The Episcopal Commission on Social Communication-CBCP

CINEMA (Catholic INitiative for Enlightened Movie Appreciation) of The Episcopal Commission on Social Communication of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines presents movies viewed in the light of the gospel. . *** For inquiries, please EMAIL: cbcpcinema@gmail.com *** CALL or TEXT: (02) 664 5886 *** or WRITE TO: CINEMA, Episcopal Commission on Social Communication, CBCP Compound, 470 General Luna St. Intramuros, Manila *** Enjoy the reviews, and THANK YOU!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Best Friend's Girl

Cast: Dane Cook, Kate Hudson, Jason Biggs, Alec Baldwin; Director: Howard Deutch; Producers: Guymon Casady, Dane Cook, Adam Herz, Doug Johnson, Barry Katz, Gregory Lessans, Josh Shader, Brian Volk-Weiss; Screenwriter: Jordan Cahan; Music: John Debney; Editor: Seth Flaum; Genre: Sexy Drama/ Comedy; Cinematography: Jack N. Green; Distributor: Lionsgate; Location: Massachusetts, USA ; Running Time: 100 min.;

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

Tank (Dane Cook), a call center agent and self-acclaimed “expert” on women psyche takes on a part time job as a break-up fixer for men friends who want to win back their women. This "part time job" does not spare his best friend Dustin (Jason Biggs) who seeks his "expertise" and pays him to win his lady love Alexis (Kate Hudson). Taking the word of Tank that the deal will be a mere plain job, Dustin is thankful and he thinks Tank's tactics are working to his advantage. Tank takes the job in consideration of his friendship only to realize that Alexis is not an easy subject. However, the two of them quickly become frequent sex partners and discovery of this affair hurts Dustin. How will this betrayal affect the friendship and what will happen to the affair of Tank and Alexis.

My Best Friend's Girl tries to present a comedy which is not actually funny and a love story without the context of love. Rather it is a full package of vulgar words and sexual innuendos. Though sex scenes are short and not too explicit, they are frequent and carried out as an overall theme in the entire film. Acting is minimal and so are cinematic effects. The director fails to project the element of true love in what is meant to be a love story. Overall the film is technically below average.

Sex and love are things that can bring about a lot of good in people's lives. This film however, distorts the meaning of both and worst, presents women as sex objects and very weak creatures. It presents a pattern of break-up and reconciliation among relationships as orchestrated by a person who appears to have mastered women psyche and yet does not show any sensitivity towards them. Although the film ends showing how friendships can pick up from betrayal through forgiveness, acceptance, letting go and giving way, it was obviously not the main message that was carried out in the entire run of the film. Excessive use of vulgar words, implied sexual contents, frontal nudity, gender stereotyping of women as sex objects are offensive matters evident in this film.

Disaster Movie

Cast: Matt Lanter, Vanessa Minnello, Gary “Thang”, Johnson; Directors: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer; Producers: Jason Friedberg, Peter Safran, Aaron Seltzer; Screenwriters: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer; Music: Christopher Lennertz; Editor: Peck Prior; Genre: Comedy/ Spoof; Cinematography: Shawn Maurer; Distributor: Lionsgate; Location: Louisiana, USA; Running Time: 90min.;

Technical Assessment: 2
Moral Assessment: 2
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

Will (Matt Lanter) is plagued by dreams of apocalypse just right before his super duper sweet sixteen party at his house (even though he is already 25). Terrified of his own dreams, Will also loses his girlfriend Amy (Vanessa Minillo) who leaves him for someone else. Will’s friends Calvin (Gary Johnson) and Lisa (Kimberly Kardasian) together with a parody of characters from past movies, e.g. Juno, Enchanted Princess, experience a series of disasters from the night of Will’s party. As they all struggle for survival, they randomly meet and encounter various characters lifted from recent and not-so-recent-movies. Ultimately, Will has to save Amy from an impending disaster as he learns that Amy’s location, a museum, is on the verge of destruction.

