Tuesday, May 27, 2014


The cover of the first issue of the DOFP arc.
I've been an X-Men fan since I was a little kid. I believe it's one of the best Marvel superhero teams out there. Its messages of accepting everyone regardless of who they were struck me.

The comic book series has been adapted into cartoons, video games, and a series of movies. While the most recent X-Men: First Class was a step in the right direction, the series still held the stigma of the disaster that was X3: The Last Stand. This new movie, based on Days of Future Past, is a definite step in the right direction. Long story short, I loved the movie. Instead of a straight up review, however, I'll be doing something different.

Today I'll be talking a bit about the differences between  the movie and the comic that bears its name, as well as my most remembered adaptation of the story: a two episode arc of the nineties TV series.

A warning: this post contains spoilers, so read at your own risk.

Days of Future Past is one of my favorite story arcs of the comic book series. It's a bit surprising that the actual story is only two issues long. The basic premise of the arc is: in a post apocalyptic future, the last remaining mutants are being hunted down by Sentinels. The future X-Men (or what's left of them) go back in time to try to prevent the assassination of a key government official. This assassination triggers a chain of events that leads to the eventual destruction of both mutant and humankind.

The animated series.
I first encountered this story arc as presented as episode 11-12 in the first season of X-Men: the Animated Series. It's a very simple time travel story that manages to get its point across very well. I then managed to snag a copy of the original comic book story, which was printed in the heyday of X-Men, when Chris Claremont and others made some of the comic's best arcs, including the Dark Phoenix saga.

This recent film is directed by Bryan Singer of the first two X-Men films, and features the cast of both the First Class and original trilogy continuity. It met to positive critical and audience response, with many calling it the best in the movie franchise so far. It's a breath of fresh air compared to the previous films, including the Last Stand and the two Wolverine spinoff movies. Here's where the three movies differ.

The Future

The original comic story is set in the then future world of 2013, while the movie is set in the slightly farther future of 2023. The animated version is set in an even farther future, in the year 2055, where Wolverine is the only surviving X-man from that series' team.

The comic and the film discuss how society 'works' in this future: Sentinels have enforced a genetic caste system where not only mutants, but humans with genetic potential to give birth to mutants are regulated and enslaved. There's a lot of concentration camp imagery in both films which is understandably absent in the animated series.

Given the future time, there are still a number of original X-Men still alive in the film (Prof. X, Magneto, Wolvie, Shadowcat, Bishop, Colossus, Iceman, Blink, Sunspot, Warpath and Storm) and comic (Magneto, Colossus, Storm, Wolvie, Shadowcat, Rachel Summers, Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four and his son Franklin). The animated series has Wolverine and two unnamed mutants. The mutant Forge is also a member of the resistance, and of course there's Bishop.

The Traveler

In the comic books, it is Kitty Pryde who manages to make it back to the past, thanks to the powers of Rachel Summers (Phoenix, later Marvel Girl). This time travel has something to do with Rachel's psychic abilities, but it's never really explained. It helps that at this time she probably has access to the Phoenix Force that her mother had previously. Kitty's consciousness is the one that travels back to her younger self, as back in that day she was new to the X-Men.

In the film, Kitty Pride is the one who sends back Wolverine into the past. Her new powers are not explained but may have something to do with having to phase through time instead of just space? In the context of this series, Future Kitty isn't born yet, so sending someone like Wolverine back to his old self makes perfect sense. Like the comic, it is Wolverine's consciousness that gets sent back in time.
the film version's motley crew.

The animated series is more straightforward. Forge has built a time machine that sends Bishop back in time. It was supposed to be Wolverine, but he is too weak to do it. As Bishop goes back into the past, he temporarily loses his memory and cannot recall what he was sent back in time to do... at first. Instead of just the consciousness, Bishop's body joins too. He is held back in time by a control bracelet thingy.

