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Friday, March 24, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Direction: Bill Condon;  Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci; Story: based on Disney and Jeanne-Maria Leprince de Mount Beauty and the Beast; Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spoliotopoulos; Cinematography: Todias Schiessler; Producer: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman; Music: Alen Menken; Genre: Fantasy/Musical; Distributor: Walt Disney Motion Picture; Location: France  Running Time: 129 minutes;
Technical assessment :  3.5
Moral assessment : 4
MTRCB rating : G
Cinema rating : VA (Viewers of all ages)
During the 18th century France, a self-absorbed Prince (Stevens) is cursed and transformed into a hideous Beast after he turns away an enchantress disguised as a beggar looking for shelter. The rest of the castle’s household are transformed into objects and their existence is erased from the mind of the villagers. The enchantress gives Beast a rose and tells him that the curse will remain unless he learns to love and earns the other person’s love in return before the last petal falls. Meanwhile, Belle (Watson), a young free spirited lady who loves books and adores her father is laughed at by the entire village for her strangeness. One night, Maurice (Kline), Belle’s equally eccentric father, is captured and imprisoned by Beast for trying to steal a rose in his garden. Belle travels to the castle and frees Maurice in exchange for herself. In the process, Belle and the Beast discover each other’s real self and eventually fall in love. But Gaston (Evans), a vain soldier who will stop at nothing so he can marry Belle, stands in the way as a threat to their love and life.
Beauty and the Beast has an important factor playing both for and against it. It precedes a successfully popular animated version. Automatically, there is a captive audience familiar with the set up and music on the one hand and an outstanding version quite hard to forget and match. Production-wise, the live version is impeccable. Every last detail is either a charming replica of the animation bringing memories for the older generation and enchantment to the first time viewers. The music is familiar and enhanced with the modern interpretation and some new inspired songs. Evan’s Gaston is iconic and made memorable with his performance. Kline’s Maurice is a thoughtful and honest. We cannot same the same with Watson’s Belle and the CGI’d Beast. They just feel flat and sluggish in delivering their lines and belting the songs amidst the textures of the production. The single expression on Watson makes her a weak heroine. (Also there is too much Hermoine in her). The choreographies are unexciting as well. While the movie is indeed faithful to the animated version, it feels a little too faithful offering nothing new except it is no longer animated. Nonetheless, it still is a must-see film that transitions literature into animation and live action.
The movie celebrates individuality and acceptance. Belle, Maurice, Agatha (the enchantress) and Beast are misfits. But then, when we come to know their hearts and see them for the persons they really are, we realize that being different is not a liability. The movie also shows us that acceptance cannot come from others unless we transcend our struggles to accept and become comfortable with who we are. People sadly tend to prefer to see our flaws and weaknesses and belittle our potential to be great. If we rely on their impressions, we will be left depressed and desperate to fill that void by being self-absorb and vain—as Gaston is and as the Prince was. Real beauty is not skin deep but radiates from a heart that knows how to love, forgive and be unselfish.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Get out