Another spoof of various movies from the same makers of Scary Movie, Meet the Spartans and Epic Movie, Disaster Movie is true to its title with its disastrous moviemaking taste. With tidbits of scenes taken from past “hits” and “not-so-hits”, the film is devoid of any originality. There is no soul, no humor. There really is nothing in the movie. Audiences are sometimes given a hard time guessing the spoof’s inspiration and the source of a character’s parody. If one has not seen yet the movies being spoofed in Disaster Movie, never will he ever appreciate those scenes. Movie icons are constantly ridiculed in the film. There are offensive stereotypical portrayals of women, homosexuals and the religious that are all done in bad taste.

Disaster Movie is consistent with the values or non-values it presents. Nudity, gore and violence are scattered all over the place. There are characters who are almost nude and there are some scenes suggesting women half-nude. The tamest form could be that of women showing cleavage and wearing bikinis. Being trigger-happy is presented as funny and violence among and against women is considered acceptable. A pregnant teenager is seen drinking alcohol and whose water bag raptures profusely enough to bathe two men. A woman takes from under her skirt a crystal skull, indicating that it is hidden all along inside her. Being a spoof movie, such scenes are supposed to be funny but they turn out to be malicious and extremely offensive. Although there is no graphic representation of sex and violence, only ridiculous depiction of gore and suggestive sexual and homosexual connotations, young audiences should be warned and guided by adults for such scenes may negatively influence impressionable minds.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2


Cast: America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, Blake Lively; Director: Sanaa Hamri; Producer: Debra Martin Chasee; Screenwriters: Elizabeth Chandler, Ann Brashares; Music: Rachel Portman; Editor: Melissa Kent; Genre: Teen Comedy; Cinematography: Jim Denault; Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Location: USA, Turkey; Running Time: 117 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

The story is mainly based on Ann Brashares 4th novel with storylines from the 2nd and 3rd novels. This picture begins 3 years after the first movie adaption with the girls now in college and are about to spend their summer separately with the pair of jeans that magically fits all four following each one’s adventure. Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) celebrates her 10th month anniversary with boyfriend Brian (Leonardo Nam) by sleeping with him. The next morning she is horrified to find out that the condom broke. Amidst the pregnancy scare, she goes off to Manhattan to take summer studies on film making. Lena (Alexis Bledel), heartbroken after learning her Greek boyfriend was recently married, takes up art classes and falls for the male nude model. Soccer player Bridget (Blake Lively) has a hard time dealing with her father and leaves for Turkey for an archeological dig to find out meaning in her life. Carmen (America Ferrera) tries to engineer a summer reunion with her friends only to find out they already had made prior plans. Feeling left out, she sets off to Vermont to work backstage for a play.

One commendable value of the movie is in the presentation and resolution of the conflicts. They are believable enough to provide a good balance of realism and hope. The cast play their part well and provide the heart and soul of the acting. Technically, the movie is well crafted with good camera angling and well paced editing. The production design suits the characterizations well as it perfectly brings out the personalities of the girls. Music is subtle and blends with the scene. Over-all, this is a feel good, light and inspiring movie about friendship.

The movie’s strongest theme is friendship and how individual struggles, mistakes and problems do not hinder their relationship to grow and deepen. Sisterhood… is like a good friend we can always run to in times of trouble, confusion and insecurity.

However, since the obvious intended audience of the movie are teenage girls, parents should be cautioned that while premarital sex is shown to have physical and emotional consequences regretfully it is not presented as totally wrong and characters who have engaged in it are not shown to have any remorse save for a momentary pregnancy scare. Sexual intimacy within the context of marriage is not the emphasis, instead what the film presents is the objectionable notion that pre-marital sex with two people in love is okay. Young audiences may be confused with the presentation of this theme and need to be guided by mature and responsible adults.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bangkok Dangerous

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Shahkrit Yamnarm, Charlie Yeung, Panward Hemmanee; Directors: Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang; Producers: Nicolas Cage, Norman Golightly, William Sherak, Jason Shuman; Screenwriters: Jason Richman, Oxide Pang Chun; Music: Brian Tyler; Editors: Mike Jackson, Curran Pang; Genre: Action; Cinematography: Decha Srimantra; Distributor: Lionsgate; Location: Bangkok, Thailand; Running Time: 100 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

