Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Hunger Games

CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland; DIRECTOR:  Gary Ross; SCREENPLAY BY: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray; PRODUCED BY: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik;  Executive Producers: Robin Bissell, Suzanne Collins, Louise Rosner-Meyer; EDITING BY: Stephen Mirrione, Juliette Welfling; CINEMATOGRAPHY: Tom Stern; DISTRIBUTED BY: Lionsgate; GENRE:  Action/Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller; LOCATION: USA; RUNNING TIME: 142 minutes

Technical Assessment:  4
Moral Assessment:  2
Cinema rating:  For viewers 14 years old and above

 District 12 is in the Republic of Panem which is ruled by the elite in the distant Capitol.  The citizens of Panem’s 12 districts exist to serve the Capitol’s needs.  An earlier uprising of the Districts results in the extinction of District 13, and the creation of “The Hunger Games”, a televised survival reality show that has contestants called “tributes”—a boy and a girl from age 12-18 from each District—participating until all but one remains alive.  Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her mother and younger sister Primrose in District 12.  When Primrose’s name is drawn to be District 12’s girl tribute, Katniss volunteers to take her place.  She together with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are swept away to the Capitol to be trained at jungle survival with 22 other youngsters, knowing fully well that they would be compelled to kill in order to win, and, in fact, could even be each other’s killer.  

Unfairly compared with Twilight, Hunger Games is of a totally different genre.  The former is romance/adventure; the latter is adventure-scifi.  The only thing they have in common is their box office aim: teenage girls as the primary target audience.  Lawrence’s intensity as the heroine Katniss carries the movie, but, of course, with the able support of secondary actors that include Donald Sutherland, Wes Bently, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and others.  It is a film version of the trilogy by Suzanne Collins who is also its hands-on scriptwriter.  The Hunger Games incorporates touches from Greek mythology and Roman history as well as themes from productions in the not-so-distant past, like broadcasting of violent contests to pacify the masses (Vengeance on Varos), best friends fighting to the death (Amok Time, a Star Trek episode), the bloodthirsty crowd (Survivor).  The plot is fast paced, making its 140 minutes running time strangely entertaining and thought provoking at the same time.

“The Hunger Games” as entertainment for the elite in the Capitol is the reality tv show to end all reality tv shows.  Unlike the ordinary “survivor shows”, it is not just a question of being voted off the island—it means having to kill human beings for no reason at all but to satisfy the murderous instincts of the audience, and we ought to know the dire consequences of such an episode on the life of the winner-killer.  The “hunger” in the movie could be two-faced—the audience’s hunger for bloodshed and man-against-man violence, and the actual hunger of the contestants who must for instance navigate a mine field in order to get to the food pile.  The Hunger Games may actually mirror a reality in human society where the decadent and powerful one percent “in the Capitol” live in abundance with no other concern but to adorn and indulge themselves while the impoverished and powerless 99 percent work like beasts of burden just to survive and do the elite’s bidding.  The movie attempts to insert a ray of hope towards the end with the decision of the two youngsters, but still, it fails to assure that the hope is potent enough to effect a turn towards justice.  Watch with caution—we shouldn’t let such slick reality shows dictate our realities. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Witness

CAST:  Gwen Zamora, Pierre Gruno, Marcelino Ledrandt, KimberlyRyder, Feby Febiola, Agung Saga; DIRECTOR:  Muhammad Yusuf; SCREENWRITER: Beby Hasibuan; PRODUCER: Sarjono Sutrisno; EDITOR:  MUSICAL DIRECTOR; GENRE:  Suspense, Thriller/Drama; CINEMATOGRAPHER     DISTRIBUTOR: GMA & Skylar Pictures; LOCATION:  Indonesia; RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

Technical Assessment:  2.5
Moral Assessment:  2
Cinema rating:  For viewers 18 years old and above
SYNOPSIS: A Filipina expat who works as general manager of a hotel in Jakarta finds her whole family massacred by a mysterious man. Her parents, her only sister Safara, her maid, security, are all dead. She was also shot but somehow managed to survive. Haunted by the incident and a strange dream that keeps coming over and over, she then decides to uncover all the mystery by herself to find out the reason of what she has been going through.

