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!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Disney's A Christmas Carol

Cast (Voice): Jim Carey, Steve Valentine, Daryl Sabara, Amber Gainey,Meade; Director: Robert Zemeckis; Producers: Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis; Screenwriters: Charles Dickens, Robert Zemeckis; Music: Alan Silvestri; Editor: Jeremiah O’Driscoll; Genre: Animation/ Drama/ Family/ Fantasy; Cinematography: Robert Presley; Distributor: Walt Disney Studious Motion Pictures; Running Time: 96 mins.;

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 3.5
CINEMA Rating: For viewers age 13 and below with parental guidance

The classic tale of Charles Dickens comes to life in this 3D animation: Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) has been living a miser’s life of indifference towards the less fortunate. He maintains such attitude with crankiness and grumpiness of an old man even during Christmas season wherein he outwardly dismisses any idea of generosity, good will and merry-making. On Christmas eve, the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman), visits him to warn him about the chains he would bear if he does not change his ways. He is further warned of the three ghosts who will visit and show him the error of his ways. Indeed, on that same night, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his Christmas past, present and future to show him everything that he has become, and all the things he has lost and about to loose if he doesn’t change.

This latest animated version remains faithful to the text of the Charles Dickens classic tale. It works quite well given the premise that it is the same classic story the audience is about to see only with a different twist of some imaginative 3D animation. The result is a pretty impressive visual treat that is able to combine the story’s drama, humor and horror. It only feels a little odd to hear characters speak the classic Victorian language in what appears to be a techno-heavy animation. But then, Jim Carrey pulls it off with his enthusiastic performance. He is effective in all the characters he voiced in the movie. Other voices come out very well too including that of Gary Oldman. But given the dark treatment, the movie may not appeal well to the younger audience who is supposedly the film’s target. As the movie tries hard to please and encompass all audiences of all generations, it ends up as just another 3D animation. The exhilarating feel of 3D experience is there while watching but it never lingers after.

A Christmas Carol is one classic tale that tells one classic moral – charity, the very essence of the Christmas season and the core of Christ’s teachings. Scrooge is one classic character that audiences can easily relate to.

There is actually a Scrooge in every one of us whenever we act greedy, selfish, insensitive or indifferent to the needs of others. Although the film shows how one person becomes who he is by the circumstances that happened in his life, it strongly suggests that humans still has the capacity to change his own circumstance only if he so will it. The message is clear: we can do nothing with our past but we certainly can still do something with our present and future. But then, such message is told is a quite dark manner using horrific ghosts and images that can be a bit disturbing for the younger audience. The film also talks about death all along which might not be grasped by children without the guidance of an adult. But the entire context of the film would teach the young ones and the young-at-heart valuable lessons in life so it remains to be worth watching. CINEMA strongly recommends parents to accompany their children in watching the movie.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Ashley Palmer, Amber Armstrong; Director: Oren Peli; Producers: Jason Blum, Oren Peli; Screenwriter: Oren Peli; Editor: Oren Peli; Genre: Horror/ Thriller; Distributor: Paramount Pictures; Location: San Diego, California, USA; Running Time: 86 min.;

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

Live-in partners Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) move in to a large, hardly used house in San Diego. Katie has been hounded since childhood by strange presences, and this time it seems a presence has followed her to this new residence. Strange happenings at night in a bedroom upstairs stirs Micah to document it with his new handheld camera. Experimenting with the camera like a little boy with a new toy, Micah shoots Katie and the house interior from various angles. Then he hits upon a bright idea: why not set up the camera on a tripod at the foot of their bed and leave it running to record happenings while they sleep. The camera indeed records paranormal activity—like the bedroom door moving by itself, to begin with. Katie calls in a psychic (Mark Fredrichs) who upon entering the door refuses to stay, saying it is not just a ghost in the house with Micah and Katie but a demonic presence. The recordings get eerier and eerier each time until Katie, seriously disturbed now, begs Micah to leave the house. But Micah would hear none of it, obsessed as he is with his experiment, thinking that everything could be explained if he took enough evidence of the nocturnal activity. One night, something happens that hurts Katie and scares Micah to the point of urging her to abandon the house. But this time, Katie, seemingly too weak to move, begs Micah to just stay.

Paranormal Activity is a nifty little horror film so flawlessly done you’d think it’s a true story. The devises used make the story appear as though the camera findings—recorded in black and white— were discovered after the fact. The movie does away with the usual opening credits other films have, saying only in a soundless frame that it “thanks the families of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat”; it also ends with a similar frame saying “current whereabouts unknown” to make the viewer think they have just seen a documentary. The characterization and acting, especially Katie’s, is seamless as far as the purpose of the movie goes. Both acting and wardrobe—loose t-shirts and boxer shorts for sleeping and unattractive clothes for daily wear—create a true image of the characters as ordinary people: Katie as a graduate student, and Micah as a day trader. For a movie that has only two principal actors and shot mostly inside the house, Paranormal Activity succeeds in holding the viewer’s breath through all of 96 minutes. It knows how to play upon the audience’s imagination and fear of the unseen, and presents the camera, an inanimate object, as a credible and objective witness to the paranormal activity.

