Source (Fantastic!)
"They're back." In these four space western, hard science fiction movies, the "world's greatest heroes" finally get the cinematic treatment that does them justice. Forget being dark and gritty, and let's embrace weirdness and fun. We see these four heroes take part in astonishing, outrageous adventures in one of the most dangerous parts of the galaxy, and fight through obstacles that only they can live through. It has 60s-inspired prop designs, family-centric humor, a wide selection of villains who are not Doctor Doom, a unique set of alien races to meet, and bizarre intergalactic locations to explore, and above all else: heart. To distinguish it from an almost similar franchise, namely Guardians of the Galaxy, imagine the grand political scope of the Star Trek franchise, and the adventurous vibe of the Indiana Jones film series, with the realistic scientific thrills of both Arrival and Annihilation.

That was the short version of this pitch, and as always, if you are still interested, read-on! Welcome to Dateline Movies, and this is our pitch for a film series for Marvel's The Fantastic Four! And in case you are asking, no, we would not be featuring major non-Fantastic Four characters, such as Namor, the Sub-Mariner, the Inhumans, or Black Panther, and though the following are mentioned all throughout the post, Doctor Doom, and Galactus are not completely involved in any of these films, as I wanted to focus more on their weirder villains, and I wanted to preserve them for future stories, since they are more fitting for wider-scale stories.

Source (This should be the team's theme song in the films.)

Setting and placement in the MCU timeline

Back in the 1970s, college students Reed Richards and Victor von Doom worked together in creating an inter-dimensional gateway to an unknown location known as "The Negative Zone". Based on Doom's recovered schematics prior to being cast-out from his home nation of Latveria by the then corrupt monarchy, both Reed and Doom wanted to access this mythical world for different reasons. While Doom wanted to perfect the device in order for him to rescue his mother, who was sent there by the Latverian government on the grounds that she was a gypsy, Reed wanted to be recognized for his genius, and secure a potentially fruitful future within the ranks of the "Strategic Homeland, Intervention, Espionage, and Logistics Division" (SHIELD).

When the experiment failed, causing the permanent disfigurement of Doom's face, and about millions of dollars in collateral damage, Doom and Reed parted ways, seemingly never wanting to speak to each other again. Doom, many years later, managed to make an almost perfect version of the gateway, and managed to unleash a horde of monsters from the Negative Zone, leading the army to massacre the Latverian monarch, and becoming its ruler. Despite the violent actions done by Doom, many looked-up to him in favor. Doom would later frequently access the Negative Zone in his attempt to search for his mother, but he eventually encounters the alien criminal Annihilus instead.

Annihilus revealed that the Negative Zone is dying from heat death, and that the sun providing heat and light for the entire dimension would soon burst. Annihilus then pleaded Doom to help him fix the sun, in exchange for providing advanced technology for Latverians to use. Doom accepted the deal, but little did both know that both of them have ulterior motives. While Doom wanted to make a device that harnesses pure antimatter energy for him to gain enough power to rule the universe, Annihilus, becoming nihilistic, wanted Doom to make a device that can later-on be reprogrammed to become a bomb that will eradicate something that is coming closer to their reach.

Source (Leaping into action.)
Reed eventually graduated from college with the highest of honors, and he is placed under the guidance of SHIELD scientists Franklin and Veronica Storm. Working away from his un-supportive parents and younger sister, Reed reunites with three of his former college classmates: Susan Storm, a SHIELD physician and Reed's former academic rival; Susan's younger brother, former basketball star, and SHIELD rescue helicopter and fighter pilot Jonathan "Johnny" Storm; and Benjamin "Ben" Grimm, Reed's best-friend and SHIELD engineer. Reed and Susan would later-on fall in love, then marry after about four years of dating. Despite his newfound happiness, Reed still struggles with perfecting the Negative Zone gateway.

When word got out that there are monsters and other concepts straight from science-fiction works in Latveria, Reed personally visited Doom, in an attempt to seek his aid in making a decent portal generator. Doom declined, and when SHIELD overheard Doom telling Reed that he is planning to make use of his newfound knowledge for world domination, SHIELD launched an attack on Latveria, later on securing the entire country.

Initially disliking the idea of tinkering with Doom's machines without Doom's guidance, Reed gave-in to his morbid curiosity, and proceeds to test the portal on his own. Reed is then joined by Susan, Johnny, and Ben, as well as Franklin and Veronica Storm, plus numerous SHIELD agents, but Doom launched a counter-attack with his robotic "Servoguards". In the battle, Doom accidentally blasts the portal generator, creating a giant vortex in the sky that drags everything in Latveria, from the people, to the SHIELD agents, and the entire country itself, into the Negative Zone. 

Reed, Susan, Johnny, and Ben, due to having much of their protective gear destroyed in the battle, were bombarded by cosmic rays from the Negative Zone's toxic atmosphere, granting them unique abilities. Reed now has the ability to stretch beyond human limits, Susan can become invisible and create force fields, Johnny can engulf himself in flames without feeling any pain, and also fly and generate fire blasts, and Ben's skin is now permanently transformed into stone, while also becoming stronger than before. Doom, meanwhile, was presumed deceased in the encounter, with only his empty power armor discovered.

Five years later, Reed finds himself now the reluctant leader of what is supposedly left of their SHIELD crew, composing of people who managed to avoid being exposed to the cosmic rays with their protective gear, alongside Susan, Johnny, Ben, Franklin, and Veronica. They were all made into unwilling slaves by a Negative Zone warlord, who constantly forces them to mine resources for their dying shared community. Reed and the rest of the "Fantastic Four" work together to keep their group stable, while simultaneously working to find a way back home, rescue more stranded SHIELD agents all across the Negative Zone, and even restore peace to the place, which is being ravaged by wars from the various tribes occupying the Negative Zone.

Source (No need to be "negative", you guys.)

