bill Hader’s character Aaron, Amy’s love interest, isn’t trying to save, fix or change her, which I found refreshing.

I also need to mention how funny John Cena and LeBron James are in this movie. John Cena’s sex scene with Amy and his delivery of the crossfit joke is so on point that Dwayne Johnson needs to be worried if Cena decides to continue pursuing acting. The sensitive LeBron James character is also well-written.

Many romantic-comedy movies end with a song or dance number or both, and Trainwreck is included in that list. There are two things that usually happen during these production numbers: either the lead character performs really well or fumbles really badly in a super cute, hilarious manner. Amy’s performance is neither. She really tries to get the dance steps down. And when she makes a mistake, it’s not depicted like “Oh, she made a cute, little mistake. Isn’t she adorable?” No. She goes balls off for the performance and stresses about not being in synch with the professional dancers. It’s awkward, real and funny.

2. Inside Out

I had high expectations for Inside Out because of Up. And at the cinema, my expectations only increased after watching the short animated film Lava that preceded the actual movie. (It was so sweet!) It’s unnecessary to describe the concept of Inside Out by now because I feel like everyone has already watched it. And that’s a good thing. Our lives are so much better because we have this movie.

For a change, we have a Disney movie lead character whose parents are both still living. But the real change is how Riley, the young girl whose feelings we’re watching, is a complex human being. We actually see how she grows to be a multifaceted girl.

I grew up watching Disney princesses and these characters were graceful, kind and forgiving even when they were being treated in the worst possible way. And it’s great to teach kids kindness. But I never fully related to these princesses because I’m not always kind and good.

So it’s revolutionary to see a Disney character be depressed when life turns sour. And to use that movie as a mirror for the viewers, especially kids, to understand and acknowledge their negative feelings is such an achievement.

The impact of Inside Out in understanding our emotions is huge, but movies should be, first and foremost, entertaining. And it is. It will make you run through the gamut of emotions, especially that one heartbreaking scene; Pixar is worse than Game of Thrones when it comes to killing beloved characters. It’s such a joy to see all those bright colors on screen. And being Pixar, the animation is flawless.

It’s a movie based on a simple, genius idea with solid storytelling and perfectly executed animation. We’re all better people for watching it.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Other than watching the trailer, I had no idea what Mad Max: Fury Road was going to be about until I stepped in the cinema. By the end of the film, I was blown away.

Watching Fury Road was an experience, like a well-timed rollercoaster ride giving you just a millisecond to gather yourself until the next drop. The action scenes are fast-paced and chaotic but coherent–the viewers always know what was going on with each character. The crazy, hyper supporting characters keep the tempo building. Fury Road was shot so well that you could almost feel the heat of the desert on your face and the sand in your mouth.

The eponymous character Max is played by Tom Hardy (*swoons*), but the movie was really about Imperator Furiosa, played strongly by Charlize Theron, and the women she’s saving.

The movie alludes to a number of issues like the gap between the rich and the poor, cult mentality and false messiahs, feminism, and effects of abuse. The real triumph is that they managed to cover these topics, but the characters only had minimal dialogues.

I haven’t watched the original Mad Max and didn’t see the point of remaking movies until Fury Road.

Number Coding Movie: Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang?

Friends who fall in love with each other? The plot is cliché and has been done so many times, but we love it because we’ve all been there. Yes, we have. Don’t deny it. Plus, this movie starred Jolina Magdangal and Marvin Agustin—the best comedic love team of our generation.

“Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang?” is a cinematic masterpiece whose dialogues we still quote to this day. There’s much to talk about so let’s plunge into this amazing movie.

The movie opens with a montage—which is always a good sign—and then cuts to Bujoy (Jolina) and Ned (Marvin) together in the former’s room at night.

I don’t find this situation OK.

They’re college students with raging hormones. If I were Bujoy’s mom, I’d be worried, or wonder why I even let the sleepover happen in the first place. Can’t they just hang out in the living room? Bujoy’s family has a pretty big house, and I’m sure there are other places these two can stay in besides the teenage girl’s room. I guess Bujoy’s mom, Marissa (Hilda Koronel), is not like a regular mom. (She’s a cool mom!)