Mirror Mirror

CAST:  Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Sean Bean, Nathan Lane, Michael Lerner and Mare Winningham; DIRECTOR: Tarsem Singh; SCREENWRITER:  Melisa Wallack, Jason Keller, Jacob Girmm, Wilhelm Grimm; PRODUCED BY: Ryan Kavanaugh, Bernie Goldmann, Brett Ratner, Kevin Misher; EDITING BY: Robert Duffy, Nick Moore;  MUSIC BY: Alan Menken; GENRE:  Fantasy, Science Fiction, Comedy; CINEMATOGRAPHY: Brendan Galvin; DISTRIBUTED BY: Relativity Media; LOCATION: Czech Republic; RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

Technical Assessment: 4
Moral Assessment: 3.5
Cinema Rating: For viewers 13 years old and below with parental guidance      

SYNOPSIS: An evil queen steals control of a kingdom and an exiled princess enlists the help of seven resourceful rebels to win back her birthright.

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

CAST: Voices—Danny DeVito (Lorax), Ed Helms (the Once-ler), Zac Efron (Ted), Taylor Swift (Audrey), Rob Riggle (Mr. O’Hare), Jenny Slate (Ted’s Mom), Betty White (Grammy Norma); DIRECTOR:   Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda; SCREENWRITER: Ken Daurio, Cincon Paul; PRODUCER: Chris Meeldandri & Janet Heally; EDITOR: Ken Schretsmann, Claire Dodgson, Steven Liu; MUSICAL DIRECTOR: John Powell; GENRE:  Adaptation from Dr. Seuss’ book, Animation, Musical,; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Guillon; DISTRIBUTOR:  Universal Pictures; LOCATION:   Universal Studio; RUNNING TIME:  96 minutes

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 4
Cinema Rating: For viewers 13 years old and below with parental guidance       

SYNOPSIS: A  3-D animated feature “The Lorax” is a musical entertaining of the 1971 Dr. Seuss eco-cautionary fable that seems to tell all people of the danger in the environment if we cut all the trees. It’s about 13-year-old Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), who seeks out the legendary Truffula Tree far beyond the confines of his treeless, prefabricated town of Thneedville, where fresh air is sold in bottles.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Corazon: Ang Unang Aswang

CAST:  Erich Gonzales (Corazon), Derek Ramsay (Daniel), Mark Gil, Epy Quizon, Mon Confiado, Tetchie Agbayani; DIRECTOR: Richard Somes; SCREENWRITER:  Jerry Gracio; PRODUCER:  Star Cinema, Skylight Films; EDITOR:  MUSICAL DIRECTOR  
GENRE:  Dram/Horror; CINEMATOGRAPHER     DISTRIBUTOR: Star Cinema, Skylight Films; LOCATION: Philippines; RUNNING TIME:  100 minutes     

Technical Assessment:  3.5
Moral Assessment:  2.5
Cinema rating:  For viewers 18 years old 

Synopsis: A married couple of five years, so desirous to have their own baby, seeks help from a lady who recommends devotion to Saint Gerard, patron of women praying to have a child. They are soon gifted with a child, but their baby is stillborn. The mother who could not accept that her child is dead becomes insane and disappears from their home.