The Target and the Assassins (SPOILERS)

Senator Robert Kelly is the target in both the comics and the animated series. In the film series, Kelly was utilized differently in the previous movies of the trilogy, so he couldn't have been used. Instead, Bolivar Trask is used as the pivotal assassination figure that is crucial to the story. While Trask is still present in both comics and animated series, he takes a slightly different role, although he still is credited with making the Sentinels.

Mystique is a pivotal character in all three adaptations. She is the one who inflicts the killing blow in all three. In the film, she acts alone (but is inadvertently assisted by Magneto.) In the comic and animation, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants helps her, consisting of Pyro, Blob, Avalanche and (comic only) Destiny. In the animation, this is given an even bigger twist by making Apocalypse behind the assassination attempt, as the comic makes no such connection.

Thanks to the character development in First Class, Mystique becomes the holy spirit in the trinity of Magneto and Professor Xavier. This character dynamic improves the movie considerably and makes the whole thing a lot more fun to watch.

Also, in the comics, Mystique is part of the Department of Defense (!) and has no trouble infiltrating the compound. The film Mystique takes the guise of an assortment of characters, while the animated Mystique takes the form of Kelly's secretary and Gambit.

The Sentinels

The comic Sentinels and the animated Sentinels are pretty much the same. They're about as tall as a two or three storey building. The animated series adds the Nimrod type sentinels that are advanced Sentinel models. The film has the type X Sentinels with technology derived from Mystique's shapeshifting genetics.

The movie Sentinels are great and a bit rooted in reality. They are smaller than the Sentinels that we are used to and are given technologies just a little advanced for that age. The fact that there are computers with that level of advancement in the seventies is a bit of a stretch, but I'll take it. Remember, this was the time when any kind of advanced computer system would have been quite large. 

The Resolution

The film molds the story into a character study between the relationship between Xavier and Magneto, and how their status as frenemies extends from the past to the far future. Also, the story takes the time travel opportunity to unravel and put into order all of the messy continuity problems of the previous X-films. This one aspect improves the movie immensely, as it also fixes the problems introduced by The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine and gives us proper closure for the Bryan Singer X Trilogy.

The Animated series ends on a rather down note, as, despite the actions in the past, Bishop returns to the future as if nothing had changed. Forge tells Bishop, however, that he can just try again.  The events of this episode also lead into the finale for the first season, which pits the X-men against the Sentinel Master Mold. This future time will later be revisited by Cable and others in a second season arc of X-Men.

The comic ends on an ambiguous note. Later, other survivors from this timeline make their way onto the main Marvel Universe, notably Rachel Summers, who has her own little comic crossover arc called Days of Future Present.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Capsule Reviews 2: Electric Boogaloo

After the disastrous remake of 1998, Hollywood decides to try again and make another remake of everyone's favorite giant monster, Godzilla. It looks like they've gotten things right this time. The eponymous kaiju is treated as a force of nature, like a typhoon or a hurricane in the shape of a giant radioactive lizard.
Much like the original 1954 film, this film deals with the aftermath of the destruction something like Godzilla can wreak on a city, and the toll it takes on the people involved in the tragedy. It helps that there are excellent performances all around especially with Brian Cranston (who is always a pleasure to watch) and Ken Watanabe (although I wish they had developed his character a bit more.)
I was screaming like a fanboy all throughout, although I wish that they had lit the kaiju fights a little better (and show a little more fights, if that's even possible.) I'll probably be doing  a Godzillafest when I have the time, in which case it will be glorious.

 I've been used to Takeshi Kitano making yakuza films, films where he is a total badass, even comedic films like Getting Any? But there's nothing quite as delightfully weird as the first film of his surrealist trilogy, Takeshis'. Featuring cast from his previous films, like the tapdancers from Zatoichi and quintessential bad guy Susumu Terajima, It's a movie that parodies a lot of Kitano's older films, tries to make a message about the dichotomy of being a yakuza action dude and a comedian at the same time, and manages to elude any type of conventional explanation at all. It's a recommend for me, but only if you've watched at least some of his films before. It also makes me want to see the other films of the trilogy, which I'll probably cover soon.