The Negative Zone is noted for its vast reach, and its numerous hazardous locations. In addition to being a pocket dimension, the Negative Zone is later revealed to be an intergalactic prison that prohibits anyone else from entering and exiting, and each inmate would have to rely on the closest tribe that they can find for protection. Some of the most notable locations include ...

"Subterranea", the area of the Negative Zone haunted by the least threatening inmates in the dimension, who have since been mutated into mindless creatures known as the "Moloids" by a mysterious force, and this is considered as the coldest area in the Negative Zone, and it composes mostly of mountain ranges, valleys, and plantations.

"Baluur", the area of the Negative Zone that serves as the primary market for all residents that composes a large asteroid belt, with sophisticated space stations attached to each of them, that spans across four planets, the domain of the Negative Zone warlord and weapons dealer Blastaar, and where the surviving SHIELD agents and the Fantastic Four temporarily reside in.

"Zenn-La", the area of the Negative Zone that was once inhabited by an advanced alien race, was a heavily populated, heavily structured planet that was never meant to be a part of the dimension, but due to environmental concerns, and also the dreaded Galactus' actions, it was placed out of orbit, and now abandoned, was since turned into a massive dumping ground.

"Molekulon", the area of the Negative Zone that has been declared as the most mysterious, as a devastating, gaseous storm cloud shields the Alderson Disk (a disk-shaped space station), aside from the changing environment, as well as its tropical-centric atmosphere, and is the home to the enigmatic alchemist known only as "Diablo", as well as his subjects.

"The Latverian Wasteland", the area of the Negative Zone primarily occupied by what is left of Latveria, after the country itself was pulled into the dimension, and is monitored by Victor von Doom's trusty aide Lucia von Bardas, who supplies the people with technology from Annihilus' people, and among all of the areas there, this is the most technologically advanced.

"Arthros", the area of the Negative Zone ruled by Annihilus, and it is the place that is closest to the dimension's sun, which gives-off the necessary high temperature, as well as desert environment, that enables Annihilus' kind's survival, and it is a planet purely made from technology, although it is not as advanced in terms of technology as The Latverian Wasteland.

Source (One big, happy family.)

"Marvel's The Fantastic Four" is told in a span of four different movies. Each installment focuses on the exploits of the titular team, and their numerous attempts to escape from the Negative Zone, and to fulfill their newly received duties as reluctant superheroes in a very unfamiliar, very dangerous setting. As the movies progress, the Fantastic Four would have to restore order to the Negative Zone after mustering much more of the other SHIELD agents lost there, while also racing against time in order to fix the Negative Zone's sun.

The chronological order of movies, each bearing a title almost on par with various adventure films, are as follows ...
  • "The Fantastic Four, and the March of the Moloids" - When monsters from Subterrenea are ransacking various supply caches, threatening his legitimate business in the process, Blastaar deploys Reed, Susan, and Johnny to the deepest parts of the Negative Zone, where they find a still-alive, though mutated Ben Grimm, and SHIELD scientist Harvey Elder. This movie's narrator and point-of-view is Ben Grimm / The Thing, and the main theme is "earth".
  • "The Fantastic Four, and the Last Emperor" - Now free from Blastaar's clutches, the Fantastic Four, with their newly assembled crew, attempt to set-up peace talks between the many warring tribes of the Negative Zone, but they encounter the deranged would-be world conqueror, the "Psycho-Man", and Susan Storm's childhood friend, Rhona Burchill. The movie's narrator and point-of-view is Susan Storm / Invisible Woman, and the main theme is "wind".
  • "The Fantastic Four, and the Alchemist's Curse" - With time running-out to save the Negative Zone from total annihilation, the Fantastic Four race to a forbidden corner of the dimension known as "Molekulon", where they must evade various traps to retrieve a new energy core, and they must deal with the presence of the evil alchemist "Diablo". The movie's narrator and point-of-view is Johnny Storm / Human Torch, and the main theme is "fire".
  • "The Fantastic Four, and the Fall of the Negative Zone" - Prior to his "death", Doom left a plan to restore the sun, but now it has failed, and the Fantastic Four must find another way to save the Negative Zone from destruction, while all must fear the prophetic threat that was only being kept away by the dimension's dying sun, aside from Annihilus. The movie's narrator and point-of-view is Reed Richards / Mister Fantastic, and the main theme is "water".
The four flicks would be tackling themes of insecurity, environmentalism, and the limitations of scientific applications. Specifically all aim to answer: "Is every single heroic deed the Fantastic Four does for the greater good, or for their own good?"

In addition, each film would follow a plot that revolves around their specified themes, with ... the March of the Moloids being set in an underworld, and there are many instances of mining, ... the Last Emperor being about space battles, and also about being metaphorically "gone like the wind", ... the Alchemy's Curse about gaining the one key element in restoring the sun, a replacement energy core, and ... the Fall of the Negative Zone references Reed himself "drowning" from his perceived failures, and his attempts to make use of a water-like substance to stabilize the dying sun.