John Carter

CAST: Taylor Kitsch (John Cater), Lynn Collins (Princess Dejah Thoris), Willem Dafoe; DIRECTOR: Andrew Stanton; SCREENWRITER: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon, Edgar Rice Burroughs; PRODUCEd BY: Jim Morris, Colin Wilson, Lindsey Collins;  EDITING BY: Eric Zumbrunnen; MUSIC BY: Michael Giacchino; GENRE: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy; CINEMATOGRAPHER  DISTRIBUTOR Walt Disney; LOCATION:  USA; RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

Technical Assessment:  4
Moral Assessment: 3
Cinema Rating: For viewers 14 years old and above 

SYNOPSIS: From filmmaker Andrew Stanton comes John Carter-a sweeping action-adventure set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars). John Carter is based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose highly imaginative adventures served as inspiration for many filmmakers, both past and present. The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Money Ball

CAST:  Brad Pitt (Billy Beane), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jonah Hill (Peter); DIRECTOR: Bennett Miller; SCREENWRITER: Aaron Sorkin; FILM PRODUCER: Brad Pitt, Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz; EDITOR:  MUSICAL DIRECTOR; GENRE: Comedy/Sports/Drama; CINEMATOGRAPHER     DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Pictures; LOCATION: USA; RUNNING TIME:   135 minutes    

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 4
Cinema Rating: For viewers 14 years old and above 

SYNOPSIS: Based on a true story, Moneyball is a movie for anybody who has ever dreamed of taking on the system. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's and the guy who assembles the team, who has an intuition: all of baseball's conventional wisdom is wrong. Forced to reinvent his team on a tight budget, Beane will have to outsmart the richer clubs. The onetime jock teams with Ivy League grad Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) in an unlikely partnership, recruiting bargain players that the scouts call flawed, but all of whom have an ability to get on base, score runs, and win games. It's more than baseball, it's a revolution - one that challenges old school traditions and puts Beane as a target of those who say he's tearing out the heart and soul of the game.

The Devil Inside

CAST:  Fernanda Andrade (Isabella Rossi), Evan Helmuth (David), Simon Quarterman (Ben), Suzan Cowley (Maria Rossi); DIRECTOR:    William Brent Bell, Joaquin Perea; SCREENWRITER:  William Brent Bell, Matthew Peterman; PRODUCER: Mr. Peterman & Morris Paulson; EDITOR: Timothy Mirkovich and Mr. Bell  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Brett Detar & Ben Romans; GENRE:  Horror; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gonzalo Amat; DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount  Pictures; LOCATION: Rome, Italy; RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes    
Technical Assessment:  2.5
Moral Assessment:  2
Cinema rating:  For viewers 18 years old and above

In recent years, the Catholic Church has established a course in Rome for exorcists and those interested in these experiences of the devil.  The course featured in the 2011 film with Anthony Hopkins, The Rite, and also features in this film.
The Devil Inside might be seen as a commercial rip-off of such films as The Rite—and it probably is.  However, quite some thought has been given to the screenplay and its plausibility and checking out a lot of Catholic details.  Critics will say that too little thought has been given to the screenplay—and with some justification concerning the ending since the film just stops with a more than melodramatic moment.  Perhaps, the makers had run out of ideas and/or budget.
Again, the makers use the now tradition of The Blair Witch Project, disguising fiction as fact.  They also do quite a bit of hand-held camera work to pretend that it is all authentic footage (often with dates and times indicated as in the Paranormal Activity series).  It opens with a video of a crime scene walk through by detectives with commentary introducing the deaths of two priests and a nun during an exorcism of a housewife.  After being declared criminally insane by the Connecticut courts, she was transferred to a Roman institution for the criminally insane.  That was in 1989.
Now, in 2009, her daughter, Isabella, wants to understand what happens and decides to make a documentary.  For the first part of the film, it continues in a documentary style, a film that you might see on television.
Isabella sits in on the course in Rome, which gives the film a chance to offer some thoughts on possession and raise questions about true possession and mental states.  In the class are an American doctor become priest and an English priest whose uncle was an exorcist.  They use technological equipment for their exorcisms and reveal that they are doing their work without church approval (with some comments in the vein of hierarchy cover-ups and bureaucratic mind-sets).
They take Isabella and her cameraman to an actual exorcism—echoes of The Exorcist with contortions, hurlings and prayer in English and Latin.  Isabella agrees to a similar exorcism for her mother who has recognized her but is hostile—and has been officially declared mad rather than possessed.
By this time, the skeptic audience is probably in full scorn mode.  The believers are wondering whether this can really happen.  Those who have been following it sympathetically are hoping that the exorcism will be a success but their movie-going experience is probably warning them that this is the stage where you surrender belief and just go with the ever-increasing melodramatic and violent flow.  It actually does become more melodramatic than expected—and then that stop and the final credits.
It’s only a small-budget, 83 minute possession thriller so better not to make a mountain out of a mole hill.  (In 2010, there was a Protestant/ Evangelical variation on this theme, The Last Exorcism).  There is an initial disclaimer that the Vatican did not give any official approval of the film or help in its making!

