Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Croods

CAST: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, Randy Thom DIRECTION, STORY  AND SCREENPLAY: Kirk de Micco, Chris Sanders  PRODUCERS: Kristine Belson and Jane Hartwell MUSIC: Alan Silvestri CINEMATOGRAPHY: Yong Duk Jhun EDITING: Eric Dapkewicz, Darren T. Holmes PRODUCTION DESIGN: Christophe Lautrette  ART DIRECTION: Paul Duncan, Dominique Louis PRODUCTION: Dreamworks Animation  GENRES: Adventure, Comedy, Family  RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
Technical assessment:   4
Moral Assessment:  3.5
CINEMA rating:  GP
MTRCB rating:   GP

The Croods are a prehistoric cave-dwelling family composed of parents Grug (voice by Nicholas Cage) and Ugga (voice by Catherine Keener), teen daughter Eep (voice by Emma Stone), Eep’s little brother Thunk (voice by Clarke Duke), baby sister Sandy (voice by Randy Thom) grandmother Gran (voice by Cloris Leachman).  Their only rule to live by is: Don’t try anything new.  Anything new is bad—to be feared, and so dad Grug’s perennial word of caution is “Never not be afraid” because “fear keeps us alive.”  When an earthquake occurs and their world of rock begins to crumble, the Croods are forced to desert their cave.  They wander into a strange new world, and meet Guy (voice of Ryan Reynolds), a resourceful orphan of Eep’s age. 
In vivid 3D, The Croods has been the most natural, wholesome, and memorable family film that has happened since Up, offering entertainment with a heart and an uplifting break from revenge themes, gory horror and terror in our cinemas as well as the news.  It strikes a happy medium between outright fantasy (out-of-this-world creatures) and next-door reality (Neanderthal family management so like ours?).  But of course, nothing is impossible with animation, and in The Croods it is put to very effective use in highlighting emotional responses supposedly of humans clad in animal skins but which might as well be our own in the 21st century.
Obviously caught up in the Croods’ adventure, viewers of all ages on the day CINEMA watched The Croods couldn’t stop reacting to it—cheering, laughing, shrieking, clucking with glee—which only goes to prove its tremendous appeal to a general audience.  And why not?  The Croods are like anyone’s family that has its share of fights (and even jabs at mothers-in-law) but is united in moments that challenge their survival.  And there are no villains to speak of here; the only baddies to confront are those within oneself—inflexibility and resistance to change, unwillingness to accept new ideas, the habit of wanting to be always in control, etc.  The Croods shows that even in animation, catharsis is possible, as each character evolves in the family’s journey into a new way of living.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

CAST: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Rober de Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher  DIRECTOR: David O Russell  SCREENWRITER:  David O. Russell  PRODUCER: Bruce Cohen, Donna Gigliotti  EDITOR: Jay Cassidy, Crispin Stuthers   MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Danny Elfman  GENRE:  Romantic Comedy-Drama  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Masanobu Takayanagi  RUNNING TIME:  122 minutes  DISTRIBUTOR:  Weinstein Company  LOCATION:  United States

Technical assessment:   4
Moral Assessment:   3
CINEMA rating:   V 14
MTRCB rating:  R 13
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released from a Baltimore psychiatric hospital on the insistence of his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) who does not like him getting used to the hospital’s routine life.  He was committed by court order to the mental hospital after he beat up a man he had caught in the shower with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee), a teacher at a local high school.  Pat moves in with his parents, to the delight of his father Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro) who takes it as an opportunity to bond with his son.  Stubbornly refusing medication, Pat resolves to rebuild himself by getting in tip top physical shape and enriching his mind by reading all the books Nikki assigns to her students.  He is determined to win her back despite a retraining order barring him from coming within 500 feet of Nikki.  Pat soon meets another psychiatric case, young widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers to deliver Pat’s letters to Nikki if Pat would be her partner in a local dance contest.
Two things make a major push for Silver Linings Playbook: the story and the actors.  All else are there in support of these two.  The story is part factual, part fantasy, but is told in a way that makes the film bitingly real.  The story needs no eye candy, no CGI, just the flesh and blood realism of a middleclass neighborhood in Philadelphia, acted out like the actors were born and raised in that milieu and were in fact telling their true story.  Brad Cooper is a revelation here, playing a character so remote from his usual roles and giving it incredible depth.  Jennifer Lawrence—well, the Oscar speaks of the promise the 22-year old holds as a major talent.  (Somehow her face is perfect for the intense characters she’s given, remember Hunger Games).  Here her character is so fierce she can steal the thunder from de Niro, who, by the way, delivers classic de Niro as Pat Sr. 
Silver Linings Playbook gives hope, as the proverbial silver lining behind the dark clouds.  It’s an optimistic movie that treats mental illness with  respect, and demonstrates how persons with neuroses may rise above their situation.  The keyword is “Excelsior” (Latin for “ever upward”) which subtly permeates the day to day life of ordinary people in an ordinary neighborhood.  Not overtly religious, the characters nonetheless hope and believe—Pat himself, a bi-polar patient, says “There is a reason for everything that  happens.”   The Solitano home offers clues to the inhabitants’ Christian faith but the father engages in rituals—something like a home-brewed feng shui—that’s supposed to bring him luck at betting on the Philadelphia Eagles.  In the end, one may indeed wonder how relevant medicine is when people who sincerely work for what they want, do not get what they want, but get something better instead.  Then you realize, the silver lining is but a proof of the presence behind the clouds of a light-giving, life-giving Sun.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

