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Kailangan Kita / I Need You (2002)

Rated PG-13: For minimal language and sensitive themes

Running Time: 105 minutes (1 hour and 45 minutes)

Genre/s: Drama, Romance

Released on November 6, 2002 (PH Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Star Cinema

Writers: Shaira Mella Salvador, Raymond Lee, and Emmanuel Dela Cruz

Director: Rory B. Quintos

Starring:
  • Aga Muhlach as Carl Diesta
  • Claudine Barretto as Elena "Lena" Duran
  • Johnny Delgado as Rogelio Duran

“Never forget to love your country” … is a theme that one would never expect to be discussed in a romantic drama. But one did, and that film was 2002’s Kailangan Kita.

If I were being honest, I really had no idea this film existed, until one day, Dad and I were looking for a food movie to watch, because Dad loves to cook. We skimmed through the Internet’s suggestions, and we stumbled upon one that really interested me: Kusina, a food-centric film set during the Second World War.

It was … “costly”, so we settled for the next best thing. Being the responsible, law-abiding citizens we are, we rented it through “TFC”, or “The Filipino Channel,” for P99.83 for a total of two days. (Remember, we say no to piracy.)

If I am being more honest than I was awhile ago, I really had almost no expectations for this one. Heading into this flick, I actually believed that this is a by-the-numbers romantic drama ... and you know how much I don’t like “by-the-numbers” and “romantic drama” in the same sentence. This is made much worse by the fact that there are so much films here that matches that description that this might as well be the national film genre. However, even though this movie did hit the usual, generic notes in some places, I was caught off-guard by the few surprises Kailangan Kita has in store.

Directed by Rory Quintos, and written by Shaira M. Salvador and Raymond Lee, alongside Emmanuel Dela Cruz, who contributed to the story, the film stars the man who made Jollibee famous himself, Aga Muhlach, and Star Cinema’s “Optimum Star”, Claudine Barretto, alongside Johnny Delgado, Liza Lorena, and many more.

From what I can tell you, this movie was very much well-received upon its release. It received 9 different nominations at the 2002 “Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences” (FAMAS), including “Best Actress” for Barretto.

In the film, Carl Diesta, played by Muhlach (Seven Sundays), a star chef working in New York City returns to his home country after 17 years. Now engaged, Carl heads to Bohol to formally introduce himself to his fiancee’s family, including the tough-as-nails, former mayoral aspirant Rogelio Duran, played by Delgado (You Got Me!).

However, delays in their marriage surface. With his patience tested, Carl realizes that his heart might not be in the right place. He would now need the help of his fiancee’s younger sister and the black sheep of the family, Lena, played by Barretto (Milan) to once again be in-tune with his roots. Maybe, even find true love in the process.


As I’ve said before, this film manages to be extremely basic in its approach to the romantic genre. Right of the bat, we are treated to typical romantic tropes, from the upbeat opening credits crawl, accompanied by the feel-good background music, to the cooking montage that’s supposed to develop the obviously budding romance between the two protagonists. These are all topped by the typical premise of an engaged man against his fiancee's father.

But then, the initial conflict of impressing the father is suddenly resolved after the first twenty minutes. Carl managed to impress Rogelio by just cooking a fancy dish for him, and by now becoming more open to eat local food. I was originally confused when I watched the film for the first time, but after watching it once more, I realized that the real conflict is not about Carl leaving a good impression to the family, so he can secure his fiancee’s hand in marriage.

No. It is Carl’s struggle to embrace his cultural origins after previous negative experiences while living in the Philippines. Yes, in case you are wondering yourself, this entire film is a big debate between colonial mentality and patriotism. And yes, this film is classified as a “romantic drama.”

The representations of colonial mentality and patriotism are seen through both Carl and Lena, respectively.

Carl is a Western-oriented man. The first ten minutes help establish this through the way he speaks, and the way he dresses, especially with his “flattering” cooking outfit, pin-buttons and all. It is then later enforced by his outright refusal to consume “laing”, a traditional Bicolano dish with coconut and chili. Carl comments that the Mayon Volcano, for all of its majesty, is not as great compared to the Grand Canyon in America.

This is officially solidified by a conversation between him and Lena. While military forces are going around the town to search for members of the real-life Communist group known as the “New People’s Army”, or the “NPA”, Carl describes them as soulless as mercenaries.

Not only is Carl a devout worshiper of the Western world, but he is a very overzealous one. This is made more obvious by his refusal to answer questions pertaining to his earlier days in the country.

Despite this, however, it is quite clear that he somewhat misses his childhood prior to moving away, as noted by him gazing at the sight of children frolicking and playing by the river.

On the other hand, Lena is noticeably vocal towards her disagreements with Carl’s views on the NPA, citing that not all of them are terrible, with some of them only fighting for what they believe is right. In addition to her character’s visual nods, such as her preference to cook with more Philippine-inspired means, we also see that Lena really does care about her fellow countrymen when she helps a man pick-up his scattered stock, whom Carl practically ignores.

The way the movie explores both arguments is very enlightening, especially now more than ever due to recent contemporary controversies. Not only that, but the film’s endearing, character-driven discussion of such complex topics, as well as the theme of politics playing a key part in breaking family dynamics, are some things that I really admire. Though in most cases, Lena’s frequent proclamations of patriotism and brotherhood can be a tad bit, eye-rolling at times, especially when her stances are repeated over and over again, but the intimate portrayals of the actors really help sell all of the necessary points.


