Thursday, October 30, 2008

City of Ember

Cast: Harry Tradeaway, Saoirse Ronan, David Ryall, Ian McElhinney, Tim Robbins Bill Murray, Lucinda Dryzek; Director: Gil Kenan; Producers: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Steve Shareshian; Screenwriters: Caroline Thompson, Jeanne Duprau; Music: Andrew Lockington; Editors: Adam P. Scott, Zach Staenberg; Genre: Fantasy/ Drama/ Suspense; Cinematography: Xavier Perez Grobet; Distributor: Pioneer Films; Location: Northern Island, UK; Running Time: 95 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

Two hundred years ago, some kind of a terrible devastation rendered the earth no longer livable, driving the human survivors to dig deep down inside this earth and build a refuge- the City of Ember- for their safety and survival. Now having passed the two hundred years, increasing signs start to show that the City of Ember is breaking apart. The one huge power generator that takes care of the city’s power supplying air, light and heat is continuously breaking down. The water supply is affected by leaks and busted pipes. The food supply- in tin cans- for the people is running out. People are called together and assigned to do various tasks: To investigate, do repairs, make reports, run errands, etc. Two young persons given their chores are Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) and Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan). They know one another because her father drowned when he was trying to escape with Doon’s dad, Loris (Tim Robbins). Doon and Lina appear to think that there were certain hidden things going on in the city that do not appear to be right. They pair up and begin to do a search of what is really happening. They discover the easy going and corrupt Mayor Cole (Bill Murry) has a well hidden stash of canned food for himself. More important they also find evidence through maps, hidden papers and poorly kept documents that there are clues showing an exit to the above outside earth and instructions on how to get there: their (all from the inner earth) only chance to escape from the deteriorating city deep under them.

Giving the main focus of the story to two young people: Harry Treadaway as Doon, and Saoirse Ronan as Lina shows the movie’s intent to catch the interest of the young viewers. In addition, advertisements about the possibility that City of Ember could be comparable to the Harry Potter films/stories serves as an enticement to potential viewers to check on it. The movie has a big cast and fast moving sequences to show the many events that have to take place to reach the planned ending. There are some interesting tenseful moments, aside from the many subplots. Harry and Saoirse, though seem to be unknown actors, did well in their roles. It cannot be helped that the lighting has to be darkish because of the location of the story: way down inside the earth.

Harry and Lina show their daring and willingness to risk themselves in finding the truth. They tried using the narrow and light boat against the rushing water flow to see if they could make the exit. They did, then sent a message to the people down below that there is a way out! Overall, there is the message of hope, to be saved. The darkness of the scenes: passage ways, rooms; a large fierce crab-like creature that runs after people and bites, are scenes not advisable viewing for young children.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nights in Rodanthe

Cast: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Scoot Glenn, Christopher Meloni, Viola Davis; Director: George C. Wolfe; Producer: Denise Di Novi; Screenwriters: Ann Peacock, John Romano; Music: Jeanine Tesori; Editor: Brian A. Kates; Genre: Drama, Romance; Cinematography: Alfonso Beate; Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Location: Carolina, USA; Running Time: 97 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

Adreinne Willis (Diane Lane) has lived the life of a broken family for sometime since her husband Jack left her for someone else. She has been putting her life together, with her children- the hard-to-handle Amanda who wants her father back, and Danny, the younger boy. Suddenly, her husband shows up to convince her to take him back, to let him “come home”. Terribly upset and not knowing how to deal with the situation, Adrienne leaves the children in Jack’s care and goes away to some place quiet to think things over and decide what answer she is going to come up with. She volunteers to manage and care for her best friend Jean’s small seaside inn in Rodanthe, Carolina for the few days that the friend would be away. She has barely started to attend to things and settle down at the inn on the first day, when the first guest walks in, due to the coming storm. This is Doctor Paul Flanner (Richard Gere) the first-comer. He is also facing problems of his own, and is trying to find some quiet to think, and someone to talk to. The fierce storm breaks, threatening to bring down the whole inn. In their fright, and concern to protect each other from the flying and falling debris, the two quickly become close and begin to realize how they are feeling for each other.

It is a very well made movie, showing as is, a realistic view of marriage and family life. The problems that come between spouses, parents and their children are simply presented and shown as they happen in real life, easily recognized by the movie viewers. The external, on screen presentation, of the rushing in and then the crashing course of the hurricane help to enhance, for the viewers, the inner turmoil being felt by the troubled Adrienne and Paul. Richard Gere and Diane Lane’s acting is convincingly exceptional. The fine work of George C. Wolfe as the director should be acknowledged.