Source 1Source 2Source 3Source 4 (Let's see if their next films can do better.)
Cast of major characters
  • Reed Richards / Mister Fantastic
  • A SHIELD scientist with degrees in physics, biology, mechanical, electrical, and aerospace engineering, and an IQ of 267, who lost most of his internal organs, with the exception of a "bacterial stack" that also serves as powerhouse to his body, giving him the ability to stretch every part of his body beyond human limitations. Struggling with his insecurities, he is the husband of Susan Storm, and the best friend of Ben Grimm.
  • Susan "Sue" Richards 'nee Storm / Invisible Woman
  • A SHIELD scientist with degrees in medicine, biochemistry, astronomy, and computer science, who can generate force fields and other projections, and can render anything she touches invisible by manipulating the light waves around her. Coping with her difficult relationship with her husband, while also maintaining a calm demeanor as the second-in-command of the team, she is the older sister of Johnny Storm, and the wife of Reed Richards.
  • Jonathan "Johnny" Storm / Human Torch
  • A SHIELD pilot, former basketball scholar, and college dropout, who can allow his fats to undergo nuclear fusion, giving him the ability to engulf himself in flames at will, without feeling any pain, due to him receiving genetically modified microscopic platelets, and as the combustion makes him lighter, he also gained the ability to fly. Striving to be more than his more childish self, Johnny is the younger brother of Susan Storm.
  • Benjamin "Ben" Grimm / The Thing
  • A SHIELD engineer, a former construction worker, and once a SHIELD field agent, whose body was radically transformed to have the makings of a rock, rendering him bulletproof and incredibly strong, with the transformation also transforming all of his internal organs into stone, giving him the ability to live through extreme environments. Desiring to have his "normal" self back, Ben is Reed's best-friend and longtime companion.
Source (If you thought these stories are weird, you should check-out their comicbooks.)
Cast of minor characters
  • Franklin and Mary Veronica Storm
  • Two SHIELD scientists who are the parents of both Susan and Johnny Storm, and both of whom contrasting heavily in personalities, with Franklin being more rationale and logical, and Veronica being the more philosophical and more eccentric.
  • H.E.R.B.I.E.
  • Reed Richards' cheery and innocent personal robotic assistant, formally named "Humanoid, Experimental Robot, B-Type, Integrated", Electronics and the first among Reed's successful inventions,  who serves as the group's portable computer.
Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4, Source 5, Source 6, Source 7, Source 8
(Fantastic Foes for the Fantastic Four!)
The main antagonists per movie
  • Harvey Elder / Mole Man - (... and the March of the Moloids)
  • A SHIELD scientist with degrees in crypto-zoology, alien biology, botany, geology, and anthropology, and Ben Grimm's parental figure, who commands an army of "Moloids", and who wishes to transform everyone in the Negative Zone into said monsters with his devices to save them from their impending doom, at the cost of their individual freedom.
  • Blastaar - (... and the March of the Moloids)
  • A seemingly cold-hearted, though actually well-rounded ruler of the traders' world of Baluur, who allows the Fantastic Four and their friends to reside among them, on the condition that they assist the Baluurians in keeping them away from Annihilus' forces, the archenemies of their kind, in addition to helping them scavenge from ruined war machines.
  • Revka Scyros III / Psycho-Man - (... and the Last Emperor)
  • A mentally damaged alien ruler, who once resided in the planet Zenn-La, prior to its destruction, and the former warden of the Negative Zone, until he was forcefully incarcerated in his own planet, who can manipulate emotions through radio signals with a control device in an attempt to perform a mass genocide all throughout the Negative Zone.
  • Rhona Burchill / Mad Thinker  - (... and the Last Emperor)
  • A SHIELD scientist with degrees in robotics and computer science, who was childhood friends with Susan Storm, and a psychopath with an extra brain attached to her head, who wishes to be reunited with her only friend by hijacking Psycho-Man's radio frequency, controlling Psycho-Man in the process, manipulating everyone around them to murder each other.
  • Menendez Flores / Diablo - (... and the Alchemist's Curse)
  • A Master of the Mystic Arts from Spain, who was exiled from Earth by his former comrades-in-arms  back in the fifteenth century, and now resides in "Molekulon", where he invites and tests the most powerful creatures in the Negative Zone to best his greatest creation, and who refuses to give the new energy core, as he wants to be the one to save everyone.
  • Owen Reece / Molecule Man - (... and the Alchemist's Curse)
  • A lost and displaced explorer from Earth, who received molecular creation and manipulation powers after being caught in a failed attempt to recreate another version of the Negative Zone gateway, and is the childish personal aide of Diablo in maintaining the ever-shifting environments of "Molekulon", who tests him constantly to be his "best" creation.
  • Annihilus - (... and the Fall of the Negative Zone)
  • A nigh-emotionless, insect-like default ruler of the Negative Zone, who wishes to build a device that enables him to destroy the looming threat approaching the Negative Zone, and who plans to rule completely by himself with his personal controlled army known as the "Annihilation Wave", which composes of mind-controlled subjects.
  • Lucia von Bardas - (... and the Fall of the Negative Zone)
  • A cyborg, serving as Victor von Doom's former bodyguard and political representative, who leads the Latverian refugees as a pirate community unofficially serving under Annihilus with her army of robotic "Servoguards", but in reality, she is actually serving an unseen Victor von Doom, who wants to use the sun-restoring machine as a power conduit.
Source (Predictability aside, this is actually a pretty heartbreaking page.)
Proposed Overall Conclusion, and Tie-In to Marvel's Thunderbolts

Considering that the Fantastic Four are notable for still residing on Earth, despite most of their adventures taking place in alternate realities, pocket dimensions, and obviously, outer space, I figured that the team should find a way to make it back to Earth somehow. 

By the end of the fourth film in the film series, though not necessarily the end for the team, the Fantastic Four realize that their replacement energy core is not strong enough to reignite the sun, Reed's alternate solution of making a cooling system was not feasible in a limited time, and Doom's devices are all accidentally destroyed in their battle against Annihilus. At this point, Franklin Storm is killed, and so is Blastaar. The team realize that the only thing that they can do now is to lead a mass evacuation through the "Crossroads of Infinity", a large, unstable vortex at the edge of the Negative Zone, and save as many inhabitants as they can.

With Annihilus' forces closing-in, Johnny Storm decides to stay behind. With the aid of a dying Molecule Man, who helps stabilize the energy waves, Johnny blasts his way through the hordes, and after incapacitating Annihilus armies, and Annihilus himself, Johnny flies to the dying sun, with only a few seconds until its implosion. Johnny, after saying goodbye to the team and the rest of the surviving SHIELD agents and Latverians, absorbs as much of the unstable energy as he can with his newly upgraded powers. Initially, Johnny is not able to contain all of the energy, as blasts of light quickly disperse and destroys a handful of planets and star systems in the Negative Zone. Eventually, a large orange light covers the entire Negative Zone, as the Fantastic Four and all other ships are scattered all throughout the cosmos upon entering the Crossroads of Infinity. A new sun is created in the process.

