Monday, June 24, 2013

Fast and furious 6

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriquez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Sung Kan, Luke Evans, Gina Carano, John Ortiz ; Director: Justin Lin; Screenplay: Cris Morgan; Producer: Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel, Clayton Townsend; Running Time: 130 minutes; Genre: Action; Location: USA

Technical assessment: 3.5
Moral assessment: 2
MTRCB rating:  PG 13
CINEMA rating: V 18

Fugitives and ex-convicts Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) are still in the hiding somewhere in Mexico after their last gig in Rio when Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) suddenly appears and offers them a deal. He wants Toretto to assemble his crew and help him take down Eman Shaw (Luke Evans), an elite mercenary involved in dangerous weapons, in exchange for their amnesty. Toretto is at first hesitant, but immediately changes his mind when Hobbs spills one interesting information—Toretto’s girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who is presumed dead, is alive and working with Shaw.  So Torreto’s quest for the truth begins—why is Letty working with Shaw?  Torreto suspects his girlfriend needs his rescue before it’s too late.
Fast and Furious 6 is a spectacle at its best.  It defies gravity and reality without spoiling the audience’s suspension of disbelief.  This latest film of the series from an unexpected blockbuster franchise remains to be faithful to the core of its genre.  It does not let its fans down with its action and chase sequences where cars crash and seemingly race to eternity. Although absurd, there lies its charm—absurdity in its funniest. In fact, the story just remains in the background. On the foreground of the film are really the action set pieces, the jaw-dropping stunts and the never-ending chases on the highway and this time, on the airport runway.  The original cast of characters, along with their original charm, is still intact and the audience sees them grow and evolve series after series without alienating those who have not religiously followed the previous installments. Towards the end, the audience gets the hint that the Fast and Furious franchise is not done yet, and there goes the excitement once again.
There is no denying that Fast and Furious 6 is a film that celebrates violence and embraces danger as a way of life. With that, the film in its entirety is undoubtedly disturbing. It disturbs the senses as it challenges the limits and endurance of the human physique. The story fights evil with evil, only that the protagonists are portrayed as lesser evils. It pampers and glorifies criminals like modern-day heroes without much regard to the damages they do with public spaces. With all these, the center of the story still revolves around love and family relationships. Love that transcends memory, guilt, and even death.  Torreto risks his life to save Letty from danger and death—and that’s what love is, Fast and Furious style.  O’Conner will give up anything for his family—and that’s all that really matters in this tormented fast and furious world.  At the end of the film, they all thank God for their lives, for delivering them from danger, and for fast cars. But then again, all these are just incidental to the action set pieces, car crashes, fight sequences, and dangerous stunts. It’s still a dark world where only the toughest survive and where strongmen kill for love.  The moral aspect of this movie is too much to chew on for young audiences—why expose them to such confusion? 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

After Earth

CAST: Will Smith & Jaden Smith  DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan  SCREENWRITER: Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan  PRODUCER: M. Night Shyamalan and seven others  EDITOR: Steven Rosenblum  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Jim Weidman  GENRE:  Drama/Action/Sci-fi/Adventure  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Peter Suschitzky  RUNNING TIME: 100  minutes  DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Pictures  LOCATION: Costa Rica