Joe (Nicolas Cage), an assassin, goes to Bangkok on an assignment to kill four people. He hires pickpocket Kong (Shahkrit Yamnam) as his assistant and messenger. Joe receives the contract from a Bangkok gangster, as to who will be Joe’s specific target, through Kong and a dancer who later on becomes romantically involved with Kong. Joe breaks his own rule of not getting involved with people on his missions where he takes Kong as his “student” because he sees him as a younger version of himself. Joe also meets and falls for a beautiful deaf-mute pharmacist (Charlie Yeung). After Joe has successfully done his three assignments of killing “bad people” or “bad for somebody” as he says, the fourth one seems to be crucial and difficult because Kong has told him that the said target is a good man. As Joe’s days pass by in Bangkok, he starts to grow a conscience which makes it difficult for him to carry on his line of work.

There’s nothing really big nor spectacular in Bangkok Dangerous except for the expected performance of Nicolas Cage which fans would surely appreciate. However, non-fans would be disappointed with Cage’s haggard look even in supposedly romantic scenes. There is no chemistry among love partners in the movie. One does not see any romantic link whatsoever between any of the characters. Cage and Yamnam are able to connect as student-mentor but the shallow and hollow script does not provide further depth to their characters endear them to the audience. The plot is quite cheesy and mushy to the point of being predictable and soap operatic. There is an attempt to make this movie an exceptional action picture but still the film fails in so many ways to excite the audience and to fulfill expectations.

Joe’s character, as the movie says, is an amoral character because he only assassinates and kills “bad for somebody” people. However, he also kills any link that would lead to him as a suspect including his hired assistants or messengers. Either way, killing is immoral and there is no way one can justify it as amoral. Putting Bangkok Dangerous into context, the film tries to explore the dark world of crime, sex, drugs and violence in a place that is considered to be the “sex capital” of the world so it is inevitable to include scenes with a degree of sex, violence, substance use and abuse. Joe’s character has been doomed and redemption is uncertain. Kong’s willingness to be trained in the dark world is also quite objectionable as this may be deemed as right by the very young audiences and this somehow gives a bad light to the concept of mentoring. There are also scenes of gore that leaves a desensitizing effect on the audience’s tolerance of violence. There is cursing, fighting, lewd dancing, alcohol drinking, so young viewers should be guided.

I.T.A.L.Y. (I Trust and Love You)

Cast: Jolina Magdangal, Rufa Mae Quinto, Dennis Trillo, Eugene Domingo, Mark Herras, Rhian Ramos; Director: Mark A. Reyes; Producer: Annette Gozon-Abrogar; Screenwriter: Senedy Que; Music: Vincent de Jesus; Editor: Maryo Ignacio; Genre: Drama’ Adventure/ Sexual Comedy; Cinematography: Jose Linao; Distributor: GMA Films; Location: Italy, Manila, Spain; Running Time: 100 min.;

Technical Assessment: 2.5
Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating: For viewers age 13 and below with parental guidance

Si Destiny o Des (Jolina Magdangal) ay isang housekeeper sa isang luxury cruise ship sa Europa. Isang dalaga na maraming pangarap si Des katulad ng makapangibang-bayan partikular ang makarating sa lugar na Venice, Italy, maging mang-aawit, makatulong sa pamilya at matagpuan ang lalaking nakatadhana para sa kanya sa gabay ng isang pekeng hula. Ang mga pangarap na ito ang nagtulak sa kanya upang magtrabaho sa barko kung saan makikilala niya sina Paolo (Dennis Trillo), Lovely (EugeneDomingo), Stella (Ruffa Mae Quinto), at Nathan (Mark Herras). Isa sa mga pasahero ng barko si Paolo na nangungulila sa banyagang girlfriend na bigla na lang naglaho sa kanyang buhay. Nakitaan ni Des si Paolo na mga senyales na ayon sa manghuhula ay itinakdang lalaki para sa kanya, kaya ganoon na lamang ang effort ni Des na mapalapit dito. Si Lovely, kapwa housekeeper ni Des sa barko, ay isang bigo sa pag-ibig at di na umaasang makapag-asawa pa. Si Stella, isang lounge singer sa barko, ay isang babaing naghahanap ng tunay na magmamahal at magsiseryoso sa kanya. Si Nathan na cabin crew ay isang babaero na maakit sa maganda subalit supladang pasahero na si Phoebe (Rhian Ramos). Ano kaya ang mangyayari sa kanila sa katapusan ng paglalakbay ng barkong sinasakyan nila?