Source (Come on, we all knew he wasn't dead.)
The Fantastic Four later crash land back on Earth, specifically in New York City. They realize that though they have only aged by five years, they were gone for already more than fifty years. The Avengers quickly fly in to salvage the crashed ship, and tend to the injured passengers. Refusing to believe that Johnny is dead, and feeling guilty at not being able to be the one to save the Negative Zone, the remaining members of the Fantastic Four, and the newly rescued SHIELD agents and Negative Zone inhabitants, plus Harvey Elder and Rhona Burchill, who escape afterwards, adjust to their newer lives back on Earth, while also seeking a way to return to the Negative Zone in their newly re-established headquarters, the Baxter Building. In addition, Reed prepares for the biggest role that he has to take yet: being a father. Now reassured that he is not a failure, Reed proposes his plan to establish an intergalactic network in preparation for extraterrestrial threats, while also making a promise to himself to bring back what is left of Latveria to its full glory, in an attempt to finally get over his partial envy towards Doom.

Reed is proven to be right later on. Johnny is alive, and he is found alive, though in a coma in Paris, France. Strange energy signatures are detected all over Johnny's body, and as Reed, Susan, and Ben investigate and check-on him, they start having a bad feeling about all of this. 

Meanwhile, Victor von Doom, who actually survived his battle with the Fantastic Four before, now plans to launch a full-scale invasion on Earth, in an attempt to retrieve the Human Torch, whom Doom thinks to be his key in taking all of Galactus' power. He retrieves Lucia von Bardas' broken down body, then watches as his Servoguards takes over the entire Negative Zone.

Source (I gotta get them involved here somehow.)
In the post-credits scene for the fourth movie, we see the Advanced Idea Mechanics' Scientist Supreme, real named Elizabeth "Betty" Ross, have lunch with Agent Everett K. Ross at a fast-food restaurant somewhere in New York City. As Everett K. Ross talks about Reed's plan to start an interplanetary network in order for Earth to have a much more stable connection with aliens on other corners of the universe, the Scientist Supreme laments that that may not even be enough for the many, currently unknown threats out there, and they ought to be prepared for anything. Everett then gives the Scientist Supreme classified documents on the criminals Helmut Zemo, Ava Starr, and Emil Blonsky. As Ross complains about how hard it was to secure clearances for their respective transfers, the Scientist Supreme assures that her "pet project" would be a success.

In case it is not yet obvious, it sets-up Marvel's Thunderbolts, another Marvel Comics property that I did a pitch on not so long ago. Do check that out, in case you are interested.

There you have it. A much more space-bound film series for the first superhero family with, hopefully, all of the essentials that could do the source material enough justice, even though I did take plenty of liberties with it. Speaking of Fantastic Four adaptations, does anybody remember that awful FANT4STIC? Yeah, neither do we. Thanks to my little sister though, we just realized that K-Pop artist Rap Monster made a song ... for that movie? Help yourself with the song, and stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!

Source (I'm surprised an artist even bothered making a song for this abomination.)
Metro Manila (2013)

Rated NR: This film currently has no rating

Running Time: 114 minutes (1 hours and 54 minutes)

Genre/s: Crime, Drama

Released on October 9, 2013 (PH Release Date; Available for Worldwide  Viewing)

Presented by Chocolate Frog Films, Independent, Captive, and ICM

Director: Sean Ellis

Writers: Mathilde Charpentier and Sean Ellis

  • Jake Macapagal as Oscar Ramirez
  • Althea Vega as Mai Ramirez
  • John Arcilla as Douglas Ong

"Everyone has a chance to win". Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, is quite known for several things. Big businesses, mega-malls, and heavy traffic jams are to name a few. Most people also come to the place for one thing, and that is opportunity. However, most people also tend to overlook the fact that the place is highly notorious for its high crime rate. Audiences get a taste of the dangers that lurk in the city with Metro Manila.

In this flick, a farmer from the province of Banaue, and a former soldier named Oscar Ramirez, played by Macapagal (Halfworlds) convinces his wife Mai, played by Vega (Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat) to bring their family to Metro Manila, in an attempt to seek a better, brighter future. Though life initially turned-out fruitless for them, Oscar soon finds himself under the wing of seasoned armored car guard Douglas Ong, played by Arcilla (Birdshot), who helds the same job that he has. As Oscar and his family enjoy the fruits of their efforts, they all soon become embroiled in a world of corruption and crime in the big city, from which they may never be able to escape.

Right from the start of the film, we can immediately say that the Ramirezes are not living a particularly ideal life, from having to scrape the bottom of the barrel for money, to having to settle for nigh-hopeless plantations in order to get food. Initially, their lives are peaceful despite the hardships, and the cinematography and camerawork allow us to notice this through the calm, sometimes blue-colored atmosphere. However, the family soon begins to realize that they have to go to Manila, and there, they get to see the discomforting atmosphere that the sight of Metro Manila presents. The cinematography once again notes this by presenting through small and quick shots of the chaos that roams the city, including the annual Black Nazarene festival, and simple establishing shots of the filthy cityscape. It is a subtle and effective way of telling the audience that they are in a very unfamiliar setting. In addition, we truly get to experience an atmosphere of desperation by showing scenes of Oscar competing against other job applicants for the armored car guard position, and Mai's first time as a bar hostess, where shots reveal women in the nude that is not in anyway presented in a highly sexual manner, but in a way that would lead many to ponder on the reality of our times.