Nights in Rodanthe deals with problems and conflicts in marriage and family life that could break up a home. Here Adrienne and Paul have similar troubles: Jack left Adrienne and children Amanda and Danny for someone else. Amanda wants her father back, and blames the mother for the chaotic situation they are in. Paul’s wife left him a long while ago, because of it, their son, also a doctor, hates his father. The short time that Adrienne and Paul had together, helped them to talk about each other’s struggles as spouse and parents, and discover where they had gone wrong or been remiss. Each returns to their children, with self-confidence, boosted by their sympathy for and affirmation of each other. They continued to frequently keep touch through letters that sustained their love for each other. True love between people help them to help the loved ones become better persons. Between work and family, the home or family has priority. The sexual issues though not frequently presented, are rather highly intense. Sex outside married life is morally not acceptable.

The Strangers

Cast: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman; Director: Bryan Bertino; Producers: Doug Davison, Nathan Kahane; Screenwriter: Bryan Bertino; Music: Tomandandi; Editor: Kevin Greutert; Genre: Horror/ Suspense; Cinematography: Peter Sova; Distributor: Rogue Pictures; Location: USA; Running Time: 90 min.;

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

James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) arrive at the Hoyt family’s remote summer home in the middle of the night after attending a friend’s wedding reception. Both look sad and miserable. It turns out, Kristen just turned down James marriage proposal for some reason. After minutes of indifference and silence, they kiss and make-up and almost made-out but they are interrupted by the loud knocking at the door. James opens the door and to their surprise, at 4:00 in the morning, a lady stranger is looking for somebody who never lives in the house. Without the couple knowing it, they are stalked and menaced by three masked strangers who are able to get into the house.

Based on real events, The Strangers is another horror flick with no other point than scaring the audience. The movie actually succeeds in keeping its audience at the edge of their seats. There is enough suspense, thrill and madness required for the film’s genre. Liv Tyler delivers a fine performance and the audience has actually seen real humans in the presence of the two lead casts. But then, the movie lacks soul for there is no explanation on the killings. The plotline is too simplistic for a full length feature. The scary tactics are effective at the start, but towards the end, the audience gets tired of it and looks for more meat in the story otherwise the film becomes utterly predictable.

We are not safe anywhere, not even in our homes because strangers can just get in and spread horror and terror without any reason. This is all The Strangers has to say. It can be true that evil really exists. However, evil should not be deemed nor portrayed as an all-powerful force. The movie could have been better if there was at least a glimmer of hope for justice. The presence of the two Christian boys at the end is nothing more than a sign of desperation. It either says God is too late or God never rescues. The genuine love between Kristen and James is the only saving grace in the movie although it did not save them; their love made them stronger and bonded them together until death. Aside from the violence, blood and gore which may cause nightmares for the very young audience, parents should also be warned on the context of fornication and some degree of profanity in the movie.

Living Hell

Cast: Jonathan Schaech, Erica Leerhsen, James Mcdaniel, Jason Wiles; Director: Richard Jefferies; Producers: Deborah Del Prete, David S. Greathouse, Richard Jefferies, Gigi Pritzker; Screenwriter: Richard Jefferies; Music: Terence Jay; Editor: Russell Denove; Genre: ; Cinematography: Eric Leach; Distributor: The Sci-Fi Channel; Location: New Mexico, USA; Running Time: 92 min.;

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

Frank Sears (Jonathan Shaech) is a biology teacher traumatized after seeing his crazy mother shoot his dad and then herself and leaving him with the words “S-3 and V-12” carved on each palm of his hand. He makes his way to an army base in New Mexico to warn them about a terrible organism that has been created during the cold war as a biological weapon against the enemy but now buried in “ Sublevel 3, Vault 12” after the project proved too difficult to contain. Unfortunately, the secret chambers are opened and the creature is unleashed to consume everything in its way. It feeds on light and energy and grows at an alarmingly fast rate. Sears and Carrie (Erica Leerhsen), a haz-mat member recently widowed after her husband was killed by the creature, race to neutralize it before the sun rises and it becomes totally unstoppable.

Living Hell (formerly titled Organizm) offers nothing new. Its plot is very formulaic, the characters are caricaturist and unimaginative, the CGIs look unrealistic and the technical efforts mediocre. On the good note, the movie is quite exciting with quick pacing and a storyline that develops pretty well with some decent performances. Miraculously, the film turns out to be an enjoyable B-movie, good enough to pass a lazy evening with.