Even with their differences, there is one thing that unites both of them, and that is the recurring motif, and the other thing that this film is notable for: food. This is only mildly apparent in the first thirty minutes, when Carl and Lena cook their signature dishes, and with Carl impressing Rogelio with his work, while he in turn loves Lena’s laing. However, it becomes increasingly clearer with Rogelio hosting a get-together with his election opponent, and with Carl having a nice happy drinking hour with the rest of Lena’s family members.

As food is the central motif, food lovers will still find lovely scenes for them to gnaw their teeth in, especially the very first sequence of both Carl and Lena cooking their signature dishes.

After finally tasting laing, and enjoying the savory goodness of it, Carl’s journey of self-discovery begins with the aid of Lena. It finally reaches its peak when Carl realizes the real reason as to why Lena has a deep-seated sympathy for the NPA. That is because Lena has a boyfriend who is a member of that organization. The man, named Abel, played by Jericho Rosales (On the Job) is discovered by Carl while being secretly treated by Lena. 

Then all of Lena’s relatives found-out about her secrecy, which leads to Abel’s (presumed) demise. It is later revealed at the near-end that Lena’s small connection to the NPA is what caused Rogelio to lose the elections, leading to her black sheep status.

Slowly, Carl begins to see that because of Lena’s wholehearted affection for the country and her people, he, also a Filipino, must also care just as much, regardless of past events. Carl, originally the person to dismiss any discussions about current day issues, slowly begins to feel somewhat patriotic, as noted by him suddenly engaging in various country matters.

But that path to realization is halted temporarily when we learn of the identity of the laing legend living by the rice lands, Ka Pinong, played by Dante Rivero (It Takes a Man and a Woman), who is revealed to be none other than his biological father. After lashing-out, Carl opens-up to Lena that his father, a former member of the NPA, abandoned him, his brothers, and his mother to serve the organization, fueling his hared for the country. “It’s not fair!”, Carl exclaims.

Carl quickly regains his senses after recalling his happiest memory: learning how to cook from Ka Pinong. Finally accepting his cultural identity, Carl asks for Ka Pinong to teach him again how to cook laing, and they mend fences as father and son. This again evokes the food motif.


Though a lot of the actors are forced to play by tropes, I can safely say that they did decent jobs, especially the late Johnny Delgado. We’ll talk later about what I think about Muhlach’s and Barreto’s performances.

On the technicalities of the film, such as the cinematography, the direction, and the editing, I have somewhat mixed feelings about it. Though it doesn’t completely strike me as something entirely unique, I do admire the cinematography and direction for giving us a sense of a rural environment, thanks to its emphasis on the usual Filipino locations such as grass lands and cultural architecture. The editing is also alright for the most part, but I really don’t like the cheesy wipe transitions in the montage segment, because I find it absolutely corny and just plain overdone at this point.

Again, the character-focused story, made especially better by its emphasis on timely topics, is very good, and the second act’s redirection farther from its initially messy set-up really did help in saving this movie from being a complete misfire. That is … until we get to the third act, where I am reminded that yes, I am watching a romantic film. A typical romantic film.

Even if this film falls under that aforementioned genre, its more romantic aspects are arguably the worst parts about Kailangan Kita. This is because I feel that the overall story, complete with its political overtones, are never meant to be included in a romantic film. I have read in one online post that this film was originally supposed to be more about cooking and food, and that certain changes were made supposedly to make the film more appealing to general audiences. If that really is the case, then I can see why the romance in this film feels more like an after-thought.

The one plot point that ultimately verifies my assumption is the sub-plot surrounding Lena and Abel and how it is resolved. You would expect that a woman like Lena, who sacrificed her dignity and risked her family’s name just to support Abel in his exploits, would be completely shaken by the death (or at least, “assumed death”, because we only heard gunfire while the camera focuses on Lena’s reaction) of her beloved. The film explicitly states she really does care about Abel., evident when Lena, despite being already shamed by her father, still chose to hide Abel in one of the family’s own supply shacks. Her tirade in the aftermath of Abel’s “death” when Lena once more waxes political enforces this even more.

Guess what? She completely manages to move-on from that incident in a span of five minutes, so the film can finally head to the plot and tone audiences actually paid for. This then leads us to the usual romantic trip montage.

Granted, we could say that the distance from Abel and the pressure from the family factored into Lena’s decision to lose all feelings for Abel, but the way the film rushes the story, and the fact that Abel is never mentioned again, even immediately before the credits make this plot point … pointless.

Outside of those times when Carl constantly gazes at Lena, and that one time when Carl comments about how beautiful Lena is, almost no interaction between Carl and Lena, especially their respective lines, are romantic. Their dialogues don’t even have the sweet and charming energy that can be found in films of the same genre, such as Kita Kita. As the film portrays their interactions in a friendly, sibling-like light, which is again noted by the dialogue and the conflict, I found myself in a position asking myself … “why even call this a romantic movie?”


Aga Muhlach’s and Claudine Barretto’s performances also don’t have the chemistry reminiscent of a slowly blooming couple. Though both of them are fine here, even though they both took a more melodramatic turn by the third act, and it is quite clear that both are trying to sell us on that romantic vibe that the film wanted to give-out, the best way I could describe their chemistry is that it ranges from lukewarm to subzero.

While I have no problem with how the film wanted to end, outside from it being extremely cliched, I do take issue with the fact that it is rushed. Not only did the last thirty minutes manage to take us back to the super stale tone of the first parts, but it also manages to disrespect all of the characters by glossing over all of their respective arcs’ resolutions. 