Sanga-sanga ang kwento na pinilit ilagay sa isang pelikula para matapos lang. Hilaw ang paghahatid ng kombinasyong drama at comedy (o dramedy) dahil nga sa kawalan ng sentro ng kwento. Bagamat epektibo ang mga hirit na patawa nina Eugene at Ruffa Mae, hindi naman ito nakatulong upang mapalalim ang mga mensaheng nais ipahatid ng mga tauhan na at ng buong pelikula. Maliban sa madamdaming pag-uusap nila Pen Medina at Jolina sa telepono at eksena na pagkakatuklas ni Paolo ng pagkamatay ng nawawalang kasintahan, wala ng nailabas pa sa pag-arte ang mga aktor sa pelikula. Bitin sa pagtalakay ng makabuluhang buhay ng OFW sa barko ang pelikula na isang oportunidad na sana. Tila hindi rin masyadong nabigyan ng ibayong kabuluhan ang iba't ibang lugar na ipinakita sa pelikula gayundin ang mga bahagi ng cruise ship na interesante rin sana. Gayunpaman ay maayos at akma ang mga musikang inilapat sa mga eksena at nakatulong ito nang malaki upang magkaroon ng saysay ang pelikula. Sa kabuuan ay nakakaaliw ang pelikula lalo na sa mga eksenang patawa.

Katulad ng inihatid ng pelikula, mahalaga sa pag-abot ng mga pangarap ang determinasyon at tapang na harapin ang mga nakaakibat na lungkot at sakripisyo. Ang isang mabuting anak ay sumusunod din sa bilin ng mga magulang kahit na malayo sa isa't isa. Sa banyagang lugar lalo na sa pagtatrabaho ay dapat manaig ang mahusay na pakikisama upang mayroong suporta sa panahon ng pangangailangan. Maganda ang mensahe ng pelikula tungkol sa pagkakaibigan, pagtanggap ng mga realidad ng buhay, kababaang-loob at pag-ibig. isang punto na dapat siguro ay pagnilayan ng mga manonood ay ang pagpili ng makakasama sa buhay na hindi dapat isinasalalay sa kamay ng manghuhula o mga senyales na sasabihin nito.

Right at Your Door

Cast: Mary McCormack, Rory Cochrane, Tony Perez; Director: Chris Gorak; Producers: Jonah Smith, Palmer West; Screenwriter: Chris Gorak; Music: Tomandandy; Editor: Jeffrey M. Werner; Genre: Disaster; Cinematography: Tom Richmond; Distributor: Viva Film; Location: L.os Angeles, California; Running Time: 96 Min.;

Technical Assessment: 2.5
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

Brad (Rory Cochrane), a struggling musician, and his bread winner wife Lexi (Mary McCormack), have just moved into the suburbs of LA. On an ordinary weekday, Lexi goes to work while Brad tends to the house when a series of bombs goes off in several places. Apparently these bombs are laden with a chemical that would cause an exposed person to get very sick and die. Authorities tell the people to lock up in their houses to avoid contamination. Brad spends half the film’s time trying to find his wife and dodging polive and barricades but to no avail. He returns home and seals up his house with the help of the neighbor’s gardener, Alvaro (Tony Perez), leaving a box of provisions outside for Lexi. She finally shows up at their doorsteps - infected, ill and dying. Brad painfully decides to lock her out of the house as he cannot jeopardize his own life.