The movie offers a good debate about how to resolve a crisis - do we sacrifice an innocent few to save the greater majority? The authorities were ready to sacrifice a whole town full of innocent people just to stop the creature. Exploring other options required more efforts and were unreliable.. so just go ahead and nuke an entire town. On so many occasions, we are presented with this choice. Issues on poverty and population control, on crime and death penalty, on the Muslim conflict… Do we take the easy way out and disregard the rights and lives of some people so we can solve the impending problem? It seems the more preference is to turn a blind eye on morality and go with the more popular, more controversial option and less stressful option. Perhaps it is best to review how we prioritize life and remember that every single creature is God’s beloved. So at any given time, presented with any given situation, we must choose life. Not just the life of some selected people but all lives … that of the smallest and most insignificant up to the strongest and most admired person.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Max Payne

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges , Ludacris, Chris O’Donnell, ; Director: John Moore; Producers: Scott Faye, John Moore, Julie Yorn; Screenwriters: Beau Thorne, Sam Lake; Music: Marco Beltrami; Editor: Dan Zimmerman; Genre: Action/ Crime/ Drama/ Thriller; Cinematography: Jonathan Sela; Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox-Film Corporation; Location: USA;

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers age 18 and above

Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) works in a drab corner of a police precinct. Exuding an anti-social air about him, Payne is left alone by his officemates, knowing he has not as yet recovered from the trauma of losing his wife and his infant son. As a new colleague comes to know later, Payne had come home one evening to find his family brutally murdered in their own bedroom. Since then he has been distraught and obsessed with revenge, often venturing alone, disregarding rules and defying authority in searching for clues to lead him to the murderers. His relentless investigation gets him entangled in the underworld where he comes face to face with his enemies and realizes that he is dealing with power that is larger than life itself.

As an action film based on the 2001 video game of the same name, Max Payne went through almost seven years pre-production period but was shot only within two months. Wahlberg is a natural for the role of the distressed and hyperactive loner. In general it’s a very good cast, which makes for the convincing realism of the story. The darkness of the theme and the nature of the characters is complemented by the just-right music and effectively enforced by the cinematographic effects, the colors, lighting, shadows, the sets and locations (such as the abandoned warehouse). One noteworthy aspect of Max Payne’s visuals is the costume and the makeup—these are used with restraint, not exaggerated to define the characters or the situations. The has some loopholes, but they’re forgivable, considering the other superior elements of the movie’s technical aspect.

The theme of Max Payne may be revenge but the real issue is Payne’s inability to cope constructively with tragedy. Thus the movie speaks much of the human situation, and viewers who have ears (not only eyes) will listen to and find in its faint message the path to a solution that might in the future help prevent self-destructive situations from recurring. Payne as victim of loved ones’ loss may be emotionally-driven and seeking justice—understandable situations for humans to be in—but nothing in the past seemed to have prepare him for the brutal episode he found himself in. His single-minded compulsion at tracking down his enemies are rewarded, but at what cost? It’s important to note the extra footage after the credits; it gives you a clue as to the future Payne is facing. And perhaps, also a foretaste of a Max Payne sequel

Body of Lies

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russel Crowe, Carise van Houten, Michael Gaston, Vince Colosimo, Mark Strong; Director: Ridley Scoot; Producers: David De Line, Ridley Scott; Screenwriters: William Monahan, David Ignatius; Music: Marc Streitenfeld; Editor: Pietro Scalia; Genre: Drama/ Suspenses/ Thriller; Cinematography: Alexander Witt; Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Location: Europe, USA, Middle East; Running Time: 128 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

CIA agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) chases terrorists around Middle East while his boss Ed Hoffman (Russel Crowe) gives him orders from the US and watches via satellite. Their latest mission is to track down and capture Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), the al-Qaida mastermind behind a recent series of attacks in Europe . Ferris hopes to infiltrate a safe house and locate Al-Saleem, so he reaches out to the head of Jordanian intelligence Hani Salaam, (Mark Strong). However, unknown to Ferris, Hoffman makes his own sideline moves that destroys Hani’s trust and nearly jeopardizes Ferris’ mission. This results in a more complicated and convoluted series of cat-and-mouse pursuit of snaring Al-Saleem.

