Thursday, January 31, 2013

The impossible

Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Oaklee Pendergast, Samuel Joslin  Director: Juan Antonio Bayona  Screenplay: Sergio G. Sanchez  Cinematography: Oscar Faura  Music:  Fernando Velazquez  U.S. Distributor:  Summit Entertainment Genre: drama Running Length: 114 minutes

Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3.5
CINEMA rating:  PG 13
MTRCB rating: PG 13           

The impossible is a drama set during the 2004 tsunami, detailing one family's incredible fight for survival.  Following an eventful Christmas day at a beach resort in Thailand, Henry (Ewan McGregor), his wife Maria (Naomi Watts), and their three sons Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) and Thomas (Samuel Joslin) are enjoying their tropical poolside holiday when one of the worst natural disasters in modern history changes their lives in the blink of an eye—the tsunami that rocked the world.  With no time to run for safety, Henry and his family, just like the dozens of other horrified tourists on the resort, lose one another as they are washed away by the 90-foot wave.  As the devoted parents fight all odds to find and protect their children, they encounter scenes of heart-wrenching tragedy and experience acts of incredible compassion amidst the chaos.
The actors did a marvelous job—you have to see it to feel their sincerity.  The depiction of the horrendous event is flat out stunning.  The impossible’s technical perfection leaves the audience no room to nit pick about flaws—or to try to guess which is actual footage and which is CGI—as it rips right into the viewers’ emotion and carries them away to rush along with the bodies getting slammed on trees, electric posts, broken masonry and other debris.  Witnessing on film and empathizing with the victims’ suffering is a moving and unnamable experience for us who have never been through a tidal wave.  So this is what a tsunami does…  Bodies battered by the merciless waters, scores of cadavers, live victims covered in blood and filth, the anguish of the suddenly orphaned … could the victims be blamed if they were never to believe in God again?
Through it all shines the power of the human spirit not only to overcome but more so to put the welfare of others before one’s own.  Complete strangers weep shamelessly and comfort one another in their grief.  Having heard a child crying beneath the debris, Maria, herself badly cut,  bruised and almost breathless tells Lucas to rescue the child.  Lucas at first refuses lest another wave tear them apart again, but Maria insists “We must… even if it’s the last thing we do…”   In the hospital, Maria, bandaged and strapped to an oxygen tank, tells Lucas to go help others in any way he can instead of just sitting by her bed.  Such instances winess to the undying human spirit and fortify the central self-sacrificial theme of this true story.  Himself going through the angst of yearly adolescence, Lucas absorbs the impact of this vital lesson about life, giving, and sacrifice. 
So this is what a tsunami does… When your life hangs by a thread, you just stop caring about gifts, careers, travel plans—you come to see what really matters in life: life itself, family, compassion.  Try and imagine what you would do when all the things you so enjoy in life are claimed in a split second by an unfeeling tidal wave, when your whole family is grabbed away by a watery hand that’s bigger than your prayers.  What would you do?

Parental Guidance

CAST: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marissa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison  DIRECTOR: Andy Fickman;  SCREENWRITER:  Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse;  PRODUCER: Billly Crystal, Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark; EDITOR:  Kent Beyda; MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Marc Shaiman; GENRE:  Comedy; CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Dean Semler; RUNNING TIME:  105 minutes; DISTRIBUTOR:  20th Century Fox; LOCATION:  USA

Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating:  PG 13
MTRCB Rating:  G (General Patronage)

Artie Decker (Billy Crystal) was laid off work as a sports announcer—a job he held for the past 20 years. His wife Diane (Bette Midler) keeps fit by pole dancing with her friends at home. While Artie is still shocked and devastated by the sad news and wonders how to tell Diane, they receive a frantic call from their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei).  She has to leave town with her husband Phil Simmons (Tom Everett Scott) for work (and a getaway), and could they please look after their three children Harper (Bailee Madison), Turner (Joshua Rush) and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf)? Despite protests from Artie, Diane agrees to babysit their grandchildren while their parents are away.
Determined to reconnect with her grandchildren, Diane is willing to do all she can to make them love her, but Artie is still chasing a dream. Both are not prepared for Alice’s and Phil’s automated lifestyle and 21st century methods of rearing their kids, that is, allowing them to do what they want and never saying no to them or correcting them. Would old school parenting techniques work in the absence of their helicopter parents?
Parental Guidance (previously titled Us & Them) seems to be a parody of present day America and some of the issues that beset family life—despite sophisticated gadgets and technology, parents have less time for themselves or their children, kids are stressed and unable to cope with school or the challenges of growth, older people are left behind by current trends and are not appreciated, the dynamics at work in schools, etc.
Despite the predictable plot, Parental Guidance is fun and enjoyable. The lead actors, especially Billy Crystal and Bette Midler adequately portray their roles. There are many hilarious moments and touching ones, too. It is unfortunate that it had to use some potty humor—could this be for lack of creativity or is it a concession to popular taste?
Grandparents Artie and Diane take care of their three grandchildren using a different approach from what the kids are used to with their parents. Parental Guidance shows that when done to the extreme, both ways can have negative results, hence the need to keep a balance. Despite the differences, what holds the family together is what makes Parental Guidance a good film.  
CINEMA recommends that this be seen by children below 13 with parental guidance.  Even the younger members of the family may be stimulated to comment on the value of the film.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Les Miserables