The only way to rectify this mistake is by giving hints with regards to their arcs during the wedding reception of Carl’s ex-fiancee Crissy, played by Rissa Manansquil-Samson (Keka). Yes, people are allowed to leave certain plot points up for interpretation, but you have to give the audiences something to speculate over

I could just end this review here and call it a day. But since I was unbelievably unsatisfied with the end result, here are four suggestions to properly wrap all of the character arcs up, complete with explanations as to why these would make complete sense.

Carl’s entire arc revolves almost entirely around his absentee father, but is never seen again after their small moment of reconciliation. Since the one year time skip only partly suggests that he stayed in the Philippines, Carl could have had a conversation with one of Lena’s brothers that he only took an extended stay in the country to catch-up with his father, with some hint of only minimal animosity. This way, we see that Carl has moved beyond rage towards his father, and has grown more accepting of his background.

Prior to this wedding, we never really get to know or even see Crissy, outside of newspaper clipping and phone calls with Carl. One big exposition dump from Consuelo at the closing moments of the film suggests that Crissy is never the most committed person to be with. This arc is also made jarring by the fact that we never get to see Crissy feeling bad for having Carl wait for too long, or how she reacted to Carl liking Lena. Instead of that lame conversation between Crissy, her new husband, and Carl, the two could have a private talk and acknowledge their shortcomings. Both wish only the best for each other. This way, Crissy would not come-off as a materialistic jerk who couldn’t careless for Carl’s feelings, because the entire wedding scene that still doesn’t add any layers to her character, but this one small chat would.

Lena’s arc revolves a lot around her love for Abel, but again, we don’t even get to see exactly what happened after Rogelio and his sons find him. To make her and Carl’s relationship less abrupt in terms of development, Lena would mention that though she loves Abel, she believes that she should give herself a chance to be happy with someone else. This way, Jericho Rosales’ very brief cameo would at least serve a purpose for Lena’s arc.

Finally, Rogelio and Lena had their father-daughter bond broken by Lena’s relationship. Despite being a massively crucial driving point for the entire film, we never see how this plotline is resolved, because both of them never said a word to each other during the last five minutes. Mere silence and brief glances mean nothing in the grander scheme of things. Instead, they both should at least have one long discussion prior to this scene to have either Lena and Rogelio put aside their differences, or Lena, regardless of what Rogelio feels, decides to live her life by her own accord. In addition, there should at least be a mention of Lena’s progress in life in the form of a mention of the scholarship proposal mentioned earlier in the film, which she decides to take.

All of these suggestions are very small additions, with each of them at least ranging from either thirty seconds, or roughly three minutes. By inserting all of these four in the closing moments, we could have had a much more complete, much more satisfying conclusion.

Overall, Kailangan Kita is a great family drama that manages to discuss colonial mentality and patriotism through a great character-driven narrative that manages to overcome its base level of depth. However, it is an overwhelmingly terrible romantic drama that does nothing unique to distinguish itself from others in the crowd, and is made more frustrating by its melodramatic and rushed ending. Though Aga Muhlach and Claudine Barretto both give everything that they have, in the end, its flaws outweigh its stronger points.

To better explain, this movie is just an average sandwich, wherein the contents within the slices of bread are delicious, but the bread surrounding said fillings are stale and underwhelming. I hereby grant this film a 14/25 (Okay?).



All this talk about food really got me hungry. Speaking of food, it is no secret that food is essential in our everyday lives. They give us strength, and perhaps something to be joyful for. We did mention awhile ago that eating is a custom that helps build bridges and mend fences between people. Of course, no such occasion would be successful with a horrendous menu. That is why, if you or your friends really want to have a fruitful festivity, we highly recommend that you go green. By "going green," we mean that you ought to have yourselves some salads.

Tuttle, the world's leading publisher of books discussing all things Asian, from culture, to economics, to obviously, food, has sent us a free copy of their latest book: "Asian Salads: 72 Inspired Recipes from Vietnam, China, Korea, Thailand and India" by writer Maki Watanabe. To give you a brief background on Ms. Watanabe, she is said to be active in the natural community, from forming a partnership with SHOP to create kitchen utensils, to writing various works on the topic. Her Japanese work, "Daily Side Salads" won the "Recipe Book Award" twice!


As the title of the book states, readers have access to 72 different salad recipes based on and inspired by various Asian recipes. As a salad lover myself, I wholeheartedly recommend that you give this book a shot. It allows not just culinary artists everywhere, but even inexperienced fellows such as I would be given the chance to experiment with various recipes. Through this book, you would be able to not just mix fruits, vegetables, and some sauces, but you would also be able to try with chicken, seafood, and meat.

So what are you waiting for? Buy now at your favorite bookstores near you, and happy salad making! (If that's even a phrase.)

And that's a wrap for our latest movie review. Be sure to check-out Gary Valenciano's theme song for the film, and stay tuned for more Dateline Movies! 

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Die Beautiful (2016)

Rated R-13: For Sensitive Themes, Strong Language, and Violence

Running Time: 2 hours (120 minutes)

Genre/s: Comedy, Drama

Released on December 25, 2016 (PH Release Date; Limited Release Only)

Presented by Octobertrain Films, The IdeaFirst Company, and Regal Entertainment

Writers: Rody Vera and Jun Robles Lana

Director: Jun Robles Lana

Starring:

  • Paolo Ballesteros as Trisha Echevarria / Patrick
  • Christian Bables as Barbs
  • Joel Torre as Papa
  • Gladys Reyes as Beth

“The road to beauty is ugly”, and that is a path explored in all of its grim glory in the 2016 tragicomedy film Die Beautiful.

Every year, the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) comes around Christmas Time to showcase the best of Filipino cinema, and back in 2016, audiences were treated to some of the festival’s best movie selections so far. Though I only got to see one movie at that time, the overall response from audiences and critics were enough for me to consider this as a high point for the event.