Ned and Bujoy even have ladders that allow access to their respective rooms. Were there no house robberies in Baguio in the ‘90s? But I admit I liked that idea when I was younger; it seemed quaint.

Anyway, Bujoy and Ned snack on Pringles dipped in Coke—something I used to pretend I liked because of this movie. What a waste of Pringles—which were very expensive then—and Coke.

Another idea I got from this movie was putting flowers in between pages of books. I eventually learned that doing so makes the flowers’ “juices” or whatever seep out and stain the paper. It’s a mess.

I love Mayo’s (Meryll Soriano) fashion sense, and I can see her being a fashion blogger today. She would totally kill it. #fashion #blogger #fashionblogger #fblogger #fashionista #ootd #wiwt #style #matching #streetstyle #trendy #baguio #vintage #pinay #asian #instafashion #igdaily #igers #headtotoeprints #fierce #iwokeuplikethis

Speaking of #fashion, Jolina really was a trendsetter. I bought one of those woven shoulder bags because she made them look cool. I also coveted her long, straight hair. And the men! Baggy t-shirts, hair parted in the middle—I’m glad we’re over those. Not that I’m a fan of guys in super skinny jeans, but they’re better off this way.

We get a preview of Ned’s and Bujoy’s family dramas. Bujoy is the weird one in her family of classy females, while Ned’s is just chaotic. Raise your hands if you were able to relate to Ned for having a mother who gets irritable whenever she doesn’t have money…which is basically ALL THE TIME.

Meanwhile, I sympathized with Bujoy when she found out that her single mom has a boyfriend. I get it, Bujoy. I mean, what does she need a man for? She’s fine by herself! But now I’d actually be supportive if my own mom went on dates. It would be weird, but I’m not averse to the idea anymore.

And then Gio Alvarez shows up. I genuinely found his character Cenon hot—hotter than Ned, definitely. Yeah, lip sync to that Eraserheads song, Cenon!

The first major conflict of the movie emerges when Ned meets Mary Ann (Vanessa del Bianco), who’s everything Bujoy isn’t: pretty, bubbly, sexy and girly. As if I needed to relate to Bujoy even more. I feel you, girl. I’m not all of those things either.

Ned asks Bujoy to set him up on a date with Mary Ann, and of course, Bujoy doesn’t want to because she’s in love with him. And I’ve been there, you guys. (We’ve all been there! Gahd.)

When I was in high school, I had a HUGE crush on this guy. He was cute, tall, funny and super smart, and I’ve been nursing a crush on him since sixth grade. Unfortunately, he had a crush on another girl who was a close friend. He used me as a wingman, just like Ned did with Bujoy.

He texted me about his feelings for this girl, and asked me what he should do or say. All the while, I was trying to show my cool and fun personality. But whenever I felt like we were going in the direction I wanted during our conversations, he would start asking questions about this girl again. It was awful. Ah, teenage life! I wrote so many cringe worthy poems because of my unrequited love for him. End of story: He confessed his crush to this girl, but they didn’t end up together. (hahaha!) The following year he got himself a girlfriend. (huhuhu)

When Bujoy tells Ned that she had successfully set up a date between him and Mary Ann, Ned starts playfully planting kisses on Bujoy’s face out of happiness and excitement. I remember my guy best friend in high school used to do that, too. Just a single kiss on the cheek, though, and it didn’t happen that often. He ended up being my first boyfriend. What I’m saying is that I had basically lived “Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang?” Art imitating life! Holla.

Then Cenon makes a move on Bujoy.

<cue double date montage>

All these scenes look painful. Like, why even double date, guys? Stop torturing yourselves and making each other peanut butter and jealous.

Can I also say that the soundtrack of this movie is on point? Are we still making cheesy songs, OPM artists? Please say yes.

And then we finally arrive at this scene:

OMG this scene. Let us bask in its glory as we break it down.

