Thursday, November 28, 2013

Romeo & Juliet

LEAD CAST:  Douglas Booth, Halilee Steinfeld, Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natascha McElhone, Ed Westwick, Christian Cooke, Tom Wisdom, Leslev Manville  DIRECTOR:  Carlo Carlei  SCREENWRITER:  Julian Fellowes  PRODUCER:  Ileen Maisel, Nadja Swarovski, Julian Fellowes  EDITOR:  Peter Honess  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Abel Korzeniowski  GENRE:  Drama and Romance  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  David Tattersall  DISTRIBUTOR:  Relativity Media  LOCATION:  United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland RUNNING TIME:  118 minutes
Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating:  V18

The Capulets and the Montagues, the wealthiest families in Verona, are at war.  Teenager Romeo, a Montague (Douglas Booth) spots Capulet teenager Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld), at a Capulet masquerade ball.  Their eyes lock; it’s love at first sight—or destiny, as William Shakespeare’s universally acclaimed romance portrays it, because even after the party masks are peeled off, they’re still madly in love.  In love enough to want to marry, which Friar Laurence (Paul Giamatti) does, in secret.  The problem is Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet (Damian Lewis), unaware that his daughter is already legally married, demands that Juliet marry Count Paris, a nobleman.  Enmeshed in the Capulet-Montague rivalry, Juliet is a virtual prisoner of her father’s desire for the convenient marriage; Romeo on the other hand happens to kill a Capulet, resulting in his being exiled outside of Verona.

Something doesn’t quite click that well when a Shakespearean classic goes on film.  Carlo Carlei’s Romeo & Juliet will be compared with other film versions, and side by side with Zefirelli’s it might pale somewhat in many areas.  The acting of the two leads leaves much to be desired; it’s not clear whether it’s their being green horns or their lack of chemistry that leaves the audience unmoved.  Steinfeld’s Juliet is enthusiastic but average; Booth’s Romeo seems too intent on perfecting his lines that he sometimes comes on stiff and bereft of emotion.  It’s Giamatti’s solid portrayal that carries the show, his fire making up for the lack of passion in the newbies’ performance.  It wouldn’t be a surprise if the viewer suspects Carlei has intended his opus to be Friar Laurence’s story, not Romeo and Juliet’s; he gets the soulful shots, and that hangdog look in his eyes effortlessly draws the audience’s sympathy to his favor.  The other actors  The lush production sets, costumes and cinematography, however, raise the overall technical score.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Don Jon

LEAD CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Gleane Headly DIRECTOR: Joseph Gordon-Levitt PRODUCERS:  Ram Bergman, Nicolas Chartier  SCREENPLAY: Joseph Gordon-Levitt  MUSIC: Nathan Johnson  CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Thomas Kloss  EDITOR: Lauren Zuckerman  GENRE: Romantic comedy  DISTRIBUTOR: Relativity Media  LOCATION: USA  RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

Technical assessment: 3.5
Moral assessment:  2.5
MTRCB rating: R 16
CINEMA rating: V 18

Jon (Levitt) is an Italian American bar tender who considers himself a modern Don Juan.  Capping his otherwise ordinary days are one night stands with any willing partner who passes his and his buddies’ (Rob Brown, Jeremy Luc) scrutiny.  On a scale of 1 to 10 they rate women they eye in a bar; Jon goes for no less than an “8” to “10” of course.  Smooth operator Jon usually gets what he wants until he meets the love of his life Barbara Sugarman (Scarlet Johansson), a “10” by his standards.  But this chick is hard to please it seems, and so the smitten Jon is courts her, taking her to romantic movies and bringing her home to meet mom and dad.  Because the attraction is mutual, they eventually make it, but when she discovers he uses porn, he asks him to stop or else.
The character of Don Jon is really nothing new—you have encountered his kind in the movies featuring masturbating Jewish boys, although this time the guy is a Catholic.  The acting is the strongest technical asset of Don Jon.  For example, it presents both Gordon-Levitt and Johansson as versatile performers, convincingly filling roles they had never done before.  Larson, Danza and Headly playing as Jon’s family members put in great support.  Moore is effective as a low-key but crucial character in the movie.  At first glance Don Jon might look like it is intended to be a typical romantic comedy—technically backed by like snappy cinematography and tight editing—but if the viewer steps back and takes a deeper look into the movie, the script reveals something else. 
Gordon-Levitt wearing three hats (writer, director, actor) speaks of the intensity with which he desires to deliver Don Jon’s message—that the habits people choose can become addictions that distort their perceptions of reality and stand in the way of truly fulfilling human relationships.  Jon’s addiction of self-pleasuring to porn prevents him from enjoying actual sex with women.  Barbara’s predilection for romantic movies causes her to make unrealistic demands of the man she claims to love.  Even the sacrament of reconciliation in the Catholic religion is presented as nothing more than a habit for both confessee and confessor, thus it fails to effect transformation in a person.
While Don Jon successfully avoids becoming a sermon, the ending is too simplistic to augur a genuine change for Jon.  He claims he is truly in love now, as the woman seems to nudge him in the right direction, but triumph celebrated too soon could also mean he and his partner have merely found a new and convenient habit that will prove incapable of unseating addictions in due time.  A superficial viewing of Don Jon will not reveal its call to challenge our ways of entertaining or improving ourselves.  It has to be examined minutely, or it will go down the viewer’s consciousness as another enabling romcom in support of the status quo.