Keanu Reeves' directorial debut Man of Tai Chi is surprisingly good; it stars Tiger Chen, protege of legendary action choreographer Yuen Wo ping and someone who worked with Yuen in the Matrix trilogy. The story is relatively simple and a bit predictable, but draws you in. It helps that the action sequences are well shot and excellently choreographed, with a few scenes with wirework in them. Keanu, in a novel role as a villain, stands in the background, brooding and being all moody and stuff. It's actually quite a nice change of pace for him. Super points for a brief cameo with Iko Uwais of The Raid: Redemption fame. Watch it for some great martial arts action. FIGHT!

Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite writers, and I find his works incredibly complex to adapt to film. Which is why my rewatch of Norwegian Wood manages to surprise me with the amount of detail put into film. The film makes up for the pitfalls of translating book to film by enhancing the visuals, which are sumptuous. There's a sense of longing in this film characteristic in Murakami's works, and it's not just seen in the actors or heard in the music, the background helps too.
I'll probably write something discussing this in more detail within the week, so watch out for that.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

An early look at Cinemalaya 2014 has recently released the list of official finalists for Cinemalaya 2014. Since we've been covering the festival in this blog as far as 2007-ish and since it's the tenth anniversary, lets take a look at the films showing this year. A bunch of returning directors and actors/actresses as well as a lot of newcomers are along for this year's cinematic ride.

The synopses and titles are lifted from the above link and are in italics, my comments will be in bold.
New Breed Category:

1. "DAYANG ASU" ("In Pampanga, We Eat Dogs")
LOGLINE: Amidst legalized corruption, a son struggles to prove to his father that he is fit to survive in a dog-eat-dog society.

Looks interesting. Concepts for this film include animal cruelty and corruption, so I'm guessing this will be from dudes who raise dogs for their meat. Probably an uncomfortable film to watch for animal lovers, but we'll see.

Find them on FB here.

2. "1ST KO SI 3RD"
 LOGLINE: A 65-year old woman gets reunited with her 1st love and finally the supposed 1st date happens four decades after they got separated.

This movie stars Nova Villa as the woman in the synopsis. This has the potential to be a crowd pleaser if done right. Plus I'm a softie for old dudes in love.

Find them on FB here.

LOGLINE: Set during the Japanese Occupation, four friends (Nitoy, Benny, Carding, and Badong) aspire nothing more than to become soldiers fighting the Japanese... until they are confronted by the realities of war that threaten to destroy their families and their friendship.

Sounds like that one movie in an earlier Cinemalaya about the Japanese occupation. Janice O'Hara wrote this, and is directed by Jerry O'Hara, who are both related to the late director Mario O'Hara. Not really expecting anything for this but I hope it's good.

Find them on FB here.

LOGLINE: When K'na, a young T'boli woman, becomes a dreamweaver, she has the chance to weave together her village's warring clans. But, will she give up true love to do so?

This is quite interesting. It's based on the T'boli dreamweavers in South Cotabato, a place we haven't seen much in movies. If the movie is as good as the production pictures, this looks to be a beautiful looking movie.

Find them on FB here.

Watch a teaser of the movie here.

5. "RONDA"
LOGLINE: A policewoman who patrols Manila during the night arrests her teenage son for killing his lover.

This was written partly by Adolfo Alix. He's a love it or hate it kind of filmmaker. Personally he's okay, and the last film I saw that he wrote (Alamat ni China Doll) is great. I couldn't find out much information about the film online (granted, I didn't try that hard) so this may or may not be the surprise film of the festival.

