Friday, December 20, 2013

The Hobbit: the desolation of Smaug

LEAD CAST:  Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom  DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson  SCREENWRITER:  Peter Jackson  PRODUCER:  Peter Jackson, Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh   EDITOR:  Jabez Olssen   MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Howard Shore  GENRE:  Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Lesnie   DISTRIBUTOR:  Warner Bors. Pictures  LOCATION:  New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States RUNNING TIME: 162 minutes

Technical assessment: 4
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating:  V 14

The story opens with Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and dwarven king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) clandestinely meeting at the Inn of the Prancing Pony.  Gandalf senses a dark force lurking in the world, and advises Thorin to vanquish the dragon Smaug who had originally usurped from them their mountain fortress, and to reclaim their domain Erebor.  A year later, the 13 dwarves, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the wizard Gandalf trek up the treacherous mountain to its lone peak where the fire-breathing Smaug resides.

Although those who have read the book swear that it is far superior to the film version, most viewers will agree that one need not read Tolkien’s creation in order to enjoy the film.
The Hobbit: the desolation of Smaug’s appeal rests on the novelty of the otherworldly milieu it presents.  Never mind that it’s all fiction, and fraught with bloodletting and violence—as long as it engages the imagination and puts the viewer smack in the middle of the action.  The serial offers ever-new perker-uppers to keep viewers hanging on, but maybe two are outstanding: the dwarves’ bout with the giant Mirkwood spiders that see their captives as “fat and juicy” snacks, and their dicey escape riding in wine barrels bouncing along the rapids down the river, a Bilbo Baggins stroke of genius.  Indeed, the journey to Erebor to reclaim the dwarves’ lost kingdom is so perilous that towards the end the dragon Smaug seems no more menacing than a house lizard.

Is all that excitement—in a world populated by trolls, goblins, skinchangers, elves, wild and wooly orcs and monstrous talking spiders—meant as mere entertainment?  All that gore—impalements by arrows and spears, beheadings, stabbings, skull bashing, albeit decimating the number of the bad guys—could make the viewer wonder, “What for?”  Justice for the dwarves—in recovering a “stolen” kingdom?  Extraordinary power for the victors?  The message is clear: it’s the ageless fight between good and evil, and the victor emerges even clearer—noble heroism over greed and selfishness.  The possession of power may be used for good or bad, so what would you do if you were part of that quest?

Ender's game

LEAD CAST: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley DIRECTOR:  Gavin Hood  SCREENWRITER:  Gavin Hood  PRODUCER:  Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Gigi Pritzker, Linda McDonough, Robert Chartoff, Lynn Hendee, Orson Scott Card, Ed Ulbrich   EDITOR:  Zach Staenberg  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Steve Jablonsky  GENRE:  Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Donald McAlpine  DISTRIBUTOR:  Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate  LOCATION: USA  RUNNING TIME:  114 minutes

Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  2.5
CINEMA rating:  V 14

In the not-so-distant future, a mysterious alien race attacks the Earth. But the legendary heroism of International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) saves the human race from total damnation. Decades after, in preparation for the next alien invasion, Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and the International Military are training exceptionally talented children to discover another Mazer.  One candidate is  Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy, but strategically brilliant boy. He  is pulled out of his school to join the elite group. Arriving at the Battle School, Ender quickly and easily masters complicated war games. Thus, Ender makes his mark and earns respect of his peers. He is soon ordained by Graff as the military's next great hope so he is promoted to Command School. Once there, he's trained by Mazer Rackham himself, to lead his fellow soldiers into an epic battle that will determine the future of Earth and save the human race.

Based on the award-winning novel, Ender’s Game, the movie captures the book’s essential themes and the arresting visuals and graphics give life to the author’s imagined Earth’s future. However, the controversial story remains at the surface level and never really gets to the point of real interest for the viewers. The repeated slow motions of some scenes bore the audience especially the young who are apparently the movie’s target audience. The acting and characterization is shallow as well with one-dimensional portrayals. But then, the visual effects, and the intricate production elements and above par production values make Ender’s Game a sci-fi spectacle worthy of audience’s time. It is still a far decent adaptation of an otherwise implausible story to visualize, making the movie adaptation an achievement in itself.

A movie depicting and tackling children being trained for battle is already morally problematic. No matter how pure Ender’s character is, the movie’s theme in its entirety is disturbing. Although highlighting Ender’s qualities of respectfulness, assertiveness, courage, would somehow send message of heroism and ideal youth of the future, still, there is no denying that the film exposes the young to the harsh and violent world. The film further desensitizes violence through the use of computer games as milieu of war. But then, the absence of blood does not equate to absence of violence. The children are still exposed to the realities of war no matter who the enemy is and what the weapons are. The youth of today may pick-up the discipline and determination demonstrated in the film as they undergo military training. Leadership, teamwork and camaraderie are some of the commendable themes in the film. Ender’s position on knowing and understanding the enemy, and in the process, loving them is also commendable and is very much aligned to Christ’s teaching of loving one’s enemy. For Ender, it is not about just winning the war, but the manner of winning it that matters the most. Meaning, what would the human race really gain from fighting enemies whom they do not really know in the first place? For in all these chaos, peace should reign and it will not be attained for as long as humans remain to be in the defensive mode of the battle. Given the controversial and conflicting themes and violent visuals, CINEMA deems the movie as fit only for viewers ages 14 and up.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire

LEAD CAST:  Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks  DIRECTOR:  Francis Lawrence  SCREENWRITER:  Simon Beaufoy, Michael Amdt  PRODUCER:  Nina Jacobson,Jon Kiliki  EDITOR:  Alan Edward Bell  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  James Newton Howard  GENRE:  Science fiction, Action, Drama   CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Jo Willems  DISTRIBUTOR:  Lionsgate
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMA rating:  V 14

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), hailed the victors of the  the 74th Annual Hunger Games for being the first two people to  come out of the arena alive, must now tour the oppressed and underprivileged districts of Panem.  The “Victors’ tour” is part of the scheme of the Capitol’s supreme oppressor President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who, together with the game maker Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is hatching up The Quarter Quell, an all-star cast survival-of-the-fittest reality TV show which will pit past Hunger Games champions against one another.  But Katniss and Peeta recognize the emptiness of their victory for they were forced to kill for their crowns.  In an attempt to block the Quarter Quell, Peeta and Katniss pretend they are expecting a baby, but it doesn’t work.  President Snow sees Katniss as potential rebel leader and is determined to have her killed.

A meaty story backed up by topnotch performances from competent actors—what more does a film need to be a box office hit? Life-threatening CGI situations to match—and Hunger Games: Catching fire has them all: a rotating island, a menacing black fog that outpaces the protagonists, shrieking mysterious birds swooping out from nowhere, herds of rabid mandrills scarier than Orcs.  For full appreciation of this second of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, the viewers must see the first, so that they would know where the story—its logic and its accompanying emotions—are coming from.  Even the costumes and the makeup have a bearing in the development of the overall plot. 

When the movie can spur you to care for the characters, you know it’s worth the price of admission.  And with Hunger Games: Catching fire, audience empathy would not be hard to come by—viewers will either love or hate a character.  They remind one of the days when gladiators were forced to fight to the death even people they love, all for entertainment of the Roman public.  Like these gladiatorial combats, in the “hunger games” organized by the Capitol to satisfy the elite’s hunger for blood and violence, nobody really wins.  This is most evident in the attitude of the hunger games survivors who cannot be at peace for having killed the way they did.  If conscience of the Capitol’s leadership has been deadened by their greed for such violent pastimes, that of the hunger games survivors has not yet been numbed.  In fact these virtual 21st “descenfdants” of the gladiators of old bring hope to the oppressed masses as they seem to lead an impending rebellion in Panem.  Hunger Games: Catching fire is a bridging story; it is hoped that the third one, Mockingjays, will bring the trilogy into a humane and triumphant conclusion. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana.; Direction: Chris Buck, Jenniger Lee; Based on story Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen; Producer: Peter Del Vecho Music: Christopher Beck; Genre: Animation; Distributor: Walt Disney; Location: Arendelle Running Time: 108 minutes

Technical assessment: 4
Moral assessment:  4
MTRCB rating: G
CINEMA rating: All ages

Princesses Anna (Bell) and Elsa (Menzel) of Arendelle were as close as two peas in a pod until the older Elsa accidentally freezes her younger sister with her snow magic. Horrified, their parents choose for Elsa to deliberately hide her ability from the world. Elsa, not wanting to hurt Anna again, distance herself from her sister. Anna, whose memories of Elsa’s magic were erased, is left completely confused and lonely. Ten years later, the king and the queen die at sea and leave the princesses orphaned. Eventually, Elsa needs to come out and face her subject during her coronation but carefully plans not to reveal her magic to anyone until the lonely Anna naively falls for the first prince—Hans—who proposes and asks the newly-crowned queen’s blessing. Naturally, Elsa denies her blessings which infuriates Anna. She inadvertently removes Elsa’s protective gloves and causes her to reveal her uncontrolled snow magic to the kingdom. She runs away and in the process freezes the entire kingdom. Anna, determined to marry Prince Hans (Fontana) runs after Elsa with the aid of mountaineer Kristoff (Groff) and animated snowman Olaf (Gad).

Frozen is a magical journey for the young and young at heart. The timelessness of the classic fairy tale is modernized appropriately with a good mix of animation, music and performance. The snow covered mountains, dangerous blizzards, delicate ice castle and the dreamy snow flaked scenes are just breath-taking to watch albeit purely animated. The songs, though, not entirely as touching as previous Disney movies, but memorable just the same. The story is clear and unfolds gracefully with the right amount of humor and suspense punctuating the development. The voice actors reveal the inner persons of their characters well.