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rusell Crowe, Anne Hathaway ; Direction: Tom Hooper; based on the novel by Victor Hugo; Screenplay: William Nicholson, Alain Boubil, Claude- Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer; Cinematography: Danny Cohen; Editing: Melanie Ann Oliver, Chris Dickens; ; Music: Claude- Michel Schonberg; Producers: Tim Bevan, Cameron Mackintosh, etc.; Genre: Musical-Drama; Location: France; Running Time: 117 minutes; Distributor: Universal Pictures
Technical Assessment: 4
Moral Assessment: 3.5 stars
Rating: A 14
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has just been given parole by prison guard Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) and is set to start a new life. But soon he discovers no one will give an ex-convict a chance.  He comes to the convent of the Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson) where he is offered food and shelter. However, Valjean steals the church’s silver and runs away. He gets caught and is quickly returned to the convent by the authorities but to his surprise the bishop supports his lies and even offers him the church’s silver candlesticks. Touched and shamed by the bishop’s actions, Valjean vows to be a different man and start a new life without his past.
Eight years later, Valjean, now a mayor and businessman, has successfully erased his past by changing his name, but is still hunted by Javert for breaking his parole. Fantine (Anne Hathaway), one of his factory workers, is dismissed by the foreman after being discovered to be sending money to her illegitimate child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen). Desperate to support her daughter, Fantine becomes a prostitute and gets arrested by Javert when she attacks a rude customer. Valjean saves Fantine and vows to care for her daughter.  He buys Cosette’s freedom from the Thenardiers (Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), wicked tavern owners and professional pickpockets.
Later, Javert who is unaware of the mayor’s disguise, informs him that the man he is after, Valjean, has confessed to his crime of breaking parole and is condemned to die. Unable to accept that an innocent man should die in his place, Valjean appears in court to reveal his true identity, that he is indeed prisoner 24601.  Valjean nonetheless ecapes to find Cosette.
Nine years later, Valjean has raised Cosette as his own daughter but refuses to tell her about the past. Consequently, the death of Lamerque has pushed a group of idealistic students to start a revolution. Marius (Eddie Redmayne), one of the students, sees the grown-up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and instantly falls in love with her, breaking the heart of Eponine (Samantha Barks), the Thenardiers’ daughter.  When the revolt ensues, Javert who has posed as a rebel to spy on the group is exposed and handed over to Valjean, who in turn joins the rebels to protect Marius. However, Valjean allows Javert to escape. When the revolt fails, Valjean carries Marius into the sewers and is confronted by Javert at the exit. Javert threatens to shoot him if he does not surrender but Valjean ignores him and shows more concern for the fatally wounded Marius.
The film is almost a sure ball success because it works with givens that are solid and popular. But of course, between the literature and the stage, Hooper has to make sure he creates a cinematically effective translation of the songs and scenes. The production design is striking and impressive with the proper combination of live scenes and CGIs to heighten every emotional theme. There are moments when the direction feels confused between being more theatrical, realistic or cinematic but then again, an ordinary viewer will get so impressed with the treatment that this will be overlooked.
With so few dancing scenes, Hooper’s Les Miserables is more opera than musical.  We cannot question the prowess Hathaway gives to Fantine—her “I dreamed a dream” rendition is one of the most powerful and emotive scenes in the film.  Cohen and Carter are just fabulous as the Thenardiers, though they at times come across as reincarnations of past roles.  Redmayne and Seyfried are lame and forgettable.  Crowe is a disappointment—vocally he is weak, personality-wise, his Javert is bland; maybe he’s just too pretty to look mean or even stern.
Noting all that, and the better aspects of the film—particularly the strong material—we tend to think that actors had been chosen more for their sincerity and passion than their singing prowess.  Perhaps the director wants us to listen to the truths between the notes instead of just being awed by the singing.  As the central character, Jackman is no Pavarotti, but who would not be touched by his soliloquy which he sings direct to the camera, “Why did I allow this man to touch my soul and teach me love?”  Such a soulful performance gives justice to the point of the plot—were he to croak in the middle of the song, still it wouldn’t diminish the power of its message.
Les Miserables may be a Javert-Valjean story, but there wouldn’t be a story without the Bishop—he whose Christ-like forgiveness transformed Valjean’s hardened heart and filled it with new knowledge. (Hooper must have deemed the role so important that he assigned it to the original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, who played the part for the first time in 1985).  Despite the background of a revolt or the anti-climactic wedding scene, the film is not about a revolution, much less about a love story, but it speaks of a revolution in the heart and of a love so great it can forgive everything. This is perhaps what has attracted audiences to Les Miserables through its long stage and screen history—its message of forgiveness unmistakably echoing the love of God itself.
CINEMA ratings:  AA, All Ages; PG13, Age 13 & below with parental guidance; A14, Age 14 & above; A18, Age 18 & above; NPS, Not for Public Showing.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Zero dark thirty

