Saturday, April 26, 2008

88 minutes

Title: 88 Minutes

Cast: Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, William Forsythe, Deborah Kara Unger, Neal McDonough, Leah Cairns
Director: Jon Avnet
Screenplay: Gary Scott Thompson
atography: Denis Lenoir
Music: Ed Shearmur
Editor: Tim Nordquist
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running Time: 108 min.

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 18 and above

An Asian girl is found dead in a Seattle, Washington flat she shares with her twin sister Janie Cates (Tammy Hui): methodically killed, she is hung upside down by a rope, cut by a scalpel and left to bleed to death. Serial killer Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) is convicted on the strength of the testimony of world-renowned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino). Insisting on his innocence, Forster swears to take revenge on Gramm, all the while hoping to get pardon. On the eve of Forster’s execution by lethal injection, similar killings occur using Forster’s modus operandi, pointing to the possibility that they have indeed imprisoned the wrong guy. Worse, victims include women whom the womanizing Gramm has bedded. Then Gramm gets a mysterious call warning him he has 88 minutes to live. This sets the gutsy psychiatrist—who is a university professor and carries an FBI ID card, being a consultant for the agency—on a lone hunt aided only by his hunches, his gay assistant Shelly Barnes (Amy Brenneman) and, later on, his female student Kim Cummings (Alicia Witt) who has a huge girlish crush on him. But soon, even his FBI buddy Special Agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe) is ready to arrest him, when Gramm’s “DNA is all over the place,” pointing to him as the killer. They have good reason to believe so, since Gramm could be acting on revenge himself—he lost his 12-year old sister to a serial killer employing the same method as the convicted Forster.

If 88 Minutes was never meant to be a technically impeccable movie, but rather intended to keep the viewers on the edge of their seats, it hits its mark. It captures your attention with enough elements piled one on top of the other, and piques your imagination and curiosity so much that your are left with no time to question the loose ends, the jumpy sequence of events, the implausibility of certain developments, etc. Thanks to the arresting presence of Al Pacino, 88 Minutes turns out to be 108 minutes of gripping suspense. Those who invested in the movie were on target in casting Pacino and banking on his reputation to carry the movie through. Particularly in the Philippines, where the average viewer is more emotional than intellectual and therefore couldn’t care less about the filmography of director Jon Avnet or screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson or its less-than-famous actors, something as engaging as 88 Minutes (with Pacino onscreen almost the whole time) is bound to have longer DVD shelf life than any other mystery-thriller currently showing. No matter what the more erudite First World critics say about Pacino’s “lackluster performance” or stooping to accept B-grade movies at this point in his career, the fact remains that as a 66-year old forensics expert harboring guilt over his sister’s fate, Pacino delivers perfectly well. His is not lackluster performance—rather, it is a soulful portrayal of a lackluster persona. Sometimes, film critics who know too much must learn to separate the actor from the role. We cannot imagine Richard Gere or Tom Hanks giving life to Dr. Jack Gramm as effectively as Pacino with his hangdog looks does. As for the “middle-age mediocrity” that critics claim Pacino is caught in, see for yourself—Pacino is Pacino, he can take on any role he damn well pleases and get away with it; he neither needs nor depends on critics’ judgment to prove his acting caliber.

88 Minutes is not a movie for the queasy. Gore flows freely, and close-ups of the serial killer’s modus operandi would make you want to close your eyes for obvious reasons. However, the subject matter and content—rape and murder, conviction of the innocent, respect for the human body, womanizing, ethics in the teaching profession, etc.—provide rich and thought-provoking topics for discussion particularly with young adults. Despite its technical flaws, overshadowed and trivialized by the lead actor’s convincing depiction of the main character, 88 Minutes in the end gives the guilty what he or she deserves, and ensconces justice in its right place.


Title: Pathology
Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Weston, Alyssa Milano, Lauren Lee Smith, Johnny
Director: Marc Schoelermann
Producers: Gary Gilbert, Gary Lucchesi, Mark Neveldine, Tom Rosenberg, Brian Taylor, Skip Williamson
Screenwriters: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Music: Johannes Kobilke
Editor: Todd E. Miller
Genre: Drama/ Crime/ Suspense
Cinematography: Ekkehart Pollack
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA

Technical Assessment: 2.5
Moral Assessmen
t: 2
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

Topnotch medical student Ted Gray (Milo Ventimiglia) has just graduated from medical school and joins one of the most prestigious hospital-schools of Pathology as resident-intern. Equipped with natural wit and intelligence, Ted gets the attention of an elite group of interns. Afraid to be alienated, he makes friends with them and he is welcomed though reluctantly at first. Unknown to him, he has become a pawn in their dangerous, morbid, after-hours extracurricular activities at the morgue. He is then challenged and seduced to join their game of committing the perfect undetectable murder. Once trapped, Ted’s life and love will be jeopardized. Can he still quit the game before he or his loved ones become the next victim?

