Monday, August 25, 2014

Expendables 3

--> Direction: Patrick Hughes; Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzennegger, Wesley Snipes, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, etc. Story: Sylvester Stallone; Screenplay: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Sylvester Stallone; Cinematography: Peter Menzies, Jr.;  Editing: Sean Albertson, Paul Harb.; Music: Brian Tyler; Producers: Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton; Genre: Action Location: USA and Europe Running Time: 126 minutes
Technical assessment: 2.5 Moral assessment: 2.5 CINEMA rating: V14
Barney Ross (Stallone) and his team of retirable former something of the military intercept a shipment of bombs meant for a Somalian warlord but is shocked to see Expendable co-founder turned traitor Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), who is believed to be dead, to be the man behind the dealing. Ross, in order to protect his old friends, assembles a younger team to run after Stonebanks but the latter evades capture and instead imprisons the younger members as a trap for Ross. Ross is forced to reassemble his old team with a few additions of equally retirable ex-experts to save the younger Expendables and eventually end Stonebanks’ crimes.
It is excruciating to watch all these 80s-90s action heroes struggling to relive their glory moments via an equally excruciating movie. With all the big names with no real acting prowess packed into a plot which can be told in 20 minutes, one can just image the ingenuity needed to sustain the movie for two hours. Between the gist of the story are endless repetitive action sequences aimed to remind the audience that the actor had a career once and unfortunately reinforced that he could only manage two expressions at most. Only Mel Gibson, who must have had an offer he could not refuse for allowing himself to be associated with the movie, and Antonio Banderas, gave some level of depth and enjoyment in their respective character portrayals. That the technical aspects are above average is irrelevant because frankly it is expected for the obvious investment producers poured in. With all the big stars in movie, producers are bound to hit enough patrons who adored the once upon a time action heroes or are just curious to see how badly they’ve aged. Other than this, we cannot think of any other reason why one will withstand 120 minutes of idiocy.
Somewhere in the muddled storyline and monotonous chasing and explosions, one character utters, in a desperate attempt to pour in some heart and soul in the film, that for their mission /objective to succeed, they have to work together –set aside their differences and be a team. So that about sums the decency of Expendables 3. Quite true and honorable but really—can two lines salvage the poor narrative, ridiculous characters and senseless and tiresome testosterone overkill? It does not help that at the end of the film, supposed morally upright Ross choses to kill Stonebanks just because he had enough of the latter’s evil ways. Thankfully, most of the fans would be aged 40 and above so there may be little danger in sending the wrong messages.