How Katie and Micah end up is what merits scrutiny here. As the paranormal activity escalates to a critical turning point, it becomes obvious that there is something more than the paranormal in the movie’s message, and that is the very “normal” tendency of an immature man to be insensitive to a woman’s cry for help. (Spoiler coming!) Katie could have been saved were it not for Micah’s fixation with his camera. His goal was to document everything, not to help Katie. Too pragmatic for his own good, he failed to sympathize with Katie in her darkest hour, angrily took the wooden cross from her grasp and threw it to the fire. The consequence? See for yourself.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Twilight Saga; New Moon

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner; Director: Chris Weitz; Producers: Wyck Godfrey; Screenwriters: Melissa Rosenberg, Stephenie Meyer; Music: Alexandre Desplat; Editor: Peter Lambert; Genre: Drama/ Fantasy/ Romance; Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe; Distributor: Summit Entertainment; Location: USA; Running Time: 130 mins.;

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

In The Twilight Saga: New Moon, gentleman vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) breaks off with his mortal sweetheart Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) as the whole clan leaves sunless Forks, Washington, to reside in Tuscany in Italy. He makes the sacrifice in order to put her out of danger—she being so hopelessly in love with a vampire—but she clings to him. So he tells her coldly instead that he’s leaving because he doesn’t want her anymore, and that he doesn’t want her because she’s not good for him. So he disappears with the rest of the Cullens.

The depressed Bella floats through school most of the year, crushed by mixed emotions of dejection, confusion and general angst. In Edward’s absence, Bella gradually finds consolation in being with the American Indian boy Jake Black (Taylor Lautner), a solicitous friend and covert admirer but who has a dark secret of his own to keep.

Partly in desperation and partly to prove her courage to herself, she dives off a seaside cliff, something that the clairvoyant Alice Cullen in Tuscany perceives to be a suicidal act. Alice returns to Forks to support Bella who readily agrees to fly with her to Italy. Meanwhile, Edward, believing Bella to be dead, would rather be killed than join the powerful Volturi vampires trying to recruit him. As he strips to expose himself to the sunlight to invite death by murder, Bella arrives and rushes to his arms. To make a long story short, the reunion climaxes in the burning issue—Bella wants forever, so she must become a vampire herself. Edward says no because to be immortal as a vampire is to be damned, and because he truly loves her, he says no again and again. As they kiss tenderly, the question burns on: to bite or not to bite.

New Moon divides moviegoers, although it seems one goes into the theater with one’s mind already made up to be turned either on or off by the Gothic romance. Playing to full houses, New Moon will satisfy its target audience—the cooing, sighing and gasping tween-agers and believers in romance of all ages, but the movie will be impaled over the barbecue pit by those predisposed to find the ridiculous in Stephanie Meyer’s brand of vampirism.

Prejudices among the audience run high. The con-camp says Pattinson with his paler-than-pale skin, lipstick-red lips and dead-pan acting is too wooden to be real; voices from the pro-side claim that’s to be expected of a century-old vampire raised at a time when good manners were in. One side cringes with disappointment at the lack of fantabulous CGI (as may be found in good disaster movies or any Harry Potter sequel); the other side goes gaga over the cool werewolves. Cynics think New Moon is corny and boring; fans think it’s the ultimate high.

But that’s the hidden attraction in New Moon—audiences are hardly aware that they are strongly emotionally involved, whether they are for or against the fiction they’re watching on the screen. The fact is, both are buying tickets to see it, so who’s the real winner here? On its opening day, it already whets the audience’s appetite for its sequel: Will Bella finally become a vampire? Will they marry? Will they have children? Will the children also be vampires? Or are vampires allowed to have sex at all? Who’ll finally emerge as winner in the end—the Cullens, the Volturi, or the werewolves who eat vampires? Reality check: Hey, guys, it’s only a movie—and the real winner is the one who has the formula to provoke or to stroke you, the paying public.

Meanwhile, where does CINEMA stand? What does it say to benefit its own audience who look to it for guidance in film appreciation? CINEMA has received nudges from devout Christians who frown upon New Moon in the same way they censure Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter, crying out, “Why promote vampirism? The bible says yadda-yadda-yadda…”

While acknowledging such protests as valid in their own right, CINEMA also goes steps further to examine the Twilight series’ phenomenal lure and sees it as a writing on the wall. What sets this romance apart from the rest? When you watch it in a theater, be sensitive to reactions around you: when do the females squeal, when do they hold their breath? Are the males quiet because they’re bored or because they’re too embarrassed to admit they are getting carried away just like the females?

