Tuesday, February 11, 2014


DIRECTOR: Bong Joon-ho  LEAD CAST: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Song Kang-ho, Go Ah-sung, Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, John Hurt,  SCREENWRITER:  Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson  PRODUCER:  Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun, Park Tae-jun, Dooho Choi, Robert Bernacchi, David Minkowski, Matthew Stillman  EDITOR:  Steve M Choe  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Marcon Beltrami  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Hong Kyung-pyo  DISTRIBUTOR: The Weinstein Company, CJ Entertainment  LOCATION:  Prague, Czech Republic, South Korea, US, France GENRE: Action/Drama/Science Fiction RUNNING TIME:  125 minutes

Technical assessment: 4
Moral assessment: 2.5
MTRCB rating: R16
CINEMA Rating: V18

            Global warming has reached its peak and the earth’s days are numbered. In July 2014 nations opt for a drastic solution: to use CW7, a chemical substance once sprayed into the atmosphere will halt global warming. The temperature falls but the consequences are disastrous. A real ice age exterminates all the inhabitants of the earth, burying the world in a tomb of ice and snow. It is now 2031 and the only surviving remnant of humanity is represented by the passengers of the Snowpiercer, a high-speed train that has been running around the world for 17 years, powered by a revolutionary and unstoppable energy that provides perpetual motion. The train is a microcosm of human society and is divided into classes. The poor are relegated by force in the last carriages, malnourished and abandoned, while the rich stay in the front cars, and live in luxury and comfort. To keep this balance is extremely delicate and unrest is brewing from the tail end. The movement is led by Gilliam (John Hurt), a former Wilford engineer, and his young right hand, Curtis (Chris Evans). Helping them are Tanya (Octavia Butler), whose son was forcibly taken away to the front car, Edgar (Jamie Bell), Curtis’ best friend, and Namgoong Minsun (Song Kang-ho) security expert who designed the locks on the train. Curtis plans to storm his way to the front car where the elusive Wilford (Ed Harris), inventor and holder of the power train, resides.
            Every once in a while a film comes along that not only entertains but also makes us think. Not of pedestrian problems and the miseries of life, but about deep existential questions. Through imagery, sound and silence, darkness and light, dialogue and characters who linger in your mind long after the last credits roll, Snowpiercer, based on the French comic Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, effortlessly does that. Unlike Marvel comic hero films which rely on extensive CGIs and interminable violent action sequences, Korean director Bong Joon-ho gives us a work of art by combining imaginative cinematography, compelling production design (the various coaches on the train are exceptional—from the dingy slums of the tail end to the luxurious carriages up front), evocative music, engaging story, and unpredictable plot, topped by vivid characters portrayed excellently by the cast particularly Evans and Swinton (playing Mason). Even Korean actors Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-seong issue their roles effectively in their native tongue. Although Snowpiercer is longer than most action films at 125 minutes, there are very few unnecessary frames. Instead of background storytelling, little details are shown to reveal the characters’ identity and their nuanced portrayal pulls the viewer up or down with the film’s changing mood.
            Snowpiercer is an allegory for social classes and class warfare, a suffocating tale of human misery, perseverance and hope. We see just how twisted humanity becomes in the name of survival, power and control. The conditions at the tail end are hellish. Over and over, tail-enders are bombarded with know-your-place speeches from Mason, Wilford’s second in command, fed with gelatinous protein blocks, separated from their children and viciously punished for any attempt at insurrection. While residents at the top feast on sushi, medium rare steaks, and fresh produce, cool down in the pool or pretty up for a party at their favorite salon, their indifference as cold as the ice surrounding them.
            This is a good movie for discussion on the tendency of human nature to create social stratification and man’s love affair with the machine. The eternal train is seen as sacred and sustains life, and Wilford, the creator God. Social order is predetermined and his religion, to which the young are indoctrinated, is the excuse for control and the elite’s exploitation of the poor and the weak.
            Rich in metaphors, the film also leads us to ask: What is life? What are we doing to planet earth? What sacrifices are necessary for the maintenance of the established order? Is survival the supreme good? Can I be inhuman to preserve humanity? Can we accept and live with the cost of survival no matter how big it is? What ennobles humanity and what reduces him to a beast?
            Ultimately, it is always a choice—something each person has to struggle with while weighing the price of each choice. Will I sacrifice others in order to maintain my lifestyle, or do I sacrifice myself (offer an arm or a limb as food; lead my people to an insecure freedom; fight for truth and justice even if it means death; etc.) so that the others may live? Snowpiercer invites us to see how everyone is a passenger towards eternity and to examine the complex consequences our choices create.