The story itself is a very simple one, and it is one that we have already read or watched about in several books, short stories, movies, or even in some musical concept albums. Oscar, who is played with raw sentimentality and emotion by Jake Macapagal all throughout the movie, is just a father, who wants what is best for his family. Likewise, Mia, who is played spectacularly by Althea Vega, is a mother who also wants what is the very best for all of them. Unfortunately for them, the road to the good life is never an easy one. That is the type of plot that we are all too familiar with. Familiar, as in the last few sequences of the movie are fairly predictable, but the movie manages to not make any of them boring. In fact, the movie's simplistic nature is enough for the audiences to pick-up the story's more thought-provoking themes.

The film heavily emphasizes the theme of desperation, most notably in the one line delivered by the always exceptionally magnificent John Arcilla through his character of Douglas Ong, with assistance from the great camerawork that closes-up on Arcilla's face to emphasize moments of importance. Aside from Ong's one comment about how robberies occur more during elections, Oscar narrates a story about how his former boss, Alfred Santos, played by J.M. Rodriguez (Red) robbed an entire airplane after experiencing bankruptcy when a corporate rival hired a bunch of gang members to intimidate him, which lead to his death when his homemade parachute failed to deploy. It is a very interesting parallel and piece of foreshadowing to what will happen to Oscar by the film's conclusion, and an intriguing story, in that it is partially based on a true story.

True to the film's tagline, things become even more complicated for the family, as we see that Mai becomes involved in prostitution for more money, and Oscar begins to realize that Ong, despite having everything such as a stable line of work, and a loving wife, played by Ana Abad Santos (Apocalypse Child), is the living embodiment of negative excess, as he plots to open a money box that he stole not so long ago. As he says himself, "everyone has a chance to win", but in everyone's case, sacrifices ought to be made, and in Ong's case, sometimes one victory will never be enough once you get a taste of it in the city. Mai's subplot, which reaches its climax when Mai refuses to accept the request of her boss Charlie, played by Mailes Kanapi (Patay Na si Hesus) to let their eldest daughter Angel, played by Erin Panlilio (May Bukas Pa) to serve "special clients" as realistic and moving, and the whole arc shows that one does not necessarily have to surrender to what the world wants in order to survive.

Unfortunately, when Douglas Ong's true self manifests, I believe that that is exactly when the film almost loses track of what makes it unique in the first place. While the revelation that Ong has plans of his own does reflect the theme of desperation the movie is attempting to portray, I did not find his sudden character derailment, from a simple, misguided veteran armored car guard who is nevertheless a man with a good sense of morality, to a man who suddenly finds it in himself to steal, with the ironic aid of other criminals, completely developed.


Much of the film, especially in scenes of him being extremely friendly towards Oscar and his family, and in his times of reminiscing his fallen comrade-in-arms, set him up to be the character with the aforementioned description. His unexpected and almost completely jarring death at the hands of, against all odds, the exact same person who murdered his partner completely came out-of-nowhere. I feel that this revelation somewhat derailed Ong's character, and ruined almost everything that made him a compelling figure in the story.

When it is revealed that Ong rented another apartment room, which he gave to Oscar as a friendly gesture, under Oscar's name, and that is where Ong hid his retrieved money box, the film quietly ditches the dramatic tone in favor of a one featured in heist thrillers. Though it does not necessarily ruin the entire flick, given that it is quite logical for Oscar to stage a robbery in order to make use of the money for their family, the last few sequences felt less of a proper conclusion, and more of a forced inclusion to appeal to people who are not exactly fond of the less action-based directions. The movie is supposed to be a character-driven story detailing desperate people in desperate circumstances, but when random story elements are suddenly included, it does feel the story itself is more desperate than the characters themselves. I will say that the film, even until the ending, still manages to remain entertaining and quite thought-provoking, as by the time the parallels between Oscar and Alfred Santos soon collide, and his sacrifice to make a copy of the money box key for Mai and their two daughters to use did leave audiences with a particularly inspiring messages. "Everyone has a chance to win, but to win, one has to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices", though I do think that the message could have been better if it was tinkered with more, in that sacrifices are not always necessary.

Metro Manila, overall, is a well-made movie that touches on very timely topics, and is not afraid to depict darker scenarios in order to make its point as clear as day. The acting is very well executed, and each of the principal actors and actress is able to stand-out on their own respective rights. The cinematography and the camerawork also does a nice job in emphasizing the gritty nature of the city, and the careful planned-out shots do aid the viewers in understanding the story more. Although the film does stumble upon a few moments of unoriginality at the beginning, and the movie succumbs to predictability by subtly switching to a different genre by the closing moments, and by adding unnecessary twists to a smooth-flowing, straightforward narrative that did not need to go anywhere else already, the final product is nevertheless a very entertaining, very thoughtful one. My final rating for this film is 18/25 (Pleasant Entertainment).

I also have to give credit to writer and director Sean Ellis for allowing the actors to interpret the originally all-English script into Filipino, which is a very commendable action. It really is a shame that this was not made as part of the final choices for the 86th Academy Awards back then. Surely, there are many more opportunities in the future, and I am most definitely looking forward for more movies from Sean Ellis. 

As always, we leave a little something after our posts. For this one, we have a trailer from 2016, for the latest part of Ellis' filmography at the moment. This is a historical drama set during the Second World War, titled "Anthropoid", and is based on a true story. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!

Birdshot (2016)

Rated NR: This film currently has no rating

Running Time: 116 minutes (1 hour and 56 minutes)

Genre/s: Coming-of-Age, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Released on October 28, 2016 (JP Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by PelikulaRED, Tuko Film Productions, Bucchi Boy Films, and CJ Entertainment

Director: Mikhail Red

Writers: Mikhail Red and Rae Red

  • Mary Joy Apostol as Maya Mariano
  • Arnold Reyes as Domingo
  • John Arcilla as Mendoza
  • Ku Aquino as Diego Mariano

"We are never truly free". Birds are meant to fly, and us humans are destined to be free as well. However, much like the birds also, we are all, in the end, meant to die. I have heard nothing but positive things about this film, and after finally getting to view it, I finally understood why many fondly look at this flick. Birdshot presents a very nihilistic, a very heavy-handed message in such a way that not many would immediately understand, but would leave viewers thinking as soon as the end credits rolled.