Body of Lies could have been an intelligent film about terrorism but it falls short in so many ways as far as storyline and clarity of motives are concerned. It does not really say anything new other than intensifying and confirming the United States’ selfish interests in eradicating global terrorism. The story is too linear that it nearly defeats its suspense-thriller feel. But the display of the latest CIA satellite technology is impressive. DiCaprio and Crowe are both superb in the movie. Audiences are easily drawn to their characters forgetting the two were once mere matinee idols. Both essayed their roles with depth, maturity and ease. Nuances and ironies are clearly depicted in most scenes which somehow makes the film an engaging treat. Apparently though, some plot layers remain to be just functional and do not drive home a point, eventually leaving the film with many loose ends.

There’s a bit too much graphic violence and profanity in Body of Lies. There’s torture, war, explosions, and emotional stress in almost every scene. The film says there’s no one to trust in this world and it is not safe anywhere. Some of these may be essential to the genre; however, too much blood and violence can have a desensitizing effect on audiences, especially the young and vulnerable. The film shows how the business of espionage can dehumanize man. Throughout the film, the characters lie to each other to make a mission successful. People kill and are killed to accomplish this mission. Loyalties are confused and divided; trust is undermined. Secret agent Roger Ferris’ dedication to his job and loyalty to the State is commendable. When he’s not being a spy, he can be a good hero example with his gentle treatment of women, children and friends, but his saving grace is he knows when enough (espionage) is enough.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Cast: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons; Director: Ed Harris; Producers: Ed Harris, Ginger Sledge; Screenwriters: Robert Knott, Ed Harris; Music: Jeff Beal; Editor: Kathryn Himoff; Genre: Western; Cinematography: Dean Semler; Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Location: New Mexico , USA; Running Time: 110 min.;

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

Newly designated City Marshall Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his deputy Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) arrive together in Appaloosa, a small town experiencing the abusive presence of a rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and his men, to enforce the law for the interest of peace and justice in the town. Shortly after the arrival of Virgil and Everett, widow Allie French (Renee Zellweger) arrives and smittens the partners, but eventually ends up with Virgil. One of the main tasks of Virgil and Everett as marshalls is to keep track of people responsible for previous crimes of murder, rape, robbery, and related human rights violations. It does not take long for the duo to solve one high profile crime which convicted Bragg. However, even before Bragg serves his jail term, Allie is used by his allies to blackmail Virgil and entire escort team to let go of Bragg.

Storywise, Appaloosa is a mediocre film since it is a hodgepodge drama, action, a dash of political satire, and a bit of love angle. The overall treatment makes the story less exciting but makes lot of sense in view of other technical aspects of the film. The well done cinematography is responsible for good compositions particularly the scenic shots of the village and complements the overall production design including make-up. Sound and good musical score also contributed to the essence of the film. Effective acting especially that of Viggo Mortensen as Everett is commendable, although the movie leaves one with a feeling that it did not ask much of such big stars as Zellweger, Irons and Mortensen.

The film is about professionalism and friendship over personal interest, giving rather than taking more for oneself, and letting go over holding on. In short, it shows a responsibility that goes with accountability and sacrifice. A person who regards a long time partnership can discipline and control himself in the midst of temptation to protect the friendship, and can ultimately risk his life for a friend. The film briefly tackles corruption and flaws in the justice system and how noble law enforcers struggle to face it off. Though within context of this virtual cowboy movie, the female character is depicted in this film as deceiving, scheming, flirtatious and weak—not the best traits a woman can have. It also shows the age when duels were in fashion, and when laws in small towns were practically enforced at gunpoint, so don’t be shocked to see so many shootings.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Anthony Ruivivar, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson; Director: Ben Stiller; Producers: Stuart Cornfeld, Eric McLeod, Ben Stiller; Screenwriters: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux; Music: Theodore Shapiro; Editor: Greg Hayden; Genre: Action/Adventure/Comedy; Cinematography: John Toll; Distributor: Dreamworks Distribution; Location: Hawaii, USA; Running Time: 107 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 2
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

Tropic Thunder is a movie about how an award-winning movie, “Tropic Blunder”, is made. It opens with trailers meant to establish a trio of characters who are supposedly three of the actors in the movie being made: once box-office king and now fading action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), withdrawing drug addicted actor known for fart humor Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and pretentious Oscar-winning actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.). The movie they’re supposed to be making is based on a story about a Vietnam War hero, and its director is Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan). When a premature explosion damages the set beyond repair, Cockburn cannot accept that the filming is cancelled. The actors are led into the wild, believing there are cameras hidden everywhere to film whatever they’re doing. But they run into the territory of Asian heroin dealers led by a precociously ruthless 12 year old boy (Brandon Soo-Hoo). Speedman is captured, and in the actors’ attempt to rescue him, they realize they are now facing real guns while they have nothing but fake ones.