DIRECTOR:  Jordan Peele  LEAD CAST:  Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford  SCREENWRITER: Jordan Peele  PRODUCER: Jason Blum, Edward Hamm Jr., Sean McKittrick & Jordan Peele  EDITOR: Gregory Plotkin  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Michael Abels  GENRE: Horror  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Toby Oliver  DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures  LOCATION: Alabama, USA  RUNNING TIME: 104 mins.
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMA rating:  A14
MTRCB Rating:  R13
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) packs his bags for a weekend break upon the invitation of his girlfriend, Rose. He is meeting her parents for the first time. Chris becomes upset upon learning that Rose fails to mention to her parents that he is black. The latter explains that her parents are not closed-minded, and surely are not racists and that made him less anxious.  Sure-enough, both parents welcome Chris with atypical warmth, but Chris gets a creepy feeling as he notices the freakish behaviors of their black household helpers Georgina and Walter.  His apprehension builds up some more with the suspicious behaviors of everybody in the house except Rose.  Are his suspicions valid or are they just a byproduct of the fear of racial discrimination which he still encounters every day of his life?
Get Out is an intelligent and modern take on racial discrimination in America which many thought and believed, has already been addressed accordingly.  The director is able to work around the theme well with the genre.  The filming is solid and storyline is focused.  Daniel Kaluuya excels in the film—his facial expression and emotion speaks of appropriate fears absent in the dialogue.  He is the kind of protagonist that audiences would really care deeply about.  The entire ensemble of actors delivers perfectly well.  As the audience is entertained with the thrills inherent to the genre, they are also taken into a world where one may ponder basic questions on humanity.  It’s quite rare nowadays to see a film that would elicit such profoundness in the seemingly mundane details of daily human existence.  What is even remarkable is that though the film tackles racial violence—it manages not to wallow in excessive violence.  The film leaves a lingering feeling of disgust, guilt, fear and vindication.  For sure, one will never take racial discrimination for granted again after seeing this film.
Get Out speaks of how far and low humans would go just to maintain the status quo.  The root of racial discrimination is deeply embedded in the tenets of human civilization and has not really been eradicated yet even if the United States has already had an African-American president—and even when there are already internationally-recognized black high-achievers.  Many African-Americans still fear being discriminated against. The hate is still real. The violence is real.  The film even transcends the resistance and dialogue even more in the treatment of the black’s superior qualities—of bodily strength, uniqueness of color, etc. as object of envy and a cause of their doom rather than salvation.  The character of Chris shows that love makes all humans equal regardless of race or origin.  Superiority is only a product of illusion—of lies told over the years and accepted as truth.  Another lie which humans have the tendency to believe is that they are equal with God and therefore can also create and re-create and manipulate human life on whim. Using science and human intelligence as shown in Get Out, where humans are motivated by greed and pride, is evil.  In the end, though, good triumphs over evil—a proof that God saves the righteous—and He does not look at the color of one’s skin as He created men equal, very different from one another for a reason, but equal.  For humans, that may be far-fetched, but for God, it has always been that way. For its mature theme, and for graphic scenes of gore and violence in the film, although in context, CINEMA deems Get Out as appropriate only for audiences aged 14 and above.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

DIRECTOR: Jordan Vogt-Roberts  STARRING: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly  PRODUCER: Thomas Tull, John Jashni, Mary Parent, Alex Garcia  SCREENWRITER: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
BASED ON: King Kong by Merian C. Cooper  MUSIC: Henry Jackman  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Larry Fong  EDITOR: Richard Pearson  GENRE:  Sci-Fi  PRODUCTION COMPANY: Legendary Pictures, Tencent Pictures  DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros. Pictures  COUNTRY:  United States  LANGUAGE: English  RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMAQ rating:  V14
In 1973, the US sends a team to an uncharted island in the South Pacific—that is perpetually enveloped in clouds and is recently discovered by satellite—to see if the island is inhabited.  British agent James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former Special Air Services captain, is hired to be chief hunter-tracker, while Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel Jackson), heads the military’s helicopter squadron, the Sky Devils, to chopper the team to Skull Island.  The only woman in this team of soldiers and scientists is an anti-war Life photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who suspects the mission is a military operation hiding a dark agenda.  Scattered and scampering for safety after their choppers are crushed like toy drones by a 100-foot tall bipedal ape, some team members encounter stranded American pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), and get to come up close and personal with Kong.
Kong: Skull Island opens with two WWII fighter pilots engaged in hand combat; as one is about to kill the other, a giant ape appears, interrupting the fight and making the combatants flee for dear life.  This prologue is essential to the plot’s unfolding.  If you expect the story to be about an oversized simian getting infatuated with a beautiful human female, you’ll be disappointed.  Kong here is a celibate loner, the last of his kind, is revered by the island’s human population as god and king, and picks only on enemies his size.  The film’s CGI, especially the ones with Kong fighting the alpha Skullcrawler and the monstrous octopus, combined with a humane story and a dash of humor should make entranced audiences feel how 118 minutes fly so swiftly.      

Kong: Skull Island is really about the beauty of the beast.  It may be fiction, meant to entertain us, but the movie teases the imagination and offers many points worthy of discussion.  For one, there is something poignant about a formidable ape—who’s two and a half times as tall as Luneta’s Rizal Monument—protecting the environment and a lost human tribe from giant predators.  Are simians supposed to be that intelligent and compassionate that they could put to shame military characters who out of smugness would mindlessly destroy the life and beauty in an unknown territory? Another is destructive human aggressiveness: consider the bombing of Skull Island and ask why humans make such powerful, destructive weaponry—is it just out of self-preservation and national defense, or out of a lust to conquer territories ahead of a rival world power?  Which is more frightening, man-made violence or the wrath of nature provoked?  CINEMA cautions elders (who may be intending to watch a DVD copy of the movie at home) to keep children out of the viwing area.  Grisly deaths and multiple dangers facing characters in the movie might prove too scary, even traumatic, for them.        