First of all, I love the shot that shows Bujoy from inside the car, fixing stuff, while Ned is in focus in the background. And when Ned announces that he and Mary Ann are officially a couple, the camera shifts focus on Bujoy’s blank face. It was perfect dramatic timing.

Bujoy breaks down and screams all her feelings. Ned hugs her, somewhat confesses his feelings, and pulls out all these lame ass excuses. Question for the men: Is the fear of losing the girl friend you love so great that you would rather not have her as your girlfriend?

Bujoy gives a great summary of what Ned is—a selfish coward. Run away from that boy, Bujoy!

And then we are given another gem: Bujoy and her mother’s confrontation. When I first saw this scene, I felt for Bujoy and her teen drama about feeling misunderstood. Like, what does my mom know anyway? But now I’d probably dish out some tough love to Bujoy and tell her that she needs to give her mother a break.

The line I always remember from this movie is, “You made me feel ugly, Ma!” And it’s not because my mother made me feel ugly. (Although she didn’t make me feel super pretty either.)

We joke about how no child is ugly in the eyes of his or her mother. Well, my mom’s not like that; I don’t get free compliments just because I’m her daughter. And I’ve accepted that. I was a tomboy and nerdy-looking when I was in high school and college. I didn’t know how to dress myself or get my face done. She bought cute clothes and shoes, but I refused to wear them because I wasn’t comfortable in them, which probably frustrated her.

Now I know how to fix myself. Thus, she can finally tell me I’m beautiful or sexy—but, again, only when applicable. Would I rather she lied? I don’t know.

We are blessed for a few minutes with the acting powers of Ronaldo Valdez in his scene with Gina Pareño. Ronaldo’s face was a mixture of humiliation, anger, frustration and love. He didn’t overdo it, too. UGH. And Gina Pareño is always a joy to watch.

So they cranked up the tension through a bus chase scene. We will see these “will they, won’t they make it” moments forever and ever. And just when all hope of being together is seemingly lost, one of them appears out of nowhere, and we buy it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Because destiny! And love!

I like how, in the end, Ned and Bujoy awkwardly say, “I love you,” to each other. Ned used to jokingly say it all the time, but now it’s different; it’s weird and they will try to see how this goes. I think I’m not alone in saying this: I want to know what happens next.

Ned and Bujoy, forever in our hearts.

Edited by Allan Policarpio

Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan: Who won the misery contest?

Jessica Zafra posed this question on her blog: Which of the characters in the Lav Diaz film Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Norte, The End of History) is the most miserable—Fabian, Joaquin, or Eliza?

Is it the movie’s Raskolnikov and plot catalyst, Fabian, who may be evil incarnate? Is it Joaquin who was wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to life in Bilibid? Or is it Eliza, Joaquin’s wife, who almost killed herself and their children out of despair?

Fabian killing Magda, the moneylender in Fabian and Joaquin’s small town, and her daughter reminded me of Dumbledore’s quote about murder: “Killing is not nearly so easy as the innocent believe.” We saw Fabian manifest his inner turmoil throughout the film. He is miserable, but it’s misery caused by his guilt. In the end, Fabian would have probably found a way intellectualize his misery, and may even find it noble.

Eliza leads the most normal life among the three. Normal in the sense that she lives with her family, works, and deals with everyday problems. Her life is far from easy after Joaquin’s imprisonment. But unlike Fabian and Joaquin, she has something to live for. Eliza still believes that she is in control of her fate, no matter how hard it has been. And Eliza is not alone in this world unlike Fabian.

“We don’t have a hold of our lives,” says Joaquin’s fellow inmate. Joaquin is the most miserable because his hope for a better life depends upon the judgment of other people. Joaquin couldn’t have avoided getting his leg injured, but he could’ve avoided the things he did after, specifically, going to Magda and appealing  to her non-existent heart. He could’ve controlled himself and not have strangled the bitch. He could’ve chosen not to run away and face the consequences of his actions instead. These choices must haunt Joaquin when he’s locked in his cell. He is spending his days with the most hopeless people and—if they shot Joaquin’s scenes at the real Bilibid prison—in a dreadful environment. He also has nothing to distract him from the world he lives in, except making those small Christmas lanterns that Eliza loves.