The premise of the plot has a lot of potential for a touching and riveting human drama however, the script has failed to develop the characters and establish a relationship with the audience that it is hard to relate with them to offer any sympathy for their predicament. The scripting and plot development could have been greatly improved as it is presented like an over-stretched 30 minute production. The acting is commendable, while the sound and music are suitable. Technically, the movie is adequate with good vision from Gorak and a brilliant interplay of grays and blues with a tight, though jerky, framing. Richmond is able to recreate a dramatically pristine but terrifying ash fall effect. For a low-budget film, the production is satisfactory.

In the movie Right At Your Door “Till death do us part”… sounds meaningless when a couple is faced with a critical choice that might jeopardize their survival. The spectator realizes that this situation is no longer rare today. Loyalty and sacrifice seems to longer occupy a place in marriage and choosing between the self and the partner becomes easier and easier as people become more self-centered and self-absorbed to care about the person one promised to love and to cherish for the rest of his life.

The movie is also about the fear-mongering encouraged by the media as it throws conflicted information and sensationalism in crisis situations. The media seems to add more confusion and panic than give clarity and guidance. In the end, what we usually regard as the pillar of truth and enlightenment, aggravates a predicament a million times worse than it should be.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Anna Walton, Luke Gross, Jeffrey Tambor; Director: Guillermo del Toro; Producers: Laurence Gordon, Mike Richardson, Lloyd Levin; Screenwriters: Guillermo del Toro, Mike Mignola; Music: Danny Elfman; Editor: Bernat Vilaplana; Genre: Fiction/ Action/ Adventure; Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro; Distributor: Universal Pictures; Location: USA; Running Time: 120 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

The humans and other beings had their truce a long way back when they agreed to split into settlements in separate areas. But now, the moment has come when war is in the air. The human Prince Nuada (Luke Gross) in defiance of his king father is instigating a conflict between him and all the rest around their territory. Nuada’s goals are to find and put together the three pieces of a crown, which when completed would make him the new king of the original conglomeratation of humans and other living beings; at the same time the conflict will cause the awakening of hundreds of mechanical soldiers long stored idle, which would get him his goal. Unfortunately however, his twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton) is clearly against his decision. Unknown to Nuada however, there is Hellboy “Red” (Ron Perlman) a really incredible hulk, has Nuala’s crown piece in keeping, and ready to fight for her and the people.

Hellboy is an interestingly put together story filled with suspense and adventure. No doubt. Ron Perlman is very good at projecting his character; he looks real and convincing, as a capable and extraordinary hulk, is able to do what others can’t. His sometimes soft character is touching. The visual effects are well presented as scenes of old and ancient times in different shades of light and darkness are shown. The ensemble acting is also impressive as flashed on the screen. The use of CGI’s improve and enhance what are displayed and they appear more real. One possible drawback for some viewers would be the problem of identifying individual characters and where they belong. The overall value of the movie is the presentation of the good fighting against what is evil. Here is Hellboy and Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) leading the good against the evil ones led by Prince Nuada. There is Hellboy, with the assistance of a group of investigators and researchers helping and defending humans from evil power. There are evil spirits in the world. People can conquer the immortal enemy with the help of someone stronger than oneself. Hellboy plays the role of the savior and defender of human beings attacked by evil spirits.

Vulgar language is at a minimum, while violence is shown frequently as it is needed for a major part of the story. Because these scenes could cause frequent emotional stress for younger viewers, CINEMA recommends that only those 14 years old and above be allowed to watch Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.

