Movie Review: Kusina Kings May Be Undercooked, But Will Fill You With Laughter

TL;DR: Kusina Kings (Kitchen Kings) is heavily flawed, but it succeeds just by being funny.

Victor Villenueva’s follow-up to the sweet Cebuano dark comedy Patay na si Hesus (Jesus is Dead) & his first film for a mainstream studio is sadly a disappointment. It suffers from a lot of problems that for some reason plague most Filipino mainstream comedies. And yet, Kusina Kings (Kitchen Kings) plows through all of these problems by being flat out funny.

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Its premise is way too complicated than its trailers let on. Benjie (Empoy Marquez) realizes his dream of opening a restaurant with the help of his longtime best friend Ronnie (Zanjoe Marudo). Unfortunately, no one patronizes their business & soon find themselves scrambling their way out of bankruptcy. Benjie joins the Kusina Kings challenge out of desperation, where he can fight renowned chef & restaurateur Gian Nyeam (Ryan Bang) for money & glory. However, if Benjie loses, he has to forfeit his restaurant to Gian. Even Benjie’s sister Jenny (Nathalie Hart) returns to help out but her lack of cooking skills & experience in restaurant management causes more harm than good. Meanwhile, Ronnie invests most of their money in a fraudulent pyramid scheme thinking it will help the restaurant. Benjie is furious after he found out what Ronnie did & they both get into a huge fight that ends with Ronnie walking out of the restaurant. In the middle of all of this,

On his way back to the restaurant, Ronnie catches a cockroach that stuck to him & unknowingly flings it inside the restaurant. It causes a huge commotion that leaves Benjie in a coma after a refrigerator lands on his head. Injured & hospitalized, Benjie’s soul is now stuck in limbo, and the only way for him to return to his body is to literally take care of his unfinished business & ensure that they won’t lose the Kusina Kings challenge. He can’t do it on his own – since he is a literal soul – so he enlists the help of Ronnie, even if he’s still mad at him, disapproves of his total disregard for following the recipe & loathes his attraction to Jenny. Ronnie partly does it out of guilt for causing Benjie & Jenny so much trouble & it won’t take long for them to find out what really happened.

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There’s so much stuff going on in the film as it piles contrived situations to put its characters in its setup that the clumsy plotting feels like a bunch of ideas smushed together. There are some attempts at giving both Benjie & Ronnie their own arcs, but it’s shoved aside in favor of focusing on their main goal to rescue the restaurant. Its attempts at slapstick humor whenever Empoy Marquez forcibly moves Zanjoe Marudo’s body doesn’t work because both are just too stiff & awkward to pull it off. Add the fact that it sometimes succumbs to lazy joke writing by substituting pop culture references for punchlines & overexplaining jokes, & the end result is a mediocre effort from one of the most promising film directors working today.

However, there’s no reason to doubt Villenueva’s talents & instincts as a director, because once it settles down into a rhythm, the loose, ridiculous plot becomes a vessel for a barrage of inspired silliness & endearingly dumb dirty jokes. It’s a live-action cartoon full of absurd gags & daffy wordplay, tossing it to the audience as fast as it could while often badly explaining what the joke was. The dirty jokes are achingly sincere & childish in nature, it’s easier to embrace them even if some of these are more likely to induce an eyeroll rather than a laugh. Everyone in the cast carries the material they’re working with & clearly having a blast, which translates to the film’s warm, lighthearted vibe. It’s definitely a flawed film, but comedies are supposed to make you laugh & this one definitely did the trick. Sometimes that’s enough.

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Guy with Internet Access’ Incomplete List of 2018 Films You Need to Catch Up On Pt. 1

2018 continues to be a godsend, at least when it comes to the movies.

We’re more than halfway from the year & we have a wide variety of films that I could easily turn into a Top 10 list for 2018 & I’d walk away satisfied. From Hollywood blockbusters, Filipino romantic comedies, & arthouse hits, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. I certainly loved all of these films.