The Edward character looks like a Vogue fashion model walking off the ramp but behaves like a desirable but unattainable vestal virgin. If she wanted to, the Bella persona could very well be a sought-after queen among mortals but instead she is willing to give up her very soul to be with her beloved forever and ever. What is this saying to moviegoers grown inured to movies where explicit and illicit sex has become de rigueur? What is its message to a society where wife-swapping or so-called sexually liberated celebrities blatantly change bedmates as often as they change bedsheets?

Outstanding in the Edward-Bella love story is the innocent interaction between the lovers. Lust is not the overpowering force that draws the lovers to each other—it is the tension that arises between self-satisfaction and self-denial. Love here is not an overnight affair—it is genuine caring for the loved one and the desire to give oneself to the other completely at all cost. Might it not be that deep down inside people are really longing for chastity and commitment in love relationships?

Friday, November 20, 2009

2012

Cast: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover; Director: Ronald Emmerich; Producers: Harald KLoser, Larry Franco; Screenwriters: Harald Kloser, Ronald Emmerich; Music: Harald Kloser, Thomas Wander, James Seymour Breet; Editor: David Brenner, Peter S. Elliott; Genre: Sci-fi – Disaster Suspense; Cinematography: Dean Semler; Distributor: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures; Location: Los Angeles – Himalayas; Running Time: 153 mins.;

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

In 2009, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) travels to India to meet Satnam (Jimi Mistry) and finds out what his friend has discovered about the rapidly increasing temperature of the earth’s core. He proceeds to Washington DC and submits a report to the Chief of Staff, Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) and to the President (Danny Glover). The succeeding years see the world preparing for the inevitable end while billionaires start buying tickets for a guaranteed slot in a ship for the selected few who will be saved. The story jumps to 2012 where Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a divorced father working as a limousine driver and writer takes his two children on a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park. He meets Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), a local radio announcer who talks about the Mayan doomsday prediction. By the time Jackson returns his children to his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) the earth has began to crack and crumble. Jackson races back and saves his children, Kate and her boyfriend Gordon with the plane he has hired. But they discover that the ships that were built to save humanity are in China and fly on board the plane of Russian billionaire Yuri (Zlatco Buric) and his family. They crash land in the Himalayas and are abandoned by Yuri as he presents the ticket he has bought for himself and his twin sons two years ago. Jackson’s group is rescued by Buddhist Monk Nima (Osric Chau) and his family. Meanwhile, Adrian convinces the world leaders to allow more people to board the ship. As the gates are lowered, Jackson’s group are pinned to the bottom of the ship and the device they used to enter gets stuck between the gears. The ship, unable to start its engines, is swept by the strong current towards Mt. Everest. With a time ticking fast, will they be able to save themselves and assure the continuation of humanity?

2012 promises spectacular effects and heart-stopping suspense and successfully delivers just that. The two and half hours pass almost unnoticeably as viewers are engrossed with the massive destruction on screen. Other than that, the movie is just another hi-tech end-of-the-world /disaster flick— entertainingly empty, with the plot being a little more than a framing device for the movie. Jackson Curtis is just too heroic, and the Curtis family just too darned lucky escaping gaping earth and lava missiles. The side stories that should have provided the drama and highlighted humanity are trite and predictable. (Imagine having a literal deus ex machina take care of a boyfriend so that protagonist and leading lady could get back together!) The attempt to inject humor is not enough to salvage a badly written script. Overall, the movie is a visual treat with astounding CGIs and effects, but lacks the creative prowess to be memorable.

If the movie becomes “memorable” at all, it would be for the distasteful way Emmerich kills six billion earthlings as though the end of the world were just another computer game. The only one moral function of a disaster movie is to focus on man’s altruism in times of crisis. We see how people begin to work together despite previous differences. We witness how a stranger is suddenly willing to sacrifice his safety or at times his life to save another. And almost, always, we hear a grandstanding from one of the characters about unity, humanity and sacrifice. 2012 has all these and delivers the same message: humanity ends when we stop fighting for each other. Unfortunately, Emmerich portrays disaster and destruction in such a brutal and unsettling manner that it creates a discord between the movie’s message and its presentation. Good disaster movies leave the audience teary-eyed with hope and triumphant compassion for the survivors, but with 2012, you are just glad no one else has to die again. (On another note, one will observe why mostly Catholic icons were destroyed. In Rome, the Sistine Chapel ceiling splits open right where the fingertips of God and Adam meet; the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica topples over and crushes the praying masses at the Square. In Rio de Janeiro, the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro tumbles ingloriously to the ground. A venerable Buddhist monastery is washed away, but not one minaret is shown destroyed. The sharp-eyed might also notice images in the chapel where the black US president prays—one wonder if that is intended to endear Obama to the Catholics). The movie is not suitable for very young and sensitive audiences.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