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgeton; Director: Kathryn Bigelow;  Screenplay:  Mark Boal; Producer: Kathryn Bigelow , Megan Ellison, :  Mark Boal;  Running Time: 157 minutes; Genre: Drama/Action; Location: USA, Pakistan

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 2
Rating: for viewers 18 years old and above

After the September 11, 2001 attack, a  CIA team is assigned to secretly hunt down and eliminate the terrorist leader of Al Queda group, Osama Bin Laden. One CIA agent, Maya (Jessica Chastain) has dedicated her more than a decade of service searching for the lone terrorist leader. She goes with a team that interrogates detainees until one of them confesses a name of a personal courier to Osama Bin Laden –Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti. From then on, Maya centers her life/mission on tracking down and chasing the mysterious courier whom she strongly believes is the key to finding Osama Bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty realistically depicts the nuances and the many facets of CIA’s operations alongside the politics (of gender and geography included) that goes with it. It effectively portrays the world as dark, vengeful, and dangerous; divided by race, religion and obsession – while at the same time, some would be willing to die to change this.  The film has successfully engaged the audience in the gripping narrative which focuses on a woman’s quest towards fulfilling a mission, believing (sometimes disbelieving) that the entire world is on their side. Chastain shines in every moment of the film as she delivers the complexity of her character even in its most silent moments. The action sequences need not have big explosives nor spectacular effects so as to be consistent with the film’s core—that is to demystify and de-glorify the US’ war against terrorism which merely centers on revenge—no more, no less.

The film’s poster comes with a warning: “not for the weak of hearts”, as most of its scenes closely depict tortures of detainees during interrogation, with blood spurting all over the frame. So the moral debate goes whether Zero Dark Thirty glorifies torture as part of the world’s longing for peace. The film however simply depicts this dilemma as seen in the eyes of CIA agent Maya. She cannot stand the torture herself so she would let others do it, sometimes, not in her presence. For most part, the movie shows how the US’ and CIA’s operations produce dubious outcomes, even to the point of putting the lives of their people in danger. With that, the film throws back the moral question to the audience—is human physical torture moral if done for the sake of finding the truth and achieving world peace? It cannot be denied though that said images are so strong and are undoubtedly disturbing.

 If there’s one point in the film that CINEMA commends it is its portrayal of women. Although Zero Dark Thirty seems to be a man’s film at the onset, it turns out that it’s more about a woman standing out and standing firm in a world predominated by men. Here, we see how a woman’s intuition led to the success of a mission—how it gave the world a reason for celebration. Although, the bigger question remains: Is there really a reason to celebrate? With the death of Osama Bin Laden, is the world now safer and at peace? Has the US’ wound been healed as they continuously exact revenge on their opponents?  Is this fight against terrorism really worth fighting for? 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jack Reacher

Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Joseph Sikora Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall; Direction: Christopher McQuarrie; Story: based from Lee Child`s ONE SHOT; Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie; Cinematography: Celeb Deschanel;  Editing: Kevin Stitt; Music: Joe Kreamer; Producers: Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner Genre: Action -Thrillerr: Running Time:130 minutes Location: USA; Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Technical Assessment :  3
Moral Assessment :  2.5
CINEMA Rating :  V14
MTRCB Rating :  PG 13

One ordinary morning in Pittsburg, a sniper drives up a parking building, pays for his parking, sets up his rifle, fires 6 shots and kills 5 people. The police wastes no time in piecing the evidence and concludes that Barr, a former soldier, is the killer and immediately arrests him. Although overwhelming evidence points to Barr, he requests for Jack Reacher (Cruise) instead of confessing to the crime. Meanwhile, Reacher learns of the incident and immediately travels to the scene of the crime, originally to make sure Barr is sentenced.  However, after methodically studying the evidence, Reacher concludes that Barr is innocent and the random killings are conspiracy to cover up just one murder. Reacher teams up with Helen, the district attorney's daughter set to ensure Barr does not get the death penalty. And soon, the two are thrown into an action-packed quest for the truth.
The plot is easy to follow and surprisingly gives a tinge of excitement despite its predictability. Reacher`s character is honestly amusing and loveable as he represents a crude and sassy vigilante who cares for what is true and right. (Shades of typical macho heroes of our local films.)  Cruise tackles the role convincingly with his boyish looks adding to Reacher smooth charisma.  The script starts well with the eerie silence of the murders, turns funny with Reacher's deadpan cynicisms and even tries create existentialist conversations. The directorial vision is commendable with tight action, clever cutaways and riveting  scene stealing feistiness. The film will not be on the Academy Awards' list but is well made and delivers enough to merit sequels to Lee Child's franchise.
The movie is strong in its message about justice and truth. Reacher is the cool, arrogant knight in shining armor who will not start a fight, prefers to walk away from one but if needed will take every bad guy down. Reacher will make sure justice is served be it on a silver plate or a pile of rubbish. He may seem callous and arrogant but he shows concern for the needy (buying goods in a store only to drop them in the donation box), does not take advantage of a young girl coming on to him, responds to help a woman being abused by her boyfriend. But do we condone street justice? Unfortunately, the ends never can justify the means. So as much as viewers would like to root for Reacher, he is not a very good role model.
The film is a typical action flick with forgiveable violence but because the directorial interpretation of the killings at the start is powerful, a lot of conservative viewers will be upset and disturbed with the opening scene and the premise of the film. Further, Reacher, although the good guy, uses force and aggresion yet in a very charming way. Young viewers whose moral stand have not yet been formed may find it cool to follow Reacher. High intensity action and violence as well as the theme of the story may not be suitable  for high scholers.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Life of Pi