Righteous Kill

Cast: Robert de Niro, Al Pacino; Director: Jon Avnet; Producers: Rob Cowan, Avil Randall Emmette, John Avnet, Lati Brobman, Alexander Michan, Daniel Rosenberg; Screenwriter: Russell Gewirtz; Music: Ed Shearmur; Editor: Paul Hirsch; Genre: Action/ Crime; Cinematography: Denis Lenoir; Distributor: Overture Films; Location: USA; Running Time: 100 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

After 30 years as partners in NYPD, highly decorated Detectives David Fisk a.k.a Turk (Al Pacino) and Thomas Cowan aka Rooster (Robert De Niro) should be ready for retirement, but aren’t. Before they can hang up their badges, they are called in to investigate the murder of a notorious pimp, which appears to have ties to a case they solved years ago. Like the original murder, the victim is a suspected criminal whose body is found with a four line poem justifying the killing. When additional crimes take place with the same nature and trademark poem, it becomes clear Turk and Rooster are looking for a serial killer, one who targets criminals that have managed to go around the defective judicial system. The serial killer’s mission is to do what the cops can’t do on their own—take the culprits off the streets for good. The similarities between the recent killings and their earlier case raise a nagging question: Did they put the wrong man behind bars?
Righteous Kill can be a run-of-the-mill, forgettable crime thriller but the presence of De Niro and Pacino has made all the difference. As expected, the tandem of the two award-winning Hollywood veterans has pulled the entire feature off from start to finish. The storytelling has succeeded in misleading the audience’s gut feel, a true mark of a suspense-thriller. The secrets and revelations are sustained to the end. Although the script has the tendency to be a bit talky and dragging for the genre, it can be forgiven for as long as De Niro and Pacino are the ones seen delivering the kilometric lines.
Is there really such a thing as a “righteous kill”? The movie tells the audience how erroneous the judicial system can get even in a supposed to be progressive and sophisticated state as New York. Given such reality, one may resort to extra-judicial means like a modern-day Robin Hood and in the tradition of Dirty Harry. However, there really is no way an end can justify the means. A crime is a crime however one puts it. Righteous Kill does not condone crime in any form. Looking at the film in its entire context, justice prevails in the story amidst the dilemma of jeopardizing friendships and treasured relationships. Righteous Kill does not glorify criminals however noble their purpose and no matter how dark their past has been which has turned them into dark human beings. But then, audiences should be cautioned and guided on the presence of drugs, alcohol, racism and some scenes connoting hatred to Catholic clergy and the desecration of the church and its sacrament of reconciliation as these scenes may further cultivate the “mean world syndrome” among the young and vulnerable minds.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Babylon A.D.

Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry, Gerard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling; Director: Mathieu Kassovitz; Producers: Alain Goldman, Mathieu Kassovitz; Screenwriters: Eric Besnard, Maurice G. Dantec; Music: Atli Orvarsson; Editor: Benjamin Weill; Genre:Sci-Fi/ Action/ Adventure; Cinematography: Thierry Arbogast; Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Location: Eastern Europe, Alaska, Canada, New York; Running Time: 90 min.;

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

Toorop (Vin Diesel) is a veteran turned mercenary hired by an aging wealthy ally Gorsky (Gerald Depardieu) to smuggle a young girl Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her guardian nun Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) out of Mongolia, via Russia and Eastern Europe (after the breaking up of the USSR) to New York. They have to pass through dangerous train depots and border checkpoints, board an old Russian submarine and traverse with snowmobiles a vast expanse of security drone-policed arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada. Toorop does not exactly know the purpose of his mission but surmises Aurora must be carrying a deadly virus or something important. Aside from the dangers they face in the devastated places they pass through, they are relentlessly being pursued by an armed group headed by a High Priestess (Charlotte Rampling) of a religious cult. There are attempts to kidnap Aurora. She seems to know things she has never experienced though the only world she has known is the orphanage-convent where she grew up. Aurora also reveals she is pregnant with twins though she has had no sexual experience. Not knowing exactly the facts of his task, Toorop is distrustful of all. Aurora is unpredictable. What awaits the trio in New York if they ever get there?