All About Steve

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Thomas, Haden Church, Bradley Cooper; Director: Phil Traill; Producers: Sandra Bullock, Mary Mclaglen; Screenwriter: Kim Barker; Music: Christophe Beck; Editor: Rod Dean, Virginia Katz; Genre: Comedy; Cinematography: Tim Suhrstedt; Distributor: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation; Location: California, USA; Running Time: 100 mins;

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

Mary Horowitz (Sandra Bullock) is a “cruciverbalist”, one who constructs crossword puzzles for a living, an occupation so consuming for her that she neglects every other aspect of her life. Fortyish, she has no social life, much less a boyfriend—and it’s a cause for concern for her parents who eventually set her up on a blind date. The guy, Steve (Bradley Cooper) turns out to be a charming television cameraman for a cable news network. The hyperactive, hyper-articulate Mary programs herself to hook Steve, showing cleavage and climbing all over him in the car—even before they could motor off the driveway. Steve’s phone rings—it’s an urgent call, the kind TV crews get when something newsworthy erupts, and it means Steve must run off, now, to cover a picket outside a hospital over a remedial surgery of a three-legged infant. Torn between lust and relief, he tries to be nice and tells Mary it would have been more fun if he could take her along. Man-hungry and gullible, Mary swallows the white lie and starts dogging Steve wherever his work takes him. He dreads seeing her stalking him from one news site to the next, but she hardly knows she’s making a fool of herself, being egged on by Steve’s colleague, the TV reporter Hartman Hughes (Thomas Hayden Church), who plays the practical joke to get even with Steve.

Sandra Bullock’s agent must be properly guided—or fired. Choosing a role that projects Bullock as a virtual member of the Three Stooges is sealing her fate as a serious actress. Maybe the problem is with Mary the character, or with director Phil Traill’s handling of character and actress. We give the benefit of the doubt to Trailler’s intention to celebrate Mary’s supposedly delightful eccentricity and encourage the audience to be emotionally sensitive to such a person, but the resultant picture of the bungling, sex-starved Mary is more grating than funny. Other actors could act silly and still be funny, like Mr. Bean, but to say that the overacting Bullock here could be Mrs. Bean would be a great insult to Mr. Bean. If Bullock wants to redeem herself in moviedom, her next role should bring to the fore her innate gifts as an actor—that is, if she’s getting any next offer at all.

All About Steve takes digs at media that the viewer ought to consider more seriously. What kind of news do media go crazy about? Controversies over “freaks of nature” like three-legged babies? Unfortunate accidents like that with deaf children falling into a well? Why use deaf children? The character Mary here is a caricature that stereotypes women—it implies that brains automatically exclude common sense. As her work with crossword puzzles shows, Mary knows many more words than the average person but she cannot utilize this knowledge to guide her actions. There is an attempt at a win-win situation in the end, but it comes too late. Whatever traces of sympathy, whatever hope for transformation the audience might have had for Mary earlier, is overpowered by the annoying stupidity she has displayed all that time.

Ang Tanging Pamilya; A Marry-Go-Round

Cast; Ai Ai Delas Alas, Joseph Estrada, Sam Milby, Toni Gonzaga, Aling Dionisia Pacquiao: Director: Wenn Deramas; Genre: Comedy; Distributor: Star Cinema: Location: Philippines ; Running Time: 100 mins.;

Technical Assessment: 2.5
Moral Assessment: 2
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 and above

Makikilala ni Charlie (Toni Gonzaga) si Prince (Sam Milby) sa kanyang panaginip at sa halos pareho ding araw ay makikilala niya ito sa tunay na buhay. Yun nga lang, si Prince ay sa Amerika namamalagi kung kaya't nagkasya na lamang ang dalawa na payabuningin ang kanilang relasyon nang magkalayo ang lugar. Salamat sa tulong ng makabagong teknolohiyang tulad ng Internet. Makalipas ang ilang buwan ay susurpresahin ni Prince si Charlie sa kanilang bahay at agad itong yayayaing magpakasal. Ngunit agad itong tututulan ng ama ni Charlie na si Dindo (Joseph Estrada) at kanyang pahihirapan si Prince bago tuluyang mapapayag. Magkakaron din ng kaunting pagtutol ang ina ni Charlie na si Sunshine (Ai-ai delas Alas) sa takot na mangyari kay Charlie ang dinanas kay Dindo na mas inuuna ang kapakanan ng ibang tao bago ang asawa at pamilya. Mas lalong lalala ang sitwasyon sa pagdating ng mga magulang ni Prince dahil hindi nila makakasundo ang ina nito (Dionisia Pacquiao).

