Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ben Hur

DIRECTOR:  Timur Bekmambetov  LEAD CAST:  Jack Huston, Tobby Kebbel, Morgan Freeman, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi  SCREENWRITER: Keith Clarke; John Ridley  PRODUCER: Mark Burnett; Sean Daniel  EDITOR: Dody Dorn, Richard Francis-Bruce  Bob Murawski  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Marco Beltrami  GENRE: Drama, Action CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Pliver Wood  DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pics, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer  FILMING LOCATIONS: USA, Italy  RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes  
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  4
CINEMA rating:  PG 13
MTRCB rating: PG
Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, Messala Severus (Tobby Kebbel) who had since leaving home been appointed by Pontius Pilate as an officer in the Roman army.  Stripped of his rank and dignity, and separated from wife Esther (Nazanin Boniadi)  and his family, Judah is forced to hard labor at sea in a Roman warship. After five years of enslavement, he is washed ashore and rescued by Sheikh Ilderim (Morgan Freeman). Pleading with Ilderim to take him with him to Jerusalem, Ben Hur wins the favor of the wealthy sheikh by proving himself as an expert at the treatment of horses. Ben Hur soon agrees to Ilderim’s scheme to have him race chariots in the circus against the reigning champion, Messala.  Offering a hefty wager in exchange for Ben Hur’s freedom, Ilderim persuades Pilate to accept Ben Hur in the races. Seeking revenge, Ben Hur instead finds redemption.
Ben Hur is one proof that a compelling story can be the foundation of a marvelous film. A re-imagining of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ”, the 2016 film is helmed by Timur Bekmambetov who found in the script an “incredibly meaningful story, impressing with not just sensational action but with line-up of amazing life-like characters and deep thinking, with emotions and actions that are relatable and have a modern, universal resonance.”  The smartly chosen cast and their superb performances provide the spine for the realism of the film, enhanced by spot-on cinematography an dialogue, fabulous production sets, costumes (clothes of biblical times with a 21st century twist), sound effects, music, and CGI that portrays history without the histrionic outbursts of computer driven action movies.
Ben Hur teaches without preaching, and respects the intelligence of the viewer.  Noteworthy is the subtle interweaving of Ben Hur’s journey and the mission of Jesus—two parallel threads that pull the pieces together towards a logical and satisfying resolution of a fraternal conflict.  Ben Hur is more than just a story of chariot racing.  Families can relate to the characters, for it is a story about brothers, about family, about love and hate in equal parts and the unique conflict the mixture spawns.  It reminds families of how our loved ones disappoint us, how badly we treat the ones we love, how often the call for forgiveness falls on our deaf ears, and how freedom may be won through forgiveness and compassion.  A must-see.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


DIRECTOR:  Henry Joost, Ariel Schuman  LEAD CAST: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn, Marc John Jefferies, Colson Baker, Brian Marc, Ed Squires  PRODUCER: Allison Shearmur SCREENWRITER: Jessica Sharzer, based on a novel by Jeanne Ryan  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Micheal Simmonds  EDITOR: Madeleine Gavin, Jeff McEvoy  DISTRIBUTOR:  Lionsgate  GENRE: Techno-thriller, drama  LOCATION: United States  RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMA rating:  V14
Extrovert high schooler Sydney (Emily Meade) eggs on her sidekick Vee (Emma Roberts) to join “Nerve”, an app where joiners may be either “watcher” or “player”.  Watchers pay a subscription fee while players complete dares to get paid out of the watchers’ pot.  Watchers vote on the dares players are assigned to do.  If players reject or bail on a dare, they’re out, but if they complete a dare, their cash prize goes directly into their bank account.  They’re also provided an option to go on to the next round.  Tired of being a wallflower, Vee joins as a player.  Her first dare is to kiss a stranger at a diner.  The charming guy he kisses, Ian, has actually been planted there to complete his own dare, dancing on the tabletops.  Their chemistry is cheered by the watchers; from then on Vee and Ian team up for more dares, each one more deadly than then last.
In keeping with its theme, the directors used every trick possible to keep the movie’s energy level zooming high, its visuals distinctive, and its soundtrack pulsating.  This is most apparent in (spoiler coming) the dare that has the motorcycle driver whizzing
blindfolded through New York’s crazy traffic.  It would be next to pointless to nitpick on the technical aspects of Nerve.  Its compelling story told in breakneck speed more than redeems the minor technical flaws.  The fact that Nerve can get the viewers to be emotionally involved, to care for the characters as though they themselves were Nerve watchers, means that whatever technical skills the film needed to deliver its message, Nerve supplied.
Nerve resounds with a loud voice of social commentary.  It takes us into the darker realms of cyberspace while keeping track of what’s happening in the real world.  Its Philippine debut coincides with the introduction in the country of the location-based, augmented reality game Pokemon Go, giving us a foresight into the perils of such games.  While involvement in the Nerve app initially offers players and watchers fun (like Pokemon Go), a deeper look into the motivation of Nerve players reveals serious issues concerning self-image.  Why would young people venture into death-defying dares at all cost? Young people in Nerve tend to yield to peer pressure, and would not think twice about endangering their life—defying authority and common sense—for easy money and internet fame.  CINEMA will not reveal Nerve’s ending; suffice it to say that it is clear enough for the film to be given an Acceptable moral assessment.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Eye in the sky

DIRECTOR: Gavin Hood  LEAD CAST: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen  SCREENWRITER: Guy Hibbert  PRODUCERS: Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, David Lancaster  MUSIC BY: Paul Hepker, Mark Kilian  FILM EDITOR: Megan Gill  GENRE: Drama, Mystery, Suspense  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Haris Zambarloukos  PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Johnny Breedt  ART DIRECTOR: Graemie Cowe  PRODUCTON COMPANIES: Entertainment One, Raindog Films  DISTRIBUTED BY: Entertainment One, Bleecker Street  COUNTRY: United Kingdom, South Africa  LANGUAGE: English  FILMING LOCATIONS: South Africa  RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating: V14
The murder of a colleague in the service by Al-Shabaab terrorist group triggers UK-based military officer Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) to command a high profile mission for the capture of the terrorist group in Kenya. Through aerial surveillance remotely controlled in Kenya, UK, Nevada and Hawaii, they uncover a planned attack of two suicide bombers. This development prompts Powell to change objectives from capturing the terrorist to killing them. However, American pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), refuses to release the bomb when he sees that a young girl in the nearby building will surely be part of the casualty. This triggers international dispute between the US and British governments concerning modern warfare.  Which will have more weight? Propaganda or international security? Whose life is more valuable? The thousand of would be victims or that of one little girl?
 Eye in the Sky has a strong plot and develops well. The storytelling pieced together through surveillance cameras speaks of a masterfully crafted production. The well written screenplay has several meanings. Excellent performances from Mirren, Paul and Adbi further elevate the characterizations. Production design and cinematography successfully depict a realistic setting.  The lights and sound are likewise fine. Noteworthy is the silence right after the explosion. Overall, the film is technically commendable.

Life is precious and it is never an easy decision to choose between two lives. It is an utmost undertaking especially when time is of the essence and not only one but many innocent lives are in danger against heartless terrorists. This is what transpired in the movie Eye in the Sky. The leadership of Powell illustrates a spirituality that recognizes God and implores His divine intervention amidst a chaotic situation.  While logical thinking and strategic tactics are applied in executing the plan to turn down the targets, this film remains to have a heart and cares even for a single life.  However, violence is inevitable as this is a war film, but the film gains relevance as it portrays how war dehumanizes man in an age when the decision to take lives rests in the hands of power wielders sitting in comfortable offices far removed from the war zones.