In this movie, a young woman named Maya Mariano, played by Apostol in her film debut, becomes entangled in a web of wicked lies and deceit when she goes against the pleas of her father Diego, played by Aquino (Mga Anino ng Kahapon) to avoid entering a nearby bird sanctuary. Police officers Domingo, played by Reyes (Astig), and Mendoza, played by Arcilla (Heneral Luna) are later tasked to investigate the identity of the trespasser, and instead of finding the culprit, they find something that is much more evil in the shadows.

As I have said before, the film is able to present a thought-provoking message that is never directly stated in the context of the film, but is nevertheless delivered with exceptional subtlety and depth. The basic story revolves around Maya, an initially free character being trained by her father to become more independent, killing a Philippine Eagle, an endangered species. This action results in her losing her freedom when the police becomes involved. With an amazing performance by Apostol, we see a simple, innocent person forced to become involved in the much more sinister corner of the modern world, who just so happens to be unaware of what lies beyond the border, and who just so happens to murder an animal that she has almost no clue about its conditions. We understand that she did not know any better, and that she is only a youngster.

New officer Domingo cares about two things: his family, and his plants. Reyes delivers a simple yet effective portrayal of a man who is good at heart, but is also a man tragically conflicted by forces who refuse to give him freedom. When a case involving the disappearance of an entire bus load of passengers catches Domingo's attention, he finds it in himself to go against orders to investigate himself, but he eventually succumbs to the darkness with some convincing from the ever-reliable presence of actor John Arcilla as Reyes's character's on-screen superior, Mendoza. Unlike his corrupt colleagues though, Reyes only gave-in when his family is personally threatened, but this does not ultimately signify that there is no hope for Domingo.

We also note the presence of two mentor figures in both Mendoza and Diego Mariano. While Aquino's Diego, whom the actor portrayed with equally sympathetic light, does everything in his power to keep Maya away from the darkness, Arcilla's Mendoza, who has given-up at escaping from the evil there, sways Domingo to surrender and submit. We see that two forces contrast here. One attempting to keep his daughter safe, and another who persuades someone else to embrace it. Even without strict exhibition, the character establishing moment of Mendoza threatening one illegal logger, who is part of a group that bribes the police to do their illicit business, and his succeeding talk about him being somewhat a "psychopath" cements that he is a character who already accepts losing his freedom.

The frequent and very subtle use of symbolism is very good here, as the application only cements the beauty of the narrative's central theme of innocence. Instead of seeing a quiet and pleasant atmosphere, the rural setting, of the Philippines, which I believe is a perfect shooting location for the movie is far from the ideal landscape. While yes, the area is indeed much more bearable than that of the setting that one would have if an individual prefers to live in the city, we see that even the purest of lands can be tainted by corruption. Untrustworthy officials in law-enforcement stalk the green fields, and terrifying legends of spirits roaming at night, in addition to poverty, are what you could expect from this place. The cinematography and camera works reflect this even, in that the frank yet telling establishing shots of sunsets and sunrises showcases a forthcoming moment of realization, and the eye-catching greenery help emphasize the innocence that lies in nature.

If one keeps a close eye, the film makes use of the color red very often. That is a fact that I never really noticed until I read an article about it most recently. We see Maya's red scarf, a torn red polo shirt that Domingo retrieved right next to the recently discovered bus, the blood on the animals that are all killed in the movie, the mysterious "spirit" that follows Maya wherever she walks, Maya's menstrual blood stains on her bed. They all symbolize a specific moment when a character begins to notice that is something is not right about their environment, and that each of them begin to realize that their initially pleasant existences would not last long.

In addition to the symbolism, the movie makes effective use of references to real-life incidents. The scene when both Domingo and Mendoza discover the abandoned bus showcases this. The two tragic occurrences that I pictured are the infamous Maguindanao Massacre, which involved the abominable deaths of several journalists at the discovery of a potential government scandal, and the heinous Hacienda Luisita Massacre, where police officers opened fire on hardworking farmers crying-out for their rights of ownership on their respective lands to be recognized. Both heartbreaking true stories reflect the film's theme of determinism, in that you will meet disturbing deaths when given the chances to fight for the greater good. Like the farmers who fought for their land, their only true freedom lies in the afterlife. The current condition of the Philippine Eagles also represent this, as only a few of them remain, and their freedom is threatened constantly by people.

In the end, even with the negative implications of the main message of the film, we get to see a few glimpses of hope. When Diego is arrested for being the prime suspect in the eagle case, he becomes a volunteer in a small prison break where he watches all of his fellow convicts executed by both Domingo and Mendoza. With almost no hope in sight, Diego decides to shoot Domingo and kill Mendoza to ensure Maya's freedom, costing his life in the process. Although Maya loses her father, her ever-reliable source of guidance, her trusty dog "Bala", and technically what is left of her initially quiet life in the farmlands, Maya refuses to give-in to the dark side, and she spares Domingo's life by allowing him to drive back home.

As Domingo cries in regret at his past actions, from shooting Maya's dog, to personally beating-up Diego in the police basement, to ignoring the plea of a mother to search for her missing son, a bus passenger, the last shot of the film shows Maya looking at the dead bodies of the bus passengers, with eagles flying over them. The audiences are then left with a more positive take on the original message, in that though we may not be free physically, but we can be free in spiritual terms by accepting the dark and dirty nature that surrounds us. I do believe that this last scene perfectly captured the essence of the story, showcasing that Maya, like the eagles soaring above, is now free after learning and accepting the disturbing truths.