Pathology may be just another B movie at the onset but the tightness of the story and impeccable acting of the characters make the film pass off as a good crime-suspense-drama. The movie is able to take its audience to the world of pathology, a world least explored by many, without much blood and gore. Such approach allows the audience to imagine and look at the said field of medicine with objectivity. However, the storyline tends to be shallow and thin with the characters’ motivations left unjustified which are perhaps attributed to the plot’s lack of a back story. But then the film, technical wise, is quite able to meet its objective of putting a certain amount of suspense and mystery amidst the soap-operatic plot so it is still a good watch.

It is said in the movie that Pathology is a window to God for doctors see the perversion and corruption of the human flesh, although unnatural and violent, to determine the cause of death. However, when such window is abused by malicious minds, danger follows. The movie works around this premise but the visuals and plotlines leave the audience with disturbing views about the preservation of life. The morality play in the movie has posed more questions than answers. In a dog-eat-dog world, should one always conform to what is popular over what is good? The characters who have committed sin are all punished in the movie but apparently, there is no remorse from seen in them as they commit crimes of both ambition and passion. Thus, the film in its entirety is morally disturbing. There is violence, nudity, gore, desecration of human body, pre-marital sex, lesbianism, incest, drugs and alcohol. Although done in context and good taste, these can still offend sensibilities and may influence the minds of the very young. Such messages are appropriate only for a mature audience.

Never Back Down

Title: Never Back Down

Cast: Sean Faris, Djimon Hounsou, Amber Heard, Cam Gigandet, Evan Peters, Leslie Hope

Director: Jeff Wadlow

Producers: Craig Baumgarten, David Zelon

Screenwriter: Chris Hauty

Music: Michael Wandmacher

Editors: Victor Du Bois, Debra Weinfeld

Genre: Action/ Drama

Cinematography: Lukas Ettlin

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Location: Florida, USA

Running Time: 113 min.

Technical Assessment: 3

Moral Assessment: 2

CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) is a tough and troubled teenager from Iowa . He belongs to a famous football high school team but resentfully has to give it up when his family relocates to Orlando for his younger brother’s tennis scholarship. All the while, Jake's mother (Leslie Hope) desperately tries to hold the family together as they mourn the recent loss of her husband. At his new high school, Jake develops a crush on Baja but gets humiliated and beaten by her current boyfriend and mixed martial arts champion, Ryan. To get even, Jake goes with his new friend, Max, to a local mixed martial arts guru, Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou who apparently can teach him to perfect his fighting skills. And in the process he learns not only to fight better but to become a better man.

What Karate Kid is to Karate, Never Back Down is to Mixed Martial Arts but without the values, the straightforward storytelling and funny and memorable scenes. As much as it tries to convey values such as temperance and discipline, it fails miserably with a flimsy plot, clicheic dialogues and stiff acting. It tries to create dynamic and exciting fight scenes with fast paced editing but loses its effectiveness with shots that are too tight and a choreography that is too plain. The effort to build a valid plot is drowned out by useless subplots and overrated violence of the underground sport. At some point also, one begins to wonder why the adults or the authorities do not intervene while young boys are made to compete like Roman gladiators as onlookers egg them on for blood and violence.

The film teaches young people that all problems can be handled by punching the offender in the face, and concedes to onlookers taking advantage of the situation with the use of technology (i.e.: cellphone cameras and the internet). The movie has no respect for the sport and looks down on the young. It portrays mixed martial arts as some underground spectacle for the hot-tempered and ill-mannered with no rules nor boundaries. The young people are portrayed as irritable, unreasonable, and disrespectful with no qualms about using other’s pain or downfall as entertainment. The movie has very little redeeming value and not worth the time and money one will waste to watch it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Manay Po2! Overload

Title: Manay Po 2! Overload
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Cherry Pie Picache, Ruffa Mae Quinto, Marco Alcaraz, Polo Ravales, Sid Lucero, John Pratts, Jiro Manio, Christian Vasquez
Director: Joel Lamangan
Producer: Lily Y. Monteverde
Screenwriter: Dinno Erece
Music: Jesse Lucas
Genre: Comedy
Distributor: Regal Entertainment
Location: Philippines

Technical Assessment: * * *
Moral Assessment: ● ●
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