Among these films was the critically lauded Die Beautiful. Written and directed by Jun Robles Lana, the movie starred actor and social media sensation Paulo Ballesteros, who is renowned for his make-up impersonations of various artists, alongside Christian Bables, Joel Torre, and Gladys Reyes among others. Many praised the movie’s serious exploration of mature subject matter, and was also a box office success domestically and internationally. Its success lead to it being accepted as an entry to the biennial Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF), where it won the Audience Award.

As the title of this review implies, I have almost nothing but great words to say, with an emphasis on “almost.”

In the film, transgender Filipina Trisha Echevarria played by Ballesteros (My Bebe Love) struggles to achieve success by participating in beauty contests, all the while struggling to adjust to a society that widely shuns her for who she is. With her best friend Barbs, played by Bables (Signal Rock), Trisha also has to deal with issues such as family and her own personal demons.

Die Beautiful, for me, is more than just a film about understanding sexuality and the struggles that follow after coming into terms with it. I see this also as a “character study”. Like any good character study, we get to see the strengths and weaknesses of our main protagonist in full detail. We see how much of a human being Trisha Echevarria is.

All throughout her life, Trisha, then known as “Patrick”, has faced persecution from a lot of people that he encountered, from her father, played by Joel Torre (Jaqueline Comes Home), disapproving her sexuality, to her high school crush Migs, played by Albie Casino (Rainbow’s Sunset) being a jerk. Thanks to Ballesteros’ amazing, jaw-dropping performance that lead to him gaining so many accolades, we see Trisha as this human who has been tormented for so long that she has since become quite unsure on what would truly satisfy her.


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Like most films that I have watched, I have had my fair share of doubts prior to watching it, as I initially expected it to be a by-the-numbers, overly preachy movie that is trying so hard to push an agenda down my throat. My skepticism was immediately put to rest when I finally began to notice what the film is really trying to emphasize: her flaws. 

It might be easy to sympathize with Trisha after piecing together everything that she has been through, but the film constantly reminds us that, like each and every one of us, Trisha is just a human being. She might just be a person looking for acceptance and love, and can be ambitious and loving at times, but Trisha can also be ignorant, impulsive, and inconsiderate that she does not see the ugliness that lies in his pursuit for beauty.

She can be ignorant that she is willing to place all of her efforts on gimmicks over memorizing Q and A questions in desperate attempts to garner praise, even though that portion of the competitions is the most essential in winning.

She can be impulsive, especially when love is key. So much, that she is willing to fall in love and start a relationship with Miko, played by a male prostitute that she has barely gotten to know, or to blindly fall prey to whatever sinister desires her crush has in store.

She can be inconsiderate, even to the feelings of her adoptive daughter Shirley Mae, with her younger version played by Faye Alhambra (Barcelona: A Love Untold), and her older self played by Inah de Belen (Crazy Beautiful You), whom she forces to participate in beauty contests in later years.

Above all else, she is insecure. So much that even fate wouldn't let her answer the question that she most desires: the one asking about who would she want to be if she were reborn. Trisha does get that chance though, but only once she finally gains a sense of who she really needs to be: "nobody but herself."

The reason as to why I love these flaws is that none of them in any way destroy Trisha’s character, but instead each help make her a much more relatable, more realistic person. Each of them is a weakness that Trisha has to overcome, and each of them help define her stronger character straits just a little bit more. Die Beautiful makes it explicitly clear again and again that Trisha might not be a perfect person, but she is a very relatable one.
The film follows three distinct periods in Trisha’s life: her adolescence, her adulthood, and her eventual death. What makes this character study all the more intriguing than its in-depth analysis of the protagonist is the usage of a non-linear narrative over a more straightforward path. Its more mysterious approach does help keep moviegoers who are not keen on the drama aspect of the film excited and pondering as to what might happen next, and the alternating narratives also provides even more of an emotional impact to events that have only been briefly explored in earlier scenes.

In addition to the story at hand, there are plenty of other highlights from this film, and that includes the funny and heartwarming portrayal of Christian Bables as Trisha’s best friend Barbs. For his performance, he won Best Supporting Actor, and also gains two awards, much like his opposite lead.

Even for their brief appearances, Joel Torre and Gladys Reyes as Trisha’s father and sister Beth, respectively, also add some more emotional beats into the film. Case in point, Trisha’s reunion with Beth at a bakery, discussing about what has transpired over the many years that she left from their home, as well as the viewable deleted scene wherein Trisha’s father and Beth, with an armada of police officers, come to retrieve Trisha’s body, only to be swayed by Barbs. It really is sad that that scene was omitted from the final product, though it does feel out of place from the overall story.

I also have to highlight this one flashback when Trisha, heartbroken after the discovery that her new-found love is not that devoted after all, converses with Shirley Mae about love, to which Shirley Mae responds that Trisha only fell in love with the man is because Trisha believes that no one else will love her. Shirley Mae then tells Trisha that, as she understands love from the way Trisha cares for her all these years, Trisha deserves true love and happiness, and that she will find it soon. Thanks to Ballesteros and a simple and sweet performance from Faye Alhambara, I honestly almost teared-up when I watched it the second time, because it really is just a moving scene that showcases the family dynamic between the two characters.


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Though the second act becomes somewhat slower, I was nevertheless engaged all throughout, and I found myself wholeheartedly enjoying it … up until the third act, at least.

To clarify, I don’t mean that the film became terrible the moment we started reaching the end, but there are certain elements that made the falling action a little bit faulty.

