Friday, February 27, 2009

The Reader

Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Alexandra Maria Lara, Lena Olin; Director: Stephen Daldry; Producers: Donna Gigliotti, Anthony Minghella, Redmond Morris, Sydney Pollack; Screenwriters: David Hare, Bernhard Schlink; Music: Nico Muhly; Editor: Claire Simpson; Genre: Historical Drama; Cinematography: Roger Deakins, Chris Menges; Distributor: Paramount Pictures; Location: Germany; Running Time: 123 min.;

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 2
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and a above

In 1958 15-year-old Micheal Berg (David Kross) falls ill while traveling in Neusdadt , Germany . Thirty-six-year-old tram conductress Hannah Schmitz (Kate Winslet) helps him return home. Apparently Michael has caught scarlet fever and must rest at home for three months. When he recovers, he visits Hannah’s apartment to thank her. The two begin an affair during which Michael reads Hannah some literary works he is studying. Their affair is cut short when Hannah suddenly leaves after receiving news of her promotion to an office work in the Tram Company. In 1966, Michael, already a law student observes a trial of several woman SS guards accused of letting 300 Jewish women die in a burning church after the 1944 evacuation of Auschwitz . He is surprised to see Hannah as one of the defendants. The trial reveals that each defendant chose 10 women who were brought to the gas chamber every month. Hannah’s fellow defendant’s points to her as the mastermind of the church fire report. At first she denies but caves in after the court asks her to provide a sample of her handwriting. At this point, Michael realizes Hannah’s secret. Hannah gets life sentence for her presumed role in the genocide Meanwhile, Michael begins recording the stories he has been reading to Hannah and sends her the cassette tapes but never writes or visits. In 1988, Michael is asked by the prison official to help Hannah’s transition into society upon her release. Michael visits the aged Hannah, informs her that he has secured a job and a home for her, and that he would fetch her on the day she will be released. On that day, Michael learns that Hannah had hanged herself, leaving for him instructions on what do with her money.

The film is a powerful poignant drama of coming of age, heartbreak, guilt, shame and redemption with the Holocaust as backdrop. The drama is gentle and downplayed. Winslet, who already has won several Best Acting Awards for her role as the simple minded Hannah, delivers a profound and honest portrayal. Fiennes is believable as scarred and detached lawyer who in unable to develop a lasting relation and Olin is effective as a Concentration Camp survivor still bitter and damaged from witnessing the atrocities of the Holocaust. The movie, though shuffling from one decade to another, develops clearly with a crisp and powerful screenplay. The production design is truthful enough to transport viewers from Post-war Germany to the modernization of the 80s and at the same time creative enough to illustrate images and characters using the austerity of Hannah's apartment or the dignified set-up of the courtroom. This is one of those movies that creep in on you almost unnoticed but leaves a permanent imprint.

The film presents Hanna as being too morally or intellectually blind to understand the consequences and impact to other people of her words and actions. Her sensibilities are misplaced with her thinking that being illiterate is more shameful than deliberately tolerating mass murder, and that maintaining order as a prison guard is more important than saving the lives of 300 women prisoners. However, morality and goodness are not products of a literary excellence. It is assumed that choosing what is right is innate in every person and that ultimately one is responsible for the choices he makes, schooled or otherwise.

Guilt is presented as a shameful history of the young generation and a dark secret of the old. One’s crimes is cleansed not with social justice, personal suffering or tokens of apology but also with the realization of all aggrieved parties that one needs to accept responsibility, forgive and start anew in the effort to make life better for other people.

There are several disturbing premises and scenes in the film that may offend the sensitivities of more conservative viewers. However, over-all these do not make the movie objectionable. One, the sex scenes and nudity throughout the film, although graphic, are not exploitative. Two, although the affair between a 30-year-old and a 15-year-old is alarming, it is used to depict a young generation trying to understand the crimes of an older generation. Three, Hannah's suicide is morally unacceptable but from a psychological point of view one might say that an aging, lonely, broken and once illiterate woman who was coldly received by the one person she was fond of might have felt pushed against a wall and found no reason to continue living.

Parents are strongly cautioned as very young and immature audience may not handle well scenes of sex, nudity, suicide and others.