Nais nang bumuo ng pamilya nina Oscar (Polo Ravales) at Adrian (Sid Lucero) ngunit dahil sa parehas ang kanilang kasarian ay inisip nilang kumuha ng isang baby maker. Bagama't ayaw ito ni Luz (Cherrie Pie Picache) ay kinailangan niyang tanggapin tulad ng pagtanggap niya sa pagiging bading ng kanyang mga anak na sina Oscar, Orson (John Prats) at Orwell (Jiro Manio). Isa pa ay nais na rin ni Luz na magkaroon ng baby sa kanilang bahay at alam din niyang hindi na niya mabibigyan ng anak ang asawang si Gerry (Christian Vasquez). Matapos ang pangingilatis nina Oscar, Adrian at Luz ng mga aplikante ay tinanggap nila si Betty (Ruffa Mae Quinto) bilang baby maker. Lingid sa kanilang kaalaman, pinasok ni Betty ang ganitong trabaho sa pag-uudyok ng kanyang asawa (Marco Alcaraz). Hindi rin magiging madali kina Oscar at Adrian ang sitwasyon sa pagpasok ng isang babae sa kanilang buhay. Ito rin ang magiging hudyat ng marami pang gulo sa buhay ng mga “manay”.

Isang nakakaaliw na pelikula ang Manay Po 2 Overload. Maraming bagong pakuela at pakulo sa pagpasok ng panibagong tauhan na si Ruffa Mae Quinto. Bagama't sanga-sanga ang kuwento ay napanatili nitong suwabe ang hagod ng bawat eksena patungo sa kabuuang direksiyon. Habang humagalpak sa kakatawa ang mga manonood ay namumulat ang kanilang sensibilidad sa isang mundong bihirang nabibigyang pansin. Pawang mahuhusay ang mga nagsiganap lalo na si Cherry Pie Picache at ang mga lalaking gumanap na bading. Yun nga lang, hindi pa rin maiiwasan ang pagiging isteryotipikal ng ilang tauhan. Maaari naman itong patawarin sapagkat katatawanan naman ang pelikula. Ang mahalaga, maraming bagong elemento ng komedya at naipakikilala sa Manay Po 2 Overload. Hindi na mga lumang patawa at nakakaumay na islapstik.

Bagama’t wagas ang pagnanais ng Manay Po 2 na maisalarawan ang mundo ng mga bakla, ay nananatili pa ring nakababahala ang maraming mensahe nito. Pinakahigit dito ay ang pagnanais nilang magkaroon ng pamilya bagama't alam naman nila ang kakulangan ng kanilang relasyong pinapasok. Dahil tuloy dito ay naiisip nilang magkasya na lamang sa ibang paraan ng pagkakaroon ng anak na karaniwan ay kaduda-duda pa sa usaping moral tulad ng artificial insemination at pagkuha ng baby maker. Hindi pa rin ito ang paraang naaayon at itinakda ng batas ng kalikasan. Ito na rin ang isa sa mga dahilan kung kaya't kailanman ay hindi magiging katanggap-tanggap sa simbahan ang relasyong sekswal ng dalawang magkaparehas ang kasarian. Bunga na rin ito marahil ng maraming suliranin ng lipunan. Sa kagustuhan nilang sila ay unawain, ang nagiging resulta ay mas matindi pang komplikasyon. Sinasabi ng pelikula na walang masama sa pagiging bakla. Maaring tama sapagkat ang pagtanggap ang unang hakbang upang mahalin ang sarili at ang ibang tao. Ngunit kung ang pagiging bakla ang mag-uudyok sa kanila sa kasalanan, ito ang masama. At ang isiping walang masama dito ay mas higit na masama. Bagama't katatawanan, ang mga usaping sekswal at moral na inihahain ng Manay Po 2 Overload ay hindi angkop sa murang kaisipan.

Street Kings

Title: Street Kings
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, High Laurie, Chris Evans, Martha Higareda, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, Terry Crews, Naomi Harris
Director: David Ayer
Producers: Lucas Foster, Alexandra Milchan, Erwin Stoff
Screenwriters: James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer
Music: Graeme Revell
Editor: Jeffrey Ford
Genre: Thriller/ Crime/ Drama
Cinematography: Gabriel Beristain
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Location: Los Angeles, California

Technical assessment:
3 ½
Moral assessment: 3
For viewers aged 14 and up.

Still angry and bitter that his wife’s murderer could no longer be tracked down, Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) of the Los Angeles Police Department begins his day with a bottle of Vodka to perk him up. He becomes an instant celebrity after his fearless rescue of twin girls kidnapped by a Korean gang. That feat has also earned a promotion for his boss and good friend, Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). Hostile to both is the Head of Internal Affairs, Capt. James Biggs (High Laurie) who seems to be watching their movements. After witnessing the salvaging of his former partner, Detective Terrence Washington (Terry Crews), Ludlow conducts his own investigation to find out why Washington was killed and who were responsible for his death. Robbery Homicide Detective Paul Diskant (Christ Evans) joins him in this dangerous mission. How can they survive and find their way out from a maze-like syndicate? What harsh realities in the police force will they discover in the process?

