A Weekend of Bad Movies: Alice in Rome

After a couple of weeks of DVD marathons at home, I’m watching movies on cinemas again. However, image magnification and surround sound can’t turn a lackluster film into something amazing. Not even the gargantuan IMAX screen and 3D glasses can do that trick. If it’s a bad movie, it doesn’t matter whether you watch it on the big screen or in your iPod Nano, it will still be bad.

This weekend, I went all the way to North EDSA for a duo of bad movies.

Alice in Wonderland

When: March 21, 2010; 4:40 PM

Where: SM North EDSA IMAX

Director: Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissorhands)

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Matt Lucas

If you think Burton’s adaptation will embellish the trippy and subtly philosophical elements of this beloved children’s story, then think again. The overly simplistic storyline takes away all the wonder that makes this wonderland wonderful. Though the performances and CGI renditions of Depp, Hathaway, Bonham-Carter, and Lucas are undeniably charming, the entire film remains insipid.

Target Audience: kiddos and lovers of box-office movies

Rating: 2/5

When in Rome

When: March 20, 2010; 10:00 PM

Where: Trinoma

Director: Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider, Daredevil)

Starring: Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel

A sloppy romantic comedy that’s low on humor and romance. Star Cinema love stories are a lot better than this, and that’s not saying much. The Fontana di Trevi (Fountain of Love) may seem like a nice touch to the story, but too much slapstick and logical lapses got in the way.

Target Audience: stupid people in love

Rating: 1/5

The lineup of movies showing this week seems more promising. Adolf Alix recreates the Shakespeare tragedy; this time, in a modern Filipino setting with Romeo at Juliet. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey play gay lovebirds slash jailbirds slash con men in I Love You Philip Morris. See you at the movies.

Pixelated Popcorn’s Top 18 Foreign Films of 2009

This is not your usual Best of 2009 list. Barely missing this list are the usual suspects. You won’t see Academy Award nominees Avatar, Precious, Inglorious Basterds, An Education, and UP. Critically acclaimed foreign films such as The White Ribbon and A Prophet are likewise nowhere in sight. I, myself, was surprised to realize that I didn’t go with the popular choices. Instead, it was the little gems – the less known films – that left a mark on my cinematic consciousness.

Unlike 2008 where epic dramas Atonement, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button made up my Top 3 (see complete list of Top 20 Films of 2008 here), 2009 can be considered as the year of suspense and thrillers. I saw myself literally jumping from my seat in District 9, laughing in amusement because of Bad Lieutenant’s singing iguana and breakdancing soul, and rooting for the antiheroes of Julia and Mother.

But will a year in movies ever be complete without sweeping love stories? Tragic romances abound in the form of Sang-hyeon and Tae-Jun of Thirst, Tom and Summer of 500 Days of Summer, and Ryan and Alex of Up in the Air. But what’s a love story without a happy ending? Luckily, I found this Australian aboriginal couple’s tale of addiction, hope, and true love.

Without further adieu, here is my Top 18 Foreign Films of 2009.

18. Mammoth (Mamut)

Director: Lukas Moodyson (Lilya 4-Ever, Show Me Love)

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams, and Marife Necesito

A humanist study about the dynamics of working parents who provides for the needs of their children but are largely absent in their lives.

17. The Chaser (Chugyeogja)

Director: Na Hong-jin

Starring: Yun-seok Kim and Jung-woo Ha

A tension-filled crime saga where the table keeps on turning until the hunter becomes hunted down.

16. Fish Tank

Director: Andrea Arnold

Starring: Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender

A realistic British drama about opening up, getting hurt, and taking refuge.

15. Tulpan

Director: Sergei Dvortsevoy

Starring: Askhat Kuchinchirekov

As you get lost in the Kazakh dessert, you end up finding a piece of yourself. Simple, dryly humorous, and insightful.

14. In Search of a Midnight Kiss

Director: Alex Holdridge

Starring: Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds

Pits romanticism against pragmatism and invites us to look into how modern dating goes with a hopeful heart and a balanced judgment. Pucker up.

13. Hunger

Director: Steve McQueen

Starring: Michael Fassbender

This visual spectacle is an unsettling portrayal of the resilience of man and the power of human determination.

12. The Hurt Locker

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie

Eloquently articulates what a war really is. Disquieting, rather than explosive. And nobody fights to win. Everyone loses, even if you win.