You Changed My Life

Cast: Sarah Geronimo, John Lloyd Cruz, Rowell Santiago, Rayver Cruz, Matet de Leon, Joross Gamboa, Gio Alvarez, Dante Rivero; Director: Cathy Garcia-Molina; Producers: Malou Santos, Vic Del Rosario; Music: Jessie Lasaten; Genre: Drama/ Romance; Distributor: Star Cinema Productions/ Viva Films; Location: Philippines; Running Time: 120 min;

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 4
CINEMA Rating: For viewers age 13 and below with parental guidance

Anim na buwan na ang nakakalipas nang mabihag ni Laida Magtalas (Sarah Geronimo) ang puso ng kanyang “man of his dreams” at boss na si Miggy Montenegro (John Lloyd Cruz). Naayos na ni Miggy ang problema sa kanyang pamilya at masayang-masaya ang kanilang pagsasama ni Laida. Na-promote na si Laida pati na si Miggy. Sa pagkaka-promote ni Miggy, kakailanganin niyang magtrabaho sa Laguna at magiging bihira ang pagkikita nila ni Laida. Dito magsisimula ang problema nilang dalawa kasabay ng pagbabalik ng dating best friend ni Laida na si Mackoy (Rayver Cruz) na magiging ugat ng pagseselos ni Miggy. Sa gitna ng mga komplikasyon ng relasyong Laida at Miggy ay magkakaroon naman ng oportunidad si Laida na magtrabaho sa Canada. Magkaroon pa kaya ng happy ending ang dalawa?

Muling pinakilig ng tambalang Sarah-John Lloyd ang mga manonood sa pagpapatuloy ng kanilang kuwento na nagsimula sa A Very Special Love. Tulad sa naunang pelikula, hitik ang You Changed My Life ng mga nakakatuwang eksena at di-malilimutang mga linya. Tunay na maganda ang chemistry ng dalawa. Maayos ang daloy ng kuwento at malinaw ang nais patunguhan. Magagaling ang lahat ng mga tauhan na binigyang buhay ang kanilang bawat karakter. Sa gitna ng kilig at tawanan, mayroon ring tamang timpla ng drama ang pelikula. Yun nga lang, pawang naging masyadong limitado ang kuwento at problema sa dalawang bida. Hindi na gaanong napalalim ang mga isyung pampamilya at ang ilang mahahalagang karakter ay nawalan ng sariling kuwento. Gayunpaman, ang pinakamahalaga’y naihatid ng pelikula ang kuwentong Laida at Miggy sa mas mataas na antas.

Nakakatuwang pagmasdan kung paanong ang dalawang taong wagas na nagmamahalan ay pilit na gumagawa ng paraan upang panatilihin at pagyabungin ito. Nananatiling dalisay at walang bahid ng kalaswaan at makamundong pagnanasa ang relasyong Laida at Miggy. Tunay na hindi kinakailangang magpakita ng laman o malabis na halikan upang ipakita ang pagmamahalan. Napakalakas ng mensahe ng pelikula na walang imposible sa dalawang taong nagmamahalan. Hindi hadlang ang pagkakaiba ng estado sa buhay maging ang panlabas na kaanyuan sa dalawang pusong nagmamahal. Kapuri-puri din ang pagpapahalaga ng pelikula sa pamilya, pagkakaibigan, trabaho at higit sa lahat, sa makabuluhang relasyon. Sa gitna ng kaguluhan at maraming komplikasyon sa pagbabago ng mundo, nanatiling matibay ang pagkakaibigan, pagpaparaya at pag-ibig. Ikanga rin sa pelikula, hindi nagsusukatan ang taong nagmamahalan sapagkat iba’t-iba ang kayang ibigay ng bawat isa. Ang mahalaga’y lubos at buong-puso ang pagbibigay at pagpaparaya.

The International

Cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, Brian F. O’Byrne; Director: Tom Tykwer; Producers: Llyod Phillips, Charles Roven, Richard Suckle; Screenwriter: Eric Singer; Music: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer; Editor: Mathilde Bonnefoy; Genre: Drama/ Thriller; Cinematography: Frank Griebe; Distributor: Columbia Pictures; Location: New York, USA; Running Time: 118 min;

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

The IBBC, a global bank with headquarters in Luxembourg, does not merely lend money but also broker’s arms deals. In fact, its power-grabbing board would have no qualms about assassinating anyone who gets in its way or gets to know too much. On this premise, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) who witnesses the mysterious death of a partner while working with him in Berlin, obsesses about meting out justice to IBBC’s victims. Sharing his probing dedication is New York assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), and together they pursue IBBC’s ruthless principal Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich

Thomsen), and the bank’s sinister German fixer, Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Their sleuthing takes them from New York to Milan to Istanbul, but whenever they would be on the brink of proving their case, the evidence vanishes.

The International succeeds in creating a scenario that would not seem improbable in a global economic situation that many fear has gone haywire. Surely with the restraint employed by director Tom Tykwer, Owen—intense, handsome and unshaven—comes on as the perfect Interpol agent who loses sleep on a case. Watts also plays up the plucky lawyer side of her character (and even swears like a man at one point) so that the platonic quality of the partnership between Salinger and Whitman is enhanced. There are no heroic feats for the hero here, not even stunts that are physically unlikely outside of a movie, because it is precisely his vulnerability that the plot tries to explore as he bears the weight of the conflict between the desire for justice and the dangers of vigilantism. Just about the only adrenalin-drenched action you’ll find here is the shooting scene at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, where the beautiful museum displays and installations being peppered with bullets threaten to distract the viewer from the gun battle going on. By the way, the Guggenheim shooting was filmed on an interior set in Germany.