That there are scalawags among cops, that a police department could be corrupt, that money tempts the corruptible to cross the line – these are the stuff that we read not only in novels (which somehow mirror life anyway) but also in our dailies and that we watch in the movies. While some sequences in the film could be roman à cle, one could only wish for more Tom Ludlow in our midst. Previous films have also presented the theme of a hero fighting for what is right and reforming the system. But Street Kings features a blend of well-chosen cast, effective sound effects, good cinematography, fast pacing, and tight editing. Keanu Reeves, particularly, renders a convincing performance as a flawed yet righteous and courageous character.

The problem is that there is too much violence and gore in the film. It gives the impression that there are so many renegades in the police department and that foul language is part of being tough. That cops, exposed to crime, could become calloused is seen in the episode when Captain Jack Wander smiles as he views the bodies of slain kidnappers and happily remarks: “This is lovely”. It fuels disenchantment with police authorities as the film shows how cops cover up for their comrades, how they manipulate evidence to protect them from indictment after a shoot-out, and how easily they could betray and kill one another. In spite of these disturbing elements, what makes the film acceptable in the end is the triumph of good over evil like the parabolic weed that needs to be uprooted for the healthy growth of the wheat.

Superhero Movie

Title: Superhero Movie
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Drake Bell, Sara Paxton, Christopher Mc Donald
Director: Craig Mazin
Producers: Craig Mazin, Robert K. Weiss, David Zucker
Screenwriter: Craig Mazin
Music: James L. Vanable
Editors: Craig Herring, Dan Schalk
Genre: Comedy
Cinematography: Thomas A. Ackerman
Distributor: Alliance Films
Location: Universal City, California, USA

Technical Assessment: 2
Moral Assessment: 2 ½
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 up

Orphaned Ricky Riker a.k.a Dragonfly (Drake Bell) is a weakling teenager who is bitten by a dragonfly during a school field trip and since then discovers strange changes in his body and abilities. He realizes and confides it to his Uncle Albert (Leslie Nielsen) and friend Trey (Kevin Hart) that he actually acquires superpower out of that dragonfly bite. The initial confusions of Rick turns into full understanding of how it goes with his acquired power and he becomes determined to use it for human good, so he goes on with his heroic interventions as Dragonfly in a costume to save people from crimes. With his gained confidence, Rick also sees the opportunity to advance himself in his long time admiration of Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton). Meanwhile, Lou Landers a.k.a Hourglass (Christopher McDonald) has a failed experiment for cure of his sickness and instead makes him Hourglass with power to be continuously alive by sucking people's life; the more people he kills by sucking, the more he lives longer and even to immortality. But Lou finds out he will have difficulty fulfilling this selfish and inhuman deed with Dragonfly getting in his way.

Superhero Movie is obviously a spoof of blockbuster superhero films and known international personalities (hopefully with permission of the respected people spoofed in the film). Expectedly as a spoof, the movie offers comedy that is effectively delivered by the plot and special effects. Most subplots are copied but putting them together in a context of one film makes sense for a hilarious movie. Acting wise there is nothing much especially from main actors Drake and Sara. But supporting actors indeed contributed in delivering punch lines of the film. The production design, make-up and cinematography are good. The film is shorter (85 minutes only) than the usual duration.

Just like other original superhero characters, Dragonfly is also lovable because of his effort and commitment to use his superpower for human good. The film shows the triumph of good over evil. Indeed more than anything else life should matter and should be protected. Despite being a spoof, the film tries to convey positive messages like how old couples can be caring for each other and how they are concerned over the welfare and growth of a person entrusted to their care. It is a bit alarming though that some of the scenes and lines that are meant for comedy have double meaning (sexually and dehumanizing). The film should also have considered how people they spoof in the film are highly regarded. The film may be entertaining, but for the most part is rude and heavy on sexual content.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

Title: The Other Boleyn Girl

Running Time: 115 min.