Friday, March 9, 2012


CAST: Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Alex Russell; DIRECTOR: Josh Trank; PRODUCED BY: John Davis, Adam Schroeder; GENRE: Fantasy / Sci-fi / Thriller; SCREENPLAY BY: Max Landis; CINEMATOGRAPHY: Matthew Jensen;  LOCATION: United States; RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes

Technical Assessment:  3
Moral Assessment:  2.5
Cinema rating:  For viewers 18 years old

Chronicle sounds a fairly straightforward title – though the film runs for only 84 minutes, rather a short time for a chronicle.

This is another hand-held camera story, allegedly using footage taken by Andrew (Dane de Haan), the central character, with his new camera.  In the latter part of the film, other alleged footage from surveillance cameras and other sources is edited in.  So, we are in the Blair Witch tradition, though the story takes us in quite a different direction.

All seems rather domestic at first: Andrew’s room, his alcoholic father, his ailing mother, school where he is put down all the time, a party where he irritates people by filming.  His main friend is his cousin Matthew (Alex Russell) who tries to put the brakes on all the filming, hoping Andrew will get a life.  He does, but the most hoped-for.

Matthew is joined by class president, Steve (Michael B. Jordan) as they explore a mysterious hole in the ground and ask Andrew to film.  Something in the hole exercises a strange power and they become telekinetic as well as finding they can soar into the air.

Strong change of pace at this juncture.

What first seems something jokey and a bit of horseplay becomes something dangerous, fatal for one of the group.  And Andrew seems to be taken over by the power, becoming extremely vindictive, cruel to friends and his many foes, ultimately becoming, not a superhero, but a supervillain.  He could have become a Spiderman type for good but turns into the Green Goblin and the other evil characters from the Spiderman films.

The film becomes rather spectacular by the end as Andrew wreaks his revenge as well being destructive just because he can.  He rationalizes his attitudes with theories of evolution and survival of the fittest, rather Nietschean (though Schopenhauer and Plato are quoted), an evil super-man beyond morality.

Chronicle was filmed in South Africa with quite some interesting special effects – South Africa did a very good job with District 9 and its effects some years ago.

Younger audiences will identify with the characters and the situations and then be challenged by Andrew’s behaviour.  This one has proven popular and may be on its way to cult movie status.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

CAST:  Tom Hanks (Tomas Schell), Sandra Bullock (Linda Schell), Thomas Horn (Oskar Schell), Zoe Caldwell (Thomas grandmother), Max von Sydow; DIRECTOR: Stephen Daldry; SCREENWRITER:  Eric Roth, Jonathan Safran Foer; PRODUCER: Scott Rudin; EDITOR:  MUSICAL DIRECTOR; GENRE: Drama; CINEMATOGRAPHER    DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros; LOCATION: New York City; RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes    

Technical Assessment: 4
Moral Assessment: 4
Cinema Rating: For viewers 13 years old and below with parental guidance     

SYNOPSIS: Oskar is convinced that his father, who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, has left a final message for him hidden somewhere in the city. Feeling disconnected from his grieving mother and driven by a relentlessly active mind that refuses to believe in things that can't be observed, Oskar begins searching New York City for the lock that fits a mysterious key he found in his father's closet. His journey through the five boroughs takes him beyond his own loss to a greater understanding of the observable world around him.