6. "BWAYA"
LOGLINE: DIVINA is preparing for her daughter Rowena’s 13th birthday when she hears a shocking news: her daughter has been attacked by a crocodile, her body still missing. As Divina searches for the body of her daughter in the marshlands of Agusan del Sur, she learns a lesson more tragic than her fate: not all predators are underwater. Based on actual events.

Again, not a lot of info about this movie, but it is directed by Francis Xavier Pasion, who directed the 2010 Cinemalaya winner Jay. The premise is also interesting, so I'm watching out for this one.

LOGLINE: Unlike the former Philippine First Lady, Imelda is indifferent towards shoes. To her, they are fraught with the bittersweet nostalgia of childhood, one that was marred by a difficult relationship with her shoe-maker father, Romeo. Growing up, all of hers were handmade by him. Now a mature woman, she takes a pivotal call from the morgue, spurring her search for the perfect pair of shoes for her dead father. The deeper she searches for the perfect shoes, the more she finds herself.

Liking this already. Looks like a character study with twists and turns, and I'm interested in how they will cinematically portray Marikina's shoe industry. Jerrold Tarog, who directed last year's Sana Dati wrote the screenplay, so I'm pumped.

Find them on FB here.

LOGLINE: While the marriage of two professors is on the verge of falling apart, the woman is dragged into a scandal involving a young student. On the other hand, the man falls in love with his research -- a deity (supernatural being) that appears to him as the ghost of an old flame.

The premise is interesting. Magical realism maybe? Something between science and mysticism? Hannah Espia, of last year's Transit, is a producer.

The FB page is sparse, but it's here.

9. “# Y”
LOGLINE: “# Y” (“Hashtag Y”) chronicles the adventures of the members of a generation made universal by the realms of social media, the internet, sex, drugs, and alcohol, and the occasional YOLO.

Oh dear. If the premise sounds familiar, the film is directed by Gino Santos, who directed Cinemalaya 2012's The Animals (a film that I'm okay with, but I felt lacked sympathetic characters.)  It stars Elmo Magalona in a 'dark' role. That isn't very reassuring to me. I hope this isn't another rehash(tag) of his previous film.

LOGLINE: The mostly bittersweet, partly comic, partly tragic saga of six men who have separated from their wives. Based on true stories, their parallel and overlapping tales are framed by a church wedding to a second wife by one of them, who grabs another chance at matrimonial bliss.

GB Sampedro directs this movie. He was the director for Cinemalaya 2009's ASTIG, which won a lot of awards, but was a film that I didn't like due to tons of problems. The screenplay was written by Eric Ramos, who if I'm not mistaken was the editor in chief of FHM back in the day. He also wrote Pitik Bulag which starred Paloma. It's an ok film and I might put up a review of it later. The premise for this movie is different from what these two have made before, but I'm approaching this one with caution until I see a trailer.


LOGLINE: A foul-mouthed woman fights for her soul in the belly of the city. Working for a human trafficking agency controlled by a powerful syndicate, she sees no evil, hears no evil. In a society like ours, you have only two choices -- to be a victim, or a victimizer. She makes her choice.

On paper, this has all the trappings of a hit. It stars Nora Aunor, the screenplay is written by Ricky Lee, and Joel Lamangan is director. Lamangan last partnered with Aunor with The Flor Contemplacion Story, also with Ricky Lee as screenwriter. I haven't enjoyed Joel Lamangan's Cinemalaya entries that much so I'm a bit on the fence with this one. But if Vilma pulled it off with Ekstra last year, I'm betting with a good script this will be a winner.

As an aside I want Nora and Vilma to do a movie again. Like a Si T-bird at Ako 2: Electric Boogaloo. Make it happen, Philippine Cinema.

Find them on FB here.

LOGLINE: In the middle of preparations for the Taong Putik Festival, a young man, penniless and in love, takes on a drug courier job that goes terribly wrong. To save him, his mother now makes the most difficult decision of her life.