Palasak na ang uri ng komedyang ginamit sa pelikula kung kaya't hindi ito naging matagumpay sa paghahatid ng akmang aliw at katatawanan sa mga manonood. Bagama't mahuhusay naman ang mga nagsiganap, hindi pa rin kinayang salbahin ang kabuuan sa sobrang daming butas ng kuwento na halatang hindi na pinagbuhusan ng pansin. Sabog ang daloy ng kuwento at hindi malaman ang nais nilang palabasin. Kulang na kulang ito sa nararapat na karakterisasyon kaya't pawang pilit ang mga sitwasyon at halos walang mararamdamang simpatya sa mga tauhan. Wala tuloy epekto ang mga eksenang dapat sana ay nakakaiyak o nakakatawa dahil sa walang pinatutunguhang daloy ng damdamin. Maraming tauhan ang naging pawang palamuti lamang sa kuwento at walang anumang iniambag tulad ni Dionisia Pacquiao na pawang pinagkatuwaan lamang sa pelikula. Si Estrada naman ay pawang nangangampaniya lamang sa pagsisingit ng mga konsepto ng maka-mahirap at maka-pamilya. Ang dating tuloy ay kulang na kulang sa sinseridad ang pelikula sa kabuuan.

Bagama't Ang Tanging Pamilya ang pamagat ng pelikula, pawang hindi naman nito gaanong pinahahalagahan ang pamilya bilang isang sagradong sangay ng simbahan at lipunan. Kitang-kita ang pagbabalewala ng padre de pamilya sa saktramento ng kasal alang-alang sa kapakanan ng ibang tao. Oo nga't mahalagang bigyang-pansin ang nangangailangan ngunit marami pa namang paraan ng pagtulong na hindi kinakailangang isakripisyo ang mahahalagang panahon para sa pamilya. O baka rin isa lamang itong pangangampanya ni Estrada? Hindi rin katanggap-tanggap na ituring na isang katatawanan lamang ang isang napakahalagang sakramento na tulad ng kasal. Marami ring maling halimbawa ang ipinakita sa pelikula tulad ng biglaan na lamang na pagpapakasal na hindi dumaraan sa tamang proseso. Nakakabahala rin ang kawalang-galang na pagturing ni Prince sa ina ni Charlie na umabot pa sa pananakit na pisikal at pinalabas pa itong katawa-tawa. Maging ang iringan ng magkabilang pamilya ay hindi rin magandang halimbawa lalo pa't nakabase lamang ang lahat sa panlabas na anyo ng isang tao. Ang higit pang nakakabahala dito ay ang gawing katawa-tawa ang itsura ng isang tao. Ito'y isang malaking pag-insulto at maling panukat sa pagkatao. Marahil ang maganda lamang sa pelikula ay ang maayos na paggabay ng ina sa isang anak na naguguluhan ang isip at hindi makapagdesisyon ng tama. Sa mga ganitong pagkakataon ay talagang kinakailangan ang mga magulang na gabayan ang anak.

Friday, November 13, 2009

More Than A Game

ASSESSMENT ONLY
Cast: Lebron James, Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, Willie McGee, Romeo Travis, Coach Dru Joyce II; Director: Kristopher Belman; Producers: Harvey Mason Jr. Kristopher Belman, Matthew Perniciaro, Kevin Mann; Screenwriters: Kristopher Belman, Brad Hogan; Music: Harvey Mason Jr.; Editor: Scott Balcerek; Genre: Documentary; Cinematography: Kristopher Belman, Johnny Ching, Travis Cook, Dabling Harward, Chris Lytwyn, Humberto Ramirez, Jr.; Distributor: Lionsgate; Location: USA; Running Time: 105 mins.;

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 4
CINEMA Rating: For viewers age 13 and below with parental guidance

BRIEF FILM SYNOPSIS

Five talented young basketball players from Akron, Ohio star in this remarkable true-life coming of age story about uncommon friendship in the face all too common adversities. Coached by a charismatic but inexperienced player’s father, and led by future NBA superstar LeBron James, the “Fab Five’s” improbable seven-year journey leads them from a decrepit inner-city gym to the doorstep of a national high school championship. Along the way, the close-knit team is repeatedly tested—both on and off the court—as James’ exploding worldwide celebrity threatens to destroy everything they’ve set out to achieve together. More Than a Game combines a series of unforgettable one-on-one interviews with rare news footage, never-before-seen home videos and personal family photographs to bring this heart-warming and wholly American story to life. (Lionsgate)

OUTSTANDING FEATURES OF THE FILM: good illustration of team work to achieve one's goal

ADDITIONAL REMARKS: commendable for young people on how a group of friends can achieve their dream in life through team work with the guidance of a coach or mentor.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Estasyon

Cast: Mon Confiado, Klaudia Coronel, Christian Galindo, Diana Alferez; Director: Cesar Apolinario; Producer: Cesar Apolinario; Screenwriters: Chris Lim, Cesar Apolinario; Music: Jerrold Tarog; Editor: Miguel Araneta; Genre: Drama; Cinematography: Jay Linao; Distributor: Huge Screen Small Pictures; Location: Philippines; Running Time: 100 min.;