Hidden Figures

DIRECTOR:  Theodore Melfi  SCREENWRITER:  Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder PRODUCER:  Peter Chernin, Donna Gigliotti, Theodore Melfi, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams EDITOR:  Peter Teschner. MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch. CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Mandy Walker  DISTRIBUTOR:  20th Century Fox LOCATION:  United States  GENRE:  Biographical drama RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes.
Technical assessment:  4                                          
Moral assessment:  4
CINEMA rating: V14
Hidden Figures tells the true story of three African-American women mathematicians in NASA who played major roles in the successful launch of astronaut John Glenn’s historic multiple orbits around the earth in the 1960s. The three are called ‘colored human computers’ at a time of deep racial segregations.  Katherine Goble (Henson) is promoted to work in the Space Task Group headed by Al Harrison (Costner).  Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) acts as supervisor to a group of fellow African-Americans, but whose pleas for promotion are ignored by her white female supervisor.  Mary Jackson (Monáe) goes to court to win the right to be the first black female to study and train as a NASA engineer.
The film is an adaptation of Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same title.  Overall, the scenes are beautifully shot—the period costumes delight visually, albeit the performances sometimes tend to go over the top. Despite its dark theme of segregation and misogyny, the film is upbeat in sights and sounds. The first scene of all three women stranded together by the highway fixing their car while chatting leisurely under a beautiful blue sky is shattered subtly by the tension brought by the arrival of a police car driven expectedly by a white male officer. And yet that scene ends up with the three women singing along as they are escorted to NASA by the same officer.  It then sets the stage for subsequent vignettes backed by Pharrell Williams’ soulful pop music, all appearing in between or during each woman’s struggle and fight for her rights.
Hidden Figures is inspiring as much as it is revealing in its treatment of segregation issues. We are in awe at the exemplary individual achievements of the three lead characters. They do represent the inherent dignity that is accorded each human being—not on account of race, color, gender, or faith. That they are human beings gives them equal access, as with everyone else, to lead a life that would allow them to reach their full potentials. In the movie, we see this as access to education, fair treatment at work, promotion based on merit, and yes, even the use of a toilet. Yet we wonder: what about those who are not as gifted as Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary—the poor in the fringes? The film puts them in the backdrop, with Martin Luther King organizing these African-American groups to fight for equality. To this day, we face the same issues of hate and segregation. The film gives us the message several ways. Maybe not all, but we get something good. It gives us hope, in individual achievement and the social movement. That is what good movies are great for. 

A dog's purpose


Director: Lasse Hallstrom  Lead Cast: Robert Quaid, Brid Robertson, Josh Gad, Kj Apa, Juliet Rylance  Screenwriter: W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon  Producer:  Gavin Polone  Editor:  Robert Leighton  Musical Director:  Rachel Portman  Genre: Comedy Drama  Cinematographer:  Terry Stacey  Distributor: Universal Picture  Location:  United States  Running Time:   120 minutes
Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 3.5
CINEMA rating: V13
MTRCB rating: PG
The film follows the four lifetimes of a dog (voiced by Josh Gad).  During his first life, as a golden retriever, he's rescued from a dangerous situation and adopted by 8-year-old Ethan Montgomery (Bryce Gheisar). Ethan's mother (Juliet Rylance) welcomes this addition to the household, and helps convince his father (Luke Kirby), to accept the puppy whom Ethan names Bailey. He becomes Ethan's inseparable companion as Ethan grows into a high school football star (KJ Apa) and finds true love with Hannah (Britt Robertson). His bond with Ethan proves the most enduring of his relationships with humans. But still, during his succeeding lifetimes, Bailey serves as a police dog called Ellie and later becomes a Corgi named Tino. Ellie does her best to comfort her lonely trainer, widowed Chicago police officer Carlos (John Ortiz), and Tino helps to liven up the stagnant social life of his companion single young lady Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). In all this life cycles of living and dying, Bailey desperately tries to ponder on the real purpose of his existence.
A Dog’s Purpose is a charming adaptation of a 2010 best-selling novel by author W Bruce Cameron. It will be easy for pet lovers to fall in-love with the film and the dog protagonist but non-pet lovers will be endeared to the film’s universal appeal as well. The storyline though is quite simplistic and devoid of spectacle but it is able to show its heart. Gad as the voice-over is terrific and the other casts are as effective. It might have really been a challenge as well to make dogs act but the film is able to do that with flying colors. One will really never see dogs the same again after seeing the film as it will really make one feel dogs’ human side. The film does not really climax though – but such is forgivable for the film is meant to make the audience ponder on the very core of humans and dogs purpose of existence. And it really is just as simple as the film.
The film banks on its simple charm and the simple but powerful message—live in the present moment, one simple truth that most may have already forgotten. In the hustle and bustle of urban life, most take present moments for granted. Humans are either busy in the present, resentful in the past or anxious of the future. Bailey lived each moment of his life, in all the four lifetimes, by the present moment. He acknowledges his emotions at the moment and forgets his ego—all for the sake of his master. Dogs love unconditionally and live a life of no regrets because they have given their all to their owners. They know that they do not own their life and that they are always dependent on their master. They provide joy and bring cheer to the lives of people and yet, when they are neglected, they do not harbor hatred. They are loyal to the core both to their master—and to their purpose. Truly, humans can learn so much from dogs. God created man for a purpose—to love. And dogs are created to remind humans of that purpose.  But we must also be reminded that unlike this dog in the movie, humans live only one life.  For some of its mature themes on teenage love, family life, and alcoholism, the children must be accompanied when watching, but all ages must be guided on the concept of reincarnation which underlies the plot of the movie.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Puwera Usog