LEAD CAST: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobs, Joey King DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi SCREENWRITER: David Lindsay-Abaire, Mitchelle Kapner PRODUCER: Joe Roth EDITOR: Bob Murawski MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Danny Elfman GENRE: Fantasy/Adventure RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Deming DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney Pictures LOCATION: United States 

Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 3 
CINEMA rating: PG 13
MTRCB rating: General Patronage 

It is 1902. Small-time illusionist at a small town circus in Kansas, Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a magician of dubious ethics. He is actually more serious about perfecting his skills at oneupmanship than improving his repertoire. Escaping the ire of the circus strongman he had apparently shortchanged, he scampered into a hot air balloon; unfortunately—or fortunately—the balloon gets sucked by a twister that spits him out into the fantastic Land of Oz. He is met by a beautiful witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes Oz is the fulfillment of a prophecy—the arrival of a great wizard who would save the Land of Oz from the wicked witch. Theodora takes him to the Emerald City where he meets her sister, another beauteous witch, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), who takes him to a cavernous room filled with gold. It would be all his, says Evanora, provided Oz would destroy the wicked witch Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams). Oz sets forth to search for the wicked witch to break her wand—which should spell the end of all her powers.

Directed by Sam Raimi, Disney’s family movie, Oz the Great and Powerful, imagines the origins of L. Frank Baum's beloved wizard character. Baum wrote 14 Land of Oz novels but not one of them spoke about the wizard’s origins. Thus, this brave attempt at establishing once and for all the beginnings of this legendary character. Reportedly the third choice for the lead role—after it was turned down by Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp—Franco nonetheless delivers a credible character that combines conman and charmer. Williams’ Glinda is bland, sugary at most, but every inch a Disney witch; by the way, she plays a dual role, first as Oscar’s sweetheart in Kansas, then as Glinda in Oz. Kunis’ Theodora turns from seductress into a harmless Halloween party witch, possessing a nose, chin and hat as pointy as her black talons, cackling her way to vengeance and riding a broom that pollutes the air of the Land of Oz. (Doesn’t it remind you of the exhaust pipes of the smoke-belching buses on EDSA?) And Weisz? She’s perfect as the deceiver-in-disguise, lovely to look at even when she is being at her rotten-best. (But oh, maybe we just have a soft spot for the actress because she was very nice to fans when she was shooting Bourne Legacy in the Philippines). The effects are as good as demanded by a fantasy movie, emphasized by the contrast in color: black and white for the scenes in Kansas, and blooming in full technicolor grandeur for the Land of Oz. Special mention must be made of two non-human characters that have very human characteristics, Finley the flying monkey, and the frail China Doll. They are so well-developed that you can almost take them in as members of your family.