American Hustle

DIRECTOR: David O. Russell  LEAD CAST: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence  SCREENWRITER:  Eric Warren Singer, David O Russell  PRODUCER:  Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison  EDITOR:  Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Danny Elfman  GENRE: Crime Comedy-Drama  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Linus Sandgren  DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Pictures  LOCATION:  United States RUNNING TIME:  138 minutes

Technical assessment: 3.5
Moral assessment: 2
MTRCB rating
CINEMA Rating: A18 and above

            American Hustle is a crime drama that involves two con artists who collaborate with FBI agents to catch corrupt local and national government officials in a big scam.  Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, a professional con artist who makes money by swindling unsuspecting individuals. While still married to a quirky and unpredictable Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), he meets the sexy and street-smart Sydney Prosser (played by Amy Adams), who becomes his mistress. Both believe in what they can do and accomplish as a team. With Prosser at his side, Rosenfeld’s swindling activities flourish. But the FBI catches them in one of their loan scams. In exchange for their release, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) gets Rosenfeld to collaborate with the FBI in nailing some politicians involved in corruption. Rosenfeld befriends Mayor Carmine Polito  (Jeremy Renner) of Camden, New Jersey, a charismatic politician who wants to build a gambling casino in Atlantic City, in order to generate jobs for his constituents.
Director David Russell was able to bring together an ensemble of big name stars who delivered their roles very well. Bale is believable in his portrayal of Rosenfeld as a con artist, complete with thinning hair combed over his head and pot belly. Despite his flawed character, he’s got a soft spot for his stepson Danny, whom he adopted and regarded as his own. Adams is very good in her characterization of Sydney Prosser, with her expressive eyes conveying so eloquently the angst that she feels inside of her. Lawrence also stands out in her role as the long-suffering wife who feels left out and unloved. Meanwhile, the antics of Cooper’s character Richie DiMaso leaves one to wonder if such attitude is indeed tolerated in the agency.  Renner’s Carmine Polito, however, is reminiscent of a typical politician who sweet talks people into believing that he does everything for them, at their service.
            American Hustle received ten Academy award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.  But lest we get carried away by the Oscar’s nod, note that the movie has many disturbing elements that would necessitate discussion in the light of Christian values. American Hustle alludes to the most stunning scandals that rocked America in the late 1970s that involved the mayor of New Jersey, some congressmen, senators and a mafia group. Sex, money and manipulation are all part of the deal.  Although corrupt politicians in American Hustle were apprehended by government authorities, Rosenfeld and Prosser went on to live their life quietly without serving time in prison as part of the deal with FBI. Sex and money serve as potent means to achieve the end. Achieving one's dream at any cost without regards to morality and ethics is, in any language, definitely unacceptable.

Wolf of Wall Street

 DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese  LEAD CAST:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner  SCREENWRITER:  Terence Winter  PRODUCER:  Marin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCarpio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, Emma Tillinger Koskoff  EDITOR:  Thelma Schoomaker  GENRE: Drama  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Rodrigo Prieto  DISTRIBUTOR:  Paramount Pictures & Universal Pictures  LOCATION:  United States  RUNNING TIME:  179 minutes

Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment:  2
MTRCB rating:  R 16
CINEMA rating:  V 18