Technical Assessment: 2.5
Moral Assessment: 2
CINEMA Rating: For viewers age 14 and above

Sa kagustuhang makagawa ng may saysay na pelikula, susubukan ni Martin (Mon Confiado) na gawan ng dokyumentaryo ang panata ng mga deboto sa Quiapo sa pista ng Poong Nazareno. Dito niya makikilala si Christian (Christian Galindo), isang tinedyer mula sa Laguna na naglakbay mag-isa patungo sa pista upang ipahid ang dala-dalang puting panyo sa Poong Nazareno sa pag-asang ito ang magpapagaling sa maysakit na ina (Klaudia Koronel). Sasamahan at susundan ni Martin si Christian sa pagsusubok nitong makalapit sa Poon. Makakapanayam pa niya ito at dito malalaman ni Martin ang kuwentong-buhay ni Christian habang patungo sa pista ng Nazareno. Makuha kaya ni Christian ang inaasam na himala?

Nagnais ang pelikula na gumawa ng makabuluhang kuwento ukol sa isang sikat na debosyon sa pamamagitan ng paggamit ng paralelismo sa daan ng krus ni Hesukristo at sa buhay ng isang deboto. Sa ganitong konsepto nais palabasin ng direktor ang paghahalo ng katotohanan sa kathang-isip. Ngunit sayang at hindi ito ang naipalabas ng pelikula. Maraming nais sabihin ang kuwento na hindi nito naipamalas sapagkat kulang sa masusing pananaliksik ang kabuuan ng istorya. Mahusay naman ang pagkakaganap ng mga pangunahing tauhan lalo na si Koronel at maganda rin ang potograpiya ngunit hindi pa rin naging epektibo ang kabuuan ng pelikula. Marahil ay talagang hindi naging sigurado ang mga nasa likod ng pelikula kung ano ba talaga ang nais nilang sabihin at kitang-kita ang pagkalitong ito sa pagkakalahad ng kuwento.

Isang matinding pagkuwestiyon sa pananampalatayang Katoliko ang Estasyon. Sa isang banda, dapat nga namang suriing maigi ang mga debosyon at panata kung ang mga ito ay sadyang nakakatulong sa pag-unlad ng buhay ispiritwal ng isang tao o nagiging instrumento lamang ba ito ng panatisismo tulad ng sa mga pagano. Ngunit napako ang pananaw ng mga gumawa ng pelikula sa negatibong aspeto lamang ng debosyon, at hindi na nila nakita ang kagandahan at maging ang pinagmulan ng isang debosyon na tulad sa Poong Nazareno. Kapwa naghahanap ang mga pangunahing tauhan ng kahulugan sa maling lugar, sa maling oras at sa maling intensiyon. Sa aspetong ito, nakababahala ang ninais iparating ng pelikula. Pawang walang silbi ang relihiyon, ang simbahan at kung ano pa mang pananampalataya sa pagpapayabong ng buhay ng sangkatauhan. Isa itong mababaw na pagtingin sa isang pananampalatayang nananatiling matatag sa loob ng mahigit 2,000 taon. Oo nga’t may kahirapan, may karahasan, may kawalang-katarungan, kawalang-pag-asa at kahalayan, ngunit hindi masisisi ang relihiyon dito kung tutuusin. Kita naman sa pelikula na walang pagkukusa ang mga tauhan na alamin at palalimin ang kani-kanilang debosyon kung kaya’t nagiging pawang mababaw ang kanilang pananampalataya. Ngunit tahasan na itong hinusgahan ang relihiyon sa kabuuan. Nariyang ipakitang suot ng isang babaeng halos walang saplot ang rosaryo at lantarang itapon ni Martin. Na sa bandang huli ay binawi naman ng paghalik niya dito. Ngunit hindi pa rin malinaw kung ito nga ay pagbabalik-loob o gawa pa rin ng kanyang pagkalito. Mas mabigat ang mga binitiwan niyang salita sa huli: “Ninais ko lang ipakita ang kawalang-kabuluhan ng anumang debosyon at relihiyon.” Sa mga nagugulumihanan at naghahanap ng kahulugan sa kanilang pananampalataya, hindi makakatulong ang pelikulang tulad nito

Law Abiding Citizen

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Viola Davis, Bruce McGill, Leslie Bibb, Colm Meaney, Regina Hall; Director: F. Gary Gray; Producers: Gerard Butler, Lucas Foster, Mark Gill; Screenwriter: Kurt Wimmer; Music: Brian Tyler; Editor: Tariq Anwar; Genre: Drama; Cinematography: Jonathan Sela; Distributor: Overture Films; Location: Philadelphia; Running Time: 109 min.;

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

Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is a loving father and husband until his wife and his daughter are raped and murdered during a home invasion. But a messed up forensic investigation compromises the findings. Prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) decides to make a deal with Darby (Christian Stolte), the actual rapist and murderer, and pin down Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart) on a theft charge. Rice argues that what matters is not what it right but what can be proven in court. Ten years after, Ames is executed by lethal injection but suffers an agonizing death because of a chemical alternation. Soon after Darby is abducted and brutally dismembered by Shelton . When police arrest and incarcerate Shelton , a series of brutal killings take place after the latter’s requests are denied or not served on time. Shelton emphasizes to Rice that the killings are not mere retribution for his family but defiance for the failure of the justice system.