Alamat ni China Doll

Lead cast: Angelica Panganiban, Cesar Montano, Philip Salvador; Direction: Adolf Alix, Jr.; Screenplay: Lav Diaz; Producer: Ronald Arguellas, Evelyn Vargas; Music: Lav Diaz; Cinematography: Albert Banzon; Genre: Drama; Distributor: Cinema One

Technical Assessment: 2
Moral Assessment: 2
MTRCB Rating:  R18
CINEMA rating: R18

Si China Doll / Myrna Yu / Helen (Angelica Pangilinan) ay dating kasapi ng isang grupong dahilan ng di mabilang na karahasan at pagpatay sa lipunan. Bigla na lamang siyang nawala nang mahuli at ilagay sa witness protection program ng isang NBI agent (PhilipSalvador). Tahimik na sana ang  buhay niya hanggang muling mailathala ang kanyang totoong kwento. Isang laos pero matinik na manunulat, si Perry Nanali (Montano) ang gagamitin niyang kasangkapan para muling makabalik sa pagsusulat ang lihim ni China Doll. Maggugulo ang buhay ng tatlo dahil sa mga lihim na maaring mabunyag ang katotohanang ayaw mailabas.

Ginamit ni Alix ang istilo ng non-linear storytelling sa pelikula. Ibig sabihin ay patalon-talon ang pangyayari mula kasalukuyan at iba’t ibang panahon sa nakaraan. Hindi naman mahirap sundan – hindi dahil magaling ang pagkakagawa – kundi dahil  iniba-iba naman ng produksyon ang pagkakagawa sa bawat panahon. Mahusay naman ang pagkakaganap ng mga pangunahing tauhan pero hindi gaanong nakalusong ang pagkakaganap sa konsepto ng tauhan. Kulang ang pagkamisteryosa ni Pangilinan bilang si China Doll na hinuhubaran ng katotohanan at hindi naman gaanong mabagsik si Salvador bilang NBI na maraming itinatagong lihim. Sa totoo lang, sa ordinaryong manunuod, hindi mararamdaman ang sinasabing sapin-sapin na katotohanan. Ang bisa ng paggamit ng pagkukwentong non-linear ay nasa kakayahan na masilip ang kapirasong katotohanan at unti-unting mabuo ang kwentong salungat sa unang inakala. Sa magulong paroo’t parito ng China Doll, iisang pisngi pa rin ng katotohanan ang nabubuo at wala namang misteryong natatambad dahil simula pa lamang ay alam mo na ang takbo nito. Masyadong nagpaka-indie ang pelikula dahil marahas ang mga ilaw at hindi man lamang sinikap pantayin ang kulay at pagkakayari ng bawat eksena. Hindi siguro ito ang pinakamabisang paraan para ipakita na marahas ang katotohan. Ang makakagusto lamang nito ay ang kapwa manunulat o indie director na nais makita ang lalim ng pelikula kapag hindi ito nasasakyan ng masa.

Hubad na katotohanan… iyan ang nais itambad ng pelikula sa pagsusumikap na unti-unti nitong hubarin ang saplot ng kasinungalingan at pagtatahi ng mga alamat. Sabi natin, ang katotohanan ay nakakapagpalaya, pero sa pelikula… ang pag-akap sa katotohanan ay nakakamatay. Gusto ba nitong ipahiwatig na ang katotohanan ng mas malakas at mas matapang lamang ang dapat mangibabaw? Papaano kung ang katotohanan ay makasisira ng mga buhay? Dapat ba itong ibunyag pa kahit wala namang kabutihang idudulot? Hindi sinagot ng kwento ang mga tanong na ito. Bagkus, inihain lamang at pinababayaang tuldukan ito ng nalilitong manunuod. Pero dahil wala sa mga nagtangkang magbago o maging tapat ang nabuhay, madaling masabi na karahasan ang naka-umang sa taong sasagasa sa mga naglilihim. Masyadong marahas at magulo ang pelikula para sa simpleng manunuod. Mas mabuting piling-pili lamang ang tumangkilik nito.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Captain Phillips

