Monday, March 24, 2014


DIRECTOR:  Jaume Collet-Serra  LEAD CAST: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Jason Butler Harner, Anson Mount Lupita Nyong’o  SCREENWRITER:  John W. Richarson, Chris Roach, Ryan Engle   PRODUCER:  Joel Silver, Alex Heineman, Steve Richards, Andrew Rona   EDITOR:  Jim May    MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  John Ottman   GENRE:  Mystery & Suspense, Action & Adventure CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Flavio Martinez Labiano   DISTRIBUTOR:  Universal Pictures  LOCATION:  United States, France  RUNNING TIME:  106 minutes

Technical assessment: 3.5  
Moral assessment:  3

US federal air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is on board a non-stop flight from New York to London when he receives a strange message on his secured phone that demands $150 million transfer to a bank account or someone dies every 20 minutes.  He consults his fellow air marshal on board, Jack Hammond, (Anson Mount) about the message only to discover that Hammond has smuggled cocaine in his briefcase on this flight. This discovery leads to an argument that ends in Marks killing Hammond in the lavatory—the first death in 20 minutes. Mark manages to get Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) to cooperate with him in tracing the texter but while doing so, another death in 20 minutes happens, this time involving the captain, apparently poisoned.  While they are trying to uncover the identity of the texter, a plane passenger uploads a video footage of the chaos, making Mark appear as the culprit.  The video becomes viral worldwide, convincing the public that he is a hijacker and a suicide terrorist.
The movie Non-Stop has commendable technical qualities thrilling the viewing public. The story is good despite poor development of the plot. It is a known fact that use of any electronic gadgets on a flight is strictly prohibited because it interferes with the communication signals between the pilot and the air traffic transmitter and may pose danger especially for a commercial flight.  But the film disregards this fact and instead the entire movie shows constant exchanges by use of mobile phone and even uploads on the internet. However, this loophole is hardly noticed in view of exemplary treatment of the director especially in the presentation of details and their relevance to arising conflicts and resolutions of the story.  The director has successfully highlighted the central character which is given justice by excellent acting of Neeson as well as the supporting characters.  The editing work meets the required fast pace and effectively maintains the combined fears, tensions and excitement in every scene. The cinematography captures the heightened emotions, complemented by of music scoring, lights and sounds. Overall, the film is engaging because of its good technical attribution.
In a life-threatening situation some people may think only of saving themselves but not for William Mark of the film Non-Stop.  As an air marshal it is more than a call of duty for him, he does not think twice in breaking protocol when time is of the essence and precious life is at stake. The entire run of the film projects his heroic act as an instinct to protect life more than self-interest to be recognized.  In the end, his sacrifices pay off, lives are saved and rightfully, he is regarded as a hero. The film likewise imparts the message to the viewer to be responsible in the use of social media particularly in the use of crucial images that can be taken or interpreted out of context. A passenger who uploads the video footages misinforms the public of what is really happening, could have implicated an innocent person and diverted the investigation.  Also, keeping a grudge is like a poison in the dart that kills innocent people.  Non-Stop injects positive values of choosing to protect life, focusing on accomplishing a mission, having presence of mind in stressful situations, and being  responsible in the use of social media.  But the entire run of the film is stressful for children below 14 years old.

12 years a slave

DIRECTOR:  Steve McQueen  LEAD CAST: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard  SCREENWRITER:  John Ridley   PRODUCER:   Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Bill Pohlad, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Anthony Katagas  EDITOR:  Joe Walker  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Hans Zimmer  GENRE:  Drama, Special Interest  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Sean Bobbitt  DISTRIBUTOR:  Fox Searchlight Pictures (US), Entertainment (UK)  LOCATION:  US, UK RUNNING TIME:  134 minutes

Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3
MTRCB rating:  R 13
CINEMA rating:  V 14