DIRECTOR: Jason Paul Laxamana  LEAD CAST: Devon Seron, Joseph Marco, Sofia Andres  WRITER: Jason Paul Laxamana  SCREENWRITER: Jason Paul Laxamana  PRODUCER:    Lily Y. Monteverde  MUSIC: Paulo Protacio  FILM EDITOR: Ilsa Malsi  GENRE: Horror  CINEMATOGRAPHY: Rommel Sales  PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Melvin Lacerna  PRODUCTON COMPANY: Regal Films, LargaVista Entertainment  SPECIAL EFFECTS: Imaginary Friends Studio  SOUND DESIGNERS: Lamberto Casas Jr., Immanuel Verona  RELEASED BY: Regal Entertainment, Inc.  COUNTRY: Philippines  LANGUAGE: Filipino, Tagalog   RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating: V14
MTRCB rating: R13
Katuwaan ng spoiled brat  na si Jean Cordero (Sofia Andres) at ng kanyang mga kaibigan na kapwa anak-mayaman, sina Val (Cherise Castro) at Bobby (Albie Casiño). na manakot ng mga tao sa kanilang lugar, kunan ito ng litrato, at ilabas ito sa kanyang social media channel account. Maiisipan ni Jean na maghanap ng mga bagong mapagkakatuwaan at makukumbinse niya ang ex-boyfriend na si Sherwin (Joseph Marco) upang ipagmaneho sila. Hahantong sila sa isang ilang na lugar kung saan matatagpuan nila ang pulubing si Luna (Devon Seron).  Tatakutin nila ito at tatakbo hanggang sa mahulog sa matarik na abandonadong gusali.  Aakalain nila na namatay ito dahil sa sama ng pagkakabagsak subalit sa kanilang pagkabigla ay mawawala ito na parang bula mula sa pinagbagsakan nito. Magmula noon ay magkakaroon na sina Jean, Val at Bobby ng mga kakaibang panaginip at pakiramdam na may nakasubaybay sa kanila na nagdudulot ng kilabot hanggang sa misteryosong mamatay si Bobby.  Kukutuban si Jean na may kinalaman ito sa pulubing biktima ng kanilang pananakot kaya magpapasama siya kay Sherwin upang bumalik sa lugar ng pangyayari at humingi ng tawad.  Sa pagbabalik nila sa lugar ay makilala nila si Quintin (Kiko Estrada), anak-anakan ng albularyong si Nanay Minda (Aiko Melendez)  at malalaman nila na malakas na uri ng “usog” ng isang namatay na mangkukulam na si Catalina (Eula Valdez) ang tumama sa kanila.
Maganda ang kuwento ng Pwera Usog.  Maayos  na naipakita nito kung paano nagkaroon ng  pag-unlad at pagbabago, at paniniwala sa mga tauhan. Bagamat exaggerated  ay nakapagbigay ito ng kaalaman tungkol sa “usog” na isa sa mga sinaunang pamahiin ng mga P ilipino na umiiral pa rin hanggang sa kasalukuyan. Dahil marahil sa temang katatakutan ay labis nitong iniugnay ang “usog” sa isang di matahimik na kaluluwa at makapaghasik ng kapahamakan.  Mahusay ang mga pagganap nina Andres, Marco, Seron, at Estrada kahit mga baguhan ay nakipagsabayan sa husay ng mga batikan na sina Melendez at Valdez. Epektibo ang pagkakadirehe sa kanila at  kabuuang trato sa kwento.  Maganda ang disenyo ng produksyon at ang mga kuha ng kamera sa iba’t ibang setting.  Malaki ang naitulong ng malinis na editing dahil naipakita ang kaugnayan ng bawat lugar mula sa sibilisasyon hanggang sa lumang bahay, gusali at simpleng bahay kubo.  Lalong nakapagbigay saysay at epektibong paghahatid ng takot at gulat sa mga manonood  ang mga ginamit na ilaw, musika, at tunog.  
Ipinakita sa pelikula kung saan pwedeng dalhin ang mga kabataan ng malilikot nilang ideya sa paggamit ng social media lalo na kapag walang nakatutok na paggabay ng magulang.  Isa ito sa mga nagiging epekto sa mga anak ng mga hiwalay na magulang.  Hindi makatao na paglaruan at gawing katatawanan ng sinuman ang kanyang kapwa katulad ng pinakita ng pelikula.  Kung hindi pa nagkaroon ng kakaibang kaganapan at pagbuwis ng buhay ay hindi maiisipan ang paghingi ng tawad.  Samantala, tradisyong pagano ang ipinakitang trato sa “usog” sa pelikula—mapapansin na wala man lamang patungkol sa kristyanong ispiritualidad, sa halip ay mga espiritu ng mga yumaong ninuno ang hiningan ng kalakasan ni Quintin para magapi ang masamang espiritu; naging sanggalang o pangontra din ang mga anting-anting.  Sa bandang huli ay nanaig naman ang kabutihan at nagpanibago sa buhay ng mga tauhan.  Subalit sa kabuuan ay nakakabahala ang tema ng pelikula dahil sa mga mensahe ng paganong paniniwala, at ang pag-aanak kahit hindi nagpapakasal bilang hugot ng isang anak mula sa broken marriage