CAST:  Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adi Hussein, Tabu, Gerard Depardieu.  DIRECTOR:  Ang Lee.  SCREENPLAY:  David Magee.  PRODUCER:  Gil Netter,  David Lee.  PRODUCTION DESIGNER:  David Gropman. ART DIRECTORS:  Dan Webster, Al Hobbs, James Truesdale. CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Claudio Miranda.  MUSIC:  Mychael Danna.  DISTRIBUTOR:  20th Century Fox.  LOCATION:  India, Taiwan, Canada.
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3.5
CINEMA Rating:  PG 13 (May be viewed by children below 13 with parental guidance)  
When their family-managed zoo in Pondicherry, India, is forced to close down due to poor business, Santosh Patel (Adi Hussein) decides to move his whole family—his wife Gita (Tabu), and sons Ravi (played at ages 7, 14 and 19 by Ayan Khan, Mohd Abbas Kahleeli and Vibish Sivakumar) and Pi (played at ages 5 and 11 by Gautam Belur and Ayoush Tandor)—along with the zoo animals to Canada.  Here begins the story that is told in flashback over a home-cooked vegetarian meal by an adult Pi (Irfan Khan), now a professor of comparative religion in Montreal, Canada.  Pi’s sole listener is a skeptic writer (Rafe Spall) who had heard from his uncle in India about Pi’s unusual ordeal at sea—a story, he is told, “that would make you believe in God.”  As Pi narrates, the family’s sea voyage with a shipload of drugged animals is aborted by a terrible squall that sinks the whole ship in minutes, leaving only the 17-year old Pi (Suraj Sharma) on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger.  One by one the animals go, until there is only the tiger with Pi.  How Pi manages to survive 227 days with a man-eating beast at sea forms the meat of the story.
The best selling novel of Yan Martell, Life of Pi, has sold over seven million copies, been translated into several languages, and was in the New York Times bestseller list for over a year, but it was considered an un-filmable story.   Now this Ang Lee directorial masterpiece for 20th Century Fox ought to put to rest all doubts as to the novel’s “filmability”, having seamlessly and amazingly interwoven the best of the best of CGI and flesh and blood footage of live action.  Credit goes to Rhythm and Hues Visual Effects for the most work on special effects.  It is hard to believe that the Pi character, first time actor Suraj Shama, was never actually filmed with a live tiger on the lifeboat.  How could it have been faked when it looked so real?, one might ask, and the only explanation would be “computer magic”. 
Life of Pi is nothing short of magical, especially in the way it reveals the paradoxical marvels of the sea to the viewer: its rage swallows up Pi’s whole family, yet its bounty keeps him and the carnivore alive; it grips the boy gutless in fear for his life, yet its very emptiness fills his soul with hope for happier days.  At night when all is lost in its pitch darkness it stuns Pi with phosphorescence from a million jellyfish, and dwarfs him with a luminescent whale leaping out of the unfathomable depths. 
Experiencing nature in Life of Pi as it may never have been experienced before by the viewer definitely adds enchantment to the film.  It also ensures and justifies the viewer’s attention to the spiritual dimension of the story.  Not many may appreciate, however, the movie’s cosmic outlook in matters relating to God.  Having been born to Hinduism that introduced him to millions of gods, the child Pi cannot make sense of a man crucified for other people’s sins, and yet admits to an obsession with The Son powerful enough to make him announce to his parents that he wants to be baptized (a Catholic).  This aspect of the film is something that demands mature interpretation in and for the moviegoer.  While Catholicism is sympathetically portrayed here—a priest (Andrea di Stefano) is shown slaking the boy’s actual thirst by giving him a glass of water, symbolic of the Living Water?—Life of Pi does not pretend to offer catechesis but merely demonstrates a young mind’s search for God.  The boy eventually embraces three religions (the third being Islam), much to the chagrin of his rational father, but Pi’s naivete disarms everybody when he says he just wants “to love God”. 
A lover of God, a true follower of Christ, will not have a problem with Pi’s expression of the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love.  Love of one’s enemy is evident in Pi’s regard for the tiger—he could have let him drown when the beast fell into the sea, but instead, he goes out of his way to get the animal back into the boat.  He even fishes and collects rainwater for the animal to consume, hoping endlessly that the beast would one day recognize his goodwill.  Pi’s faith in a Living God in time of darkness is made apparent as well, when at the end of his wits he tearfully rails at the sky, “I surrender… I’ve lost everything… what more do you want?”
There is also a lesson in unconditional love and detachment which Pi cannot seem to learn: love without expecting to be loved or to change the beloved to your liking.  For 227 days he has bent over backward to keep the tiger alive, and yet in the end it remains a cold feline, leaving him behind without as much as a goodbye glance.
Life of Pi may engage the viewer on two levels: as a movie about survival, and as a meditation on the infinite.  It’s difficult to avoid spoilers in reviewing this film, so allow us this one last observation: towards the end of the narrative, Pi is bedridden in a hospital in Mexico, telling his story to two men sent by the Japanese Ministry of Transport to make a report on the shipwreck.  They do not believe his account with the animals, demanding “something we can report, we can believe!”  So Pi gives them a less incredible story, “admitting” that he was indeed with three other human survivors on the boat—the cook, a Buddhist sailor, and his mother.  The cook killed the two, and Pi killed the cook.  It is actually the same story, but using human characters in place of the hyena, the zebra, the orangutan and the tiger.  The Japanese men conclude that since both stories are hard to prove and neither is relevant to their investigation anyway, they choose to believe the one with the animals.  The writer listening to Pi’s accounts chooses the same, to which Pi utters an enigmatic, “and so it is with God”.  For isn’t it so with belief in God?  People may choose a God they cannot understand but can believe in, or a familiar God that will not strain their belief.  Perhaps we are reading too much into a movie, but honestly, if Pi’s story cannot make you believe in God, it can certainly make you think about God.  