Since we’re flooded with a deluge of films this month just with the start of Cinemalaya & Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Feast of Filipno Cinema) alone – and that doesn’t even include the likes of Buybust, Christopher Robin, & Teen Titans Go to the Movies on this week alone – let’s recap what notable films released in 2018 are worth catching up on.

Let’s set up some rules. In order to be included in the list, it needs to be released before August 2018. If it’s a contender for Oscars 2018 that was only released this year, it counts as a 2017 film. More importantly, I need to have seen the films in order to be eligible. If it didn’t make the cut, it either means I missed it out on these films or I didn’t love it enough to include it in the list. (This is where I’ll admit I barely saw any films from CineFilipino & Sinag Maynila, so this list will be shorter than it should be.)

Without further ado, here is the incomplete list of 2018 films you need to catch up on, ranked in alphabetical order:

Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes (The Two Mrs. Reyes)

Two scorned women conniving to break up their respective husbands’ loving relationship for each other sounds like a nasty, horrible concept for a movie, but in the hands of Jun Robles Lana – who also made a bunch of modern queer Filipino classics like Bwakaw & Die Beautiful – it’s a beginner’s guide into understanding & embracing the LGBTQIA+ community that doubles as a hilarious, empathetic farce.

Ang Panahon ng Halimaw (Season of the Devil)

Lav Diaz’s latest film suffers from a few problems, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful or urgent. This four-hour “rock opera” set during the height of Martial Law links the current horrors we’re facing in the Duterte administration, operating as a stirring lamentation for a country vulnerable to oppression & authoritarian rule, & a rousing battle cry to fight against its continuous rise.

A Quiet Place

This debut from John Krasinski takes the idea of monsters who can only detect prey through sound & uses it as a launchpad for clever, anxiety-inducing horror, backed with a masterful sound design that makes it one of the few films that improve if seen in a movie theater. That alone is an accomplishment, but at the center of A Quiet Place is an affecting story about parents willing to do anything for their children to protect them from a post-apocalypic landscape, & their children learning to grow up & survive without them. It’s a familiar tale told through an outlandish, horrifying circumstances.

Bao

Ignore every white person who were confused & derisive about this short. Domee Shi serves up a poignant ode to overprotective parents that’s unmistakably Asian – especially to Chinese families – & delivers on Pixar’s knack of making you cry in the theater in the span of 8 minutes.

Black Panther

Diminishing Black Panther‘s cultural cachet as a result of political correctness simplifies everything that makes it great & anyone who assumes this is very likely an asshole. Sure, it is unapologetically black & deeply aware of the horrors brought by colonialism, slavery, & racism, but it’s also an entertaining Marvel superhero movie in the form of a political family drama, full of sarcastic one-liners, ruminations on what means to be good, & war rhinos. This is Marvel at its most thoughtful & delightful.

Blockers

Updating old, harmful tropes is a tricky task, but it’s one that Blockers pulls off with ease. It’s another film about parents freaking out that their daughters are interested in sex like actual human beings, but instead of propagating harmful ideas about parental codependency & female sexuality, this filthy, hilarious comedy subverts it to deliver a warm, touching story about loosening one’s grip on your child, & the terrors of butt-chugging.

Citizen Jake

As Mike de Leon’s swan song, Citizen Jake is didactic, clunky, half-baked, & surprisingly amateurish from one of the best Filipino directors, but the audacity & anger pulsing through this personal, experimental film warrants your attention. Even if his attempts to hash out vendettas left & right whether they deserve it or not – I understand his deep anger for the Marcoses but what the hell is up with that random Ambeth Ocampo aside – results in a messy, self-indulgent movie, this is still an ambitious, compelling portrait of privilege & one’s complicity within a corrupt system.