Friday, March 10, 2017

Logan

Direction: James MangoldCast: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Richard Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant;  Story and Screenplay: Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green; Cinematography: John Mathieson; Editing: Michael McCusker; Music: Marco Beltrami; Producers: Leslie Dixon, Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon; Genre: Sci-Fi Action Location: USA; Distributor: 20th Century Fox  Running Time: 140 minutes;  
Technical assessment: 4
Moral assessment: 2 
CINEMA rating: V18 
MTRCB rating: R16 
In 2029, only three mutants remain alive after a deadly virus was released by Transigen.  Wolverine/Logan (Jackman) has aged and weakened because of adamantium poisoning, Professor X/Charles Xavier (Stewart) is suffering from a degenerative disease which has a deadly effect during seizures and Caliban, an albino mutant tracker who takes care of Professor X in an abandoned warehouse in Mexico. For some time now, Logan has been working as a limousine chauffer hustling prescription drugs for Professor X and saving money so they could sail in the middle of the ocean where they can be safe from pursuers and everyone else can be safe from the effects of Charles’ seizures.  But when Logan is forced to help Gabriela, a nurse from Transigen who smuggled Laura (Keen) into safety, they are inevitably found and the bloody cat and mouse chase begins. Transigen is a facility genetically creating mutant soldiers by implanting mutant DNA in children and raising them to be assassins. But they learn children are uncontrollable and decide to terminate the project upon completion of X24 –a replication of young Wolverine.  Caliban is captured by Transigen and forced into helping them track his friends. Meanwhile, Logan discovers his connection with Laura as Professor X makes him bring her to Eden to find her mutant friends. 
Logan easily stands out as the most powerful and mutant franchise diverting from the tired narrative.  It is told with brutal honesty and performed with passionate depth.  Every character carries pain and the audience is drawn to sympathize and respond.  The plot unravels gracefully.  The twist comes as no surprise but still leaves an aching to have it otherwise.  Jackman and Stewart portray their characters with authentic sorrow of a helpless superhuman torn between frustration and pain.  Keen is a revelation, although her expressions are enhanced digitally, she successfully shows the transformation from a cold-hearted assassin into an indebted daughter.  Overall, the power of the film is in its humanity—storywise, character wise and storytelling wise. Visually, the movie is outstanding.  It seamlessly puts together “head replacement” technology and CGI without going overboard.  It is one movie you would talk about for a long time. 
Logan is dark and violent, thus, definitely unsuitable for young viewers.  However, the movie has strong statements on loyalty, sacrifice, and human nature, drawing on the complexities of a human relationship and the innate desire of people to be good despite environment and upbringing. Logan served Prof X, and Caliban served them both—all out of gratitude, loyalty, and that undeniable bond between mentor and student, father and son, friend and friend.  Caliban sacrificed his life so he can no longer be used by Transigen and Logan protected Laura and the children, first by choosing to stay behind so as not to put them in danger with his presence and second by saving the children in spite of his weakened condition.  Gabriela chose to save the children even if it meant her death.  The film emphasizes that human nature towards goodness. Prof  X is the epitome of this and ironically, Logan tries to correct Laura’s violent aggressiveness.  The scene where Logan helped the Munson family and they in turn were offered shelter for the night poignantly reflects how compassionate we can be.  The mutant children, although trained to kill, refused to.  And Logan’s last words to Laura, no matter how cliché, is a reminder that we need and can rise above the world’s evil… “Do not become what they made you to be”… 




Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Shack

DIRECTOR: Stuart Hazeldine  LEAD CAST: Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Aviv Alush, Sumire, Graham Greene, Alice Braga, Radha Mitchell, Tim McGraw, Amélie Eve   SCREENPLAY: John Fusco, based on the 2007 novel of the same title by William Young PRODUCERS: Brad Cummings, Gil Netter  FILM EDITOR: William Steinkamp  GENRE: Drama, Fantasy  CINEMATOGRAPHY: Declan Quinn  MUSIC: Aaron Zigman  PRODUCTON COMPANIES: Netter Productions, Windblown Media
DISTRIBUTORS: Summit Entertainment  LOCATION: USA  LANGUAGE: English  RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes
Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment:  4
CINEMA rating:  V14
Despite a traumatic childhood in the hands of a closet alcoholic father, Mack (Sam Worthington) turns out to be a fine family man—a loving husband and a devoted father of three.   On an outing by the lake, while he is saving his two older children from drowning, his youngest, Missy (Amelie Eve), is abducted, and subsequently murdered by a serial killer.  Police find Missy’s bloodied dress, but not her killer nor her body, in an abandoned shack in the woods.  Descending into depression, Mack cannot save his family from a protracted period of mourning.  One winter day as he is shovelling snow off the yard, he finds a note in the mailbox, inviting him to return to the same shack.  It is signed by “Papa” the family’s pet name for God.  Desperate for answers, he drives off alone to the shack.  What he discovers changes his life.
Originally written in 2007 as a mere Christmas gift for William Young’s six children, The Shack (novel) traveled a long and winding road—reaping various awards, landing on the New York Times bestseller list in 2010 for 70 weeks, selling over 10 million copies two years after its release—before the book morphed into cinematic form.  Unabashedly Christian in orientation, the story uses, however, unorthodox symbols, both as plot device and as tools to drive home its message. An African-American pie-baking woman is cast as Father (Octavia Spencer), a dusky middle-eastern looking man plays the Son (Aviv Alush), and the Holy Spirit’s role is done by an Asian woman sometimes wearing blue jeans (Sumire)—indeed an unholy trinity to many theologians, and a venue for “heavy-handed sermonizing” to most film critics.  Prejudices aside, The Shack is a well-edited entertaining watch with visual effects teasing the imagination while advancing the story. 
You don’t go to The Shack if you’re looking for “pure” theology or Hollywood-approved spirituality.  It should be viewed with an open mind, because while it seems “profoundly unbiblical”, or a mish mash of Christianity, Ancient Teaching, and New Age, it also presents God as an accessible and loving Friend. Despite the cynicism of film critics and experts of theology, The Shack knows what it’s doing, introducing an androgenous God (reminiscent of Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” where the Father’s hands are both feminine and masculine) to make Mack realize it is a mistake to judge by externals alone.  God in The Shack is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present—Catholic Catechism says so, too—and may we add, God is all-loving as well.  God knows our needs and how to catch our attention.  When we’re drowning in sorrow and despair, the merciful and compassionate God may choose to show us a spectacle—a summery cottage in the middle of a wintry wood, for example, or walking on the lake hand in hand with Jesus.  When we’re in danger of breaking from the rigidity of our pride, God frees us from hatred and bitterness by gently teaching us ti give and receive forgiveness.  God in The Shack wants to intimately converse with us humans, and if we believe God is all-powerful, who are we to limit that power to talk to us only through an ass or a burning bush?  When God is at work on our faith, we do not question if the end justifies the means—because God knows best.  Might not the success of The Shack both as a book and as a movie be saying that people are hungry for the God it invites us to meet?