LEAD CAST:  Tom Hanks, Barkhard Abdi  DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass  SCREENWRITER:  Billy Ray  PRODUCER:  Michael De Luca, Dana Brunetti, Scott Rudin, Kevin Spacey
EDITOR:  Christopher Rouse  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Henry Jackman  GENRE: Drama  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Barry Ackroyd  DISTRIBUTOR:  Columbia Pictures  LOCATION:  United States RUNNING TIME:  134 minutes

Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  2.5
MTRCB rating:  PG
CINEMA rating: V 14 (For ages 14 and up)

Captain Richard Phillips is skipper of a US-flagged container vessel Maersk Alabama, sailing via pirate-infested Somalia Sea with a crew of 20 unarmed men.  A band of Somali fishermen pirates-to-be led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) hijacks the ship in the horn of Africa and holds Capt. Phillips hostage.  After a harrowing chase when Phillips’ and his men think the pirates have given up, Muse’s determined bunch succeeds in boarding the ship using a crude ladder.  Phillips, whose primary concern is to deliver the goods intact to their destination, tries to negotiate with the pirates but his good intentions are no match to the money-hungry Somalis.  The movie is based on a true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.
      Another Oscar-worthy performance by Tom Hanks in another Everyman role—an ordinary character played extraordinarily well.  Matching Hanks line by powerful line is Barkhad Abdi in his first movie role—impressive for a newbie, and definitely qualified for a Best Supporting Actor award.  There are very few actors but they come across so real the viewer cannot but feel for them.  Captain Phillips is a good story in a tautly edited film; the screenplay is suspenseful, and the cinematography makes sure the tension is seen and felt by the viewer, from the opening scene (Phillips and wife Andrea, played by Catherine Keener) to the devastating last frame.   
      Due perhaps to the fact that it could happen to anyone, the story of Captain Phillips has that unique “pull” on the viewer’s empathy.  For one thing, there is no need of CGI, an indispensable sci-fi device, but the story is most demanding of gut level acting.  The film presents various moral dilemmas but holds judgment.  It’s in a way a rescue story but praises no hero; rather it underscores power disparity, particularly military power: the pirates are but amateurs working for a warlord; their captors are US navy SEALS directed by politicians.   It clearly shows piracy as a crime, but also pricks the viewer’s sense of justice by subtly asking if it is not a crime, too, to neglect the poor and ignorant in our midst. 

Thor: the dark world

Running Time: 112 minutes; Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins; Direction: Alan Taylor; Story: based on Stan Lee’s character; Screenplay: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely; Cinematography: Kramer Morgenthau;  Editing: Dan Lenetal, Wyatt Smith;  Music: Brian Tyler; Producers: Kevin Feige; Genre: Action-Adventure, Sci-Fi,;  Location: Asgard, London; Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 3.5
Rating: V14

Thor: The Dark World opens with the Bor, grandfather of Thor, vanquishing Malekith (Eccleston) and the Dark Elves after they attempted to return the universe into a state of darkness using a force called the Aether. Bor’s army defeats the Dark Elves and hides the Aether on earth.  Malekith sacrifices his people so he and a few chosen can escape and hibernate until the force is found again. The present times takes place 2 years after the events in the movies The Avenger and the first installment of Thor. Jane Foster (Portman), still trying to find a way to get in touch with Thor (Hemsworth), discovers and is possessed by the Aether and is temporarily transported from one realm to another. Thor brings Foster to Asgard when he realizes that she is infected with an unearthly substance. Malekith awakens and attacks Asgard to retrieve the Aether. Unable to defeat the forces of the Dark Elves and realizing Asgard is left defenceless should it be attacked again, Thor enlists the help of Loki (Hiddleston) to take Foster out of Asgard and trick the Dark Elves into removing the Aether from her body. Working against time, Thor must make tough choices to trust his adoptive brother, remove the Aether from Jane before it consumes her and save the universe from destruction.

Thor: The Dark World develops rationally but jams in too much gibber of technical and fictional information that makes it a little hard to keep up with sometimes. Performance-wise, the movie is average because Hemsworth’s Thor is a lot tamer and less interesting now while Hiddleston has managed to give a different attack and more amusing on his Loki while Portman’s portrayal is bland and helpless as is her character’s personality. Only Hopkins and Skarsgard have consistently strong enough personalities to shine through their characters. Undeniably, the movie delivers the action and fantasy with several spoonsful of explosions, destruction and high speed combat scenes - some unnecessary although quite fascinating. 