Based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup in 1853, 12 Years A Slave the movie shows the suffering of black slaves sold to white masters in America.  In 1841, Northup (Chewetel Ejiofor), a well-educated violin player, leaves his wife Anne and two children in Saratoga, New York, for a performance at a circus in Washington, D.C. that was supposed to last two weeks.  He is met by two men who pay him, and then wine and dine him.  He wakes up in shackles; he realizes he has been drugged.  He receives a beating and is dumped into a paddleboat headed south.  It dawns upon him—he is now a slave, no more freedom, no more family, no more dignity.  And will remain one, for 12 long years.  The movie portrays the subhuman existence of the slaves who are regarded as animals by their white masters.
            A few critics note that director McQueen and screenwriter Ridley have taken liberties in inserting episodes that are not in the book, but this should hardly matter—the movie is essentially the same as the original autobio.  McQueen chose the cast well in this searing portrayal of a painful episode in American history.  Backed by extensive research for a historically accurate depiction, 12 years a slave also boasts of production sets showing attention to minute details that effect an authentic looking setting, from costumes to colors used in the plantations.  Lupita Nyong’o as Patsy certainly deserves her Best Supporting Actress Award, and leads the other actors in engaging the viewer to gripping empathy.  Cinematography captures the essence of the film well, and dialect coach Michael Buster certainly did excellently in altering the speech of the actors of various origins. For a movie with a $20-million budget, 12 years a slave is able to etch a name for itself in a moviedom brimming with superheroes and computer generated heroism.
            How would people who are strangers to slavery—or even to realities of man’s cruelty to man—react upon seeing this movie?  Those with queasy stomachs would probably close their eyes or turn away, but even the blasé could cringe at the almost unbearable brutality done to slaves here.  Senior citizens who have witnessed the tortures during war would be reminded by the scenes of injustice and cruelty here, but naive audiences may honestly wonder if it is at all possible for humans to treat fellow humans worse than animals. (Whatever, for Filipinos this should be an introduction to the truth some of our overseas workers experience in the hands of their masters abroad.)  The saving grace of 12 years a slave remains to be the spirit of hope mirrored in the attitudes of most of the slaves, particularly of Northup, subtly expressed in the dialogue and the songs they sing: the human longing to be free, to be with their families, to live in a just society, to be regarded as human beings.  Caution should be applied when explaining the treatment of Christianity in the movie, as the Christians presented in the movie may not be the best examples there are. 

Need for speed

DIRECTOR: Scott Waugh; LEAD CAST: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Ramon Rodriguez, Michael Keaton SCREENWRITER: George Gatins PRODUCER: John Gatins, Patrick O’Brien, Mark Sourian EDITOR: Paul Rubell, Scott Waugh MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Nathan Furst CINEMATOGRAPHER: Shane Hurlbut; GENRE: Action and Adventure; DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture; Running Time: 130 mins

Technical Assessment:  2
Moral Assessment:  2.5
CINEMA Rating: V18

Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is a mechanic by day and an underground street racer by night. The basic plot has Marshall traveling cross country from New York to California to take part in an underground race set up by a guy named Monarch (Michael Keaton).  Marshall has forty-something hours to get to California in order to participate in the race. He manages Marshall Motors Garage, a sinking business his father put up.  One day, Dino, (Dominic Cooper) an old acquaintance, asks Tobey to assemble an unfinished Ford Mustang originally designed by legendary car customizer Carroll Shelby and offers him 25% of the selling price. Being deep in debts, Tobey agrees despite his crew’s hesitation.  However during the post-auction race, Dino runs Tobey’s best friend, Little Pete (Gilberston) off the road to his death and frames Tobey for the crime.  After serving two years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Tobey decides to avenge his fate and his friend’s death through an underground winner take all race wherein only selected drivers are invited. Tobey gets together his old Marshall Motors crew and Julia (Poots) to condition another Mustang and give Dino a taste of his own medicine.  Their cross-country adventure from New York to California and their actual participation takes up most of the running time of the movie.
Let’s talk about the more tolerable part of the film first. The performances are blandly boring and there is just no chemistry between the male and female romantic leads. While Cooper’s Dino delivers some texture, it does so in a clichéd villainy fashion. As an action film it does deliver enough to reach the classification but barely keeps the audience awake and sane with its ever so slow pacing and ridiculous stunts. Cinematography, and car race sequence choreography, despite being on point fails to bring home a maximum impact because of the very thin storyline. Now for the killer: Need for Speed made lame attempts to anchor characters and scenes from other successful movies (e.i Smokey and the Bandit, Speed Racer, Fast and the Furious) but nowhere did it come close in chemistry, wisdom or sensuality to sell the plot. The story is poorly constructed and the script even more pathetic. For a franchise off a popular high-adrenalin video game with a sure following, Need for Speed is a very big disappointment.
How many people have met their untimely demise because of irresponsible egoistic drivers who care not for anyone’s safety? Other race movies try to justify its existence with a good soul of a hero who is just so talented at racing and may have been forced to ignore safety rules for the greater good. But Need for Speed, perhaps because it is based on a video game with no responsibility to deliver a rational storyline, neglects every rule of story telling and just throws in an identifiable hero, a lot of expensive cars and even more crashes and speed. It is simply offensive to see how it puts bystanders at risk—and such carelessness is glorified. More disturbing is the fact that the offenders were merely given a slap on the wrist by the police when they were arrested. Impressionable teenagers, who are more likely also supporters of the video game, will get the wrong message about safety, concern for others and getting away with it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Devil's knot