Based on a little known novel titled Babylon Babies by an equally obscure Frenchman Maurice G. Dantec, Babylon A.D. does not have high expectations right from the start. Its own director Matthieu Kassovitz has aired his own misgivings about how his film has been “emasculated” by some at Twentieth Century Fox. And probably this could give us an inkling of why the plot is underdeveloped with loose ends unresolved and questions unanswered. The script is underwritten. The narrative, as well as action sequences, gets confusing at times. The story is set in the future but one does not know just how far out in the future. Some images of places and cities are post-apocalyptic especially those in Eastern Europe but some are highly stylized versions of the present like those of New York. Though uniformly grim and stark, some visuals show a measure of good production design. It seems some such visuals have survived the extensive editorial pruning, like the heavy duty cars being hoisted and transported over the landscape by helicopters and the portrayal of social decay amid the depressing sight of vast hopeless looking crowds milling around aimlessly in the chaos of devastated cities. Vin Diesel tries to adequately act out his role but he is bogged down by the deficiencies in the plot and script.

The word “Babylon” usually calls to mind a certain ancient civilization and culture that was characterized by decay and moral decadence, among other things. So the title of the film right away may suggest to the viewer a counterpart culture in our time. And indeed, the spectator has been prepared, so to speak, to expect what one finds in the film: excessive violence, foul language, moral disintegration following the destruction of cities by wars and whatever catastrophies (the film does not specify). This is a sci-fi action picture but there is an attempt to integrate religious sentiments into the story as found in the occasional showing of Christian icons and the insinuation of a virgin birth through Aurora and possibly the coming of the “messiah” whom a fanatical religious group wants to appropriate for itself. But these are clumsy attempts at trying to put some meaning and substance into this film where there is none and where good values are practically nil. There is also a hint of the manipulation or “designing” of the mind and person of Aurora by her pseudo scientist father resulting in unexpected bizarre results. The film shows that men cannot and should not tinker with the human person. Only God creates man.

Congkak "Sungka"

Cast: Erin Malek, Erynne Erynna, Ruminah Sidek, Raja Gosnell, Riezman Khuzaimi; Director: Ahmad Idham; Producers: David Teo, Erynne Erynna; Screenwriter: Ahmad Idham; Editor: Ahmad Mustadha; Genre: Horror; Cinematography: Indra Che Muda; Distributor: Metrowealth Production SDb Bhd; Location: Malaysia; Running Time: 82 min.;

Technical Assessment: 2.5
Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

Kazman (Riezman Khuzaimi) is a responsible husband to wife Sufiah (Nanu) and father to siblings Eli (Nur’Arina) and Lisa (Erynne Erynna). Despite Sufiah's objection, Kazman still buys a house near a river. As soon as they move in, people in the neighborhood warn them about the mysterious house. It does not take long that all members of the family start to experience a strange presence and hear sounds including those of the invisible "congkak" playmate of the youngest child Lisa. When Sufiah thinks the "congkak" board is an evil matter, she throws it out of the house and into the river to get rid of it and to free Lisa from a mysterious friend. Unfortunately getting rid of the "congkak" board does not end what the family thinks is the cause of the horrible presence in their newly acquired property but only signals the worst that is yet to come like the disappearance of the two daughters. A concerned old folk Pak Tua a.k.a Uncle (actor's name) volunteers to help them and seeks their cooperation in the name of Allah, the Merciful God. Will they ever be at peace in this house?

“Congkak” is actually a board game with parallel holes and played with tiny pieces of stones by two players. But the film is not about this game but rather about a family in a newly acquired house haunted by a ghost that looks like a monster. There are loopholes in the story because except for the information that no one has occupied the house for the last 20 years, it is not clear why the house is being haunted and what is the reference to the "congkak" game. Somehow, one cannot help thinking that the director seems to just put the effects and sounds together to jolt the viewers from their seats. A ghost with a monster-like face is a bit off and unrealistically presented as a friend to a child. Actingwise, some of the actors perform well especially (Riezman Khuzaimi) and (Erynne Erynna). Overall, it is technically an overdone horror film.

Though the film's Malay context of being paternalistic may not be applicable, in a major family decision like acquiring property, it is really good to consider the views of the members especially those between husband and wife. It is very sensible for this film to show the concern and presence of mind of a father in time of a family crisis. In the same way it is commendable that a concerned neighbor capable of helping the disturbed family to drive away the bad spirit does not have second thoughts of taking a risk to do that. More importantly, the film shows that a strong faith in merciful God Almighty is the best weapon to fight evil spirits.