The International delivers not so much a moral lesson as a moral warning. If there is one eye-opening thing it can do to moviegoers, it is arousing in them the suspicion that such a situation as this could not be far from being real. If movies in the past showed money-laundering as the worst that banks can do, The International is saying that keeping secret Swiss bank accounts is kindergarten stuff compared to international intrigue, arms trade, and murder that bankers may now be engaged in. That banks, armies and governments actually network independent of national boundaries could be frightening to dwell upon, particularly if you detect a connection between a country’s war expenditures and its plummeting economy. We dread to see the day when missiles and warheads are sold over the counter—like headache pills—but in The International that day is already here. All because bankers have jumped into the power-grabbing fracas that used to be the exclusive turf of armies and politicians.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly, Ben Affleck, Kevin Connolly, Justin Long, Ginnifer Goodwin; Director: Ken Kwapis; Producer: Nancy Juvonen; Screenwriters: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein; Music: Cliff Eidelman; Editor: Cara Silverman; Genre: Romantic Comedy; Cinematography: John Bailey; Distributor: New Line Cinema; Location: Maryland, USA; Running Time: 129 min;

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

The movie talks about the dos and don’ts of dating following the story of nine people in their twenties and thirties who are in a relationship wherein one partner is more in love than the other. Narrating the stories is Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), a young insecure single woman who always manages to misinterpret the actions of men about their level of interest in her. After being rejected by Conor (Kevin Connolly), she starts getting dating advice from Conor’s friend, the romantic and promiscuous bar manager Alex (Justin Long). Meanwhile, Gigi's sister Janine (Jennifer Connelly) is having marriage problems with her husband, Ben (Bradley Cooper), as he cheats on her with Anna (Scarlett Johansson), a yoga instructor and wannabe singer. But Anna is two-timing Ben with Conor, but isn't as really in love with him as he is with her. Anna talks about her lovelife with Mary (Drew Barrymore), a newspaper editor. On the other hand, Gigi's co-worker, Beth (Jennifer Aniston), is upset that her live-in boyfriend of seven years Neil (Ben Affleck) refuses to commit permanently.

The movie is amusing with some good performances and clever deliveries from the lead actors. However it seems that the scenes have been diced from other romantic comedies and clumped together with a lesser punch. The characters are very shallow and the film does not give any more insight beyond its title. The technical aspect is decent with a good paced-editing and a suitable scoring. However, even with its powerhouse cast, the movie may be forgotten a day after it has been seen.

The film demonstrates that the failure of a relationship is a breakdown in the communication. When people begin to color, hide or twist the truth, it becomes difficult to maintain trust and commitment. We begin to hurt people with a pretense of politeness and good manners when in truth we merely try to hide our self-centeredness and insincerity. Although the premise of the movie is to empower women and teach them to realize when it is time to let go, relations are sexualized and may offend the sensitivities of viewers or may give the wrong impression to teenagers.

The movie gives a negative view of marriage. Either it is just for show, something constricting, something that can be discarded when no longer needed or merely a refuge for the insecure and lonely. Although there remains something of a cautionary tale, wherein viewers experience the excitement of an extramarital affair, it turns around to reveal that these flirtations destroy relationships, lives and persons. The movie may say that marriage is overrated, but it also confronts those who are deliberately unfaithful to their partners.

Gran Torino

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her; Director: Clint Eastwood; Producers: Clint Eastwood, Bill Gerber, Robert Lorenz; Screenwriters: Nick Schenk, Dave Johansson (story); Music: Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens; Editor: Joel Cox, Gary Roach; Genre: Drama; Cinematography: Tom Stern; Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA; Running Time: 116min;

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

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a retired auto worker and Korean War veteran for whom the word cantankerous must have been invented. He is grumpy, irritable, tetchy, resentful, cranky and all their synonyms. He seems to hate everything and everyone, pointing his gun at anybody who as much as walks on his lawn. Even his grown sons keep their distance, suggesting their father move to a geriatric facility to stay out of trouble. Walt doesn’t seem to see anything pleasing in life, much less in his Detroit neighborhood that has been invaded by what he calls “chinks”. The “chinks” are actually Laotian Hmongs who prove to be very pleasant and civilized neighbors when Walter saves their son Thao (Bee Vang) from a teenage gang pressuring him to join their marauding pursuits. The fact that Walt had earlier on caught Thao trying to steal his prized, gleaming Ford, a Gran Torino, doesn’t matter—hating evil and doing good simply comes naturally for him while remaining his crusty old self. But Walt’s crusty old heart soon gives way, albeit gradually and grudgingly, to the neighborly gestures of the Hmongs who have made a virtual hero out of him—especially when Walt again saves Thao’s older sister Soo (Ahney Her) from the same gang harassing her brother. They would pamper him with food and flower offerings at his doorsteps, persevering even if at the start Walt merely trashes everything right before their eyes. Thao’s mother, to atone for the boy’s attempted car theft, offers his services gratis to Walt who reluctantly agrees upon Soo’s prodding. Much of the change in Walt is in fact caused by the smart and self-confident Soo who sees Walt’s goodness beneath his tough exterior. Tension mounts when the marauding gang persists in their pesky maneuvers which Walt will simply not tolerate.