Though the trailer makes it look like that this is a wholesome, family-friendly comedy, it really isn't. The film is heavily laden with sexually-charged dialogue, complete with abundant references to private parts that could be funny at some points, but could sometimes be overly repetitive.


There is also this one scene wherein a younger Trisha was forcefully raped by Migs and his friends which might be disturbing enough to get a certain point across, but also feels lengthy to the point that it could be trimmed down a bit. Again, I was honestly appalled when I saw that scene, especially with the somewhat more lighthearted moments that came prior, and I do believe that it did help raise some points about society's cruelty, but as I've said, the aftermath or the build-up could have been enough for me.

Then, there is this one character ...

After breaking-up with her former lover, Trisha comes across Jesse, played by Luis Alandy (Citizen Jake). After having a sweet and romantic encounter at a bar, they proceed to engage in an extramarital affair, even though Trisha is fully aware that Jesse is a married man. She nevertheless continues the relationship for six months because she enjoys the feeling of finally meeting someone who genuinely has feelings for her.

On the day after their sixth month anniversary, Jesse’s wife Diana, played by Jade Lopez (A Thief, A Kid, and A Killer) visits Trisha to inform her that Jesse is at a hospital, and wishes to talk to her before dying from leukemia. There, Trisha discovers that Jesse was among the people who gang-raped her. Jesse felt guilty, and attempted to mend fences with her, only to fall in love in the process. As anybody would normally react to the situation, Trisha is disgusted and leaves Jesse for good.
Initially, I honestly thought that Jesse's inclusion in the film felt like an afterthought. After watching it for the second time, I still think that his formal introduction is rushed to the point that it robs the emotional punch that the twist is supposed to deliver. I did, however, appreciate his role in the film as the final push for Trisha to finally be independent emotionally, and I do believe that Jesse's character arc is interesting and sensible, but is poorly executed.

One obvious way to fix this is to have Jesse appear in a lot of flashbacks. We could first introduce him as one of the few people who subtly ares about Trisha, but he could not show genuine affection in fear of being persecuted by his colleagues.

Later flashbacks would show that Jesse is there in a few of Trisha's competitions, watching and supporting him. These flashbacks would also show some very minimal interaction between the two characters that would further establish Jesse's growing attraction, such as Trisha consoling him about his conflicted preference. Only the hospital scene would give these scenes a newer interpretation.

I also have a few suggestions about how Jesse was involved in the rape scene, but considering that having Jesse appear in a better light would rob the ending scenes their complexity, I think having him searching for forgiveness before dying is perfect enough.

I do suggest that we could have had an additional scene, immediately after the incident, wherein Jesse is actually disgusted by his actions, convincing him to distance himself from his peers. Not only would that be in-line with the idea that there are people outside of Trisha's friends that really do love her, and though the appearance of actresses Iza Calzado (Bliss) and Eugene Domingo (Ang Babae sa Septic Tank) already echo this sentiment, this would provide an equally complex yet meaningful conflict. Besides, as far as the film goes, there isn't a single decent soul in their school that are not close to her and her friends.

Overall, Die Beautiful is an emotional and entirely moving feature that transcends its vulgarity excess and a few narrative pitfalls. Yes, there are some moments that are better left shortened or cut entirely, and though some characters are portrayed in a somewhat stereotypical light, this is indeed a mature movie that does not forget the heart.

I hereby grant this film an 18/20 (Pleasant Entertainment)

And here is where we end our latest movie review. For those who can't get enough of this amazing movie, take a look at three deleted scenes that the director posted on his Twitter account. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!




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Kita Kita / I See You (2017)

Rated PG: For Minimal Sensitive Themes

Running Time: 84 minutes (1 hour and 24 minutes)

Genre/s: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Released on July 19, 2017 (PH Release Date' Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Viva Films and Spring Films

Writer and Director: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo

Starring:
  • Alessandra de Rossi as Lea
  • Empoy Marquez as Anthony "Tonyo" Marquez

Watch the video version of this review below!




“Love is blind”, or in this case, “love makes you blind.” Such is the theme of this romantic comedy film, titled Kita Kita, or “I See You” in English.

Written and directed by independent filmmaker Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, Kita Kita stars longtime actress Alessandra de Rossi and comedian Empoy Marquez. When it was released on July 19, 2017, the film was labelled as a sleeper hit, and was received positively by both critics and audiences alike. It was popular on its release to the point that it became the highest grossing independent, Filipino movie of all time, and for good reasons. I mean, for a movie that only has a budget of 10 million pesos, that really is a major achievement.


In an industry plagued by romantic movies that resort to cliche-riddled storylines such as adolescent love triangles, or steamy love affairs, this one is definitely a breath of fresh air, which is a sentiment shared by almost everyone who had seen it. CNN Philippines even declared this as one of the “best romantic comedies in the last 25 years.” Though my expectations were admittedly pretty high, there was this part of me that thought that it would be disappointing. Imagine my surprise after watching it.

In the film, Sapporo-stationed tourist guide Lea, played by de Rossi (Kid Kulafu) goes temporarily blind after discovering that her fiancee was cheating on her. While she recovers, a man named Tonyo, played by Marquez (Bloody Crayons) invites her to tour the rest of Sapporo, Japan together, in an attempt to lift her spirits up.

The first thing that literally caught my attention was the film’s cinematography. Sapporo’s colorful and reinvigorating scenery, from interior locations to natural exterior sets really help sell how positively otherworldly and paradise-like the place is, and it helps establish the whimsical atmosphere the film is aiming for. Originally I thought the reason why they chose Sapporo for the movie was because it was “simply beautiful”, but looking back, I think that decision has some thematic significance to it.