Dirty Computer

God bless Janelle Monae. Not only did she dropped one of the best albums of 2018, she accompanied it with an “emotion picture” that is as rich & diverse as its source material. It adapts the songs from Dirty Computer – which are more personal & political than she’s done before – into visually astounding music videos & frames almost all of them as her memories which are deleted one by one, in a dystopian world that tagged her as “subversive” for being different. It’s far from a downer though, as it’s a joyous defiance against a ruthless, heteronormative society that may take its cues from the current state of our world, but one that’s hopeful for the future.

Ghost Stories

The Ghost Stories in the title refer to the three unsolved paranormal cases investigated by a famous skeptic, brought to him by the skeptic he idolizes. These stories offer traditional scares, but executed with effortless skill & sophistication, resulting in an anthology film without a single clunker in its lineup. But another mystery slowly unravels amidst his investigation, and drags the audience headfirst into a twisted tale of a man whose guilt manifests itself in surprising ways.

Hereditary

A24 continues its trend of distributing innovative horror films by producing one of their own. This feature-length debut from Ari Aster is a harrowing drama about grief, mental illness & the inevitability of family trauma built on top of an unnerving, oppressive horror film, where every scene drips with unescapeable tension & a simple cluck can horrify an audience. It also has one of the best acting ensembles of 2018, led by Toni Collette as a woman trying to keep herself from falling apart under unusual, horrible circunstances & failing to doing so.

The Incredibles 2

I don’t think The Incredibles 2 was able to outdo its predecessor. How can you even top a masterpiece? That doesn’t mean it wasn’t close. It might be burdened by a ton of ideas about superheroism that make it messy, but the ambition to probe its own genre continues to be enthralling & at combining it with a grounded story about the hardships of coparenting makes it even sweeter. Not to mention Brad Bird’s knack for creating thrilling action sequences with wit & clarity is on full display here, as best exemplified by Elastigirl’s frentic chase narrowly twisting & turning into the metropolis to stop a runaway train while she rides a motorcycle that can split up in half to accomodate her powers.

Isle of Dogs

Accusations of cultural appropriation & its usage of a white savior aren’t completely unfounded, & yet to say that it completely tanks the film is misguided either. Wes Anderson creates one of the most frustrating films of the year, where he pushes his usual preoccupations to newer heights by telling a fable about creeping fascism & oppression through the eyes of his beloved animals in gorgeous detail that shows his deep love & reverence for Japanese arts & culture, while once again revealing his lack of cultural sensitivities with his shallow interpretation of Japan that often veers into noxious Japanese stereotypes without meaning to. This distracts, yet rarely detracts, one of Wes Anderson’s most entertaining films in recent years.

Journeyman Finds Home: The Simone Rota Story

This is the only feature-length entry I’ve seen in Sinag Maynila 2018, & I’m lucky it’s this one. This inspiring documentary details the life of Simone Rota, an orphan adopted by an Italian couple in the Philippines who raised him in their home country & how his love of football put him on track back to his homeland as a member of the Philippines’ national football team. Now that he’s here, he decides to search for his biological parents while giving back to the community. It’s a rousing sports doc that gently builds into a tale of gratitude & acceptance about one’s place in the world & how to better it in your own way.

Love, Simon

We should be thankful that Love, Simon was not only adapted into a movie, but also backed by a major Hollywood studio – farewell 20th Century Fox – and distributed all over the world. That’s because it focuses on a closeted gay teen trying not to be outed by his blackmailer in this heartfelt coming-of-age film. That may seems like something out of a thriller, and it often plays as such, but it’s also warm, compassionate look at the importance of “coming out” to members of the LGBTQIA+ community & the repercussions of doing so, whether good or bad. Hopefully, someone who hasn’t come out yet gets to watch it for a chance to exhale, if only for a bit.

Magbuwag Ta Kay (Let’s Break Up, Kay)

One of the biggest bummers of 2018, besides everything else, is Magbuwag Ta Kay disappearing in cinemas after one week of its limited release. It’s not even showing in microcinemas anymore. It’s a shame, because this delightful Cebuano romantic comedy about a couple deciding to break up when one of them is emmigrating overseas inverts the established tropes of the current romantic comedies obsessed with kilig & hugot, affirming that there’s more to life than romantic love.