Gran Torino owes its appeal to a tall but engrossing tale—story by David Johannson and script by Nick Schenk—given life and a measure of probability by flawless character development. Directing the movie himself, Eastwood in Gran Torino is vintage Eastwood playing an octogenarian Dirty Harry, displaying great chemistry between hero and supporting cast. As any Asian immigrant in the United States can tell you, the interaction between Eastwood’s character and the Laotian Hmongs, particularly during the birthday party, could be a veritable episode straight out of reality tv. Ahney Her’s performance is sparkling as the sassy sister of the timid Thao; given the right roles she could become another bright star from Asia.

Gran Torino is a story of cultural tolerance and the triumph of the goodness in the human heart over the vicissitudes of life. Walt Kowalski is not a mean soul although he appears to be one. He is a war survivor, wounded by violence and traumatized by conflict; his tough exterior is nothing more than layer after layer of scars inflicted by years in combat. Trusting only his guns and self-preservation instincts, he almost forgets he is human underneath it all, until a young innocent soul unwittingly penetrates his defenses and coaxes out the best in him.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When I Met You

Cast: KC Concepcion, Richard Gutierrez, Alfred Vargas, Iya Villiana, Cherry Pie Picache, Chanda Romero, Tirso Cruz III, Tonton Guttierez; Director: Joel Lamangan; Producers: Jose Mari Abacan, Roselle Monteverde-Teo; Screenwriter: Aloy Adlawan; Music: Von de Guzman; Editor: Marya Ignacio; Genre: Romance; Cinematography: Mo Zee; Distributor: GMA Films, Regal Films; Location: Philippines ; Running Time: 134min;

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For viewers of all ages

Si Jenny (KC Concepcion) ay isang masayahin at sunod-sunurang kasintahan ni Albert (Alfred Vargas) samantalang si Benjie (Richard Gutierrez) ay kasintahan ng mayamang si Tracy (Iya Villiana). Magtatagpo ang landas ng dalawa nang kinailangang makisakay ni Jenny sa cargo plane na minamaneho ni Benjie upang dumalo sa isang kasalan sa Palawan. Dahil hindi nagkaintindihan ang dalawa sa oras ng kanilang pag-alis ay mapipilitang pumayag si Benjie na makipagpalit ng eroplano sa kanyang kasamahan na siya namang pagsisimulan ng bangayan ng dalawa. Sa kasamaang palad ay magkakaproblema ang kanilang eroplano at babagsak sa isang isla. Habang hinihintay nila na dumating ang rescue crew ay pag-uusapan nila ang kahulagan ng pag-ibig para sa kanila. Magkakahulugan sila ng loob at patuloy na magtatagpo pagbalik ng Maynila. Ang palihim na pagtatagpo nina Benjie at Jenny ay mauuwi sa pagkakalapit ng kanilang kalooban. Matutuklasan sila nina Alfred at Tracy at gagawa ng paraan ang mga ito upang mapaglayo sila.

Walang pinag-iba ang pelikulang ito sa karaniwang pelikulang Pilipino tungkol sa pag-ibig ng mga kabataan: malabnaw ang kwento, mabagal ang daloy ng istorya at mababaw ang pagganap. Tanging ang pangalan lamang ng dalawang bidang artista ang pinuhunan upang ibenta ito. Hindi kapani-paniwala ang pagkakahulugan ng loob nina Jenny at Benjie. Walang lalim ang pagganap nina Concepcion, Gutierrez at Vargas. Maliban kina Tirso Cruz III at Chanda Romero ay pawang caricature na ang mga tauhan sa pelikula. Maayos ang teknikal na aspeto maliban sa ilang hindi makatotohanang bahagi tulad ng sinematograpiya at disenyong pamproduksyon na pilit at medyo theatrical, at ang paglalapat ng musika na masyadong madrama.