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The theme of the film is all about appearances, and how they can deceive the naked eye, and Sapporo’s rich and exciting landscapes perfectly contrasts the realities Lea has to face (i.e. an unfaithful fiancee, an obvious lack of friends, and so on). Props to Ms. Bernardo and cinematographer Boy YƱiguez for giving us a very lively presentation.

I also have to give credit to Arlene Flerida Calvo for the sweet and bubbly score which further emphasizes the film’s sugary, syrup-y tone, and I do believe that one of the best parts of the movie that showed that is when both Lea and Tonyo are eating ramen noodles on one of their dates. As Tonyo states that he is the perfect match for Lea, the instrumentals really help bring about those “kilig” vibes, as we call them here.

The entire film can be summed as “two people touring Sapporo together.” Yes, the entire movie is just them exploring the various tourist traps of the country, all the while being completely dialogue-driven. “Dialogue-driven”, as in … it’s just them talking to each other for an hour and a half. The film also goes about as you would expect any rom-com from the last four decades or so would go about. One character is left heartbroken, until a character comes around and they both fall in love. You know, “formula.”

But I have to say, even though I could literally see this massive plot twist from five light years away (more on that later), this film really is good. Not just “average good”, as in “really good.” Most dialogue-driven movies have huge chances at becoming boring, but not Kita Kita. Every line, every corny, pop culture-related joke, every small moment of exposition, every single interaction is so heart-warming, and very relatable.

Here, we never get to hear cheesy exchanges such as “you’re the love of my life”, although we get to hear a slight variation by the third act. Instead, we get these real, human interactions that not only move the plot forward, but with every utterance from our two main characters, we get to know them more and more. For all the cynical comments from Lea, we know that she is more than just a totally heartbroken snob. For all of the one-liners Tonyo says, we know eventually that he has a really heartbreaking story of his own. 

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Frankly, these lines could not have been successfully delivered if it weren’t for the talented leads. In this two-character story, both Ms. de Rossi and Mr. Marquez manage to play and find balance with their respective strengths, with the latter inserting some lighthearted moments, and the former injecting some realism. I also commend Ms. de Rossi for actively willing to experiment with her role.

The screenplay overall is really decent, and I have to commend the extensive bits of foreshadowing here that adds the movie a rewatch bonus, which then brings us to what I believe is the most talked about part of the film: the plot twist.

As the film progresses, both Lea and Tonyo begin to fall for each other. As luck would have it, Lea begins to regain her lost sight while Tonyo and her are again exploring the streets of Sapporo at night. Tonyo, who stopped Lea and crossed a street for awhile to claim a teddy bear as a gift, is completely distracted by the sight of Lea fully healed that he did not see a speeding truck coming as he crossed the street again. Yep, Tonyo dies, guys. I guess you could say “love does make you blind”, huh?

The plot twist kicks-in a few days later. Lea is again heartbroken and somewhat returning to her slightly cynical state at the start of the movie. Noticing Tonyo’s completely empty house, Lea goes there, and as she reads a letter that Tonyo left behind prior to dying, we get a flashback from events that took place before the film itself. It turns-out Tonyo was heartbroken when his girlfriend dumped him. Distraught, he decided to drink all the alcohol in all of Sapporo, until the kind Lea shows him simple acts of kindness. Lea’s good nature then causes Tonyo to have feelings for Lea.

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In the near beginning, Lea, dressed as a heart, mentioned of a Banana Man that she hung-out with on the night her fiancee forgot about their anniversary. Well … surprise … Tonyo is the Banana Man, which is only surprising to those who have never seen a single movie outside of Kita Kita. Who else could it be, right? I’m pretty sure it couldn’t be Nobu, Lea’s fiancee, because that would just raise more questions.

As the letter comes to an end, Tonyo reveals that he is diagnosed with an enlarged heart, and that he might be dying as a result. Because of this, and upset that Lea is heartbroken, Tonyo is motivated to nurse Lea’s heart back to its better state, and also as a means to express his undying gratitude for Lea.

In other words, an infatuated Tonyo has been stalking Lea, as in every scene before his introduction, he was there, following Lea. I don’t know how else to say it, now that I think about it.

The revelation that Tonyo has an enlarged heart initially came-out of nowhere for me, but as I have previously mentioned, there are actually clever bits of foreshadowing that hints about Tonyo’s condition that none of which I never noticed before. Most of these hints are through Tonyo’s jokes, including his comment about pancit being able to extend one’s life, and in a scene where he is watering Lea’s plants, and he makes a joke that the plants are “losing their lives” (while also inserting a Plants vs. Zombies reference).

Probably the best foreshadowing bit for me is the whole heart and banana anthology. Whether intentional or not, once you realize that the “big-hearted” Tonyo is healing Lea’s broken heart in a sense, much like how bananas are good for the heart, the plot twist becomes even more obvious. I swear I am not over-thinking this.


Though as much as I love the extremely subtle hints about Tonyo’s enlarged heart, I do believe that they could have made some clearer hints, such as Tonyo growing easily tired sometimes, while he makes excuses that he just needs some more exercise, so that the plot twist wouldn’t feel out-of-place upon revelation. I actually thought for awhile that it would have been better if Tonyo died from his heart disease, but then it became apparent that the movie would just border on cheesy melodrama.

Sadly, even without the subtlety, the identity of the mysterious Banana Man would still be clear as day, because again, there are only four characters in this entire flick, and the other two introduced at the start are just relatively minor in significance. I once read that the film was supposed to have three main characters, and though I think it would help the plot twist less obvious, the film as a whole would feel much more generic. Still, they are good bits of foreshadowing.