Tropic Thunder spoofs Hollywood , and in that sense it is an almost effective satire that can be funny at times. It’s a movie that knows movie-making and exposes the quirks of movie directors, actors and their agents, acting, trailers, movie props, writers, nearly all people involved in this ego-driven industry. It would get the loudest laughs—or boos—from movie people themselves, or viewers who are familiar with movie people; otherwise viewers will miss the sting, or the many references that only movie buffs will catch. If you didn’t know that Tropic Thunder is a movie of a movie, you’d think those trailers opening the movie are real. Stiller, Black and Downey , Jr. are in top form, and newcomer Soo-Hoo is such a scene stealer you wonder what his next movie role would be. Big names Nick Nolte and Tom Cruise among others play surprise cameo roles, a gimmick to say this movie is big time.

The posters claim Tropic Thunder is PG13; CINEMA thinks it’s for adults only. In the first place, if you’re not such a movie-lover, why bother to see a movie of a movie that aims to take digs at movie people and movie business? To cringe at the sight of fake blood (spurting from a bottomless pit)? To puke over fake guts (lengths of bloody sausages, yuck!)? To get your eardrums blasted and bleeding from “nonstop rough language and profanity, crass expressions…scatological humor and frank sexual references”? (Quoted from the review of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). What CINEMA noticed that is not in the reviews we have read of the critics who praised Tropic Thunder is its veiled irreverence towards the Christian religion. One of the fake trailers opening the movie looks like a Da Vinci Code remnant, showing in powerful images medieval Catholic monks in a “sinful” relationship. Twice, too, Stiller (whose role here smacks of a naive sacrificial lamb) spreads his arms as though crucified, while the wailing background music apes that in Passion of the Christ. For your information, Stiller’s father Jerry Stiller is Jewish, while his mother, Irish Catholic Anne Meara, converted to Judaism after marrying his father. Ben Stiller starred, co-wrote, co-produced and directed Tropic Thunder. Not that we’re being such a grouch, but doesn’t this somehow give us a clue as to where the movie is coming from?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Buried Alive

Cast: Leah Rachel, Erin Lokitz, Tobin Bell, Terence Jay; Director: Robert Kurtzman; Producers: Deborah Del Prete, David S. Greathouse, Gigi Pritzker; Screenwriter: Art Monterastelli; Music: Terence Jay; Editor: Cary Coughlin; Genre: Horror-Suspense; Cinematography: Thomas L. Callaway; Distributor: Dimension Films; Location: New Mexico, USA; Running Time: 90 min.;

Technical Assessment: 1.5
Moral Assessment: 2
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

Six students take a trip to the middle of the desert as part of a sorority initiation. They are to reside at Zane’s house (Terence Jay) which incidentally is haunted by a woman seeking revenge after she had been buried alive. Meanwhile, Lester (Tobin Bell), the caretaker, who has been searching secretly for the treasure disturbs the undead woman in the process. One by one, the kids are killed except for Zane’s cousin, Rene (Leah Rachel) whose mark on her back seems to have a connection with the undead woman.
This is another generic low budget mindless film trying hard to be scary with a couple of slashers and some shock factors. The first two thirds of the movie is wasted on a flimsy storyline and a mediocre script, exacerbated with bad acting, clich├ęs, borrowed themes from other horror movies, slow paced development of the story and a shaky editing. The characters are flat stereotypes that you will neither sympathize nor root for. As a horror movie, there is not much scare or suspense going on save for some five minutes of the zombie’s appearance put together. The characters spent more time making out. In fact the movie at one point looked more like a sex film with the constant nudity, sex scenes and vulgar language. It is a total waste of time and effort to watch this movie.
The movie projects the young as being brazen, guiltless and mindless with nothing more interesting and productive to do than to make out, get drunk and wasted or play cruel games in the name of initiation. They got what they deserved for all their shamelessness. This does not set a good example for teenagers and young adults as it implies that they are expected to make out as soon as they have a little privacy.
On the other hand, horror films seem to have some elements of sex and nudity these days in order to sell. (At least the not so good ones). This implies that producers and directors are taking the short cut to sell their movies and rely on gore and sex to market their movie, instead of being creative storytellers and resourceful artists.
Parents should not allow their young children to watch the movie or the DVD version. Adults could use their time and money for other movies or forms of entertainment.