Oz the Great and Powerful is about good and evil, for sure, and the transformation of one man from charlatan to one of character. Oscar is shown as a con artist in his “earthly life” in Kansas. When his sweetheart tells him she is now engaged to another man, he lets her go, admitting the other man is good and will make a good husband. He himself says he is not a good man, but he dreams of becoming a great man, someone the likes of Thomas Alva Edison, his idol. Enveloped by the Kansas twister Oscar bargains with God to give him another chance—he doesn’t want to die without having done something meaningful in his life. Placed by fate in the Land of Oz, he cannot help but confess to his companion that he is not a wizard but simply a carnival magician. The Land of Oz has no army and people are forbidden to kill even in self-defense, Oscar is the reluctant savior who is compelled to employ his magical arts and scientific knowledge—ably assisted by Oz’s tradesmen to carry on a plan to defend their land from the evil witches. At the end, someone smilingly tells Oscar that a great man can also be a good man. That’s a happy enough ending for the whole family. But although CINEMA gives this a PG 13 rating, we warn that some of the images are scary enough to rob very young children of sleep.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes. Director: Steven Spielberg.  Screenplay: Tony Kushner, based on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Cinematography:  Janusz Kaminski. Music: John Williams. Genre: Drama. Running Length: 2:30 U.S. Distributor:  Touchstone Pictures.

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

Film is indeed a powerful medium for teaching history.  Had we not watched Lincoln and been awed by the riveting performance of Daniel Day-Lewis, the United States’ 16th president would have remained in our mind as nothing more than a shiny marble statue.
Lincoln chronicles the last month, January 1865, in the life of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, as he zeroes in on the last and greatest win of his political career—the abolition of slavery in America.  
Director Spielberg does right in depicting a Lincoln that is at once iconic and human.  Far from being a traditional bio-pic that tends to paint a glossier-than-reality picture of a revered character, Lincoln shows how a principled man may still be admired despite his political savvy that enabled him to resort to the maneuverings prevalent in his time. 
President # 16 has been played by so many estimable actors since 1930, but in Lincoln, the role is not played, it is lived—to the point that it becomes difficult to tell whether it is the actor Day-Lewis inhabiting the Lincoln character, or the spirit of Lincoln inhabiting the actor’s body.  A well-chosen cast combined with matchless supporting performances—notably by Tommy Lee Jones (as Thaddeus Stevens) and Sally field (as Mary Todd Lincoln) add to an authentic reliving of Lincoln’s struggle towards his goal.  To the last detail, the rich production sets are adjudged faithful to Abe’s life and times, bringing the past vividly back to life to afford the viewer a peek into history.
The sessions in Congress where the battle over the 13th Amendment is raging is particularly eye-opening to contemporary political observers.  They reveal that some things in the field of public service have not changed—and perhaps never will—such as under the table deals, patronage positions as bribes, presidential strategizing and pressure on the House of Representatives to ensure the passage of an amendment, etc.  The latter may evoke a feeling of déjà vu in people quite familiar with the debates that not too long ago raged over an RH bill in the Philippine Congress, and the nonchalance with which some lawmakers dismissed the Executive railroading of the contentious bill.  In his rush to pass the 13th amendment, Lincoln utilized all the tricks in his arsenal.  Sounds familiar?  But of course, presidential maneuvering of the Legislative branch takes on a different coloration depending on the issue at hand: a law abolishing slavery is not the same as a law establishing a contraceptive mentality. 
It might also come as some form of warped consolation to Filipinos that their present-day solons’ (mis)behavior is civil compared to that of the insult-hurling American counterparts in 1865.  If in 1865 their congressional session room resembled a saloon filled with trigger happy cowboys, ours in 2012 was simply reminiscent of classroom of overgrown kindergarteners who couldn’t differentiate between study and play.  One noticeable thing, though: the 1865 lawmakers hurled verbal darts at one another, but God was acknowledged in the process of lawmaking.  In the 2012 RH arena… well, make your own conclusions.
Kudos to the Spielberg-Kushner tandem that brought out the Oscar-winning performance of Day-Lewis, the Abraham Lincoln that came alive onscreen proves worthy of the reverence accorded him by his countrymen—a doting father, a sympathetic husband, a statesman made of fire and ice, wisdom and wile, a soul blessed with courage and grace, a human being who passionately went after his dream and paid the price for it.  Certainly a very very far cry from being a mere marble monument.