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On the matter of Tonyo stalking Lea, there are reviewers out there who actually view the character as a malicious manipulator, and I do understand why they would have that sentiment. However, I do believe that calling Tonyo a “manipulator” might be a little too extreme.

Sure, he might have been following her creepily around, and he might have interfered in her life by orchestrating Lea’s discovery of her fiancee’s infidelity, I don’t think Tonyo did anything remotely evil to be called as one. If Tonyo was making Lea feel guilty through his sickness, then I guess that is the only time we can call him one. I think the best word to describe him is “misguided”, because again, Tonyo did not do remotely anything that can be considered harmful such as guilt-tripping or secret keeping, and the secret that he kept was hidden for justifiable reasons.

For a better understanding, let's compare Tonyo's case to the one in the movie Passengers, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. In that film, Mr. Pratt's Jim Preston, who was awoken prematurely by a an unexpected computer system failure, was lonely for a lengthy amount of time. In a desperate need to feed that isolation, Jim deliberately awakened Ms. Lawrence's Aurora Lane from cryogenic slumber, which ultimately dooms her to the same fate as Jim does: an early death. Combined with the fact that Jim had hidden this from her the entire film, this definitely counts as manipulation. With that in mind, I'm pretty sure Tonyo didn't do anything of that sort to Lea.

Overall, Kita Kita is a solidly crafted romantic comedy that clearly has more to offer than most films under the same genre. It might have cliches under its belt, but it has charming performances from both leads and a heartwarming screenplay to compensate. This film, even if you have watched it a lot of times before, never feels dull.

I hereby grant this film a 20/25 (Awesome!)

With that, we conclude yet another movie review. But before we leave, be sure to listen to KZ Tandingan's rendition of "Two Less Lonely People" by Air Supply, a cover which is included in the film's soundtrack. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Rated PG-13: For Violence

Running Time: 136 minutes (2 hours and 16 minutes)

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

Released on April 4, 2014 (US Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures



Inspired by the "Winter Soldier" story arc by Ed Brubaker



"Captain America" Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby



Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring:
  • Chris Evans as Steven "Steve" Rogers / Captain America
  • Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
  • Sebastian Stan as James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes / Winter Soldier
  • Anthony Mackie as Samuel "Sam" Wilson / Falcon
  • Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Nicholas "Nick" Fury

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"The price of freedom is high." The modern world is a complicated place to be. With wars brewing, with today's technology becoming tomorrow's doomsday devices, with conspiracies popping-up here and there, who can we trust in a world where there is no one left to be trusted? This is the question that Captain America: The Winter Soldier asks the audience.

In this film, superhero, Avenger, and recently inducted S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Steve Rogers, played by Evans (Gifted) joins fellow Avenger and S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague Natasha Romanoff, played by Johansson (Isle of Dogs) in uncovering the darkest secrets lurking with their agency. Their efforts in search of the truth leads them to cross paths with the enigmatic assassin known only as the "Winter Soldier," played by Stan (The Martian), forcing Steve to confront the demons of his past.

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After Captain America: The First Avenger featured the titular hero in his traditional Second World War setting, the filmmakers were left with a challenge on what to do with the character next. As the setting has been updated to the modern era, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and The Russo Brothers, the directors, were left with the challenge on conceptualizing the next adventure for the Star-Spangled Man with the Plan. The result is a movie that does not focus on the mystical threat, but instead on very real problems that we all fear in our everyday lives such as government conspiracies, political sabotage, and urban terrorism. The film makes perfect use of its superhero source material by emphasizing more on Steve's more optimistic worldview, in contrast to society's more cynical outlook, by having our main protagonist come to terms with the changes of time, with a healthy dose of political commentary in the process. 

Here, Steve, after being thawed from his six decades of cryogenic freezing, struggles with keeping-up with the changes in the world. He, played so effortlessly by the complete embodiment of the character, Chris Evans, clings so desperately to any sort semblance to his idealistic time period, from having to have regular visits to his former lover and S.H.I.E.L.D. co-founder, Margaret "Peggy" Carter, played by Hayley Atwelll (Cinderella Remake), who is now dying and is diagnosed with a severe case of the Alzheimer's Disease, to joining a government agency just to combat more political enemies, much like the one he fought in the war. He even visits the local museum, just to get a sense of nostalgia.

However, Steve does try to adjust to his new setting, as hinted by the humorous gag of him listing all of the pop-culture sensations that he has to experience for himself, including Star Wars. He even manages to sympathize with former para-rescue man Sam Wilson, who is portrayed at the character's best by Mackie, complete with a compelling backstory about being a survivor in the battlefield. Visually, there is something that helps further cements the movie's theme of adaptation to changes, and that is the updated, more tightened fight choreography. Not only does this show that, over the short time that he has out of the ice, Steve has managed to adjust a little, this hints to the audience the full capabilities that Steve has as a superhero. He might be strong and can carry a giant metallic Frisbee, but he is also very agile and reflexive. Seriously, a lot of the action scenes are very well choreographed, with my personal favorite being the intense elevator fight sequence and the introductory fight against a pirate named Georges Batroc, played by real-life mixed martial artist George St. Pierre (Never Surrender). Though admittedly the fight scenes are hyper-edited to point of nausea, as noted by the multiple, over-edit cuts in the film, the cameras at least keep it focused on the action and the energy. And yes, Henry Jackman's underrated score completely fits this film's espionage tone, with among my favorites being his score for the highway fight scene.