The actors and actresses involved in this film include Aiko Melendez, Jake Vargas, Rochelle Pangilinan (of Sex Bomb fame) and so on. The director of this film is Louie Ignacio, who is more known as a TV director, so it's going to be interesting to see what he can do with a different medium. Palanca award winner Socorro Villanueva wrote the screenplay. Given that drug courier films have been done before and that Palanca award winning screenplays are hit and miss when translated to film, the premise itself (the background of the Taong Putik festival in Nueva Ecija looks fascinating) makes me hopeful.

LOGLINE: A grandfather brings his grandchildren back to the community that made and shaped him, only to find out the place is no longer the same.

Carlitos Siguion Reyna of such films as Kailangan Kita, Hihintayin Kita sa Langit and other films of the last glory days of Philippine cinema directs. Bibeth Orteza writes the screenplay. She wrote such films as My Little Bossings, most of the Enteng Kabisote series and oh no.

LOGLINE (Director’s Statement): “Kasal” is an examination on how a gay couple navigates through their own private space into a Filipino home, institutions and society as a whole.

Joselito Altarejos, who was in a previous Cinemalaya for Pink Halo Halo, directs this film. He's known for directing "pink" gay themed movies, and his last film, Unfriend, had I think a limited release here in the Philippines, or was in the festival circuit. 

LOGLINE: The story behind the bloodiest bank robbery in Philippine history… Crisanto Espina, an ex-cop, is tasked with liquidating the suspects who masterminded the robbery/massacre of July 16, 2013. As he diligently executes his orders while dealing with his own personal demons, he begins to realize that the whole circus of the investigation is going to eventually consume him and make him question his own faith in what he believes to be his brand of justice.

Michael Tuviera, known for directing TV and a bunch of Shake Rattle and Roll films, directs. Dennis Trillo, who was in Cinemalaya 2012's Ang Katiwala (a film that I think only I really liked somewhat, seriously, I'm like the highest rated review of this film) leads. The based on a true story premise looks nice, and it's an action film! Holy shit, when was the last time we saw that in a Cinemalaya film?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Capsule Reviews: May 2014

(because I can't be arsed to write complete reviews. har har)

Brick Mansions is one of Paul Walker's last films. It's also a remake of the French Film Banlieue 13 (District 13.) It's almost the same as the original, with the exception being Paul Walker's brand of action is a bit different than that of Cyril Raffaeli (who was the original dude in District 13.) There's also the character played by RZA being rewritten to portray him in a more sympathetic light, which probably may not be the screenwriter's fault. Who'd want a drug addict to be mayor of their city? Beats me. If I were you, I'd rather watch the original, but if you miss Paul Walker and want to see him one last time, why not.

 There's one really good thing about Amazing Spiderman 2, and that's the chemistry between the two leads. It's marvelous (pardon the pun) seeing these two wonderful actors who are naturals in their roles. Marc Webb's experience with indie romance movies really helped this one. It's not just that, of course. Andrew Garfield is the perfect wisecracking Spiderman we all know and love, and Emma Stone plays not only a great romantic lead, she's a great character period, although her character has a few weird motivations (which are probably not her fault.) The problem is that this chemistry is lost in a maze of underdeveloped villains that remind me of the Joel Shumacher Batman films , ridiculous plot points that twist and turn and leave us trapped like spiders in a web (zing!)

The special effects and the action scenes are also really good, except for that one rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider that had me facepalming. There's a good movie in here somewhere, but it's lost in the mess. I still enjoyed it regardless, but your mileage may vary.

I noticed something about how Korean and Japanese films do their tearjerker movies after watching the South Korean melodrama Miracle in Cell No. 7. The Koreans make people cry through scenes that maximize their dramatic effect; it's like they have a checklist of stuff designed to make you cry. The scene itself is a product that makes you cry, because it should be. For example, a man is crying with his wife because it is the woman's last day before the man is sent to war to a certain death. Dramatic music swells in the background. Their eyes are both teary and yours is as well, because you are swept in the scene designed to affect you.