DIRECTOR:  Atomm Egoyan  LEAD CAST:  Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Amy Ryan, Stephen Moyer, Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos  SCREENWRITER:  Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson  PRODUCER:  Paul Harris Boardman, Elizabeth Fowler, Clark Petrson, Richard Saperstein, Christopher Woodrow  EDITOR:  Susan Shipton  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Mychael Danna  GENRE:  Biography, Drama, Thriller, Crime  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Paul Sarossy  DISTRIBUTOR:  Icon Film Distribution, Senator Film  LOCATION: United States  RUNNING TIME:  114 minutes

Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMA rating:  V 14

The savage murders of three young children sparks a controversial trial of three teenagers accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual. The police investigators and prosecutors seem to be affected by the local community’s fear of Satanic cult in the neighborhood. The youth are sentence to death and life imprisonment, released after evidential hearing, but they already spent 18 years in prison. (Full review to follow)

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Book Thief

DIRECTOR:  Brian Percival  LEAD CAST:  Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Nico Liersch, Emily Watson, Ben Schnetzer, Joachim Paul Assbock  SCREENWRITER:  Michael Petroni PRODUCER:  Ken Blancato, Karen Rosenfelt EDITOR:  John Wilson  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  John Williams  GENRE:  Drama  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Florian Ballhaus  DISTRIBUTOR:  20th Century Fox  LOCATION:  United States, Germany  RUNNING TIME:  131 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3.5
CINEMA rating:  V 14
Although narrated by Death (voiced by Roger Allam), The Book Thief is a life-affirming coming-of-age tale about an adolescent, Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse).  Orphaned Liesel’s foster parents, house painter Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) and his wife Rosa (Emily Watson) live a frugal life in an obscure German village during the Third Reich.  In school Liesel is discovered to be illiterate; she learns to read only through the patience of her benevolent foster father Hans who turns the basement of their house into a veritable dictionary, with Liesel writing down every new word learned from reading a “The Gravedigger’s Handbook” which she grabbed when it fell from a workman’s coat at her brother’s funeral. 
The Book Thief, adapted from Markus Zusak’s lyrical 2006 best-seller by screenwriter Michael Petroni and director Brian Percival, is a tender story given life by sensitive performances, particularly of Rush and Watson as the forster parents.  Tension is provided by the war setting but it is balanced by the care the director gives to ensure authentic characterization—even in the supporting cast (Auer as Frau Hermann; Lierrsch as Rudy Steiner; and Schnetzer as Jewish fugitive Max Vanderburg).  The horror of the holocaust seems deliberately played down, and the air raid scenes are not as emotionally compelling as they may have been in real life.  Williams’ score is evocative, however, matching Balhaus’ engaging cinematography. 