The hobbit: an unexpected journey

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis; Direction: Peter Jackson; Screenplay: Fran Walshm Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro based on the Novel by J.R.R. Tolkien; Music: Howard Shore; Editing: Jabez Olssen;  Genre: Fantasy Adventure; Location: Middle Earth; Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Running Time: 169 minutes
Technical Assessment:  3.5
Moral Assessment:  3
CINEMA Rating            :  V14
Sixty years before the events in the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) is recruited by Gandalf, the Grey (McKellen) into becoming the “burglar” for Thorin and his company of 12 dwarves as the latter set out to reclaim their kingdom, the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug. Bilbo at first is reluctant, but curiosity and desire for adventure takes over so he sets out and runs after the Company of Dwarves. On the way, they are attacked by trolls, meet the wizard Radagast, the Brown where they are hinted that the Necromancer has risen, chased by the Orcs and are almost killed by Azog, the Orc war-chief who lost his arm to Thorin in a previous battle. Bilbo also has an encounter with Gollum and manages to keep the ring of power after he wins in a game of riddles. The film ends with the group seeing Lonely Mountain in a distance and the dragon Smaug waking up.
The Hobbit successfully recreates the visual tone of Lord of the Rings. This naturally means cinematography, art direction and special effects are stunning. (We watched the movie in 3D, hence there was this added quality of depth of detail and clarity of images). However, the animation, although still an outstanding feat was a bit too sharp and felt more like a video game losing a little of its mystique. Story wise, it tried to be faithful to the details of the novel but catering more to the adult viewers instead of children readers as the author originally intended. Needless to say for non-Tolkien fans, the movie will feel too long and dragging with all the characters, encounters and exchanges of lengthy words. Jackson is still a superb story-teller because even for a heavy narrative-based film, he has intelligently inserted animated suspense and heart-stopping action without going over-the-top or drawing too much attention to it. The Hobbit is an epic experience visually and mentally but does feel a bit stretched too much for comfort. A tighter editing and trimming down of repetitive scenes are needed.
There are several quotable quotes which translates also into great moral reminders. For instance, Gandalf telling Bilbo that courage is not knowing when to take a life but when to spare one. This is a philosophy that needs to be emphasized these days when the value of life is negated. Another quote and lesson is delivered by Bilbo as he returns to aid the Dwarves even though he could have turned back and returned home because he empathizes with them for losing theirs. Again, this is a timely reminder for people to be heroes and saviors, especially to those who have lost so much or own so little. The challenge it to extend help when they can even if it inconveniences them.
The values of teamwork, courage and defending one’s self without killing are reiterated throughout the movie. The characterizations are inspiring and redemptive emphasizing self-sacrifice, honor, kindness and bravery.
There are some violent scenes, scary characters and intense battle sequences. Parents should be wary of ideas and scenes that refer to cannibalism, use of wizardry and magic, and mutilation.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Thy womb