Joaquin is the most miserable character because he is the person who hopes with the least possible chances of that hope coming true.

Norte screenings are extended until September 23. You can watch this world-class film at Trinoma, 12:10 pm and Glorietta, 12:30 pm.

Image via

A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

I watched a lot of Disney movies growing up. Cinderella, Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas and Toy Story were just some of the movies I’ve seen during my formative years. I still watch Disney movies even if I’m already a grown ass woman because the new movies are still good, if not better. And now that I’m older, I wonder how different my experience is to the experiences of my younger cousins when we go and see the same Disney movie.

I remember I watched Toy Story with my mom and my aunt. As a kid, I liked it because it was the first time I watched a 3D movie. The story was exciting because it has adventure. And Woody and Buzz were hilarious. After the movie, my mom kept saying how she saw Tom Hanks instead of Woody. She enjoyed Toy Story because of Tom Hanks’ voice more than anything else. In that sense, her experience is different from mine.

In general, Disney movies follow a formula. We know everything’s going to end happily ever after. We know good will always triumph against evil. We know the princess will find her true love and that she would be able to harmonize with her prince because their hearts are singing the same song all this time. In short, nothing that’s based in reality.

Despite being unrealistic, I love the innocence and hopefulness that the movies try to impart—that against all odds, if you want to be someone or to do something, then no dream is too big or too impossible to achieve. I mean, if a rat can cook for his own restaurant, then there’s really no excuse for the rest of us.

One recurring Disney movie theme is how being different makes you great. I recently saw Frozen and the Snow Queen Elsa was made to feel like a monster because of her powers. Her father ordered her to hide it from everyone including her sister. But once her secret was revealed to the people of Arendell, she was like, “Fuck you all. I am leaving this dump and owning my inner Beyoncé.” And that’s when you start cheering for Elsa, when she showed her true self.

We also have Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame who literally looked like a monster. Like Elsa, he was isolated from everyone because he was physically different. But when he came out of Notre Dame to join the Festival of Fools, people were digging his weird monster vibe. Of course there were haters even  in 1482 Paris. But the important thing is to have people like Esmeralda who will say, “You do you, Quasimodo. YOU DO YOU.” And that’s all you’ll ever need.

Lastly, we have Hercules. You would think because he’s a demigod, people would respect him but they’re just annoyed because he destroyed an entire agora with his super strength. Well guess what, fools, this super strength is what saves you from Hades’ monsters. Zero to hero, amiriiiiiite?

Another theme I love is an underdog story. I eat that shit up EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. The feeling of being an underdog is universal because most of us have to start at the bottom. And it’s easier to inspire yourself if you know someone whose dreams came true by working hard and just keeping at it. Of course the working hard part is always shown in the form of a montage which I appreciate because actual hard work is boring and repetitive.

The Mighty Ducks is a great example of an underdog movie. Aside from being an underdog movie, I like that it involves assembling a motley crew of hockey players. I always love me a good assembling-a-motley-crew scene. It gives hope that someday I will also find my own motley crew.

Another underdog movie involving skating is Ice Princess. It’s not that great. But I like that it’s a story about a nerdy girl who discovered her dream a little later in life. On a related note, I also dream of having Michelle Trachtenberg’s hair.

But what we really anticipate and live for when watching these underdog movies is the final battle, the last challenge that the lead characters have to surmount. And they surmount it, without fail, for all of us.

Sometimes, no matter how hard we work or how much we believe in ourselves, we still need a stroke of luck to realize our dreams. Even Cinderella who worked her ass off for her stepmother and stepsisters almost didn’t go to the ball. And life can be cruel like that. Technically, Cinderella gave up on her dreams. But, as we all know, she luckily had a fairy godmother to turn the situation around.

Luck is not something we have control over. But we could take a cue from Cinderella when she sang, “No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.”

Here’s to wishing all of us some bibbidi bobbidi boo.

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