The Japanese, on the other hand, make you cry through introducing concepts incorporated through scenes that, in turn, make you cry. The scenes themselves, taken out of context, may not be a tearjerker, but because of established plot points in the film, it becomes one. A simple walk in the park is made more meaningful because (for example) the man walking in the park just lost his wife, and he's walking to reminisce, etc etc. I'm generalizing a bit here, but that's what I noticed.from watching many dramas. This one follows the Korean formula and in a very loose way, it's like I Am Sam in prison. The scenes are a bit implausible for the sake of drama, but they have a charm to it that you tend to suspend your disbelief anyway. You will probably not look at Sailormoon the same way again after watching this.

Monday, May 05, 2014

MMFF 2013: My Little Bossings

In light of recent events regarding this film and statements made by one of the principal actors on its box office take, I've decided to give this film a watch. I liken giving this film a chance to Jesus healing some lepers. Okay, that may not be the best analogy to give.

In short, the tragedy of My Little Bossings is not in the fact that it isn't a good film. It still isn't a good film, but that isn't the point. Instead, I submit to you, that the true tragedy for this film, and for moviegoers everywhere, lies in two very simple facts about the film.

1. It doesn't try to be good.

My Little Bossings is a film that could have been made by a couple of high school students in three days. Devoid of anything resembling a solid plot, it gets by using a series of vignettes, comedy segments and completely unrelated scenes of product placement.To its credit, the product placements are not as in your face as some of the previous films made by Vic Sotto. Some of the films in the Enteng Kabisote series, for example, were far more in line with the prostitution-like way these products were being shilled. In fact, this movie tones down a lot of things.

Without the fantasy and special effects of the previous MMFF offerings by this studio, I bet that the expense for making this film is reduced substantially. In addition, I'm sure these product placements made quite a substantial chunk of financing the film. This film is made to make money.

Veteran actors Vic Sotto and Aiza Seguerra really make up the core of the story, and  to their credit I actually found their subplot vastly more interesting than the weird kidnapping-pyramid scam-rich kid antics that formed the bulk of the film. What little chemistry is left in this trainwreck comes from their honest and decent performances. Removing the two children altogether and focusing on their story could have made a halfway decent film, or at best a halfway decent lenten episode of Eat Bulaga!. But no, this is not what we get.

Ryzza Mae is talented, yes. But her co-star has no acting chops whatsoever. This is not really a surprise when your father is the stoic and almost unemotional James Yap and your mother has the acting ability of a bag of wet noodles. Bimby's English (nosebleed-inducing) speech reminds me of my own childhood, before I realized I sounded weird for some reason.

The problem with this film is not that it's horribly bad. If a film is horribly bad we can sometimes laugh at it for the ridiculous crap that it is. No, this film suffers from being mediocre, and consequently, forgettable. No one will remember this film in a few years. No one probably remembers that time when Enteng Kabisote and Panday teamed up, either.

And what perpetuates this? Complacency. We, as a moviegoing audience, have watched year after year of cinematic crap that we really don't care, and the filmmakers, confident that whatever they put on screen, given the right names and people, will make some money, don't really even try to make a good film. Which brings me to my next point.

2. It doesn't need to be good.

When I look at posts that defend the film, I see the same arguments again and again. Let's try to address them one by one.

"This is a children's film. This is a film for kids." This statement is an insult to children everywhere. To have children settle for this is like telling your child that you can settle with elementary school and not go to high school anymore.

When I was a kid, I loved movies that challenged my imagination. Cool stuff like Star Wars and even Demolition Man (that I watched in secret because it was rated R) made me think of the future and realize that I can do more with myself. Had I watched crap like this because of my parents? I would have resented them later on for wasting my time. Is it really wrong to want more out of a cinematic experience with a Filipino movie?