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

       After the earth had been so polluted for human habitation, humans fled it and went to build cities on a distant planet called Nova Prime, where, unfortunately, another species had settled and developed predators (called “ursas”) to drive away new settlers.  On Nova Prime, Kitai (Jaden Smith) fails his cadet promotion test—he is reportedly good with theories but on the field fear immobilizes him.  His father, Cypher Raige (Will Smith), a respected warrior known for his ability to “ghost”, mastering himself so he can fight without fear.  Cypher takes Kitai with him on a space mission, but an asteroid storm damages their ship, sending it off track and reeling into Earth’s orbit.  The ship breaks in two, and father and son are the only survivors.  The distress beacon is in the ship’s half that landed 100 kilometers from the other half where Cypher and Kitai are.  Cypher’s legs are broken, leaving Kitai to go solo to retrieve the beacon which could lead to their rescue.
       After a series of box office misfires that earned for him a shower of rotten tomatoes from critics, (Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender) director M. Night Shyamalan finally redeems himself with After Earth, a film that unmistakably bears his signature, albeit a subdued one.  Because the movie is unabashedly CGI-enhanced, people may tend to compare it with others of the same genre, but Shyamalan wisely remembers that central to the story is the relationship between father and son.  Thus, the importance of close-ups of Cypher and Kitai, particularly while Cypher is directing his son through dangerous territory aided only by a fragile cyber connection.  The viewer will not, therefore, find slimy creatures or gargantuan monsters at every turn, or cute little elf flowers (as in Epic), talking birds (Rio), and break-dancing penguins (Happy Feet), as these would distract from the story’s main point. 
       After Earth is a coming-of-age story where both father and son learn from each other.  Its poster slogan “Danger is real; fear is a choice” is repeated like a mantra throughout the movie, not so much verbally as visually, and it hits the mark.  The son is ever fearful and insecure from a lingering guilt over his sister’s death, aggravated by the lack of emotional warmth from an absentee father whom he nonetheless admires.  In the process of overcoming his fears he blurts out his resentment and defies his father’s order, risking his very life.  After Earth’s saving grace is its confidence in knowing what it wants to say and how to say it—to bleep with what critics will say!  In real life, we reach a critical point where fear and faith may collide.  Sometimes what others may think is a cowardly, defiant, or suicidal move is actually a leap of faith.  Kitai’s jumping off the cliff is a leap of faith that finally banishes fear from his consciousness.  He lives, and lives up to his name, which is Japanese for “hope”.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel

LEAD CASTHenry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Ayelet Zurer, Laurence Fishbourne, Antie Traue  DIRECTOR:  Zack Snyder  SCREENWRITER:  David S. Goyer  PRODUCER:  Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, Deborah Synder  EDITOR:  David Brenner MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Hans Zimmer  GENRE:  Action/Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction/Fantasy  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Amir Mokri  RUNNING TIME:  143 minutes  DISTRIBUTOR:  Warner Bros. Pictures  LOCATION:  US, Canada

Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment:  3.5
MTRCB rating:  PG 13
CINEMA rating:  V 14

            Man of Steel opens with a childbirth.  The mother is Lara (Ayelet Zurer) and the father, assisting at birthing, is Jor-el (Russell Crowe); their newborn is Kal-el, to be known as “Superman” (Henry Cavill), the first child in many years that comes to Krypton by natural birth.  The destruction of Krypton, the home planet of Superman, is imminent.  Causing its disintegration is the scheme of artificial population control which breeds children en masse and nurtures them not in their mother’s womb but in an artificial environment which assures that these children will in time fulfill their respective predetermined roles in Krypton’s society.  This kind of genetic engineering is championed by General Zod (Michael Shannon), a megalomaniac who wants to build a new race of Kryptonites but fails to win the support of the scientist Jor-el who is totally opposed to Zod’s eugenics.  To escape the impending death of Krypton, Jor-el and Lara decide to send the infant Kal-el off to a benign planet, Earth.  The space capsule bearing Kal-el lands in a farm in the American heartland, Smallville, Kansas, owned by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who raise him as their own, teach them their values, and keep his identity a secret.
            Less than a week after opening on June 12, Man of Steel has already hit major milestones in the global box office—it is promising in that in the face of stiff competition coming from CGI-heavy doomsday, apocalypse, and other superhero flicks, Superman seems able to hold its charm among the movie going public.  The introductory Krypton sequence is visually compelling, with a clearly spelled-out premise defining the origin and destiny of the newborn babe.    Keeping the audience engaged is the non-linear storytelling, studded with relevant and timely flashbacks mirroring Kal-el’s struggle from boyhood to manhood, burdened as he is with extraordinary powers he never asked for.   The sets and effects are great, the score envelops you in a world all its own.
            Man of Steel largely owes its power to the carefully chosen cast.  Crowe’s performance as Superman’s biological father is heartfelt and charismatic, matched only by the quiet intensity of Costner as the foster father.  Shannon exudes menace without having to utter a word, while Fishburne plays the editor’s role with finesse.  Lane is the ideal foster mother—devoted yet detached.  No one could have played journalist Lois Lane better than Amy Adams, with her perky personality and intelligent eyes; she might have come on stronger, though, with a no-nonsense hairdo instead of the girly-girly soft curls.
            Our mind wanders, though, as we get impatient for the explosions and repetitive combat scenes to end: why are the US armed forces in movies of this kind so stupid as to fight obviously superior alien powers with their puny little guns and tanks when even their toughest fighter planes are but paper planes to the invaders?  Such a waste of ammunition!  But thank God, this time, Superman doesn’t wear red briefs outside the skintight suit.
            Viewers of faith can glean the message of this film in spite of its protracted pyrotechnics, though.  Director Zack Snyder sprinkles his opus with elements that a church-going audience may pick up and interpret as parallels to the messianic story.  The cinematic savior of the world descends to live among Earthlings, and he has a mission, much like the Son of God who came down to Earth as an ordinary man.  We learn that the “S” on the strongman’s chest means “hope” in Krypton; on Earth the “S” stands for “Superman”, but it could also mean for all intents and purposes  “Savior”, since he is told that he is to save the world by bringing hope to Earth.  He is adopted by simple folk—farmer father, housewife mother—just like the carpenter-housewife couple from Nazareth.  Agonizing over whether to turn himself in as the rebel Zod demands, he seeks the counsel of a priest in a church—the shot shows Cavill close-up, framed against the stained glass background of Jesus praying in Gethsemane.  Some film critics have even averred that the battle between Kal-el and Zod is one between good and evil, with Kal-el as Jesus and Zod as the devil.  Hhmmm.  Be that as it may, the pro-life cause stands to benefit from the statement of Jor-el against “artificial population control”, a concept whose evil consequences the anti-RH advocates the world over have been trying to open the public’s eyes to.  It’s nice to know Superman is on our side.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Now you see me