11. Timecrimes (Los Cronocrimenes)

Director: Nacho Vigalondo

Starring: Karra Elejalde

Deconstructs the time travel conceit and throws its fragments in an open field. You’ll find yourself frantically trying to put it all together only to realize that the pieces have slipped away.

10. Before the Fall (3 Dias)

Director: F. Javier Gutierrez

Starring: Victor Clavijo

When a serial killer runs amok at the time of apocalypse, a nonchalant hero tries to save his part of the world.

9. Where the Wild Things Are

Director: Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malcovich)

Starring: Max Records

Jonze perfectly captures childhood angst in this bittersweet bedtime story for adults.

8. (500) Days of Summer

Director: Marc Webb (will direct Spider-Man reboot)

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel

Not an anti-love story, but a reality check.

7. Up in the Air

Director: Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking)

Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick

Highly impenetrable people are usually the most fragile. A revelatory seriocomic that is both timely and crowd-pleasing.

6. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans

Director: Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn, Encounters at the End of the World)

Starring: Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes

Diving into depravity has never been this trippy, hypnotic, and dare I say, fun.

5. Mother (Madeo)

Director: Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Memories of Murder)

Starring: Kim Hye-ja and Won Bin

A madcap fusion of revenge and a mother’s unconditional love. Korea is the new hotspot for first-class murder mysteries.

4. District 9

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Starring: Sharlto Copley

An affecting gore fest and a socio-political commentary. Intelligent sci-fi flicks are back.

3. Thirst (Bakjwi)

Director: Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy, I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK)

Starring: Kang-ho Song and Ok-bin Kim

The definitive vampire love story. Cake foundation and glitters not included.

2. Julia

Director: Erick Zonca

Starring: Tilda Swinton

Too suspenseful you’ll forget to breathe. A dark character study that largely benefits from Swinton’s miracle work and Zonca’s frenetic direction.

1. Samson & Delilah

Director: Warwick Thornton

Starring: Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson

Life may be cruel, but as long as love exists, no tragedy is too great to overcome. Tender, hopeful, and immensely gratifying.

Best Film Performances of 2009 (Foreign)

Best Actor

Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe

District 9

In this year’s most dramatic transformation by an actor in a film, Copley turns himself into a prawn-looking alien who displays more humanity than any human being living outside District 9. Who can ever forget that heartbreaking final scene? It is likewise heartbreaking that his performance was largely underrated.

Best Actor: Runners-Up

(in order of preference)

Nicolas Cage as Terence McDonagh

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans

over-the-top, but thoroughly entertaining

Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa

Inglorious Basterds

wicked and pitch-perfect

Ben Foster as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery

The Messenger

unsentimental, yet emotive

Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell


intensity X2

Jeremy Renner as SSG William James

The Hurt Locker

does not beg for your sympathy

Best Actress

Tilda Swinton as Julia Harris


Swinton is a shape-shifter. We’ve seen her take various forms: as angel Gabriel in Constantine, as the White Witch in Narnia, and her Oscar-wining turn as Karen Crowder in Michael Clayton. But we’ve never seen her in a role as tenacious like this before. Meet Julia, a scheming alcoholic with a bottomless barrel of lies as her weapon of choice. Even up to her last glorious minute on scene, we are left wondering if she is still lying to our face.

Best Actress: Runners-Up

(in order of preference)

Mo’nique as Mary


scalding and venomous

Kim Ok-bin as Tae-Ju


delicious combination of innocence, eroticism, and evil

Anna Kendrick as Natalie Keener

Up in the Air

youthful brashness facing a wake-up call

Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy

The Blind Side

minimalist conviction

Zoe Saldana as Neytiri


emotions that transcend 3D technology

To see their local counterparts, see Best Film Performances of 2009 (Pinoy).

Still coming up: As Oscar draws near, I think it's about time to reveal my Top Foreign Films of 2009. Which film will be on top of my list? Avatar or The Hurt Locker? UP or The Fantastic Mr. Fox? The White Ribbon or A Prophet?

Miss You Like Crazy: The whole universe conspires for a happy ending

Most directors can only dream of carving their names in box office records. Some are fortunate to get one shot at doing so. While a selected few achieve a feat akin to capturing lightning in a bottle. Director Cathy Garcia-Molina is among these selected few. She directed three movies that became the top-grossing film of their respective years: One More Chance in 2007, A Very Special Love in 2008, and You Changed My Life in 2009. This year, Direk Cathy reunites John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo for the big screen. Can Miss You Like Crazy shatter the records set by its predecessors? After raking in P18 million pesos on its first day, the film is poised to be another commercial success. But does Miss You Like Crazy deserve your patronage? Here's my two cents.