Cast: (Voice) John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Christian Slater, Jennifer Coolidge, Arsenia Hall, Sean Hayes, Eddie Izzard, Jay Leno, James Lipion, Molly Shannon; Director: Tony Leondis; Producers: John D. Fraklis, Max Howard; Screenwriter: Chris McKenna; Music: Patrick Doyle; Editor: Herve Schneid; Genre: Animation, Comedy; Distributor: International: The Weinstein Company, Local:VIVA; Running Time: 85 min.;

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

In the land called Malaria, a child with a humped backed was born. Since this kind of phenomenon was unacceptable to their kind, he was named Igor. As an adult, he now works for a wicked master scientist. In spite of his talent in science, Igor is not allowed to try and use his skills. He is only to do the simple tasks that his master gives him. Still, he is determined to become like his master, to the extent of winning the title of “Best Evil Scientist” at the annual Evil Scientist Fair. A chance for Igor to start something comes when a disastrous accident in the lab takes place; he attempts to develop a gigantic woman he calls Eva, mistaken for “Evil” for a while. He prepares and trains her to help him create and spread evil all around. Things become complicated however, when his master goes after him, and also catches Eva to brain-wash her for his own agenda. But Eva (once “Evil”) is found to be a naturally good character that could not be easily turned bad. Igor also finds out that he could not really be evil as his master and his followers are.

Igor tries to be a film for all viewers. There is the struggle between the bad and good characters to gain the upper hand. The acting casts are computer generated images not easily identifiable for viewers. One example is a brain soaked in a jar called Brain; and another, among others, is a very skinny rabbit named Scamper which keeps on trying to kill itself. The characters or images are too many and they move at a pace that makes it difficult to understand what is taking place as the story moves along.

Wanting to be like his wicked boss, Igor was willing to turn evil. But it turns out he is too naturally good to turn bad. What happened had positive effects on Eve and his group of followers. It may not be a good idea for the younger teens to watch Igor because of some of the weird and scary unrecognizable characters shown. There are also some violence depicted, although in cartoon style.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Matakot Ka Sa Kulam

Cast: Judy Ann Santos, Dennis Trillo, TJ Trinidad, Ces Quesada, Sharlene San Pedro, Kris Bernal, Irma Adlawan; Director: Jun Lana; Producer: Lily Y. Monteverde; Screenwriter: Jun Lana; Genre: Horror/ Drama; Distributor: Regal Films; Location: Manila/ Batangas; Running Time: 100 min.;

Technical Assessment: 4
Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

Nagka-amnesia si Mira (Judy Ann Santos) bunga ng isang matinding aksidente. Hindi naman sumuko ang asawa niyang si Paul (Dennis Trillo) sa pag-aalaga sa kanya at sa pagpapaalala kung sino siya. Unti-unti ay inilalapit ni Paul si Mira sa kanilang nag-iisang anak, si Sophie (Sharlene San Pedro) na isang bulag. Habang pinagtatagni ni Mira ang kanyang pagkatao ay may nakikita siyang isang babaeng nagmumulto. Kasabay nito ay ang pagkakatuklas niya iba pang katotohanan sa kanyang pagkatao sa pamamagitan ni Dave (TJ Trinidad) na siyang tanging pinagtaguan niya ng kanyang mga sikreto. Isa sa mga sikretong ito ay ang kanyang kakambal na si Maria (Judy Ann Santos) at ang kanilang pinagmulang angkan ng mga mangkukulam. Si Maria nga kaya ang babaeng nagmumulto at hindi matahimik? Habang tumintindi ang banta sa buhay ng pamilya ni Mira ay unti-unti rin siyang napapalapit sa katotohanan ng kanyang pagkatao.

Isang matagumpay na pelikulang katakutan ang Kulam. Maayos ang daloy nito at talaga namang tatakutin ka mula simula hanggang wakas. Mahusay ang pagkakasulat at pagkakadirehe. Tamang-tama ang timpla ng drama at horror at sakto sa bilang ang pagtatago at pagbubunyag ng mga sikreto. Mahusay din ang pagkaka-arte ng lahat ng tauhan lalo na si Judy Ann Santos na gumanap ng isang tunay na mapaghamong papel. Maging ang mga pangalawang tauhan ay pawang mahuhusay din tulad nina Sharlene San Pedro na mahusay sa pagkakaganap na bulag at Irma Adlawan bilang kanilang inang mangkukulam. Lubos na nakatulong din ang maayos na pag-iilaw at disenyong pamproduksiyon. Bagama’t halatang ang ibang eksena ay hango mula sa mga Korean horror, nagawa pa rin nitong bigyan ng tunay na Pilipinong bihis ang pelikula dahil sa tema nitong tunay na malapit sa kalinangang Pilipino.