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woodey Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Melanie Laurent  Director: Louis Leterrier Story: Boaz Yaki, Edward Ricourt  Screenplay: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt  Cinematography: Mitchell Amundsen, Larry Fong  Editing: Robert Leighton, Vincent Tabaillon  Music: Brian Tyler  Producers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Bobby Cohen  Genre: Drama/Suspense  Location: USA Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Technical Assessment:  3.5
Moral Assessment:  2
MTRCB Rating:  PG 13
CINEM Rating:  V14

Four street magicians, Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and Merritt McKinley (Woody Harrelson) get recruited by an unknown benefactor from the elitist magicians’ circle called The Eye. A year later, the four, now known as the The Four Horsemen, are in a sold-out act in Las Vegas and end their performance with a bank heist involving one from the audience.  The FBI led by agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol newbie Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent) arrest the The Four Horsemen but let them go for lack of evidence.  Meanwhile, ex-magician and now a professional magic debunker and television show host, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), secretly films The Four Horsemen in the hope of exposing them and gaining five million dollars. He explains to Rhodes how the robbery was actually planned and executed days ago. Between the The Four Horsemen performing one heist after another, Rhodes trying to outsmart them, Bradley hoping to make more millions, a secret is exposed to explain the magic and the real purpose behind it.
        The caper movie is both entertaining and engaging with solid performances, a dynamic cinematography, appealing score and decent design. But the substance is as magical as its premise—it defies logic and reason. There is some good premise behind the attempt to present a fresh storyline and keep the audience guessing who the fifth horseman is. There are good cinematic tricks passed on as magic but then again, this is the movies, so spellbinding the audience may not be exactly effective.  To get your money’s worth from whatever Now you see me has to offer—a powerhouse cast performing with flair to engage the viewer in this fast-paced whodunit film—you have to let hyourself be entranced by its magic, enter the realm of illusion, hear the “dis-illusioning” as well—for in the end, when it’s time for the 5th Horseman to be seen, you’ll also see that the magic is but part of the story, that the story has a mastermind, and that this mastermind’s motivation is far from moral. 
       Revenge is never moral.  Now you see me treads on the same dangers as most caper films—glorifying the cunning of thieves and saluting a brilliant deception.  For the four magicians, it’s all in a day’s work—they do not even know who their boss is, much less his or her intentions.  They are earning a living from what they do best.  And they are just as surprised as the movie audience when their boss’ identity is revealed.  It is the 5th Horseman who defies morality and legality in the name of “justice”.  Now you see me encourages people who have the means to go after the bad guys in whatever way they can, regardless of who gets hurt or what laws are broken.  The movie is not just a cute movie; it is twice immoral: in what has been done, and in keeping it a secret by the only one who has heard of it.