Bagamat walang malaswa o marahas na eksena sa pelikula ay may isang negatibong mensahe ang pinararating nito sa kabataan: na sa pag-ibig ay hindi na kailangans isa-alang-alang ang paggawa ng tama o pananakit ng iba masunod lamang ang nararamdaman. Kahit matagal nang may kasintahan sina Jenny at Benjie ay binayaang nilang mahulog ang loob nila sa isa’t isa nang hindi man lamang nakikipaghiwalay muna sa kani-kaniyang kasintahan. Para bang sinasabi na sa sandaling may makitang ibang mas maganda, mas makakasundo o mas nakakapagpasaya ng damdamin ay maari nang kalimutan ang naunang relasyon. Hindi nito ipinakita na makipag-usap at gumawa muna ng paraan upang maayos ang relasyon sa kasintahan bago tumingin sa iba. Hindi rin maganda ang prinsipiyo ng mga magulang nina Benjie at Jenny na botong boto kina Tracy at Alfred dahil sa maykaya ang mga ito at nagbibigay na pinansyal na tulong sa kanila.

Dahil mga kabataan ang pangunahing tagapanuod ng pelikulang ito, mainam na subaybayan sila ng mga magulang upang magabayan at pangaralan laban sa sitwasyon at usaping maaaring magbigay na negatibong impluwensya.


Cast: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Joel Gretsch, Neil Jackson, Maggie Siff, Scott Michael Campbell, Colin Ford, Nate Mooney; Director: Paul McGuigan; Producers: Bruce Davey, William Vince, Glenn Williamson; Screenwriter: David Bourla; Music: Neil Davidge; Editor: Nicolas Trembasiewicz; Genre: Sci-Fi/ Fantasy; Cinematography: Peter Sova; Distributor: Summit Entertainment; Location: Hong Kong; Running Time: 111min;

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

An American government agency, The Division, genetically transforms citizens with paranormal abilities into psychic warriors. These gifted individuals are taken away from their families and any relationships. Those who are unwilling to participate are liquidated and brutally killed. Nick Grant (Chris Evans), a “mover” (those with telekinetic abilities), has been in hiding in Hong Kong since the Division murdered his father for refusing to cooperate. However, he is forced out of hiding when Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning), a 13-year-old “watcher” (clairvoyant) seeks his help to find Kira (Camille Belle), an escaped “pusher” (those who can manipulate minds) and Nick's long lost ex-girlfriend, who may hold the key in putting the Division's program to an end. Their lives are entangled and soon find themselves in a cat-and-mouse chase by Division Agent Harvey Carver (Djimon Honsou), who is out to get and stop them from achieving their goal.

Inspired by the emerging fantasy-sci-fi superhero genre, Push can easily pass as another fun-ride movie. One can never really guess what would happen next since all characters seem to have unnatural powers instrumental to any plot twists and turns. The narrative may be all too shallow but the multi-layered story arcs have kept the audience's interest up to the end. It is quite a disappointment that some plot elements are not developed like the roots and consequences of having supernatural powers. The actors satisfactorily deliver what is expected. Evans is able to carry the movie but it is Fanning who really gave life and spice in the entire feature with her wit and strong screen presence. The Hong Kong backdrop works well but it still remains as almost a milieu.

Since the fascination for superheroes and superpowers started, one classic moral came from the film adaptation of Spiderman, “to great power comes great responsibility”. Clearly paranormal psychic powers are no exemption. These abilities are long-time considered as gifts and must be used with utmost responsibility for the common good. The premise of “Push” clearly illustrates how a society’s evil scheme could manipulate its citizens and abuse God-given powers. Nick may have refused to be used for evil motives but he also did nothing to at least develop his abilities and use those to serve people in need. Again, evil triumphs because good people choose to do nothing. The same is actually true to all characters. All of them are simply concerned with their own personal quest for survival and not really mindful of any global issues like peace or war. In this sense, the movie becomes morally myopic. The entire stand of the movie in its fight against evil gets confusing at times as protagonists turns into antagonists thus blurring the line of good and bad. But then the movie is consistent with one message: paranormal abilities can be either good or bad depending on the person using it. And that no one holds what's going to happen in the future because the free will is always at work. Finally, what's missing in the movie could be the presence of a “force” which is far greater than any supernatural abilities. The movies theme, some scenes of violence, suggestive sexualities, and teenage alcoholism may not be suited for viewers below 14 years of age.


Cast: Tom Cruise, David Bamber, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten; Director: Bryan Singer; Producers: Gilbert Adler, Christopher McQuarrie, Bryan Singer; Screenwriters: Christopher McQuarrie, Nathan Alexander; Music: John Ottman; Editor: John Ottman; Genre: Drama/ History/ Thriller; Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel; Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Location: San Bernardino Mountains, California, USA; Running Time: 121 min;

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

Disenchanted army officers plot to blow up the plane of Adolf Hitler (David Bamber). A bomb camouflaged in Cointreau bottles is delivered as a gift by Maj. Gen. Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) just before take-off . But the bomb fails to explode, so another coup attempt is schemed by the generals active in the German Resistance movement— Gen. Friederich Olbricht (Bill Nighty), Gen. Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard), Gen. Friederich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson), Gen. Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp) and Maj. Otto Ernst Remer (Thomas Kretschmann)—who believe that Hitler is the archenemy not only of the world but of Germany itself. They would launch “Operation Valkyrie”, the government’s plan to mobilize the reserved forces to maintain the status quo in the event of the Fuhrer’s death. With the generals is a young colonel, Claus von Stauffenberg who is chosen to head “Operation Valkyrie”; he will himself deposit the bomb in a suitcase during a meeting with Hitler in East Prussia while the other officers carry out the coup in Berlin.