Twenty-two year-old Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a Wall Street broker who just like any devoted family man works hard to fulfill his hunger for a comfortable life.  Unfortunately, the stock market crashes on the very day he earns his license, causing him to lose his job.  However, he has learned the ropes well enough to reinvent himself, and soon lands a position in an obscure “penny stocks” company on Long Island that gives huge commissions.  His slick ways, glib tongue, and drive to get rich quick are his greatest spurs in that ill-regulated branch of the finance industry, propelling him to ill-gotten wealth until he establishes his own company, ritzily named “Stratton Oakmont”, with a handful of money-minded cronies led by Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill).  Attaining such wealth that he never even dreamed of dreaming of, Belfort is changed, dumps his wife to get a new one every man will drool over (Margot Robbie), and acquires expensive vices to match his status.  But Stratton Oakmont won’t remain in obscurity for long; when FBI agent Greg Coleman (Kyle Chandler) opens a file on Belfort, rough sailing begins.
            The wolf of Wall Street is not a documentary but a fictionalization of Jordan Belfort’s self-serving memoir by the tandem of Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter.  Belfort, a white-collar criminal fueled by drugs, greed and sex, emerges—through Winter’s screenplay and Scorsese’s direction—as an ambitious conman who’s given to excess but who nonetheless charms his audience into stupefaction.  DiCaprio plays a character he had never done before, in control of the world by day, controlled by his weaknesses by night, and a slave to his appetites 24/7.  DiCaprio’s untethered performance as a drug addict (particularly in that scene where he hits his wife and endangers his daughter’s life) is more than convincing—it’s as though Scorsese pulled all the stops and let loose the talented actor to play the depraved anti-hero.   While in that scene where Belfort tries to bribe an FBI agent while in his yacht, DiCaprio’s subtlety as an actor is beyond admirable.  The sets and the cinematography blend to render powerful scenes depicting man’s various states of servitude to materialism and the flesh.
            The wolf of Wall Street reeks with sexual stench and profanity; it glorifies amorality and glamorizes vice.  There is one moment when a shadow of contrition whiffs by—when having survived a sea disaster Belfort thinks God has given him a chance to change his unscrupulous ways—but this is swallowed up by the orgiastic excess of his lifestyle.  When justice finally catches up with him he gets a three year prison term at the end of which the arrogant Belfort launches his new career as a speaker motivating future salesmen.  Is the movie to be condemned?  Not the movie, but the reality which it parodies.  Despite the depravity and debauchery portrayed by it, The wolf of Wall Street is an indictment of greed.  But instead of passing a moral judgment on that reality, Scorsese—a Catholic—presents it as a black comedy of America’s addiction to money-making at all cost.  There are two small voices Belfort hears but fails to listen to—his father’s which is the voice of reason, and the FBI agent Denham’s which is the voice of principles.  Often, in the movies, the visible overpowers the audible.  This could happen with The wolf of Wall Street; only  mature and discerning viewers will catch Scorsese’s cautionary tale it tells.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bride for rent

DIRECTOR:  Mae Cruz LEAD CAST:  Kim Chiu, Xian Lim SCREENWRITER: Carmi Raymundo, Charlene Grace Bernardo   PRODUCER:  Charo Santos-Concio  GENRE: Romantic Comedy  DISTRIBUTOR:  Star Cinema LOCATION:  Philippines RUNNING TIME:  115 minutes

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

Sa romantic comedy na Bride for Rent, “spoiled” si Rocco (Xian Lim), maluho, walang inaalala sa buhay kungdi ang magpakasaya.  Sa gabi bago dumating ang ika-25 niyang kaarawan, magpa-party at malalasing siya kasama ng barkada, at matatalo siya sa casino ng 10 milyong piso, ang salaping dapat sana’y gagamitin niya sa negosyo.   Mapapalitan lamang niya ito kung makukuha na niya ang “trust fund” na inilalaan sa kanya ng lola niyang si Lala (Pilita Corrales).  Pero hindi pala ganoong kadali iyon, dahil may kondisyon si Lala: dapat ay mag-asawa muna siya bago niya matatanggap ang “trust fund”.  Sa kabilang dako, mahigpit naman ang pangangailangan ni Rocky (Kim Chiu), isang dalagang may ambisyong mag-artista at siyang sumusuporta sa kanyang pamilya.  Mapapakinabangan ni Rocky ang hilig niya sa pag-arte nang makakapasa siya sa “audition” ni Rocco na naghahanap ng isang babaeng magpapanggap na asawa niya—para lamang makuha na niya ang inaasam-asam na “trust fund”.
Bagama’t masaya ang dating ng pelikula gawa ng pagiging makulay nito, nakaka-distract naman ang sobrang pula sa paligid—nagmumukha tuloy mga bakla ang mga lalaki dahil animo’y naka-lipstick sila sa lahat nang eksena. May isa kaming puna sa casting—ito’y madalas na kakulangan sa mga pelikulang Pilipino kung saan may mga “pamilya” sa kuwento.  Kadalasan, hindi man lamang gawing magkakahawig ang mag-anak—tulad ng mga magkakapatid dito nila Rocky, wala ni isang bahagya man lamang nakahawig ng ama,  halimbawa.  At maniniwala ba kayo sa sa guwapo’t guwapa ng mga magkakapatid (na hindi rin naman mga bobo), at sa lusog ng ama, ay magiging palamunin lang silang lahat ni Rocky?  (Ano ba ang basehan ng pagpili ng mga gaganap na mag-anak?  Ah, ewan!)   Umaasa ang Bride for Rent sa kiliting dulot ng tunay-na-buhay na relasyon ni Lim at ni Chiu, kaya naman hindi maituturing na “pagganap” ang ginawa nilang pag-arte ditto; pati halikan at titigan ay totoo.  Nakakasawa din ang arte ni Chiu na tila yatang pumalit sa trono ni Toni Gonzaga sa larangan ng overacting at over pa-kyut.  Nakakaaliw namang panoorin ang isang “bagong-lumang mukha” (Corrales) na kamangha-mangha ang sariwa pang mukha at sa kabila ng di na maitagong pagkatuyot na leeg at mga kamay ay “may asim” pa rin, ika nga. 
Likas na mabubuting tao ang ipinapakita sa Bride for Rent, bagama’t gawa ng iba’t ibang kalagayan o pangangailangan, sila ay nakakaisip gumawa ng kung ano anong solusyon malutas lamang ang problema.  Hinangad ng pelikulang ipakita na ang pag-aasawa ay mistulang isang halaman na inaalagaan, na nakatanim sa matatag na pag-uunawaan at dinidilig ng walang sawang pag-bibigay ng sarili sa minamahal.  Ito’y isinagawa sa tulong ng mga mag-asawa sa tunay na buhay na ipinaloob sa kuwento bilang mga tampok na panauhin. May istorya namang maituturing ang Bride for Rent, may dulot ding mga aral, pero formulaic din ang kuwento—may party, may kasalan, may pa-kyut-an hanggang magkatuluyan—at hindi kapani-paniwalang maging totoo ito sa tunay na buhay.  Magkagayunman, hindi maikakaila na patok ang formula nito sa mga manonood, base sa milyon-milyon nitong kita sa takilya.  Humigit-kumulang, mahuhulaan na natin kung ano ang panglasa ng Pinoy pagdating sa pelikula.