Cast: Nora Aunor, Bembol Roco, Lovi Poe, Mercedes Cabral; Director: Brilliante Mendoza; Screenplay:  Henry Burgos; Running Time: 145 minutes; Genre:Drama; Location: Tawi-Tawi
Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 14 years old and above
Si Shaleha (Nora Aunor) at Bangas-An (Bembol Roco) ay mag-asawang Badjao na nakatira sa Tawi-Tawi.  Maayos ang kanilang pagsasama.  Bukod sa pagiging mangingisda, si Shaleha ay isa ring kumadrona.  Kung kaya’t ganun na lang lalo ang kalungkutan nila sa hindi pagkakaroon ng anak sa haba ng kanilang pagsasama.  Dahil dito’y magpapasya si Shaleha na kunsintihan ang asawa sa kagustuhan nitong mag-asawang muli upang magkaroon ng anak at batang kagigiliwan sa bahay.  Tutulungan ni Shaleha si Bangas-an na humanap ng  mapapangasawa at kasama rin siya sa pagsusumikap na mag-ipon ng pera bilang dowry na pambayad sa pamilya ng babaeng pakakasalan ni Bangas-an.  Ang pagbibigay ng dowry ay ayon sa kultura at tradisyon ng mga Muslim.
Maituturing na isang hiyas ang Thy Womb. Sa gitna ng mga pelikulang melodrama, horror at komedyang walang humpay sa pag-iingay, narito ang isang pelikulang matahimik na ipinararating sa manonood ang mga pasakit ng isang nagdurusang asawa na handang magpaka-martir alang-alang sa minamahal.  Walang sampalan, walang sigawan, walang mahahabang dayalogo, ngunit ramdam ng manonood ang nais na iparating na damdamin ng pelikula. Magaganda ang mga kuha ng kamera, lalo na ang mga tanawin sa Tawi-Tawi, at hindi maitatanggi ang hirap na pinagdaanan ng buong produksiyon sa pagbuo ng pelikulang ito. Higit sa lahat, ang tunay na hiyas at yaman ng pelikula ay si Nora Aunor na halos maglaho ang tunay na katauhan sa karakter na kanyang ginampanan bilang Shaleha.  Sa kanyang mga kilos, galaw ng mata at mga labi, maliwanag nang agad ang nais na iparating na emosyon ng pangunahing tauhan. Marami ring matutunan sa kulturang Muslim at Badjao sa pelikula.
Ang Thy Womb ay patungkol sa pagpapakasakit ng isang maybahay na hindi magkaanak at handang magparaya alang-alang sa kaligayahan ng kabiyak. Kita kung gaano kawagas ang pagmamahal ni Shaleha sa asawa at siya pa ang nag-ipon ng dowry at naghanap ng dalagang magiging ikalawang asawa ni Bangas-an.  Kakatwang isipin na mayroong ganitong wagas na pag-ibig sa gitna ng mundong pinipigilan  ng kultura at relihiyon ang mga relasyon tulad ng pag-aasawa. Tunay ngang uusbong pa rin ang tunay na pag-ibig kahit saan pa man ito itanim.
Hindi hinuhusgahan ng pelikula ang mga nakakabahalang gawi tulad ng pagpapakasal ng lalaki ng higit sa isang beses; pagbibigay ng dowry sa babaeng mapapangasawa na ang halaga’y nakasalalay sa pagkababae at pagkatao ng isang babae; ang pagpapakasal ng hindi man lamang nakikita at nakikilala ang isa’t-isa, ang pagsasawalang-bahala sa damdamin ng babaeng asawa. Ito’y sapagkat pawang naka-ukit ang mga nabanggit sa kultura, relihiyon at paniniwala ng isang pangkat na dapat nating igalang at ipagpitagan.  Gayunpaman, hindi sana maging hadlang ang kultura, relihiyon o anu pa mang paniniwala upang ipagsawalang-bahala ang damdamin ng kababaihan maging ng mga kabataan na sapilitang ipinagkakasundo sa mga taong hindi pa nila nakikilala nang lubusan at ikinakasal nang walang pagmamahal. Huwag din sanang maging kabawasan sa pagkababae ang hindi pagkakaroon ng anak sapagkat ang tunay na pagkatao ay hindi naman nasusukat sa kakayahan ng sinapupunan na magsilang ng sanggol, bagkus ay nasa damdamin at nasa mga gawang mabubuti.  Dahil maselan ding maituturing ang paksa ng pelikula, minarapat ng CINEMA na ang Thy Womb ay para lamang sa mga manonood na may edad 14 pataas.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sosy problems

LEAD CAST: Heart Evangelista, Rhian Ramos, Solenn Heussaff, Bianca King, Benjamin Alves, Mikael Daez, Aljur Abrenica  DIRECTOR: Andoy Ranay  PRODUCER:  GMA Films  GENRE:  Comedy  RUNNING TIME:   110 minutes  LOCATION:  Manila, Philippines