Valkyrie is both a suspense thriller and a lesson in history for those who do not know that the movie is a recreation of a true-to-life plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, the last attempt on his life before he committed suicide nine months later. Viewers with a foreknowledge of the failure of that final assassination attempt would nonetheless be entertained by its cinematography—it was shot in many of the actual locations in Germany, and where the places or buildings no longer exist, the sets were made to be faithful recreations of the original. Thought-provoking, too, are the interactions among the conspirators—the details, the nuances captured in close-up shots and dialogue, elements that one does not readily find in history books. Director Brian Singer keeps the pace suspenseful, particularly when the coup threatens to unravel. The lead cast’s strong performances satisfy the viewer’s expectations, although Cruise owes his credibility as a German officer more to his eye patch and prosthetics than to the untamable American go-go-go air about him.

A story about moral responsibility, Valkyrie puts under question the matter of loyalty. Where does it begin, or end? An impassioned Stauffenberg convinces the conspirators that he feels it is their duty not only to save Germany from the Fuhrer’s folly but more so to save human lives, whether they’re Jews, Russians, or prisoners of war. If they must be true to themselves, they must risk being traitors to their leader Hitler. The movie ends at a point where the viewer is left to wonder if the conspirators still had a moment to serenely analyze what went wrong with the coup attempt. Without seeing the corpse, Stauffenberg was positive Hitler was dead—simply because the bomb which he himself had placed closest to Hitler exploded. On the basis of that explosion alone the conspirators proceeded to spread the word of Hitler’s death, but it turns out he’s alive; meanwhile Operation Valkyrie is in full force. On hindsight, this shows that when passion reigns, reason loses, even for army officers from a race renowned for precision thinking and rational superiority.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Marley & Me

Cast: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner, Alan Arkin; Director: David Frankel; Producers: Gil Netter, Karen Rosenfelt; Screenwriters: Scoot Frank, Don Roos; Music: Theodore Shapiro; Editor: Mark Livolsi; Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance; Cinematography: Florian Ballhaus; Distributor: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation; Location: Florida, USA; Running Time: 115min.

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

John and Jennifer Grogan (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) are a journalist couple who leave the veritable ice-box Michigan for sun-drenched West Palm Beach , Florida . Both immediately find employment at the South Florida Sun Sentinel, but Jennifer seems desirous of starting a family, and so they try for a baby. Doubting his preparedness for family life then, John seeks the advice of his womanizing reporter friend, Sebastian (Eric Dane), who then suggests the couple get a puppy to more or less satisfy for the meantime Jenny’s maternal instincts. They buy a cute little Labrador, Marley, the cheapest in a bunch of puppies at a clearance sale. Soon Jenny gets pregnant—but loses the child. Meanwhile, Marley grows into a 100-pound canine that, although lovable, has a rather uncontrollable appetite for destroying or eating anything he fancies. In fact, Marley flunks obedience school, but he continues to inspire John in his column writing for the newspaper. Jenny gets pregnant again, and finally gives birth to a son; then , a devoted mother, gets pregnant again—and again—until she reaches saturation point about the destructive dog and gives John the ultimatum: either Marley goes or she leaves him.

There’s a real life John and Jennifer Grogan—and Marley, too. Marley and Me is an adaptation of a best seller written by John Grogan, practically condensing into two hours 13 years’ worth of real life experience. Aniston and Wilson display good chemistry as the devoted couple, engaging and believable and with a worldview so compassionate it can embrace a hyperactive dog while going through the vicissitudes of family life. Director David Frankel makes sure this “dog movie” goes beyond the stereotype featuring the cute and cuddly canine, while scriptwriters Scott Frank and Don Roos manage to make the story at turns funny and moving but free of melodrama. It’s impossible to sleep through this movie where nearly every scene has a dog in it, and if you’re observant you’ll notice it’s not just one dog actor playing Marley—it took 22 look alikes to play the Labrador’s title role.