LEAD CAST: Jason Statham, Agata Buzek, Vicky McClure, Ian Pirie, Benedict Wong, Lee Asquith-Coe, Senem Temiz, David Bradley, Siobhan Hewlett  DIRECTOR: Steven Knight  SCREENWRITER:  Steven Knight            PRODUCER:  Guy Heeley, Paul Webster  EDITOR:  Valerio Bonelli  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Dario Marianelli  GENRE: Crime/Thriller, Action & Drama RUNNING TIME:  100 minutes  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Chris Menges  DISTRIBUTOR: Lionsgate, Viva Films  LOCATION:  UK

Technical assessment:  3
Moral assessment:  2.5
MTRCB rating:  R 13
CINEMA rating V 18

            Jason Statham is Joey Smith (or Jones), a damaged ex-Special Forces soldier on the run from a military court-martial. The trauma of Afghanistan has left him hiding in London’s dark underbelly, given to drink and drugs. While running away from some thugs one night, he escapes into an apartment in Covent Garden, and finding that the occupant will be away for some time, he assumes the owner’s identity and decides to clean up his act and get a job. With the help of Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek), a young nun who dispenses food for London’s vagrants, he begins to redeem himself. But when his girlfriend Isabel (Victoria Bewick) is viciously killed, he has to confront not only his demons but also London's criminal underworld, and in the process turns into an avenging angel.
            Although Jason Statham is identified as an action star, Hummingbird (a.k.a. Redemption) is not your run-of-the-mill gangster movie. Yes, you see Jason in some well-choreographed fight scenes, but the focus here is a damaged man’s search for redemption in a terribly cruel and broken world. Statham’s Joey is conflicted yet can be tender, and is able to deliver more than punches. Agata Buzek portrays Polish nun Sister Cristina adequately. The cinematography shows the less known part of London with its own reality, texture and charm. The music is passable, and editing is sharp, the story has a lot of potential, but the film doesn’t quite gel. There are too many implausibilities and underdeveloped characters, with the plot jumping from one thing to another, preventing the film from becoming a truly compelling opus.
            Hummingbird is award-winning screenwriter Steven Knight’s directorial debut. It tries to be a social commentary, among other things. War and its victims, including the trauma and ordeal of soldiers after their tour of duty, drugs, human trafficking, prostitution, broken homes, crisis of faith and religious vocation, poverty and homelessness, sexual abuse, murder, the life of crime, violence, etc., are shown in their ugly darkness.
            The film can be an invitation to explore various social problems for discussion, challenging the viewers to reflection and consideration.  One can also talk about the Catholic faith and religious vocation while regarding with empathy the actions of the two flawed and broken characters: Joey who has been through one haunting hell after another and Cristina who is still rankling from a childhood trauma.  The “romance” between them in fact springs more from a sense of gratitude in being heard and understood by another soul than from the usual sensual attraction.  Thus, their fleeting intimacy (prudently off camera) is devoid of romantic notions, and does not at all suggest future encounters.
            Hummingbird could lead viewers to ask:  Does a person’s past or circumstance spell his present and future? Can it be an excuse for betrayal, violence, revenge, despair, and questionable choices? Is doubt equivalent to unbelief? Is integrity and truth opposed to love? Is chastity an option or a gift?  A nun is not once shown praying or in communion with God; are nuns simply social workers with a veil? Is anyone or any situation beyond change or redemption?
            Hummingbird is a story of the beginning of redemption, of recognizing one’s demons borne of the past and shaping the present, and then moving on with resolve and hope for a better morrow.  In the Andes of South America the hummingbird symbolizes resurrection. It seems to die on cold nights, but comes back to life again at sunrise.  If the choice of the movie title is any indication, then in all probability the film means to give viewers the light of hope in the dark of night.  CINEMA rates the film V18 for strong brutal violence and the delicate theme that could confuse morals.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The great Gatsby

CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joey Edgerton, Tobey Maguire, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki DIRECTOR, PRODUCER: Baz Luhrmann SCREENPLAY: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce MUSIC: Craig Armstrong CINEMATOGRAPHY: Simon Duggan EDITING: Matt Villa GENRE: Drama  DISTRIBUTOR:  Warner Bros.  RUNNING TIME:  143 minutes LOCATION: United States

Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment:  2
MTRCB rating:  PG 13
CINEMA rating:  V 18

The Great Gatsby (2013) is the fourth translation since 1926 or the classic 1925 tale by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The story is narrated by Nick Carraway (Toby Macguire), a mid-western scion who moves to New York and rents a cottage on Long Island for weekend getaways.  Next door is an opulent mansion owned and lived in by Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a scandalously wealthy man with a shadowy past and a questionable present.  Nick has a cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), Gatsby’s old flame and ongoing obsession, who is already married to a heel of a millionaire, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), with whom she lives in another palatial home just across the bay.  At Gatsby’s request, Nick arranges a meeting between the former lovers, hardly suspecting that it would to a tragic reunion.