"If you don't want to see it, don't watch it." this is a very valid point. As long as we nurture this culture of "pwede na to," every time we thing that something is just enough for us, we will a people and as a culture. And this attitude isn't just applied to when we watch movies. It applies every time we commute to work in horrible conditions and we say "pwede na to." (This is enough.) It applies every time we have politicians that steal us blind, yet we still vote for them every four to six years and we say, "pwede na to." (This is enough.) It applies every time we look at our cities, our infrastructure, our way of life, and we say "pwede na to." (This is enough.) This is not just a thing with movies, this is a thing with us and our culture. "Pwede na to."


Do we really deserve this?

Yes, the tragedy of this movie is not because it's bad, it's because THIS IS WHAT PEOPLE WANT TO SEE.

I end with a scene early on in the movie capitulating the essence of this entire post. To troll with Vic Sotto's character, Bimby collects a bunch of dog shit and throws it in the pool. Vic gets away and two of the servants try to dredge the shit with a net. Bimby then throws these two goons inside the pool with the shit inside.

If this was some sort of self referential thing, with Bimby representing the filmmakers of this and other horrible films, and the goons representing us, the moviegoing public, and the dog shit representing their stale, awful product, then My Little Bossings is secretly a work of genius.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Red Quickie: 12 Lotus

A rare Singaporean offer from RED, 12 Lotus is a dramatic musical, and it is relentlessly bleak,.Lian Hua is an opera singer whose dreams are repeatedly crushed. She loves the wrong people, gets into the wrong things, and eventually it takes a toll on her mind and the people around her.

The songs are nice if a bit out of sync with the mood of the film. The acting is fine, although the second half of the film is ridiculous and may turn off a few viewers (a mentally off kilter protagonist takes a lot of skill to pull off; this one falls a bit short.)

The film ends rather abruptly and leaves little closure, but (in a twisted way) like the previous review of Tug of War, this film is more concerned by the excruciating journey rather than the bleak result.

Watch it if you want to get bummed out.

Red Quickie: Tug of War!

If there’s anything I learned about Japanese sports movies, it’s that teamwork and hard effort work wonders, and it’s never the outcome that matters, the journey to get there is always more important. This film is no less different.

Mao Inoue is Chiaki Nishikawa, a mid-level government official working in the city of Oita. Oita is a small industrial city, a bit backwater-ish, and surrounded by other well known prefectures. To revitalize interest in the town, she decides to form a women’s tug of war team to compete in the prefectural championships. The problem is, she doesn’t have a team. Enter a group of housewives working at the local school meal preparation place. They then join the team in order to save their livelihoods.

The cast is full of quirky, interesting characters, each with their own issues in life. And here the film has its greatest asset and its greatest weakness: most of the film isn’t really about the tug of war team, it’s about the experiences the cast has and their formation as a team. Some sports movies and anime get into the minutiae of the sport being played, and its fascinating watching strategies being tossed back and forth. But with a sport like Tug of War, there isn’t really that much to discuss other than preparation.

The dramatic tension rises to crazy levels later on in the film. The Japanese really do like a good cry, and they manage to squeeze tears out of this dude’s eyes by the end.  The ending is left a bit ambiguous, but as I did say earlier, the end is not as important as the road we took to get there.

Red Quickie: Love is Beautiful

Watching the Chinese romantic movie Love is Beautiful is like watching a sitcom, blinking, then realizing that you’re now watching a political thriller. It features Lei Zhengyu, (Dylan Kuo) a photographer who meets Qian Xiaofei, (Liu Ying) who works in this company. They meet and sparks predictably fly… then it turns into this weird action/kidnap thing that makes little sense.

The shift in tone is extremely jarring and made me confused. What was going on? Why was this happening? It’s as if the writers ran out of ideas halfway through and did something for the sake of doing something.

Technically the film has no problems, with little videogame-inspired effects and sounds especially in the second half of the film.

It’s nice, but I honestly lost track 30 minutes in.