Though the film satisfyingly delivers the message, there is actually no closure for the subplot involving the disappearances of the bus passengers, a few of whom are revealed to be heading for Manila in order to appeal their land-related case to court. The very last mention of it prior to the end is when Domingo's plants are burned and his house is trespassed by an unknown assailant, who threatens him to drop the investigation. As much as I would want the film to delve deeper into that mystery aspect, I believe that it would ruin the character-driven factor of the movie, and I believe that the fact that the movie focuses heavily on character development is what makes it brilliant. The film is sluggish in some scenes, to be honest, notably in the opening sequences, there are cliche moments, such as police corruption, and the threats of a higher power, and characters such as Mendoza are not given enough development, but there is definitely enough subversion to keep this movie from being unoriginal and lackluster.

Overall, despite the very minor flaws such as pacing, Birdshot is elevated by a tightly focused narrative on the loss of innocence, carefully-constructed and aesthetically-presented cinematography, amazing acting from the main actors and actress. I believe that the film did more than just present a crime drama, in that it also presented an artistically complex tale with a sense of nihilism that leaves an impactful message for audiences everywhere. Watch for the mystery at hand. Stay for the artistry within. I will give this movie a rating of 21/25 (Awesome!)

Although our nation's cinema usually gets flak either for its unprecedented appeal to mainstream audiences, for the stale and heavily commercialized forms of storytelling, for frequently inconsistent movie quality, or both, the independent filmmaking scene offers a lot of gems, with Birdshot being among them. Since Netflix shows not only Western shows and films, I highly encourage everyone to take a look at other nations' works, including some of our best. To this end, we will be reviewing a whole lot more Filipino movies.

Christmas is here, and for the movie-making industry of our country, that means only one other thing besides the birth of our Lord and Savior. The annual "Metro Manila Film Festival" is here, and honestly speaking, I am not all that interested in this year's line-up. However, you could check them out for yourself. Below are trailers for three entries for the festival: One Great Love, Rainbow's Sunset, and The Girl in the Orange Dress. These three trailers did leave a small impression on me, although there are times when they feel quite cliched, so here is to hoping that they really are very good. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


Aquaman (2018)

Rated PG-13: For Some Language, and Violence

Running Time: 143 minutes (2 hours and 23 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Superhero

Released on December 21, 2018 (US Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, The Safran Company, Cruel and Unusual Studios, and Mad Ghost Productions

"Aquaman" Created by Mort Weisnger and Paul Norris

Director: James Wan

Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall

  • Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry / Aquaman
  • Amber Heard as Mera
  • Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko
  • Patrick Wilson as Orm Marius / Ocean Master
  • Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus
  • Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane / Black Manta 
  • Nicole Kidman as Atlanna

"You have to see it to believe it." Such was the theme of the latest entry in the ever-polarizing DC Extended Universe. This one stars a popular comicbook character, whose reputation has since been dwindled down to just being the "guy who talks to fish". After one passable first installment in Man of Steel, then two massive disappointments in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, one glimmer of hope in Wonder Woman, and another disappointing follow-up in Justice League, many might have already lost their faith in the franchise. I myself have also given-up. With Aquaman, audiences get to see more of the potential that has been untapped so far since the film series' inception.

In this film, Arthur Curry, played by Momoa (Conan the Barbarian Remake) is forced to swim back to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, in order to confront his Atlantean half-brother Orm, played by Wilson (Watchmen), who plots to unite all seven realms to start a war with the surface world. Accompanying him in his reluctant journey is the princess of Xebel named Mera, played by Heard (The Rum Diary), and the royal visier and Arthur's mentor Nuidis Vulko, played by Dafoe (At Eternity's Gate). In addition to the worldwide threat that Orm imposes on the rest of human civilization, Arthur must also deal with two of Orm's allies: the genius pirate who calls himself the "Black Manta", played by Abdul-Mateen II (The Greatest Showman), and Mera's father, Nereus, played by Lundgren (Creed II).

The film constantly and subtly reminds us of the theme of seeing then believing. For Arthur, he has to see it for himself if Atlantis truly is the underwater hellscape that he deems it to be, while also having to understand if the villains that he clashes on a daily basis are truly worthy of redemption, and if he really is the rightful king of the seas after going through a complicated adventure all across the world. For Mera, she has to be on the land for her to truly understand the wonders of our world. For both Orm and Arthur, they have to see it for themselves if their mother Atlanna, played by Kidman (Lion) is indeed dead. It is a small yet meaningful message that also reaches a metafictional sense, in that the movie itself invites all of us to see not only the wonders under the sea, but to also see what the DC Extended Universe has in store.

Alas, despite the promise displayed with gorgeous and dazzling visuals, and the obvious exhibits of passion for both the cast and the crew, Aquaman suffers from numerous flaws, left and right, which obscures the message that I have mentioned before. Speaking in narrative terms, the story follows the basic structure of a prodigal son reclaiming a certain position of authority, regardless of his own doubt and reluctance, in an attempt to bring peace to two distinct corners of Earth. Juxtaposing it with a fairly ridiculous plot device-centric treasure hunt story that does not completely allow viewers to have a few minutes to appreciate the scenic views of the deep, or actually take the time to feel as if they are in a different part of the globe, only makes the entire film feel much more lacking in stakes. Note that if audiences have no sense of being a part of the world being presented, there would be no excitement, no tension.