Totoo nga kaya ang kulam? Ito ang tanong na matagal ng bumabagabag sa bawat ordinaryong Pilipino na makakarinig ng tungkol dito. Totoo man o hindi, isang bagay ang malinaw, ito ay hindi kagagawan ng kabutihan kundi ng kasamaan. Ipinakita ng pelikula ang lakas ng kapangyarihang itim na ito ngunit ipinakita rin dito na sa bandang huli, ang kabutihan pa rin ang magwawagi. Higit na makapangyarihan ang pag-ibig at pagmamahal sa anumang mahika o vertud tulad ng sa kulam. Marami nga lang mga eksenang nangangailangan ng gabay ng magulang sakaling manood ang mga kabataan. Nariyan ang pagpapakamatay, pakiki-apid at ilang mga nakakakilabot na eksena na maaaring magdulot ng trauma o bangungot sa mga bata.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Make It Happen

Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Riley Smith, Tessa Thompson, John Reardon, Ashley Roberts, Julissa Bermudez, Leigh Enns, Karen LeBlanc; Director: Darren Grant; Producers: ; Screenwriters: Duane Adler, Nicole Avril ; Music: Paul Haslinger; Editor: Scoot Richter; Genre: Comedy Drama; Cinematography: David Claessen; Distributor: The Weinstein Company; Location: Illinois, USA; Running Time: 90min.;

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

Lauryn Kirk (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a small-town young woman of 21 years, from Indiana travels to Chicago, looking forward to making her dreams of becoming a professional dancer come true by enrolling at the Chicago School of Music and Dance. She does not pass the audition however; and a second attempt to qualify is unlikely to be given her. Unwilling to return home to her brother Joel, with whom she had worked as book keeper at the garage left to them by their parents who had passed on. Now alone dining at Ruby’s, an exclusive entertainment club, Dana a waitress/dancer (Tessa Thompson) makes her acquaintance, likes her and invites her to stay at her pad. Lauryn is given a job as an accountant in the club. Her new found friends and workmates eventually discover her talent for dancing, and her liking for it. She catches herself irristably moving with the music and moving with the dancers doing ballet, Hip-Hop and mostly the Burlesque. Disc jockey Russ (Riley Smith) encourages and helps her with his music. Then Dana and he prod her to try again to get into the Chicago School of Music and Dance. Brother Joel shows up at one of her club performances. He is upset that she was not at school but in a club dancing. He also feels bad at her leaving him and a failing garage. Lauryn goes straight home. Joel finds her at the garage working on the accounting books.

The movie centers on a young woman who feels that it is about time she should be in pursuit of what she wants in her life. She sets out without making her farewell to anyone, not even her brother. A simple-town young lady does not know anyone outside her home-town nor what to do when things do not go her way. But she is lucky to meet the staff at Ruby’s and have their sympathy and advice. But she has to go through her share of uncertainty and difficulties as she copes and makes decisions. She gets rejected; is envied by rivals, works hard at her dance rehearsals, deals with critics, among others. The movie shows and tells a clear story, a touching one even, although this is a common tale not something exceptional and different. Some frequent movie viewers could find in other films variations to this story. The attraction to this movie, especially for the young viewers, would be the lengthy presentation of the dancing, most of the numbers are brisk, intricate and lively. Mary worked up a good character in Lauryn and was very energetic in her dancing.

What Lauryn learned and how she became a more confident and decisive person came from her various experience. She did not think that she should go back to Chicago and request for another audition; but she is taught never to give up, but be ready to give it another try. Her justifiable earnestness and insistence touched the audition panel and she was given the opportunity to enroll for the course. By her immediate willingness to get back to her small-town and check on the garage’s failing status showed Joel her willingness to make a sacrifice and help him. He saw her generosity, and also that she should be on her way to make her own dreams come true. So he sends her back to Chicago. She was on time and passed the entrance.

As this movie is likely to attract the teenage audience, it should be mentioned that there are some long sequences of dancers in partial nudity performing vigorous and delicate body movements, that CINEMA has given it a V14 rating, allowing young people of 14 years and up to view it..