A moment in time

Cast:  Coco Martin, Julia Montes, Cheri Gil, Gabby Concepcion, Zsa Zsa Padilla Director:  Emmanuel Quindo-Palo;  Producer: Star Cinema; Running Time: 112  minutes; Genre: Romance/ Drama; Location: Philippines and Amsterdam

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

Mabibighani ang baguhang pintor na si Patrick (Coco Martin) sa unang pagkakita pa lamang nito kay Jillian (Julia Montes). Sa mga susunod na araw ay ipipinta ni Patrick ang mukha ni Jillian sa mga pader na siya namang mapapansin ng huli. Sa paraang ito muling magtatagpo ang kanilang landas at sa marami pang pagkakataon ay tila sadya ngang pinagtatagpo sila. Sa pagtitiyaga ni Patrick ay sasagutin din siya ni Jillian ngunit magbabago ang lahat pagka’t malalaman ni Patrick na si Jillian ang nakasagasa sa kanyang ina (Zsa Zsa Padilla). Dahil dito, magbabago ng pakikitungo si Patrick kay Jillian na siyang ikapagtataka ng huli. Tuluyan silang magkakalayo at nang matauhan si Patrick sa kanyang pagkakamali kay Jillian ay mahihirapan siyang lalo sapagkat ito ay nagpakalayo-layo na sa Amsterdam. Magkita pa kaya silang muli at magkabalikan?
Ang A Moment in Time ay isang pelikulang ginawa upang samantalahin ang init ng  kasikatan ng dalawang bidang sila Coco Martin at Julia Montes. Hindi man matatawaran ang husay ng dalawa sa pagganap, pawang nasayang pa rin ang kanilang talino sa isang proyektong tila minadali at hindi na gaanong napag-isipan. Nagkulang sa hagod ang pelikula pagdating sa paghahain ng kapani-paniwalang sentro ng problema na siyang dapat paghuhugutan ng emosyon ng dalawang bida. Resulta’y pawang pilit ang lahat ng pangyayari sa pelikula at tila sa gitna ng pagkakagulo ng lahat, ang pinagtuunan na lang ng pansin ay masiguro ang kanilang pagbabalikan. Hindi angkop sa mga karakter ang kanilang mga naging reaksiyon sa mga pangyayari. Halimbawa ay ang kakulangan ng pamilya ni Jillian ng sinseridad sa pagsisisi sa nangyaring trahedya sa pamilya ni Patrick. Nang malaman nila ang katotohanan, tila baga, sila pa ang galit at mayabang sa halip na punan ng kanilang pagkukulang. Ito at marami pang mga pangyayari sa kuwento ang pawang di angkop sa tauhan at walang epekto sa emosyon ng manonood dahil mali ang hagod ng mga eksena. Nasayang din ang magagandang kuha ng pelikula sa mga interesanteng lugar tulad ng Amsterdam. Sa kabuuan, ang A Moment in Time ay isang pelikulang madaling mawawala sa alaala ng manonood dahil sa mababaw nitong pagtrato sa dapat sana’y tunay na problemang hinarap ng dalawang bida.
Sa kabila ng marami nitong kakulangan, lumutang naman ang kahalagahan ng pagpapatawad sa pelikula. Mas matimbang pa rin ang pagmamahal sa galit sa bandang huli at tanging pagpapatawad ang magpapalaya sa anumang tanikala ng galit na kinikimkim ng isang taong labis na nasaktan. Ipinakita rin sa pelikula na hindi hadlang ang kaibahan ng estado sa buhay at ang pagmamahal ay walang kinikilalang mayaman o mahirap. Nakakabahala nga lang kung paanong tinakasan ng pamilya ni Jillian ang tunay nilang responsibilad sa nangyaring aksidente sa ina ni Patrick. Pawang ipinakita na kayang takasan at pagtakpan ng pera ang ganitong uri ng problema. Hindi ibinigay ang karampatang hustisya sa isang taong napakahalaga sa buhay ng isang karakter. Ang hindi pagharap ng pelikula sa tunay na problemang ito ay talaga namang nakababahala. Sa kabila nito’y lumutang naman ang pagiging wagas ng damdamin ng mga pangunahing tauhan. Gaano nga ba kalayo ang maaring marating ng tunay na pag-ibig at hanggang saan ba ang kayang ibigay ng isang taong nagmamahal? Ipinakita sa A Moment in Time na walang imposible sa taong nagmamahal—maging ang pagpapatawad sa matinding sakit na idinulot ng taong minamahal. Ito nga marahil ang sukatan ng tunay na pag-ibig—laging handang magpatawad at magparaya kung kinakailangan.