Marley and Me is a strong and positive affirmation of parenthood, family and marriage, something that seems providential, coming in the midst of an abortion-favoring Obama leadership. The movie’s family- and life-supporting statement comes subtly and naturally as the story unfolds, not at all sounding like a pro-life spiel, thus making it a most effective yes-vote for the glories of parenthood and marriage. Although Marley and Me seems wholesome enough to merit a GP rating, the movie contains some material not fit for young children, particularly John and Jenny’s too lenient attitude towards pet-handling. Marley is a virtual beast that cannot be trained or restrained, endangering human lives and property. Indeed, at times the viewer may wonder whether the dog here is a pet or a master. Perhaps the director and the writers did not mean to, but the movie seems to say that if people can be that kind to and tolerant of a rambunctious pet, they could be heroic as parents understanding their children’s quirks. CINEMA doesn’t want to be a killjoy, but still there’s a follow up question: if they won’t train a dog to obey, how could they discipline their children?


Cast: Baron Geisler, Coco Martin; Director: Francis Pasion; Producer: Francis Pasion; Screenwriter: Francis Pasion; Music: Gian Gianan; Editor: Kats Seraon, Chuck Gutierrez, Francis Pasion; Genre: Drama; Cinematography: Carlo Mendoza; Distributor: Cinemalaya; Location: Manila and Pampanga; Running Time: 110min;

Technical Assessment: 4
Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 18 and above

Natagpuang patay sa kanyang apartment si Jay Mercado, isang gurong may nakapagdududang sekswalidad. Mayroon siyang walong saksak sa likod at pinaghihinalaang isang masahistang lalaki ang pumatay sa kanya. Agad na kukunin at sasawsaw ang Channel 8 sa balita kung kaya't pupunta si Jay Santiago (Baron Geisler) sa lugar na bayang tinubuan ng pinatay na Jay upang gawing isang reality-drama ang buhay at kamatayan nito. Agad namang makakakita ng oportunidad para sa isang magandang kuwento si Jay. Ang pinatay na Jay pala ang siyang tanging inaasahan ng pamilya na mag-aahon sa kanila sa kahirapan. Biktima rin ang pamilya ng lahar kung kaya't nakalubog na ang kalahati ng kanilang bahay. May iniwan pang makulay na kuwentong pag-ibig si Jay at ito ay ang kanyang relasyon sa kapwa lalaking si Edward (Coco Martin). Sa ngalan ng trabaho at ikagaganda ng programa, gagamitin ni Jay ang lahat ng ito upang makabuo ng isang kuwentong bebenta sa masa kapalit ang pangakong tulong na bibigyan nila ng katarungan ang nangyari sa biktimang si Jay. Hanggang saan kaya makararating ang panghihimasok ni Jay sa buhay ng mag-anak ng namayapa upang makabuo ng magandang kuwento?

Mahusay ang pagkakagawa ng Jay. Tinalakay nito ang isang paksang bihirang talakayin sa pelikula. Hindi tulad ng karaniwang kuwento, maraming elementong nakapaloob sa kabuuan ng pelikula na nagbigay ng kulay pati na rin ng sadyang kalituhan. Nagawa nitong pagtagni-tagniin ang bawat elemento upang pag-isipin ang mga manonood ukol sa makitid na agwat sa pagitan ng katotohanan at palabas lamang. Sa bandang huli'y sadyang nailigaw at nailihis ng pelikula ang atensiyon ng manonood mula sa melodrama at trahedyang buhay ng isang bikitima tungo sa panibagong pambibiktima ng mga mismong nagpapanggap na sila ay makakatulong sa pagbawas ng pighatii at sa paghahatid ng katarungan. Mahusay ang pagganap ng mga artista lalo na si Geisler na epektibo sa kanyang panibagong papel bilang binabae. Tama ang timpla ng mga eksena at sakto sa nais nitong iparating.

Isang komentaryo sa mass media ang pelikula. Sinasalamin nito kung paanong pinagsasamantalahan ng kapitalistang sistema maging ang hinagpis at pighati ng mga pawang biktima ng sitwasyon. Dumating si Jay Santiago sa pamilya ng biktimang si Jay Mercado sa pagpapanggap na mga kaibigan na buong pusong tutulong ngunit naroon lamang sila upang kumalap ng magandang kuwentong bebenta sa masa at pangalawa na lamang ang pagutulong. Ngunit ipinakita rin kung paanong katanggap-tanggap na sa pamilya ni Jay ang pananamantalang gagawin at ginagawa sa kanila. Sila pa mismo ang nagpapakitang handa silang magpagamit sa alang-alang sa salapi at kasikataan. Sinubukang wasakin ng Jay ang anumang ilusyon mayroon tayo ukol sa itinuturing nating kakampi ng katotohanan: ang mass media. Ipinakikita ritong ang mass media ay isang malaking negosyo na binubuhay ng bawat kaawa-awang kuwento ng pighati. Isang mapanglinlang na sistema na patuloy na namamayani saan man mayroong telebisyon, radyo, dyaryo o pelikula. Sa bandang huli, sa sistemang ganito ay ang manonood ang siyang tunay na biktima sapagkat siya ang nalinlang, pinagdamutan ng katotohanan, binigyan ng maling pag-asa, at ibinenta sa mga kumpanyang naga-aanunsiyo ng mga produktong bibilhin niya. Hindi ito kinondena ng pelikula at talaga namang ito'y hitik sa mapanuring mensahe na maaring hindi pa angkop sa mga batang manonood. Dagdag pa rito ang ilang maseselang eksenang tumatalakay sa sekswalidad at kaunting paghuhubad na nasa konteksto naman at hindi malaswa. Sa bandang huli, nagsusumigaw ang malinaw na mensahe: hindi dapat paniwalaan ang lahat ng nakikita at napapanood.