Cast: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess

Director: Justin Chadwick

Producers: Alison Owen, Scott Rudin

Screenwriters: Peter Morgan, Philippa Gregory

Music: Paul Cantelon

Editors: Paul Knight, Carol Littleton

Genre: Drama/ History/ Romance

Cinematography: Kieran McGuigan

Distributor: Universal Pictures International

Location: England, UK

Technical Assessment: * * * 1/2

Moral Assessment: ● ● ●

CINEMA Rating: For viewers 18 up

In The Other Boleyn Girl, Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), wife of Henry VIII (Eric Bana), delivers a still born son. The disappointed king will soon be visiting the Boleyns and intend to go hunting at their estate. Noting Henry's frustration about not having a male heir to the throne, Sir Thomas (Mark Rylance)--father of Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson)--and the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), the girls' uncle, take advantage of this to hatch a plan esconcing Anne as Henry's mistress, against the will of their mother, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas). Anne relishes the idea, but it is her plainer, younger and newly-wed sister Mary who catches the fancy of Henry as she treats his wound sustained a hunting mishap. To have easy access to Mary, Henry appoints her as one of Catherine's ladies-in-waiting, and her husband William Carey (Benedict Cumberbatch) to the king's court. Now Henry's mistress, Mary becomes pregnant, but her delicate pregnancy requires bed rest, frustrating Henry's attempts at further sexual intimacy. Sir Thomas and the Duke of Norfolk seize the opportunity to position Anne once more as the royal seductress, a role Anne plays with uncanny, almost diabolical determination. She withholds sexual favors from Henry and manipulates him, banishing her own sister Mary who has given birth to Henry's son, and egging Henry on to divorce Catherine, promising she would give herself to him once she herself sits as queen beside the king. The bewitched king bows to Anne's every wish, to the extent of breaking away from the Catholic Church which wouldn't allow divorce.

Don't look for footnotes to history in The Other Boleyn Girl, as it is historical fiction, based on a novel by Philippa Gregory. As the title connotes, it's about Mary, Anne's unassuming sister, and indeed it is Mary's story for in the end the person who turns out to be heir to Henry's throne is Anne's daughter Elizabeth, who was left to Mary's care and nurture from infancy at Anne's death. Johansson enfleshes Mary credibly, making another era come to life, while Portman disturbingly comes across as a 21st century girl in medieval costume. Portman's actor persona comes through conspicuously, overshadowing the Anne character--if this is intentional on the part of the director, it is certainly a big mistake, weakening the authentic appeal of the movie. The proper make-up, or simply erasing Portman's eyebrows might have made the decisive difference--remember Kate Blanchett in Elizabeth, the Golden Age? The supporting cast is good--with Torrent as Catherine and Thomas as Lady Elizabeth lending their thespian stamp to the movie. Disciplined cinematography allows the audience sweeping vistas of the English countryside while keeping the bedroom intimacy discreet, and the gore flow at beheadings down to an inoffensive minimum.

While The Other Boleyn Girl is but one imaginative novelist’s version of what might have really happened at Henry VIII’s court, it nonetheless opens the discussion table to a lot of worthwhile topics, four of which are: the value of women in those times (daughters practically traded for royal favors by power-hungry fathers and uncles); the regard for male heirs (implying that females are second class citizens, and condoning the illicit desires of a monarch desperate for a son); what ambition and burning greed does to the conscience (when Henry refuses to sleep with her anymore, and she suffers a miscarriage, Anne schemes to conceal the miscarriage from Henry and pleads with her own brother to bed her, hoping for a son, therefor a male heir, to come from the incestuous union); and the abuse of power by a king (Henry defies everybody and makes Mary, a married woman, his mistress, and breaks with the Catholic Church in order to marry Anne). All in all it is an entertaining retelling of the scandalous Henry-Anne affair, but the depiction of a sympathetic Henry makes it subject to misinterpratation by young, impressionable minds.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Nim's Island

Title: Nim’s Island

Running Time: 95 min.

Cast: Abigail Breslin, Jodie Forster, Gerard Butler, Maddison Joyce, Alphonso McAuley

Directors: Jennifer Falckett, Mark Levin

Producers: Stephen Jones, Alan Edward Bell, Paula Mazur

Screenwriters: Joseph Kwong, Paula Mazur, Mark Levin, Jennifer Flackett

Music: Patrick Doyle

Editor: Stuart Levy

Genre: Adventure/ Comedy

Cinematography: Stuart Dryburgh

Distributor: Cinestar

Location: Australia


Technical Assessment: * * * 1/2

Moral Assessment: ● ● ● ●

CINEMA Rating: For viewers of all ages

Books connect an 11-year old girl, Nim Rusoe (Abigail Breslin) and her favorite author, Alex Rover who, unknown to her, is actually Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster). The only child of a widower, Jack Rusoe (Gerard Butler), Nim is transported to an exciting world each time she reads the exploits of her idol, Alex Rover (Gerard Butler). In her novels, Alexandra creates her antithesis in Alex, a courageous and adventurous hero. Email messages bridge the distance between Nim who lives in a remote tropical island and Alex, an agoraphobic recluse in a San Francisco apartment. When her microbiologist dad leaves on a plankton hunt and vanishes, the distressed Nim emails her hero, Alex, for help. Her problem is compounded by noisy tourists who have intruded into the privacy of their Island. Alex finally takes an arduous trip to respond to Nim’s appeal after struggling with herself and her fictional character who persuades her to live her story. Far from being a happy meeting between the two, Nim is disappointed that Alexandra is so unlike her know-it-all hero, Alex Rover, and is totally disheartened that she might never see her father again. Could things ever be right again on Nim’s Island or should it be written off as Paradise Lost?