Meet Me in St. Gallen

Irene Villamor directed her first film on her own with the critically acclaimed Camp Sawi (Camp for the Broken-hearted) in 2017 – which sadly I still haven’t caught yet – but this year proved she’s a voice worth following by releasing two films about bittersweet romances that invigorate the genre with only a few months apart. The first of these movies is Meet Me in St. Gallen, about a chance encounter between two dreamers who find solace in each other for one night that turns into a meditation on missed opportunities & the inevitability of regret caused by the compromises we made, regardless of whether we did out for our own good.

Mr. & Mrs. Cruz

The latest film from Sigrid Andrea Barretto (Lorna, Kita-Kita) came & left the theaters without any buzz. Unlike Magbuwag Ta Kay, few microcinemas & legal streaming sites have picked up the slack from dooming this lovely film to oblivion. Pairing a cishet man & woman who never met before together on a trip to a tourist destination to find themselves after heartbreak may not be as novel as it used to be a few years ago, but not only does Mr. & Mrs. Cruz demonstrate why it’s an effective trope with her sharp, witty dialogue & excellent performances from JC Santos & Ryza Cenon, it becomes a showcase for Barretto’s knack for balancing whimsy & heartbreak – resulting in two of the most memorable scenes of the year – and gradually pushing back against the formula until it offers its own take on what a happy ending looks like.

Never Not Love You

Antoinette Jadaone’s most mature & satisfying film finds her & JaDine entering new territory. Never Not Love You starts off normally enough, with the couple instantly hitting it off, before it thrusts us into one of the best takes on choosing between love & career, where it exhibits how a relationship is a constant negotiation between helping your partner or focusing on your own growth, and whether love can survive in the process.

Paddington 2

The first Paddington surprised everyone with its delightful mix of a heartwarming story of an immigrant who just happens to be a bear finding his place in London & its unmistakably British sense of humor. Just like every great sequel, Paddington 2 expands on everything that made the first one such a warm, lovely treat & adds Hugh Grant’s inspired performance as a vain, conniving failed actor stuck doing dog commercials. For almost two hours, it’s a funny, heartfelt treatise on empathy & kindness jam-packed with humor & emotion.

Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)

Irene Villamor’s second film this year differs from Meet Me in St. Gallen by creating a bittersweet romance out of an oft-ignored aspect in romantic comedies. A ridiculously rich stockbroker suffering from insomnia pays a plucky, hardworking woman with at least three jobs to accompany him during his sleepless nights. It sounds gimmicky, but it illustrates how the stark class divisions in the Philippines affect every aspect of our lives, including our relationships.

Sin Island

Star Cinema decided to bank on a sexually charged film as their film for Valentines’ Day & we’re treated to one of the dumbest & trashiest Filipino films in recent memory. That’s not an insult. Completely witless & predictable, Sin Island rises above these flaws for operating on pure id – admittedly built on toxic ideas about monogamy – and presenting it with the utmost style & sincerity even as it amps up the insanity, producing one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

This is America

Donald Glover’s latest single is a great song on its own, but what takes it to another level is its music video directed by Hiro Murai. Donald Glover tours us into a twisted, surreal funhouse mirror of America where he navigates us between multiple modes of blackness to reveal a nation loves to appropriate black culture while ignoring the plight of black people. It’s a compelling work that gains its power for simultaneously being confrontational & obtuse about its deeper meaning.

Unsane

Steven Soderbergh’s latest film is a grimy, violent exploitation film about exploitation. A mentally distressed woman seeks help in a behavioral center after memories of her stalker continue to haunt her. Instead, she’s once again taken into a system that doesn’t address her needs & takes advantage of her at every step of the way. Being shot with an iPhone 7 Plus amps up the claustrophobia, trapping us in the facility & her troubled mind.