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For Steve, the lines between good and evil are further blurred when he learns about S.H.I.E.L.D.'s latest security initiative known as Project: Insight. With Project: Insight, S.H.I.E.L.D. would be able to make use of algorithms to kill any potential threats based on people's records, with the use of three, heavily-armed Hellicarriers. Steve dislikes this idea, noting this as a sign of inciting fear. But Steve has his concerns rebuffed by Nick Fury, who is given much more depth and acted in a better fashion from Samuel L. Jackson. Plus, his improvised monologue pertaining to his grandfather also did help establish Fury's interesting perspective more, and his stance is all the more conflicted by having to work with somewhat shady figures like Black Widow, who is also given more depth, if just a little, and is given much more emotional resonance than before by Scarlett Johansson. 

Steve's struggles to adjust to the present is made even more complicated with the revelation that HYDRA, the very enemy that he fought to destroy in the 1940s, has been infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. ever since the agency's inception. Robert Redford's Alexander Pierce is the leader of this latest incarnation, and Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes, now rechristened as the Winter Soldier, is his primary assassin. Steve's past has literally come back to haunt him, and not only have they returned to smite their will all over the world, they have changed. No longer are they the typical would-be world conquerors straight-out of retro comicbooks and cartoons, they are now, in their own way, a radical peacekeeping organization hellbent on actual order. Order through chaos, at least. This startles Steve as though sinister their actions might be, what they have done have truly shaped centuries, as elaborated by the charismatic Redford. Captain America, for the first time in his entire life, is forced to combat enemies who might actually have a point.

Despite the many valid points that Pierce makes, including that being able to predict and eliminate potential threats before said threats manage to perform a crime could reduce the chaos, Steve relents, knowing that there is no peace if one maniacal agency is at the top of the food chain. He resists, and in a symbolic action, Steve uses the costume that he wore back in the Second World War, which he retrieved from the Smithsonian Museum where an amusing Stan Lee cameo is featured. He then rallies all of his friends with a speech that reminds them and the audience that yes, "the price of freedom is high." Though security would be achieved through violent and sinister means, none of them would make us any better than the very enemies that we strive to eliminate. Instead, it takes courage and honesty to bring about peace. As Councilman Singh, played by Bernard White (American Dreamz), said in a standout scene of him answering Pierce's question about potential threats, he would do anything to prevent any incident from happening, but "not if it's [Pierce's] switch."

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With that said, Steve, sticking to his beliefs, battles all of HYDRA's personnel, with an army of loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in tow, even going as far as to do everything that he can to bring back his best friend from HYDRA's control. While Steve, Sam, and Natasha work to rescue the World Security Council, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s overseeing committee, we get to see how much is lost from this battle. The Russos Brothers definitely did an amazing job in highlighting the stakes by showing how numerous S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, from desk workers to air-units, fought and are killed in the process, all of which completely reflects Steve's harrowing reality. Not being the person to give-up, Steve stands his ground, even if Bucky nearly kills him. He succeeds in bringing him back, and the battle is won, but the consequences are high. Steve wakes-up from recovery to a world that is now filled with mistrust and paranoia. Things that he himself felt all throughout the film. But Steve is confident that he could still fight for what is right, despite being a stranger in a familiar land. After all, he is just getting started.

In all honesty, it is particularly difficult to find faults in this film, outside of the technicalities that I have previously mentioned. However, if there is one thing that is definitely worth the criticism, it would have to be the revelation of HYDRA's infiltration. Now, don't get me wrong. On first viewing, I actually enjoyed this twist, as this shows how much of a serious threat that the terrorist organization has become over the years (to the point that they might as well be this universe's iteration of the conspiracy theory-linked Illuminati). However, as with most commenters would say, the plot twist that an ancient, evil organization has been pulling the strings the entire time does reduce the conflict from "man versus society" to a more black and white "good versus evil" conflict. In other words, this renders an initially complex film to a basic superhero tale.

In one amazing, spine-chilling scene of Steve and Natasha encountering a secretly alive Arnim Zola, played by Toby Jones (The Hunger Games Series), one of HYDRA's top scientist back in the war, who has since transferred his consciousness to a supercomputer, reveals that HYDRA has been "feeding chaos, reaping war" for the world to surrender its freedom willingly. They allowed deaths and disasters to happen, and they continue to do so for HYDRA to slowly take control of everyone through fear. Again, I personally believe that this is a decent compelling twist that truly illustrates the terrors of a malevolent invisible hand orchestrating events in their favor, but perhaps it would have been better if Alexander Pierce and his cohorts are not affiliated with HYDRA.  We could have Pierce, instead a paranoid government figure and radical peacekeeping officer, become unwittingly a pawn in a more complex scheme due to HYDRA's manipulations. This way, the moral argument about "the ends justifying the means" would remain intact, while expanding further the threat that is HYDRA.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier has and will always have a special place in my heart for being the film that truly elevated the Marvel Cinematic Universe to more thought-provoking and bolder heights. We have interesting and compelling villains, in-depth characterization for all figures involved, and an overall well done modernization of a seemingly outdated source material, which could have been particularly dull if it were not for the efforts put into the filmmaking process. Though some cliches are apparent, and some characters such as the Winter Soldier himself and Crossbones are not as fleshed-out as they should, with the conflict between Steve and Bucky being completely downplayed in favor of the HYDRA story, and though there are some flaws in the technicalities, this is definitely a major turning point for the franchise. One that is also aided by an ever-charismatic cast of actors. I hereby grant this film a score of 21/25 (Awesome!)

I still highly regard this as my favorite MCU film of all time. The fact that it even managed to reintroduce a Golden Age superhero to modern audiences, complete with some intriguing spins and commentaries is something that should truly be commended for. As we conclude this review, feel free to take a look at three of my personal favorite scenes from the film. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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