Hardnosed film critics tend to view The Book Thief as a “Disneyfied” war movie that sanitizes history in order to elevate the better side of humans.  That cannot be all bad.  The movie maintains that even in the worst of times, one can find good people who selflessly help their fellowmen.  The Hubermanns are such people, even if at first they take in Liesel for a government allowance, Hans immediately turns into a compassionate foster father to the orphaned Liesel, and in due time the gruff-mannered Rosa reveals her tender maternal side to the girl.  Frau Hermann, who spots Liesel snatching a book from a book-burning Nazi rally, secretly entertains Liesel in her library when she delivers laundry.  Not all war movies are meant to talk about man’s inhumanity to man.  Don’t go to see The Book Thief for your history lessons, but see it for the hope it brings as it shamelessly portrays faith in the human soul.

The Monuments Men

DIRECTOR:  George Clooney  LEAD CAST:  George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett SCREENWRITER:  George Clooney & Grant Heslov  PRODUCER:  George Clooney & Grant Heslov  EDITOR:  Stephen Mirrione  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Alexandre Desplat  GENRE: Action, Drama & Adventure  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Phedon Papamichael  DISTRIBUTOR:  Columbia Picture & 20th Century Fox  LOCATION:  United States, Germany  RUNNING TIME:  118 minutes

Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMA rating:  V 14

Based on  the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter published in 2009 and entitled Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, The Monuments Men opens with Adolf Hitler building the grand Fuhrer Museum to be filled with great art works stolen from all over Europe by the Nazi soldiers.  Hitler has, however, issued orders to destroy everything should the Reich fall and he die.  To find and retrieve the stolen art works and return them to their rightful owners, Harvard professor Frank Stokes (George Clooney) recruits a team of seven men, most of whom are past their prime with hardly any preparation for a mission that will them expose to real war.  His team includes medievalist James Granger (Matt Damon), architect Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Jewish art dealer Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), British scholar Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), and a young German-speaking recruit, Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas).  A woman, Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), helps out the team, since as a former secretary of a high ranking Nazi officer, it was her job to log the whereabouts of the stolen artworks. 
The title The Monuments Men is the pet name of Army’s Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program, a group of art historians and experts formed in 1943 to trace and rescue the cultural treasures stolen and stashed away by the Nazis during their occupation of most of Europe.  It is said that in reality there were 350 “monuments men”.  The film’s main attraction is naturally its visual contents, and it must be said that in this department, The Monuments Men has redeemed itself with the exquisite reproductions of great art.  They appear so real that it won’t be a surprise to hear the audience gasp in horror as the paintings are torched by Hitler’s troops.  While the art works look real, the story lacks dramatic momentum due to its episodic treatment which prevents the narrative from cohering and the characters from growing into the flesh and blood men who in reality had great pride in their mission.
The Monuments Men is refreshing in that, at the end of the day the viewer realizes it is a war film that is not focused on blood and violence, not on destruction of human lives, but on the preservation of the life of a civilization.  The moral question may be, Is it worth risking your life to save art works?  The film takes the viewer by the hand and poses another equally important question:  Why are art works so important?  Works of art not only reflect the artists’ perception of their reality but also mirror an entire civilization’s state of soul.  Paintings and sculptures are in themselves teachers of history.  Towards the end of the film children of the current generation are shown viewing the artworks restored to their rightful places in the museum.  CINEMA asks, on the side, if the film’s focus on two works of art—a multi-paneled painting carted away from a Belgian cathedral (which majestically opens the movie), and a Michelangelo sculpture of Mary and the child Jesus (which would demand the life of one of the monuments men protecting it)—is actually a veiled statement about the value and indelible presence of Christianity in the development of civilization in Europe?  It will be remembered that some years back there began a move to erase Christianity from history books, to which Blessed Pope John Paul II remarked that if Christianity were removed from European civilization, then nothing would remain.