Part of the film’s winning magic is the combined performance of the child star Abigail Breslin and the versatile Jodie Foster in her first comic role; also impressive is Gerard Butler in his dual role as Jack Rusoe and Alex Rover. That the story is related from a child’s point of view allows fantasy even as Nim sounds too mature and self-sufficient for her age. Technical effects and music contribute to the climate of an idyllic existence with rainforests and the sea as background, disrupted occasionally by hurricane and volcanic eruption. Animal trainors should be commended for their handling of a pelican, pet sea lion, and iguanas as friendly and helpful companions of Nim. A pelican trying to communicate with a stranded scientist and dropping a bag of tools to help him repair his boat, Nim riding on a sea lion, and iguanas following Nim’s instructions—they help us stretch our imagination and visualize God’s creation in perfect harmony with each other.

From the examples of Nim and Alex, one learns how good books inspire and provide models, encouraging readers and writers to be the hero of one’s life or one’s own story. Parents and teachers should then try to foster a love for reading among the young to nurture their imagination. Environmentalists will find here a staunch ally in their efforts to preserve nature in its pristine glory, to protect it from commercialization, and to befriend creatures of land, air, and sea. Another endearing point in the story is the affection between a father and his daughter. Although it’s quite certain that mothers or female viewers will be wondering “how can a responsible father leave behind an 11-year-old daughter alone in a deserted island?”, I suppose that part of the fantasy is to reassure us that Nim will be all right in the company of her pet animals and her long distance hero. A feel-good film for the family, Nim’s Island is definitely a refreshing flick to beat the summer heat.


Title: Asylum

Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Sarah Roemer, Jake Muxworthy, Travis Van Winkle, Carolina Garcia

Director: David Ellis

Screenwriter: Ethan Laurence

Genre: Horror

Technical Assessment: * * ½

Moral Assessment: ● ● ½

CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

Madison (Sarah Roemer) has witnessed a traumatic incident when she was young—her father shot himself in front of them and their mother. Years later, Madison attends a university where her big brother also committed suicide. She meets her roommates in the school dormitory with varied personalities. One is an overconfident gym buff (Travis Van Winkle) the other is a former drug addict (Jake Muxworthy), there is a meek hacker (Cody Kasch), a loose blonde (Ellen Hollman) and a Latina (Carolina Garcia). As their days in the dormitory go by, they eventually discover that there is an abandoned asylum annexed next door and each one them is preyed upon by the ghost of the asylum: its former resident surgeon, Dr. Burke (Mark Rolston) who is said to have tortured patients who rebelled against him and made him suffer the same fate. Will Madison and friends be able to escape the asylum?

The Asylum is a worn-out concept repackaged in a soap operatic plot. The result is a cheesy, corny horror flick that barely excites nor terrifies. The actors have delivered fine performances but they are all boxed in stereotypical characterization. The story’s pacing is too slow and the suspense factor is delayed. It has its attempts of putting into visuals the activities of disturbed minds but it only resulted into greater confusion, and the audience can hardly follow and draw the line between imagination, hallucination and reality, alienating the audience in the process. Although there are some strong visuals, they collectively appear flat and lifeless in the uninspired narrative.

Each one of us at one point or another has harbored different kinds of demons in our hearts. The same with the movie, it could be pain, shame, guilt or anger. The Asylum has gone as far as drug addiction, insanity and trauma. This message is clear in the movie although the execution is confusing. The movie only fails to point out that faith and prayers are strong weapons against these demons. Although in the end, the good still triumphs over evil, the story has only scratched the surface of various demons faced by juveniles which include depression, insecurity and substance abuse. There are no clear alternatives or solutions presented. What’s left in the audience’s minds are disturbing, violent images of horror and terror. There are also nudity and hints of pre-marital sex in the film so young audiences should be warned and guided while watching.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Title: Doomsday
Cast: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Alexander Siddig, David O’Hard, Malcohm McDowell
Director: Neil Marshall
Producers: Benedict Carver, Steven Paul
Screenwriter: Neil Marshall
Editors: Andrew M

Genre: Action/ Science Fiction
Running Time: 105 min
Distributor: Rogue Pictures
Location: Great Britain, Scotland
Cinematography: Sam

Technical Assessment: * * *
Moral Assessment: ● ●
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