Technical assessment:  2.5
Moral assessment:  2/5
CINEMA rating:  R 14

Magkakabarkada sila Lizzie, Danielle, Margaux at Claudia, pawang mga socialites—“sosi” o “sosyal” at mestisahing  mga dalaga.   Dahil mga may kaya ang kani-kaniyang pamilya, magagara ang kanilang mga tirahan, mamahalin ang mga kotse, kaya nilang maging mga “fashionista”, palagi silang mapera at mababango—sa madaling salita, wala silang mga problema.  Pero teka, meron din pala, mga problemang lumulutang sa kani-kanilang mga pang-araw-araw na buhay: ano ang kanilang oorderin sa restaurant para hindi sila tumaba; ano ang mga pinakahuling modang isosoot para hindi sila maunahan ng ibang “sosi”; sinong lalaki ang pinakadapat na siluin; at iba pa.  Ngunit darating sa bawa’t isa sa kanila ang pagkakataong makapagbabago ng takbo ng kanilang “sosyal” na buhay; paano nila ito sasagupain?
Habang pinapanood namin ang Sosy Problems, sulpot nang sulpot sa isip namin ang mga katanungang sumusunod: Ano ba ang gustong tumbukin ng pelikulang ito? Bakit kaya pinagpagurang gawin ito, kung pinagpaguran man?  Nagtataka lang kami dahil sa hinaba-haba ng pakikinig at panonood namin sa mga “problema” na bumabagabag sa mga socialites na ito ay hindi man lamang naantig ang aming isipan o damdamin para makiramay sa kanila.  Naisip din namin, Ano ang pakay nila at ginusto nilang ilaban ito sa Manila Film Festival?  Ang istorya, walang katorya-torya.  Ang mga papel, walang hamong inihahain sa mga gaganap, kaya’t ang pag-arte nila ay hindi maituring na arte.  Para lamang silang… wala lang, mga sarili lang nilang sosing barkadahan na nasumpungang “magpakodak” ng mga kababawan nila.
Sasang-ayon na kami na may maganda rin sigurong hangarin ang Sosy Problems; marahil gusto nitong mangaral tungkol sa kawalang-katuturan ng mga “sosyal” na hilig ng tao, o imulat ang mga mata ng mga manonood sa kahalagahan ng pagkakaroon ng matayog na mithiin, ngunit nabigo ito.  Nananaig sa kabuuan ng pelikula ang kabanidosahan ng mga pangunahing tauhan, ang kababawang nasasalamin sa mga maburirit nilang usapan at pataasan ng ihi.  Dahil salat sa lalim ang characterization, nagmistulang isang fashion show lamang halos ang kalakhan ng pelikula, kaya’t hindi tumiim ang mensahe.  Kung may transformation o pagbabago man sa katauhan ng mga sosing dalaga sa bandang dulo, ito ay matabang at walang pinaggalingan, pagkat hindi ito na-develop nang kapani-paniwala sa istorya kundi idiniin lamang sa isang talumpati.  Walang mawawala sa inyo kung hindi man ninyo mapanood ito; ikain nyo na lang ang pambili ng tiket.

Shake, rattle and roll 14

Cast: Janice de Belen, Herbert Bautista, Arlene Mulach, Dennis Trillio, Vhong Navarro, Lovi Poe; Direction: Chito Rono Screenplay: Ricky Lee, Rody Vera, Roy Iglesias; Producer:  Roselle Monteverde-Teo, Lily Monteverde; Location: Luzon; Genre: Horror;  Distributor: Regal Films Multi-media Films
Technical Assessment:  2.5
Moral Assessment:  2.5
CINEMA Rating:  V14