Starting over again

DIRECTOR: Olivia Lamasan           
LEAD CAST: Piolo Pascual, Toni Gonzaga, Iza Calzado
SCREENWRITER:  Carmi Raymundo, Olivia Lamasan           
GENRE: Romance/Drama/Comedy
LOCATION:  Philippines
RUNNING TIME:  140 minutes

TECHNICAL ASSESSMENT:   3                
            Architecture student si Ginny Gonzales (Toni Gonzaga) at patay na patay siya sa history professor na si Marco Villanueva (Piolo Pascual). Sa simula, hindi pinapansin ni Sir Marco ang ‘panliligaw’ ni Ginny pero nahulog din ang loob ng professor bago magtapos sa kolehiyo ang dalaga. Magkasama silang bumuo ng kanilang mga pangarap hanggang bigla na lang umalis si Ginny. Iniwan niya si Marco na walang sinasabing dahilan at nagpunta sa Barcelona para mag-aral. Makalipas ng apat na taon, napukaw muli ang puso ni Ginny nang makatanggap ng post-dated email mula kay Marco. May pag-asa pa kaya silang magkabalikan ngayong si Patty de Guia (Iza Calzado) na ang kasintahan ni Marco?
            Dahil mula sa direksiyon ni Olivia Lamasan ang romantic comedy na Starting Over Again, umasa kami na hindi formulaic ang dating nito. Kadalasan kasi, unang eksena pa lang o sa trailer pa lang ay alam mo na rin ang huling eksena. Hindi naman kami nabigo. Kahit na sa simula ay katulad ito ng mga nakasanayan na nating kuwento, iba ang ending at pati na rin ang mga characters. Mahusay ang pagganap ng mga lead stars, lalo na si Piolo Pascual. Ipinakita ni Toni Gonzaga na hindi lang siya pang-comedy (kahit na minsan medyo sumobra na ito) kundi pang-drama din. Regal, tahimik at madamdamin namang isinakatuparan ni Iza Calzado ang kanyang papel. Maganda ang pagkabalanse ng kakenkoyan ni Toni at kadramahan ni Piolo.  Buhay na buhay ang dialogo at talaga namang naka-relate ang mga manonood sa kuwento, sa takbo ng istorya at mga characters nito. Nilapatan din ito ng musikang hinihingi ng eksena at may mga kakaibang anggulo na nagpatingkad sa location. Kaya lang, may mga usapan na sobrang haba – mga detalyeng pwede na sanang iwanan sa matalinong pag-iisip ng manonood kaysa sabihin ito. May mga eksena rin na halatang hinuhuli ang kiliti ng manonood o naging dragging lalo na sa iyakan.
        Ang Starting Over Again ay kwento ng bawat isa na nagmahal, nangarap, nagsikap, natakot, nagkamali, nasaktan, umasa, nagpatawad, nagbago, at muling nagmahal. Ipinapakita nito na kailangan ang pagpupunyagi upang maabot ang iyong mga pangarap at kadalasan hindi lang sakripisyo ang katapat nito.  Minsan itinatanong natin, “Magpapakatanga ba ako sa pag-ibig? Gagawin ko ba ang lahat, kahit isakripisyo ko ang sarili at prinsipyo, para sa mahal ko?”  Pero madalas, hindi na natin ito tinatanong; nagpapadala na lang tayo sa damdamin. Ipinapakita rin ng Starting Over Again na ang pag-ibig ay mas malalim kaysa sa kilig moments, na kailangang maging handa sa pag-aasawa, na hindi ito minamadali o pwedeng pwersahin. Na kahit ano pa ang nararamdaman mo, tunay ang pag-ibig kung nagpapatawad ka at nirerespeto mo ang iyong sarili at ang iyong minamahal. Bahagi ng respeto ang katapatan at ang pagpili ng iyong ngayon at bukas. Na hanggang natatakot kang may kaagaw ka sa puso ng iyong minamahal ay hindi wagas ang iyong pag-ibig. Dahil “sa pag-ibig ay walang pagkatakot, bagkus ang ganap na pag-ibig ay nagpapaalis ng takot.” (1 Jn 4:18)
            Maraming aral, masaya at mahusay sana at ang pelikula kung mas nabigyan ng halaga ang pagkababae ni Ginny. Na ang kaganapan ng isang tao, babae man lalake, ay hindi nagsisimula sa iba kundi sa sariling pagtanggap at pagdiriwang ng pagkatao mo, ng realidad mo bilang anak ng Diyos. Maselan naman at hindi bastos ang mga eksena ng pre-marital sex pero hindi dahil ipinakitang katawa-tawa at bahagi lamang ng kwento eh ibig sabihin ay acceptable na ito.