Do you remember the sappy ballad It's Sad to Belong from the '80s? The song goes: "Oh it's sad to belong to someone else, when the right one comes along." Regardless of your love for each other, if it is not the right time, you will not end up in each other's arms. Truly, timing is vital in the game of love. But the writers of Miss You Like Crazy are more optimistic. They believe that if you are meant to be, the whole universe will conspire to bring you together. This concept prevails in this film as it moves mountains and defies logic in the name of romance.

Allan (John Lloyd) and Mia (Bea) are like star-crossed lovers. Fate throws them chances to be together, but time is not their ally. When they first meet on board the Pasig River Ferry, they are instantly attracted to each other. Both of them are from the middle-class and are down-to-earth. As they bond over Divisoria shopping and all-night conversations over coffee, Allan starts to doubt his feelings for his high maintenance fiancée Daphne (Maricar Reyes) who happens to be the daughter of his boss. If he breaks up with her, he will throw their three-year relationship down the drain and put his career in jeopardy. That is not a risk he is willing to take.

What if Allan and Mia meet on a different place at a different time, will everything fall into their rightful place? Two years after, the two cross paths again in Malaysia where Mia works as a front desk officer. But this time, the tables are turned. Allan is single and Mia is in a relationship. He tries to reignite the flame, but she's been burned before. Besides, she has an obligation to her Malaysian boyfriend who helped make her family's situation better. Indeed, time is not their ally.

Star Cinema's weakness is its inability to produce a realistic ending. The studio's penchant for happy endings may please the general public, but more discriminating viewers are likely to be turned off. During the climax, the whole universe suddenly conspires to bring Allan and Mia back in each other's embrace. For hopeless romantics, this is a dream come true. But for realists like me, this perfect world only exists in fairy tales. In the real world, the more prevailing concepts are moving on and acceptance.

Put that aside and you get a pretty compelling love story. It may not top One More Chance as everyone's favorite Star Cinema romantic film, but Miss You Like Crazy has its own merits. The former popularized the killer lines "She had me at my worst. You had me at my best. But you chose to break my heart" and "Sana ako na lang... ako na lang ulit." Miss You Like Crazy also has its fair share of quotable quotes such as:

  • "Bakit ka ba nagpa-panic? Kahit nga hindi mo ako hinahanap nagkikita pa rin tayo!" (Mia tells Allan when he couldn't find her in the thick Divisoria crowd)
  • "Time is meaningless when you're in love." (wise words from Lolo Uly, a fortune-teller)
  • "I can't take away all the pain that I've caused you. But if you will just let me, I will spend the rest of my life making it up to you." (Allan tries to convince Mia to reconcile with him.)
  • "Masaya ako pag kasama kita. Ako rin." (famous lines from the trailer)

John Lloyd is arguably the most talented actor in the mainstream today. He is an intelligent performer. He loses himself in every role. When Allan sees Mia for the first time in two years, we can sense the feeling of longing, joy, and desperation slowly creeping up his face. It is such a complex emotion that it takes greater understanding of the character to be delivered.

The supporting cast gives equally compelling performances. Maricar Reyes nails her character Daphne to the hilt. She is not exactly a bitch. She is just the way she is and is unapologetic about it. Maricar gets the best lines; most of them with dual meanings.

  • "Thank you. Sinoli mo 'to sa 'kin." (She thanks Mia for returning her cellphone as she clings to Allan's arm.)
  • "Old. Musty. Falling apart. Not exactly my type." (She criticizes Allan's old family house. Allan would later use the same lines to describe himself.)
  • "Are you breaking up with me?" (delivered almost like a whisper)

In addition, Bembol Roco plays Mia's paralyzed father. With no speaking lines, he is left to the aid of his facial expressions to convey repentance and sorrow. Ketchup Eusebio is charming as Mia's gay friend. Gay sidekicks are often used for comic relief. This is not an exception, but he equips his punch lines with enough sincerity. Meanwhile, Ina Feleo plays the other friend. (Paging ABS-CBN, give this two-time Cinemalaya Best Actress a break.)

There is a lot to love about Miss You Like Crazy—the story, the performances, and the second act shift. As with other Star Cinema films, the contrived ending will raise a couple of eyebrows. But overall, the film deserves the warm reception it has been getting. It seems nothing can stop Direk Cathy from dominating the box office again.

Rating: 3/5

* published in PEP


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