Cast: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis; Director: John Patrick Shanley; Producers: Mark Roybal, Scott Rudin; Screenwriter: John Patrick Shanley; Music: Howard Shore; Editor: Dane Collier, Ricardo Gonzalez, Dylan Tichenor; Genre: Drama; Cinematography: Roger Deakins, Matt Turve; Distributor: Miramax Films; Location: USA; Running Time: 104min;

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

It is 1964 and the winds of political change are blowing more strongly over post-Kennedy assassination communities in the U.S. St. Nicholas School , a Catholic institution, has opened its doors to desegregation and has now accepted its first Afro-American pupil. Soon, this precipitates a confrontation between the principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) who runs the school with stern discipline and fear to safeguard its moral standards, and a charismatic priest Fr. Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who insists on the spirit of Vatican II that the church have a “more familiar face”. A neophyte, Sister James (Amy Adams), notices that Fr. Flynn has been taking undue interest in the colored boy, and based on certain circumstances, suspects him of having molested the child. But Fr. Flynn with his easy charm has ready explanations and Sister James lets the matter rest. But Sister Aloysius believes he is guilty and pressures him to leave the school. He does not admit his guilt but Sister Aloysius unrelentingly pursues her campaign to have him removed, even trying to convince the boy’s mother Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis) to file a complaint against the priest. Who will win this battle of wills?

Doubt is Director John Patrick Shanley’s film adaptation of his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same title. Simply but effectively directed, the film boasts of the excellent powerful performances of a high caliber cast and their tight ensemble acting. Meryl Streep outdoes herself here as she again showcases not only her sensitivity to the nature of her “character” but also her versatility. From the devil in Prada’s fashionable clothes to an optimistic bohemian singing and dancing queen and now as a stern uncompromising guardian of morals. In this movie Doubt, Hoffman’s Fr. Flynn with his pleasant disposition and lighthearted cavalier view of sin is her perfect foil. As Sister Aloysius says, he is “invulnerable to deep regret.” For he can sin again and again and think he can continue to bask in God’s mercy and enjoy some perks when a lost sheep is found. These contrasting personalities highlight the conflict between two opposite positions taken by the protagonists. The film tries to round out character delineation through little details. The sharp edges of Sister Aloysius’ character are softened, for instance, by the kindness she shows an old, almost embarrassed blind nun groping for her cutlery by quietly shoving her a fork. And then, though condescending often, she shows a maternal concern to the young inexperienced Sister James. The film also sheds more light on Fr. Flynn’s interests. He is shown heartily enjoying a big bloody medium rare steak and shows no inclination for any kind of mortification (as when he asks for sugar for his tea, a simple but unheard of luxury in the convent of ascetic nuns who had to search for it). The highlighting of Fr. Flynn's fondness for pressed flowers and long and perfectly groomed nails may give clues to his sexual orientation. In a way, the film seems manipulated so that the audience may sympathize with Fr. Flynn and look at Sister Aloysius as some kind of villain.

Doubt touches on an important subject relevant to our time: child molestation. Though this dramatic film treats the subject seriously, it ends ambiguously without any clear indication of what/who is right or wrong. Doubt permeates the film. It begins with Fr. Flynn’s sermon on doubt and the whole film ends in doubts. We ask questions like: Is Sister Aloysius right or wrong in accusing Fr. Flynn of wrongdoing, given only the “circumstantial evidence” but without certainty? Is she justified in pursuing the priest’s ouster from the school under the circumstances? Is Fr. Flynn innocent or guilty? I s Sister Aloysius intolerant as accused by Fr. Flynn? Is Fr. Flynn right in saying that she is an obstruction “to progressive education and a welcoming church”? There is probably some grains of truth to some of the accusations. In the light of Vatican II, we can indeed be more welcoming but without compromising on important moral issues. Teachers can be more warm and understanding to students but still be firm and “strict” without engendering fear. On the other hand, in the face of the sex scandals that rocked the U.S. Church in recent times, probably priests strive to be above suspicion. They can strictly draw the line between being compassionate (especially to the marginalized like this film’s Negro boy) and showing undue interest. Tense and gripping, this engrossing film stimulates the mind and engages the heart. It is worth seeing.