Law Abiding Citizen is a chilling drama which illustrates how the failure of justice eventually destroys lives and humanity. Butler , Foxx and Stolte deliver an outstanding and authentic portrayal of their characters. The camerawork and editing keep up with the action and suspense. Entertainment-wise, the movie accomplishes its goal. The plot, however, is a little cheesy and exaggerated. The movie feels like one of the local films where the hero is always pushed to his limits and forced to seek revenge against the bad guys. Director Gary Grey was not successful in maintaining sympathy for the protagonist turned anti-hero because as the violence progresses, the film becomes another serial-slasher movie as one man searches for justice.

Vengeance has been romanticized time and again as people turn to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans stating, “Vengeance is mine”, and conveniently leaving or forgetting the part which states, “says the Lord”. With this in mind, some people can now rationalize acts of violence and retribution in their search for justice. From a little child’s small and sometimes hilarious manner of getting even to the brutal and violent and at times legalized ways of obtaining justice, revenge has become a way of life. But getting even, getting back, revenge or however it is termed can never be righteous and good. We cannot correct a wrongdoing with another crime or sin. We need to remember that as human beings we are asked to be compassionate and as Christians we are expected to forgive and be merciful.

Although the film makes a strong statement against systematized injustice it does so in a very brutal and violent manner. The theme and treatment are for mature audiences only.

Michael Jackson's This Is It

Cast: Michael Jacson; Director: Kenny Ortega; Producers: Paul Gongaware, Randy Phillips; Music: Michael Bearrden; Genre: Documentary/ Music; Cinematography: Kevin Mazur; Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment; Location: USA; Running Time: 112 min.;

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

There is no synopsis to this musical documentary on the legendary Michael Jackson. It shows clips and footage from rehearsals for the show that was to be “it”. Actually a concert tour, it was to have begun in London last July, had it not been forestalled by his death at age 50 a month before. What’s interesting is Jackson, talking about This Is It, reportedly said “This is the final curtain call.” That’s an innocent enough remark but it teases one’s curiosity. Was Michael Jackson planning to retire after “it”? Was it his second wind or last hurrah, Jackson being aware that younger and equally brilliant performers were waiting on the wing? If he was as sick as was often reported, did Michael sense he wasn’t going to be around much longer? Premonition or not, he surely didn’t expect the curtain to fall that soon.

The soundless opening screen allows the viewer to focus on the background of the documentary, put together by director Kenny Ortega. This Is It is a collage that uses as its canvas footage from April to June 2009 rehearsals—numbers starring Jackson and his dancers and back-up singers. As visual enhancement for certain songs, Ortega uses pre-filmed sequences and footage originally meant for other purposes mixed with stage work. The song “Thriller” is made out like a clip from a horror movie, with ghouls crawling out from their tombs, and two-dimensional ghosts fluttering like eerie kites over the audience’s heads. Particularly appealing is the footage of a little girl playing in a rain forest, used to enhance Jackson’s environmental pitch in the song “Earth Cry”. There’s also an ingenious black and white number, “Smooth Criminal”, which inserts Jackson in film clips starring Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart.

The viewer may rightfully expect to be entertained by This Is It, but there are a few things one must note before swallowing the whole thing as gospel truth. True that This Is It reveals a Michael Jackson that is in stark contradiction to that which we had known before: the image of the profligate performer who thrives on self-abuse—drugs, pedophilia, scandals, questionable sexual identity, shady business deals, lawsuit, rocky marriage, etc.

His eccentric taste and lifestyle reinforced that image, which was to be further cemented by his insatiable attempts to turn a black temple (of the Holy Spirit) into a white one. It was an image that—no mean thanks to media—turned him into an icon that was at once abominable and pathetic. In fact, the aborted summer concert tour was viewed by some as a money magnet to bail the idol out of his financial difficulties.

And then Michael Jackson died. Is that it?

Enter This Is It, the movie. Where is the pervert, the swindler, the druggie, the prima donna? Nowhere to be found. Instead there is a cool, collected, soft-spoken Michael Jackson, driven by a passion for excellence at his craft, his heart beating to the swing of a metronome but never without tenderness for the stagehands, gaffers, technicians, and fellow artists who in turn adore him sincerely.