The legend of Hercules

Running Time: 99 minutes  ; Cast: Kellan Lutz, Liam McIntyre, Scott Adkins, Roxanne McKee; Direction: Renny Harlin; Story/ Screenplay: Sean Hood, Daniel Giat; Producer Boaz Davidson, Renny Harlin et al; Cinematogrpahy:  Sam McCurdy; Music: Tuomas Kantelinen;  Editing:  Vincent Tabaillon; Genre: Action-Adventure Distributor: Summit Entertainment;  Location: Greece

Technical Assessment:  2
Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating:  V 14

The Legend of Hercules begins with King Amphitryon (Adkins) challenging the King of Athens to a winner take a battle.  Easily defeating his opponent, Amphitryon takes over the army and kingdom to the disgust of his wife Queen Alcmene (McKee). Realizing her husband’s growing insatiable desire for power and aggression, she prays to the gods for guidance. Her answers her call and promises her the son of Zeus whom she will bear and eventually will defeat the king. Years past, Alcmene’s son with Zeus takes on the name Alcides (Lutz) and grows into a burly yet gentle prince in love with Hebe (Weiss), the princess of Crete. He willingly stays in the shadows as his half-brother Iphicles takes credit for Alcides’ success. However, when the king announces the betrothal of Iphicles to Hebe and betrays Alcides to the Egyptians, Alcides must accept and embrace his fate as Hercules – the half-mortal, half-god son of Zeus – who will deliver Greece from the tyrant king and bring peace and harmony back to the nation.

The movie may have the viewer scouring through the original storyline of the half-mortal Hercules as it introduced characters and sub plots so different from the more popular animated versions. While it did retain more of the original flavour of the classical myth plot, the treatment was so terrible complicated yet diluted that one would definitely prefer the adolescent versions. If we get pass the thinly conceived storyline and character development and just take the computer-generated effects that uselessly peppered the scenes, then we would be even more confused as it merely demonstrated the technical ability of the post production team and senselessness of their efforts. Lutz who should have retained his non-speaking character in the previous vampire film series made matters worse with his non-existent acting prowess that gave neither life nor depth to what could have been a dramatic character. In fact, none of the actors could act and evoke sympathy or support from the audience. The Legend of Hercules was too dull as an action film, too lifeless as a romantic drama and too uninspired as an epic film.

The movie tried hard to compare Hercules to Jesus Christ. In so many instances, the parallelism were obvious – a prophesy of the promised savior, the divine conception – it could have worked and delivered a powerful message if there was more effort and intelligence placed in the direction. Instead, what was left were the indiscriminate fighting and killings, betrayals and the desire for revenge. While Hercules did embrace his destiny and fulfill his mission, we doubt if it was a result of a realization that peace, justice and brotherhood were far more important than his self-serving desire to take back his lover and kill his step father. Neither was he a hero whom people can rally behind as he had no redeeming nor outstanding human or divine qualities viewers can relate to.