Without being compared to the earlier film versions, or being judged according to the printed novel, The Great Gatsby is eye candy, giving the viewer a walk-through of era of jazz and a vicarious thrill from attending those lavish and decadent parties of the rich.  The production set does justice to that age, and so do the costumes, music, etc.  DiCaprio, however, tends to come on too strong as DiCaprio—it is hard to imagine a man named Jay Gatsby when it is played by an actor whose face has grown too familiar from the many other memorable characters he has played.  He has the intensity though, matched by Edgerton’s, especially in the confrontation scene over a fickle woman.  Edgerton superbly plays the husband who—in spite of his having an affair with the wife of a pathetic gas station manager—would not let go his obviously cheating wife not because he truly loves her but because he wants it known that he owns her.  

In The Great Gatsby we have a character who must have inspired the coining of the phrase “filthy rich”.  He throws parties he doesn’t even care to attend, and his guest list suggests he is not above buying powerful men.  Since we have not had the privilege of reading the book, we cannot say if it is the celebrated author’s idea (or director Baz Luhrmann’s) to glamorize this character (why call him “great”?) and justify his profligate ways.  So what is the story trying to tell us?  That the poor can be as greedy as the rich?  That only the old rich have a right to be rich, and that new money is immoral? That a man’s extravagance is justified because he was hungry as a child?  That it is all right to betray the trusting and the ignorant?  That a lie can make a man get away with murder?  That having a cad of a husband is enough reason for a wife and her lover to ignore the 6th Commandment?  That a husband’s love may cover up a wife’s crime?  Do the victims in the story deserve their fate?  Such are the issues adult viewers may thresh over popcorn and soda.


Cast: Collin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowell, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler and Beyonce Knowles.; Direction: Chris Wedge; Based on story by William Joyce; Genre: Comedy Animation; Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Running Time: 85 minutes
Technical Assessment : 3.5
Moral Assessment: 4
CINEMA Rating:  All Ages
MTRCB Rating: GP

Epic is based on William Joyce’s children’s book entitled The Leaf Men and the Brace Good Bugs. It centers on the relationship between teenaged Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried), or MK as she wanted to be called, and her father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis). Apparently, Professor Bomba believes that the world is governed and protected by little people who move too fast for an ordinary human. He spends his life searching, studying and proving his theory at the expense of his reputation and his marriage. MK moves to live with him after her mother dies and is equally dismayed to witness how obsessed he still is. Meanwhile, forest queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) must choose her heir and allow her to bloom under the moonlight so the forest may continue to be protected against the Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and his Boggans who desire to turn nature into a wasteland. MK, while looking for her dog in the forest is magically shrunk and witnesses the death of queen Tara who turns over to her care the pod which will turn into the next forest queen. MK realizes that her father’s work is true and is pulled in, reluctantly at first, to aid the Leafman headed by Ronin (Collin Farrell) and his rebellious protégé Nod (Josh Hutcherson). The trio while guarding the pod and misleading the Boggans, learn the value of trust, teamwork and commitment.
Visually, Epic is a magical treat both for the young and the old. The forest is an inspiration to watch as petals unfold, flowers bloom, leaves sway, water flows and every living creature comes to life. Of course, the amazing animation and special effects had much to do to make the narrative even more entertaining and understandable. The voice actors perform well and aptly push the story forward with the right amount of humor and earnestness. The plot is reasonable and easy to follow although it feels a little run of the mill as a pro-environment movie. Overall, Epic is a good choice for a family weekend movie.
Epic is about choosing a side and sticking to the choice regardless of what it takes—of course, it is presumed that the choice will be the good side. More than taking a side is the commitment to make a difference for the betterment of mankind.  Nowadays, we see people falter in their commitment especially when the going gets rough. It seems that personal well-being is given more weight than common good. Epic is also a movie for the environment, again another very timely issue. We experience the repercussions of bad choices we have made: wastage, over-consumption leading to high utilization of fossil fuels, indiscriminate self-serving activities like illegal logging, mining, etc.—all leading to the destruction of nature.  The Boggans are like men who care not if nature dies and the earth becomes a barren wasteland.  The Leafmen are those fighting to protect nature at all cost. As children are transformed in a world where the good guys fight to protect their kingdom, perhaps, the adults watching the movie with them can realize that they are called to deliver the same commitment as the Leafmen to make sure that the next generation still has a home to live in.