It brings great delight to watch him spin in place, refine cues for the musicians, dance in unison with the others and yet shine as the most gifted of them all. He is an artist lost in his body and yet in total control of it, performing with clockwork precision and the discipline of a saint. He often says “God bless you” instead of just “Thank you”, projecting the image of a selfless professional, not an egoistic superstar.

There is a moving scene towards the end where Michael forms a circle of thanksgiving with the others in the dimly lit rehearsal space—here emerges his image as the ultimate team player and team leader, inspiring others by his vision, his principles, his attitudes, and his perfection at work. In fact, here you could see a humble and almost holy picture of Michael Jackson, if you would only close an eye to his trademark crotch-clutching gesture.

What is this telling us? It may be uplifting to think that there is indeed a beautiful side to Michael Jackson that had been unfairly obliterated by a bad press, but—with due respect to the deceased—we should not forget that this is a media product as well, packaged and marketed, possibly to promote a legend, and to rake in a profit as well. Ever a controversial figure, Michael Jackson sells, because controversy sells. Following his sudden and puzzling death, Columbia Pictures promptly bought—for sixty million dollars, that’s US$60,000,000.00—the footage taken during the now-famous rehearsals, and commissioned the concert director Kenny Ortega (director of High School Musicals) to make a movie out of it. The footage was reportedly originally intended for Jackson’s private library, but there it was, sold, so that the public may enjoy it four months after his death.

We would like to think it is a eulogy crafted by close associates and mourning friends whom Michael had left behind without proper goodbyes. The grief is almost palpable in the testimonies of Michael’s fellow concert performers. We are kind to our dead, and we like to recall what is good in them, thus we edit the unsavory aspects of their life and remember those that may inspire us. Who knows what is in the footage excluded from this documentary? Who can say that Michael never lost his temper, threw tantrums at rehearsals, or collapsed from exhaustion while moonwalking?

It is not our intention to belittle this exceptional tribute from well-meaning colleagues. Our point is for the public to realize that if media can break, media can also remake—and neither would be absolutely correct or fair about their subject. Rather it is for the public to choose which qualities in the deceased we—especially his fans—would want to emulate. This Is It rounds off the humanity of the “King of Pop”: it allows us to regard his imperfections with compassion, and to view his dreams for a better world with hope, while offering to the young something more to imitate than his moonwalk.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jennifer's Body

Cast: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simons, Adam Brody; Director: Karyn Kusama; Producers: Daniel Dubiecki, Mason Novick, Jason Retiman; Screenwriter: Diablo Cody; Music: Stephen Barton, Theodore Shapiro; Editor: Plummy Tucker; Genre: Horror/ Thriller; Cinematography: M. David Mullen; Distributor: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation; Location: USA; Running Time: 102 min.;

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

Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) is the high school teen queen over whom all the boys drool and whom all the girls envy. Nerdy-looking Needy Lesnick (Amanda Seyfried) is Jennifer’s best buddy from childhood, and the two seem to need each other to prove to the rest that: Jennifer is not really that friendless, and Needy somehow amounts to something with no less than the school queen as her friend. One night, Jennifer drags Needy to a “club” which turns out to be a cheap local bar where a rock band is performing. The bar catches fire. Ever the reckless daredevil, Jennifer defies Needy’s common sense and ends up in the rock band’s van roaring off to an unknown destination in the middle of the night. Everybody gives Jennifer up for good and then she comes back with an enormous appetite for male teen flesh, literally. Needy is convinced an evil spirit has inhabited Jennifer’s body, but nobody believes her.

Is Jennifer’s Body a horror, a comedy or a teen romance flick? It’s too predictable to be horrible, too horrible to be funny, and too laughable to be romantic. So it defies classification, not because it is creating a new and exceptionally unique one, but because it fails to establish its own identity. It’s not the movie’s fault, of course, but rather the work of a confused duo--director Karyn Kusama and writer Diablo Cody who seem to be treading on grounds they are unfamiliar with. This is unacceptable—if not downright unforgiveable—in film making. Even if they were just operating a horror booth in an amusement park, they should know which buttons to press at the right moment in order to scare the riders breathless. Give the customers their money’s worth, y‘know? A word about the actors: the boys are there not as persons but as props, dumb studs whose lust soon turns them into steaks for Jennifer. The girls? Seyfried is the one who saves the day—she can act, and let’s hope more challenging roles help her mature into seasoned Oscar material in due time. Perhaps Fox is the reason Jennifer’s Body as a horror movie fails to really grip the audience’s attention. She’s just too much of a Jolie copycat to convince us she means business when she reveals her fangs.

The moral of the story? Go ahead, boys, be suckers for sexy bods and be ready to be eaten up alive (but not necessarily in bed), ha ha! Girls, if you cannot as yet find boyfriends with intelligence to match your own, wait; it’s better to be boyless than to be with someone who thinks you’re being silly when you’re being dead serious. Unless you want to be widowed before you’re wedded.