It is the year 2035. A deadly virus is sweeping over London and claiming lives but there is no cure. It is the same virus that virtually decimated the population of Glasgow, Scotland 23 years earlier and which then led to the quarantine of the whole city mainly by means of a great metal wall. Everyone is presumed to have died in Scotland in that epidemic; however, there is evidence of some survivors according to recent satellite photos which suggest that there may be a cure. The British Prime Minister John Hatcher (Alexander Siddig) and his adviser Michael Canoris (David O’Hara) decide to send a team to Scotland to locate a scientist named Kane (Malcohm McDowell) who was working on a cure but was trapped inside the “Hotzone” when the quarantine started. On the advice of Police Chief Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins), Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is chosen to head the team. But her task turns out to be more difficult than expected. After breaching the wall, Sinclair finds the survivors grouped into two warring factions each one trying to protect its own turf. One group of cannibalistic savages is led by Sol (Craig Conway), son of Kane who tortures and imprisons Sinclair and her team. The Britons manage to escape only to fall prisoners into the hands of another group headed by Kane himself who has abandoned scientific pursuits and has become a ruthless chieftain. Sinclair’s team manages to save their skins again but for how long before they are caught by either group? Will Sinclair ever get a cure? If not, what happens to Britain now in the throes of a raging plague?

Armageddon has often fascinated filmmakers who have come up with various scenarios regarding the annihilation of mankind in the end of time. The fast-paced, heavily action-laden film Doomsday is the latest cinematic attempt to do this and has borrowed heavily from its apocalyptic predecessors like I Am Legend among others. Director Neil Marshall has heightened the savagery, the bloodletting and the violence with more gruesome scenes including decapitation and the barbecuing of a live human being. With many familiar echoes from the past movies, the storyline can hardly be called original. Other motifs (like Sinclair’s quest to reconnect with the memory of her lost Scottish mother and the corrupt political situation in Britain) are introduced to add complexity to the storyline but are never developed and are loosely appended to the narrative. Some scenes stand out like the sequence portraying the outbreak of the plague, right after the introductory voice over. Some fight scenes are well choreographed like the gladiator style duel involving Sinclair and the multi-car chase. They rely on old fashioned physical stunts rather than the modern CGI. Most of the cast are virtually unknown. But the lead character, Rhona Mitra, ably essays the Sinclair role; however, the screenplay does not give her depth. Often, she is emotionally detached.

Doomsday is fantasy and science fiction but can values be gleamed from it? The film portrays desperate people in crisis and how they behave to cope or to survive. It also shows the reaction of people in authority when confronted with a crisis of this magnitude. Though meant only to entertain, this film might set us thinking. Is there some way this catastrophe could have been averted or at least minimized? The response of killing both the infected and uninfected is condemnable. Could there have been a more humane way of coping with the situation? The depicted British politicians are unprincipled and ruthless, willing to let most people die so that fewer survivors could be attended to in case a cure is found. As for the R-13 classification, CINEMA does not think that 13 year old children are mature enough to be allowed to see all this violence and inhumanity. They sooner or later become desensitized to violence and may become violent themselves eventually.

Semi-pro, Play Dirty

Title: Semi- Pro; Play Dirty
Cast: Will Ferrell, Woodey Harrelson, Will Arnet
Director: Kent Alterman
Producer: Jimmy Miller
Screenwriter: Scot Armstrong
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Editor: Debra Neil-Fisher
Genre: Comedy/ Sport
Cinematography: Shane Hurlbut
Distributor: New Line Cinema Location: Michigan, USA
Running Time: 100 min.

Technical Assessment: * * ½
Moral Assessment: ● ● ½
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

There is doubt that Jackie Moon’s (Will Ferrel) basketball team Flint Michigan Tropics would stay on in the ABA League, in view of the planned merging of the ABA with NBA. Moon cannot take the merging easily because this means his team not only needs to prove their worth in their games but also needs to show off to the league’s hard court followers. The problem is Moon's team is the least performing one in the ABA league and is not likely to make it when ABA merges with NBA. The plan initially demoralizes the team especially Moon, but eventually he starts thinking of ways to counter the threat of being eliminated. The team mates work together and cooperate especially when asked to do unconventional tricks to attract followers and also when Woody Harrelson’s character temporarily takes over the coaching job from Moon. Banking on his chart-hit song "Love me Sexy", Moon is confident to gain a public following and with the renewed game plan to make it to the hard court. Will these combined techniques work for their purpose to enter the NBA?

"Semi-Pro" is another movie that showcases Ferrel's brand of comedy which is not a hard-sell. Acting wise, other than Ferrel not much is shown by the actors in the film. The story is predictable, but sub-plots offer variations. The film has good cinematic effects especially in the game scenes. Music plays a major part in providing entertainment, though, it is a bit loud for the most part. The production design for some reason hardly establishes the era of the '70s. Overall, the film is technically a bit below the average.