Society places a lot of pressure on people believing that honor and power ultimately define his person. Thor realizes that his mission, and therefore his real self, is to choose to be the defender of the Nine Realms instead of its ruler. When he understood and accepted that all his gifts and powers are for the service of others did he finally (and hopefully) find meaning in his existence. In this power-hungry fast-paced world, Thor invites us to find same epiphany and embrace this the same way as he did. Service and sacrifice define a man’s character and worth more than his power and authority. No wonder, Loki – who is so obsessed with being crowned King of Azgard – is constantly angry, restless and feeling empty.

Metro Manila

LEAD CAST: Jake Macapagal, Althea Vega, John Arcilla, Erin Panlilio, Moises Magisa, Ana Bad-Santos, MailesCanapi  DIRECTOR: Sean Ellis SCREENWRITER:  Sean Ellis, Frank E. Flowers  PRODUCER: Mathilde Charpentier, Sean Ellis, Enrique Gonzales, Celine Lopez  EDITOR: Richard Mettler  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Robin Foster  GENRE: Mystery & Suspense, Drama  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sean Ellis
DISTRIBUTOR: Captive Cinema  LOCATION: United Kingdom, Philippines RUNNING TIME: 115minutes

Technical Assessment:   4
Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating:  V 14 (Age 14 and above)

Sinisikap buhayin ni Oscar (Jake Macapagal) ang kanyang mag-ina mula sa pagsasaka sa bukid. Tipikal na buhay probinsya ang mayroon sila, salat sa pera pero di naman nawawalan ng simpleng pagkain sa mesa.  Dahil sa kakapusan sa pera ay mapipilitan si Oscar na makipagsapalaran sa Kalakhang Maynila; dadalhin  niya ang pamilya doon sa pag-asang naroon ang asenso nila.  Sa pagsuong nila sa buhay lungsod ay ibayong hirap ang kanilang mararanasan. Mapipilitan silang subukin ang iba't ibang uri ng mga hamon sa lungsod upang kumita ng pera. Makakakuha naman sana ng maayos na trabaho at kita si Oscar bilang driver ng armored car, subalit sa kasamaang-palad ay sangkot pala sa illegal na gawain ang mga inaakala ni Oscar na mga kaibigan.  Kaya sa halip na maahon sila sa kahirapan ay lalo palang masasadlak sila sa kadiliman.  Pati ang asawang si Mai ay papasukin ang hanapbuhay na pagsasayaw at pagpapakita ng katawan para makaraos sa araw araw. 

Gasgas na tema ng tagaprobinsya na nabigong makasumpong ng magandang buhay sa lungsod ang Metro Manila, subalit nilagyan ng tratong mas makatotohanan at  maingat na pagkakahabi ng kwento. Ginamitan ang pelikula ng mga makahulugang linya at pagpapakita ng dalawang mukha ng pamumuhay at kapaligiran sa pamamagitan ng magandang sinematograpiya.  Akma at epektibo ang mga ginamit na ilaw at inilapat na tunog at musika. Naging kasangkapan ang mga elementong ito ng palabas para maging wasto lamang ang mga pagganap, walang masyadong lumutang at wala di naman nagpahuli.  Tila binuhos ng direktor sa ibang teknikal na aspeto ng pelikula ang lahat ng malikhaing ideya sa halip na pigain sa motibasyon ang mga nagsiganap.  Gayun pa man, naging matagumpay ang direktor sa paghahatid ng isang maituturing na obra dahil sa makabuluhang kabuuan nito.

Ipinakita sa Metro Manila ang mga bulok na kalakaran at mapagsamantalang nilalang sa kalunsuran.  Hindi naman masama ang maghangad ng magandang buhay sa kahit saang lugar, subalit ang mga inosenteng mamamayan mula sa  probinsya  ay madalas na nagiging biktima at nasasadlak sa kawalan ng pag-asa katulad ng nangyari sa pamilya ni Oca.  Naging mga responsable naman at nagsikap upang makaraos sa di nakasanayang buhay lungsod ang mga pangunahing tauhan sa pelikula. Subalit di sila nakaligtas sa mapagsamantalang nilalang sa lungsod.  Nakakapanglumo ang mga eksena kung saan pinapakita kung paano nakakaladkad sa bulok na kalagayan ang pamilya. Nakakagalit ang pinakita na mundo ng prostitusyon kung saan kahit ang walang muwang na musmos ay pagnasaan laban sa pita ng laman.  Sa pamamagitan ng pelikula ay hinahamon ang manonood na maging matalino at mapanuri sa pinapasok na kabuhayan, siguraduhing wala itong lakip na anomalya na maaring magpahamak sa isang tao.  Sa kabuuan ay magkahalong awa, galit at pagnanais na kumilos ang mararamdaman ng manonood ng Metro Manila; mapupukaw ng pelikula ang kamalayan ng tao tungkol sa mga totoong nangyayari sa lipunan, partikular ang mga nasa likuran ng nakakaakit na kaunlaran sa lungsod.