Frozen offer several layers of family values. One, it shows how family ties is the very foundation of a sturdy relationship inside and outside the home. It emphasizes the significance of family as the groundwork of a strong community life. Second, Frozen redefines true love not as romance but as sacrifice. In this modern age where everyone is self-centred and materialistic, Elsa and Anna’s devotion to each other and dedication to the people they serve can very well a model of what it is to be human. Third, and maybe to a lesser significance, the movie gives a reminder to the young—who are so wanting to be noticed, admired and given affection—not to fall for the seeming attraction of a great fa├žade. It pays to know the very core and essence of a  person—or ideal—before committing.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Status: It's complicated

Cast: Jake Cuenca, Paolo Avelino, Eugene Domingo, Maja Salvador, Solenn Heusaff; Director: Chris Martinez;  Screenplay: Chris Martinez; Distributor: Regal Entertainment; Running Time: 90 minutes; Genre: Sex-Comedy-Drama; Location: Manila

Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating: V 18

Si Manny (Jake Cuenca) ay isang chef na playboy at walang sineseryoso sa mga babaeng kanyang nakarelasyon. Kabaligtaran naman ang kaibigan niyang si Jerry (Paolo Avelino), isang graphic designer na naniniwala sa true love at ito nga ang kanyang hinihintay kung kaya’t wala pa rin siyang ka-relasyon. Sa kanilang pagtatalo kung sino sa kanila ang tama ang pananaw sa pag-ibig at relasyon, napag-kasunduan nilang subukang magpalit ng istilo. Si Manny ay manliligaw ng isang babae lang habang si Jerry naman ang aaktong playboy. Mangyayari nga ito nang makilala ni Mannny  ang konserbatibong si Rina (Maja Salvador) at nang ang mga kliente ni Jerry na sina Sylvia (Solenn Heusaff) at Marian ay akitin siya at bumigay sa kanilang pang-aakit. Sino kaya kina Manny at Jerry ang makakatagpo ng tunay na pag-ibig?

Ang Status: It’s Complicated ay isang makabagong “adaptation” ng klasikong obra ni Ishmael Bernal, ang Salawahan. Buong kahusayan na binuhay sa makabagong panahon ang pelikula at nagawa pa rin nitong maging matapat sa orihinal. Dito mapapatunayan na sa kabila ng pagbabago ng panahon, may mga bagay na sadyang hindi magbabago lalo na kung relasyon ang pag-uusapan. Mahuhusay ang mga nagsiganap at nawagang mapanindigan ang istilo mula sa orihinal na pelikula – mabibilis na dayalogo, nakakatutuwang punchlines at nakakatawang mga eksena. Walang itulak kabigin ang husay ni Domingo na siyang nagdala ng karamihan sa mga nakakatawang eksena. Sila Cuenca at Avelino ay kapwa mahuhusay din at di naman nagpahuli sila Salvador at Heusaff. Marahil magiging mas mahusay pa ang pelikula kung nagsubok itong palalimin pa ang pinaghuhugutan ng bawat relasyon. Marahil nakulong sila sa pagnanais na muling buhayin ang obra at maging matapat hangga’t maaari sa orihinal. Sa ganitong dahilan, ang mga walang malay na manonood na isa itong remake ay pawang magtataka kung bakit ang mga tauhan ay ganoon magsalita at kung bakit pawang maraming tanong pa rin ang di nasasagot dahil sa bilis ng mga pangyayari. Ngunit kung sadyang pagbubuhay lamang sa lumang obra ang intensiyon  sa likod ng Status: It’s Complicated, naging matagumpay naman ito.

Nakasentro sa relasyon ang Status: It’s Complicated. Tulad ng titulo nito, sinasabing tunay ngang wala nang mas sasalimuot pa sa relasyon, lalo na sa relasyong romantiko sa pagitan ng babae at lalaki. Ngunit bali-baliktarin man ang komplikasyon, mauuwi pa rin sa iisang aral ang lahat – ang pagiging matapat. Sa pagpapalit ng istilo nila Manny at Jerry, kitang ang tunay na naging masaya sa bandang huli ay ang naging tapat sa iisang babae lamang. Ipinakita rin sa pelikula na sa kabila ng paglipas ng panahon at sa pagbabago ng teknolohiya, sadyang di nagbabago ang turo ng simbahan patungkol sa pakikipagrelasyong sekswal – na ang pakikipagtalik ay para lamang sa mag-asawa na may basbas ng kasal. Sa kabila nito, di pa rin maiiwasan na ang pelikula ay maaari pa ring makalito sa kung ano nga ba ang tayo nito sa pagpapahalagang moral. Marami kasing mga nakakabagabag na eksena na nagpapakita ng pang-aakit ng babae sa lalaki at hindi ito nalinaw sa pelikula kung tama ba o mali. Ang usaping sekswal din ay laging nauuwi sa pananaw lamang ng laman at hindi ng kaluluwa. Kapupulutan ng aral ang pelikula ngunit ang mga makikitang imahe ay kinakailangan ng malalim na pang-unawa upang makarating ang mensahe sa nararapat na konteksto ng relasyon at sa kung ano ang turo ng simbahan na nararapat sundin ng lipunan sa ano pa mang panahon.  Kailangan ng hinog na pag-iisip upang hindi maligaw sa mga isinasaad ng pelikula.