For all of the actors' efforts, Momoa and Heard in particular, the screenplay does not give any type of personality for any of the characters, outside of ones that any of us would clearly see in other forms of media. A portion of the blame can be shifted on the film series' turbulent history, as well as the titular character's sudden debut in Justice League, even though said character had no prior stories. Arthur Curry's characterization is clear at least, in that he is merely a nigh-carefree man who despises his fellow Atlanteans for their perceived involvement in Atlanna's execution, but we never get a sense of a character struggling. There is only one moment in the film that presents such conflict is when a young Arthur trained with Vulko, who reveals the supposed fate of Atlanna, but we never truly see him in pain about it afterwards. In addition, his inconsistent personality switching, from happy-go-lucky immature spirit, to a know-it-all without almost no weaknesses come the end of the film.

Patrick Wilson's Orm, and Amber Heard's Mera also suffer from this, as we never get a proper exploration of their respective problems outside of brief dialogue exchanges, and exposition. Orm has all of the necessary essentials to become a true villain, as he has a real-world social issue to support his motivations, and a familial tie wherein he blames Arthur being born for the "execution" of Atlanna, as Arthur is not completely Atlantean. We never see him as a misguided man, whose mind remains stuck in the past, but we see him as a generic, overambitious would-be world conqueror. As for Mera, nothing to support her siding with Arthur, other than just because the plot needs her to be the love interest, and a small piece of dialogue that states that she just wants to do what is right. This is not to say that the actors and actresses did not do a good job. I do believe that plenty of effort was given where effort should be placed.

I believe that Abdul-Mateen II's Black Manta had the biggest potential to be a compelling foil, as the introductory fight scene between him and Aquaman, which featured the death of David's father, played by Michael Beach (If Beale Street Could Talk) illustrated what could have been a decent turn to the darkness. Instead, we only get one other fight scene featuring the character, and he does not even get to participate in the final battle. Though it might have been a logical choice to focus solely on Orm and Arthur, it would have been wise also to have Black Manta provide additional problems for the protagonists.

Though the film did manage to be marginally better than the franchise's worst offerings. For instance, I do believe that the production value and the use of special effects are much better handled here than probably Suicide Squad. The beautiful and lush visuals compliment the mystifying world down below, and the varying blue shades fit the tone and atmosphere perfectly. It is both playful and creative. I do admire the effort done to design the costumes, specifically Arthur's final costume at the concluding act, as well as Black Manta's own, and the look of each location, with the Earth's Core and Atlantis being my personal favorites. The design for the Trench creatures is also brilliant, and the film's portrayal of Mera's hydrokinetic powers, with the latter best displayed during the only battle with Black Manta. Nothing makes a comicbook adaptation better than having the final product be as a comicbook-accurate, and be as creative as possible. However I would note that there are times when the CGI is excessively applied, such as in the final battle that involved armies clashing one another. I was originally anticipating a similar scale of awesomeness as that of The Lord of the Rings Film Series, but instead, due to the CGI, I saw what The Hobbit Trilogy failed to capture. Admittedly, it is difficult to make a believable battle underwater, but I would appreciate it more if there are times when more practical means are applied, so as to keep anchoring the viewers' eyes. There are also the instances of seeing Willem Dafoe receiving a CGI youth-ification, which is obviously computer-rendered, and it is mildly distracting.

James Wan's whimsical hand behind the camera perfectly blends well with the adventure that we are seeing. Thanks to him, there is not a single lazy shot in the film. Once we see a shot, we know exactly what is happening, unless there is an unnecessarily huge amounts of VFX at play. His establishing takes of certain locations, the lighting, and the cinematographer's and the director of photography's respective outputs compliment Wan's direction, and as they all work hand-in-hand, you can sense that the crew truly want you to dive deep into this beautiful world, which the screenplay does not really get to do much. My personal favorite shot from Wan would have to be during Arthur and Mera's descent to the trench. It is beautiful, and it captures the shear terrors that are the creatures of that domain, although I highly recommend that there should be more than just one camera movement for the fight scenes, since it progressively becomes tiresome to see the camera rotate for every single action sequence.

The humor, personally, is a double-edged sword. There are instances when they are particularly witty, and exhibits signs of cheerfulness, such as when a group of seemingly intimidating group of bikers ask Aquaman for a selfie. But for the most part, the jokes fall flat, in that they are mostly inserted there as if they are simply expecting audiences to laugh all the way to the heavens, such as when both Arthur and Mera attempt to activate a holographic device with sweat, as the place was now a desert, followed by Arthur simply suggesting to urinate on it. Rupert Gregson-Williams' score is alright, but none of his work is able to capture what exactly makes Aquaman unique, and his more comedic sounds only make certain scenes unbearable.

In addition, there is this character in the film named Doctor Stephen Shin, played by Randall Park (Ant-Man and the Wasp), who is attempting to prove to the world that Atlantis does exist. While that is not necessarily something that one must ponder on when watching, but the concern lies in that the movie takes place in the same universe where Superman, an alien, Wonder Woman, a demigod, and thousands of other bizarre civilizations exist. I take it that "fish people" were too strange for humans.

Overall, I do believe that there is plenty to be improved with Aquaman, specifically the story. A character with such diverse mythology as the titular hero definitely deserves a much more well-constructed screenplay that focuses also on character development above all else, and not merely rely on dazzling and arresting visuals. Though relying on presentation would be distracting for the viewers, it would not be artistic if one would not do something much bolder. I commend the efforts of the actors who truly did the best that they could have, and Wan himself for spearheading an "okay" film that showcases some ambition. My final rating for this film is 15/25 (Okay?)

I still implore everyone to come see the movie for themselves, as the theme of this flick suggests. I do believe that even with the room for improvement, this movie is fun, adventurous, and light-hearted, with the tone being quite jarring considering that the first two installments were dark, and I would have loved to see what could have happened if this film was quite mature as that, but not overly dark to the point of alienation.

As always, we leave a few extras at the end of our posts. For this one, we have two songs from the movie's official soundtrack. The end credits song by Skylar Grey ... and one remix of Toto's "Africa" ... by Pitbull. It really is not the worst of remixes, but this is more of a passable type. Trust me, I have heard worst versions of a song before. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!