Tulad ng dati, nahahati sa tatlong maiikling kwento ang Shake Rattle and Roll (SRR). Ang una ay ang PAMANA na tungkol sa apat na magpipinsang (de Belen, Bautista, Muhlach, Neeman) biglang nagkaroon ng pagkakataong magmana ng tig-5 milyon sa pagpanaw ng kanilang tiyuhin na isang sikat na manunulat sa komiks ng mga matagumpay na kwentong kakatakutan. Kasama ng pera ay ang responsibilidad na pangalagaan ang isa sa limang obra ng kanilang tiyuhin. Kaya nga lamang, ang mga obrang pang-komiks ay nabubuhay sa pagsapit ng hating gabi at nagsasabog ng lagim sa mga taong nasa paligid. Kasabay ng paglalahad ng kakatakutan ay ang pagkadiskubre sa mga natatagong sikreto ng magpipinsan.
Sa tatlo, ang PAMANA ang may pinakamahigpit at buong kwento. Mahusay ang pagkakaganap ng mga datihang aktor na sina de Belen, Bautista at Muhlach na sadyang lumamon sa mga nakasabit na baguhang mga actor sa bawat eksena. Magaling ang mga “improvisation” ng tatlo sa kanilang mga diyalogo at karakter. Maging ang kwento ay medyo malikhain naman kahit gasgas na ang buod. Mapapatawad na ang mga daplis sa special effects dahil kita naman na pinagbuhusan ito ng isip at panahon at hindi pakitang gilas ang paglalagay sa mga ito. Kaya nga lamang, dahil marahil bitin ang panahon o minadali na ang pagsusulat, mababaw ang resolusyon at tila ba hindi naman nagkaroon ng malinaw na katapusan ang kwento. Sayang dahil nadala na sana ng unang yugto ang buong pelikula kung mas pinag-isipan ang katapusan nito.
Ang ikalawang kwento ay pinamagatang LOST COMMAND at umiikot sa isang liblib na kagubatan kung saan ang isang hukbong militar sa pangunguna ni Sgt. Barrientos (Trillio) ay tumutugis sa di kilalang grupo ng mamamatay tao. Sa kanilang pagtatanung-tanong sa mga taong-bayan at mga saksi, malalaman nilang mga dating sundalong naging halimaw ang mga ito.
May pag-asa sana ang konsepto ng kwento pero isang malaking kapalpakan ng direksyon ang sumira dito. Hindi binigyang pagkakatong magbuo ang karakter ng mga tauhan at magkaroon ng koneksyon sa manunuood kaya’t halos walang kang pakialam sa kung anuman ang sasapitin nila. Mahirap palagpasin ang mga teknikal na pagkukulang nito. Tulad ng malaking pagkakaiba ng kulay at texture ng mga eksenang may computer generated effects  sa mga eksenang wala, ang di mo matukoy kung umaga ba o gabi ito nagaganap dahil iba-iba ang kulay ng langit, pagpapalit ng angulo at ang mala-teatrong disenyo ng produksyon sa bandang dulo ng pelikula. Hindi rin nakatulong na para bang mga malilinis at di makabasag pinggang modelo ang dapat sanang bruskong mga sundalo. Lalo ring nakagulo ang biglang pagtatambak ng impormasyon sa huling mga minuto ng kwento upang magkaroon lamang ng saysay ang takbo nito.
Ang huling kwento, ang UNWANTED, ay tungkol sa magkasintahang Hank (Navarro) at Kate (Poe). Papunta na sana sila sa mga magulang ni Hank upang sabihing buntis ang kasintahan pero nagdadalawang isip si Kate kung gusto ba niyang ituloy ang pagbubuntis. Dadaan sila sa isang mall upang bumili ng regalo at duon sila aabutan ng di maipaliwanag na lindol kung saan guguho ang buong gusali, magkakalat ang mga namatay at maglalabasan ang mga gahiganteng insekto. Pagkatapos ng paghahanapan sa gumuhong mall, magkakasamang muli ang magkasintahan at makakalabas upang matuklasang ang buong mundo ay sinakop na ng mga  alien  at silang dalawa at ang kanilang anak sa sinapupunan ang napili upang muling simulan ang susunod na salinlahi.
Sa tatlo, ito ang pinakamagulo ang kwento at malabo ang pagkakadirehe. Tila ba pampahaba na lang at pampuno para maging nakasanayang tatlong istora ang SRR. Ang pinakamagandang pamagat dito ay HINDI MAIPALIWANAG. Hindi mo maipaliwanag ang layon ng kwento. Hindi mo maipaliwanag kung bakit lumindol at ano ng aba talaga ang nangyari at naguho nang ganun na lamang ang gusali. Hindi mo maipaliwanag kung ano ang mga ka-higanteng kuto, ipis at mala-isdang de-kuryente. Hindi mo maipaliwanag kung bakit nag-abala pang maglagay ng dagdag na tauhan kung mamatay lang pala silang lahat. Hindi mo maipaliwanag kung ano ang problema ni Kate at ano ang punto na sila ang napili ng mga alien. Sa totoo lang, hindi mo maipaliwanag kung bakit ni Navarro ang ginamit na kapareha ni Poe gayun hindi siya bagay sa seryosong pagganap at walang kemistriya sa kanila ni Poe. 
Mahuhusay na mga direktor at mga manunulat ang bumuo sa SRR 14 pero ang katapusang produkto ay  nakapanghihinayang pag-aksayahan ng pera at panahon.
Nakalulungkot isipin na maliban sa aspetong teknikal at pagkamalikhain, bagsak din ang SRR 14 sa pagbibigay ng positibong mensahe.
Sa PAMANA, hindi nabigyaang dahilan kung bakit nabubuhay at naghahasik ng lagim ang mga kathang pangkomiks. Ang mga tauhan sa yugto ay hindi kinakitaan ng mabuting ugali kahit sa gitna ng krisis. Bagkus, tila ba lalo silang naging makasarili at mapanira. Kahit ang dating paring si Donald ay napakahina ng karakter at walang impluwensya sa masamang ugali nina Myra at Faye. Nakababagabag lalo ang huling eksena kung saan ang naaapi at mabait na batang si Felimon ay napasukan na rin ng masamang ispiritu. Tila ba sinasabi na sa harap ng kasamaan, walang laban ang kabutihan at pananalig sa Diyos.
Wala namang intensyon na magkaroon ng aral sa LOST COMMAND dahil maliban kay Ronnie Lazaro, ang lahat ng tauhan ay sarili lamang ang inintindi at nais iligtas. Pati si Bunag na sa una’y nais bawiin ang kanyang ama ay nagtraydor sa natitirang sundalo at para sa hindi mawaring dahilan. Tila maliit na kutitap ng kabutihan ang sakripisyo ni Lazaro nang patakasin niya si Barrientos alang-alang sa kanyang anak. Pero na balewala naman ito sa gitna ng nakadidiring paglapa ng mga halimaw sa mga tao (kasama na ang kanyang anak na gustong iligtas). Sa huli, nagtagumpay ang mga halimaw na makatawid sa ilog at magkalat ng lagim sa kabihasnan.
Medyo nagkaroon ng positibong aspeto sa UNWANTED dahil sa pagtutulungan at malasakit na ipinakita sa kapwa ng mga nakaligtas sa pagguho. Kaya nga lamang, nasapawan ito ng tema ng pre-marital sex at abortion sa relasyon nina Hank at Kate na siyang sentro ng yugto.
Sa kabuuan, ang tila nangingibabaw na mensahe ay ang paggapi sa pwesrsa ng kabutihan. Sa lahat ng yugto, ang kasamaan o negatibong pwersa ang naiwan kahit na may mga pagsusumikap na maging matulungin, mapagmalasakit at mapagmahal.
Hindi angkop ang pelikula sa mga bata dahil sa tema, mga tagong mensahe at labis na karahasan ng mga eksena.