Three Kingdoms:Resurrection of the Dragon

Cast: Andy Lau, Maggie Q, Sammo Hung, Damian Lau, Andy On; Director: Daniel Lee; Producer: Taiwon Entertainment; Screenwriter: Daniel Lee, Guanzhong Lao; Music: Henry Lai; Genre: Action/Historical Epic; Cinematography: Tony Cheung; Location: China; Running Time: 102 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

The story is set in the third century when China experiences terrible bloodbaths and warfare after the fall of the Han Empire. Regional warlords fight for power and glory as they slice up the country into Three Kingdoms: The Kingdom of Wei in the North ruled by the cruel, scheming Cao Cao (Damian Lau), the Kingdom of Wu in the east under Sun Quan and the weakest of the three, the Western Kingdom of Shu ruled by the benevolent Liu Bei (Hua Yueh). In the Kingdom of Shu, a young idealistic commoner Zhao Zilong (Andy Lau) enlists in the army with the dream of uniting China and bringing about peace. He meets a veteran of the wars Luo-Ping-an (Sammo Hung) who comes from his own village and they pledge eternal friendship and brotherhood. Possessing extraordinary martial skills, Zilong rapidly rises up the ranks through his remarkable victories and daring exploits, among them successfully protecting the royal family of Liu and killing the great Cao Cao of the Kingdom of Wei. He becomes known as the “invincible general” and for several decades goes to war for his king undefeated with the ultimate aim of uniting the country. Though Zilong is greatly honored, Ping-an his “brother” hardly gets recognition and thus Ping-an harbors resentment and envy towards Zilong. Upon the death of the King Cao Cao of Wei, his granddaughter Cao Ying (Maggie Q) eventually becomes commander of the army. Tutored by the callous Cao Cao, Cao Ying becomes a formidable astute opponent of Zilong. Will Cao Ying get her revenge? How will Ping-an’s jealously affect the final battles? Will there be peace?

The movie tells the engaging story of a charismatic Chinese hero Zhao Zilong against the backdrop of a turbulent historical era. Based on the great, 14th century semi-fictional classical novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanghong, the film tries to approximate the epical scope of the novel. The spectacle of war is here vividly portrayed through the well-choreographed battles of the various armies with their innumerable number of combatants impressively geared in battle array and all set in vast desert landscapes. The plot of the film covers several decades and one gets the feeling that the film is rushed, trying to do so much in just one film with so many events and so many characters, many of whom are just glossed over. The big budget film is fast paced and has some stylistic cinematography. The last 30 minutes of the film has a spectacular duel of wit and strategy between two highly skilled martial artists Andy Lau and Maggie Q and it has many of its “character” moments. Andy Lau practically dominates the film and gives depth to his role so that his character Zilong becomes interesting and riveting. Though her role is limited, Maggie Q gives an impressive performance as the calculating, cruel master tactician who plays the Chinese stringed instrument pipa as the battle rages around her.

Because of the proliferation of battles in the film, a viewer may get the impression at first that Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon is just another long war picture with the usual lamentable butchery, carnage and violence. But on second thought, one realizes it has also commendable values. In Zilong, for example, one sees the desire to do something heroic for his country, its unification and peace; the dedication to duty and loyalty to authority; the determination and courage as well as the willingness to sacrifice to achieve his goal. Also the film projects what takes place in the human heart under certain circumstances. Like so many people who are passed over or unrecognized, and obsessed with honor and glory, Ping-an feeds his envy towards the successful Zilong his “brother” and betrays him who has defended him and risked his life to save him. Only to realize too late the far reaching effects of what he thought was a simple act of self-interest. Also the movie viewer notices how the powerful people in the movie uses others for their ends without scruples. Like the woman commander Cao Ying who sacrifices a part of her army by setting them on fire for the purpose of also burning the enemy. The most poignant realization takes place at the end when the much honored Zilong realizes his human limitations. He is greatly skilled, gifted and heroic and wants so much to effect the unification of China in his time as he believes that “man can prevail his destiny”. But though his goals are noble, he realizes that there are things that are not meant for him. He may have achieved greatness but not all that he wants.

The Mutant Chronicles

Cast: John Meleovich, Ron Perlman; Director: Simon Hunter; Producers: Edward Pressman, Tim Dennison, Peter La Terriere et al; Screenwriter: Philip Eisner; Music: Richard Wellsi; Editors: Sean Barton, Alison Lewis; Genre: Adventure/Action/Detective; Cinematography: Geoff Boyle; Distributor: Pioneer Films; Location: Europe; Running Time: 110 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

The greatest enemy of humanity represented by a machine cannot be overcome by human beings without the power of God. A group of volunteer soldiers from different continents try to destroy the machine and offer their lives for all others to live.