Though a shallow comedy, the film nevertheless can be mined for some values. The movie shows that determination is the key to everything that people want to achieve in any field of their interest and passion. More importantly in a team situation, cooperation, openness and trust are necessary. The team members are usually cool in their defeat and get united in the effort to encourage a demoralized leader. In the end, the film shows how a leader can humble himself and subject himself to the coaching of a mere member in recognition of the common good for the team. The loyalty of a team member is also tested during difficult times but he chooses to be where his heart belongs. The film in general has a positive message, however, there is frequent use of vulgar language and exposure of women in skimpy attire.

The air I breathe

Title: The Air I Breathe
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Brendan Fraser, Andy Garcia, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Forest Whitaker
Director: Jieho Lee
Producers: Paul Schiff, Emilio Diez Barroso, Darlene Caamano Loquet
Screenwriters: Jieho Lee, Bob DeRosa
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Editor: Robert Hoffman

Genre: Crime/ Drama/ Romance
Running Time: 97 min.
Cinematography: Walt Distributor: Viva Productions, Inc.
Location: Mexico

Technical Assessment: * * *
Moral Assessment: ● ●
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 18 and above

Following a false lead, Happiness (Forest Whitaker) uses a credit card to bet $50 million on a horse that unfortunately suffers a mishap. Pressured by the owner of the gambling joint, Fingers (Andy Garcia) to pay his debt within two weeks or else all his fingers will be cut, Happiness stages a one-man bank robbery. He stuffs his loot in a bag, makes a desperate dash to freedom, gets bumped by a car, steals a motorbike and runs to the rooftop of a building. Besieged by cops who warned him not to move, Happiness laughs as he casts away the bag full of money. The cops start shooting and Happiness falls to the ground and dies. Pleasure (Brendan Fraser) is scarred by the memory of his little brother’s death when they both get involved in a street fight. He becomes a trusted collector and ax-man of Finger who favors the taciturn and psychic accomplice. Sorrow (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a lovely and popular pop singer whose contract is turned over by her heavily indebted manager to Finger. She loathes the idea of having Finger as her manager but is bulldozed into the fix. Pleasure, strongly attracted to Sorrow, offers his place as a safe house where she can hide from Finger. Sorrow falls in love with Pleasure. Finger discovers that Pleasure has betrayed him, breaks into the latter’s house and shoots him. Love (Kevin Bacon), a doctor, has long been in love with Gina (Julie Delpy) but never had the courage to tell her so, and lost her to his friend. In her research lab, Gina is bitten by a poisonous snake. Her only chance of survival is to have a blood transfusion within 24 hours, a rare blood type that only Sorrow has. Racing against time, Love searches for Sorrow. Falling into the pit of despair, Sorrow decides to commit suicide. And viewers hold their breath as they watch the final sequence of the film.

The film is reportedly based on an ancient Chinese proverb that identifies four emotional cornerstones as the composite elements of human existence: Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, and Love. The major characters in the film personify each of these elements. Only Sorrow has a stage name, Trista; she whispers her real name later to the dying Pleasure. A cinematic semblance of a morality play, The Air I Breathe is preachy and allegorizes the powerful and destructive grip of Fingers (Andy Garcia), a criminal don, on the lives of Happiness (Forest Whitaker), Pleasure (Brendan Fraser), and Sorrow (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in contrast to the saving power of Love (Kevin Bacon). While flashbacks provide the context of the personae, the voice-over expresses their thoughts and insights. If names define the persons, one can easily understand why and how Fingers, Sorrow, and Love are so-named; it is difficult to see why two characters are called Happiness and Pleasure (except for one brief moment of pleasure, perhaps). The splendid performance of the cast makes up for some loose ends in the plot. Some scenes are contrived, seemingly a deus ex machina resolution to problematic situations.

Since the film is didactic, it imparts many lessons, both good and bad. Excessive greed is the nemesis of Happiness and he realizes his mistake too late: “I was stupid. I wasn’t thinking”. He pays for this mistake with his life. Fingers, the lord in a world of gambling, violence, and whoring, also has excessive greed for power and wealth but nowhere do we see in him remorse or retribution. Something tragic is bound to happen when Pleasure meets Sorrow and yet the encounter has deepened and enriched both of them. With these hapless creatures, one wishes that something right could happen to their lives. Could a bundle of money dropping from the sky hold the key to a second chance for Sorrow? One has to move on even if it’s hard starting over. But in the end, let us believe that “Love is stronger than death” for the hope that love brings is transforming and redeeming.