-->DIRECTOR: Luc Besson LEAD CAST:  Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi SCREENWRITER: Luc Besson PRODUCER: Mar Shmuger, Virginie Silla  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Eric Serra GENRE: Action, Sci-Fi CINEMATOGRAPHER:   Thierry Arbogast  LOCATION: Taiwan and France DISTRIBUTOR:  Columbia Pictures RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
Technical Assessment: 3.5; Moral Assessment: 2.5; CINEMA rating: V 14
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is an American taking further studies in Taiwan. There he meets Richard and they  become steady after nights of hanging out and drinking sprees in bars. After barely a week, she is tricked by Richard  to deliver a mysterious briefcase to a certain Mr. Jung (Chao Min Sik). It eventually turns out that the briefcase contains a prohibited new synthetic designer drug. Trapped, Lucy is forced to become a drug mule. But then, something happens in the process - the drug bursts into her stomach and releases into her system, activating even the most inactive part of her brain. Thus, it gives Lucy access to increase the amount of her neural capacity – more than an average human being can . Lucy gains formidable, close to supernatural abilities that is more than enough to get back and retaliate to the group of Mr. Jung. However, her ability goes with consequences she may not be able to handle.
The film takes off with the premise that an average human person uses only about 10% of  his brain capacity – what if a person would be able to use more? What if a person is able to use 100%? Although the premise seems preposterous with no real logical and scientific basis to boot, the audience is made to believe it is so. Lucy is a triumph in visual storytelling – having successfully told both in gripping narrative and arresting visuals such an abstract idea. Johansson is able to pull through the physical and emotional demands of her character. Although lacking in character back story, Lucy still earned audience’s sympathy and it could be attributed to Johansson’s nuances. The movie’s direction is fluid and the editing is superb. Lucy is one rare feat in filmmaking where philosophy and movie arts meet. The audience is made to think, feel, and remain glued at their seats as they journey with Lucy’s 100% use of her brain capacity.
Lucy is set at the backdrop of the illegal drugs industry. The said world is portrayed as dark and evil – and true to its form, illegal drug is the ultimate evil in society – it destroys, corrupts and causes most of society’s ills. It is but coincidental that in the same evil world, Lucy is able to gain incredible ability that is not necessarily evil and in fact, Lucy used the said ability to fight the evil. But then again, there goes the moral question of breaking human laws and taking justice in one’s own hands, especially in situations, as in Lucy’s, when humans are empowered with superhuman abilities to the point of killing the enemies if necessary. Although it is hard to pass on moral judgments to Lucy’s actions since she is portraying a hypothetical superhuman situation, and she seems unable to control her actions, it is perhaps better to ponder on the man’s imperfect nature. By God’s design, humans are made to be imperfect and for always, perfection is one of human’s ultimate goal but is achieved in his lifetime. In Lucy, it is said that when humans are able to use 100% of his or her cerebral capacity, the next stage would be self-destruction since he or she has already achieved his or her full potential. Absurd as it is, the message could simply be that humans are made imperfect so as to be dependent on God, and journey with God towards perfection. For even if a human reaches his or her full potential, he or she can never be God. More so, in case it happens, for as long as one acknowledges that there is One all powerful, omnipresent, ultimate God, he or she can never go wrong. Lucy has made the ultimate sacrifice in the end, reminiscent that of God’s sacrifice once before – perhaps it is the real peak of human’s fullest potential, when one could sacrifice his or her own life for the greater good. But then, all of which are subject to debate and reflection, and still, Lucy has some adult and violent themes and visuals that may be suitable only to audiences 14 and above.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

DIRECTOR:  James Gunn LEAD CAST:  Chris Pratt, Zoe Zaldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker  SCREENWRITER: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman  PRODUCER: Kevin Feige  EDITOR:  Craig Wood, Fred Raskin, Hughes Winborne MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Tyler Bates  GENRE:  Science Fiction, Superhero (Sci Fi) CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ben Davis  DISTRIBUTOR:  Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures  LOCATION: United States RUNNING TIME:  122 minutes

Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMA rating:  V 14
Hurt beyond words by the death of his mother from cancer, the grieving boy Peter Quill (Wyatt Olef) bolts from the hospital to a grassy knoll but, alas, he is sucked in by a spaceship, abducted by aliens presumably. Next we are shown a grown up and wise-cracking Peter (Chris Pratt), dancing to the songs of the 70s he had enjoyed as a boy.  He is now one among a band of intergalactic thieves and, calling himself “Star Lord”, is in fact on a mission to steal an orb.  He succeeds but the orb, it turns out, is coveted by so many others, among them the terrorist Ronan (Lee Pace), The Collector (Benicio del Toro), the war lord Thanos (Josh Brolin), and lesser characters interested in selling it.  Besides losing the orb to one of them, Peter is arrested and imprisoned; and there he and fellow inmates—Thanos’ daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the genetically engineered raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a tree-like creature called Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and a hulk called Drax the Destroyer (wrestling champ David Bautista)—band together with one aim in mind: to retrieve the orb.
            Any movie with a hero who dances to 70s tunes while kicking around dinosaur-rodents in a grungy cavern can’t but be an entertaining movie.  Despite some loopholes in the plot, Guardians of the Galaxy deserves a bunch of medals for being Marvel’s most surprising production to date.  Not only because it is so lighthearted and breezy (and therefore un-Marvel-ous) but also because it has the swagger to put its heart on its sleeve, confident that the audience will love it nonetheless.  At first it looks like another story about another superhero playing cute, until the would-be Guardians start popping and zapping into the picture.  And it is in the interplay of these characters that the movie finds its redemption.
            Values, there are many.  Teamwork, for one.  Self-sacrifice for the greater good is another.  Character transformation is yet another.  These five Guardians are all rascals one way or another and are after the orb for their own selfish agenda: Peter Quill the intergalactic thief and smuggler is the payroll of Ravager Yondu (Michael Rooker); green-skinned Gamora is sent by her father Thanos to grab the orb from Peter; gun-toting bad-ass raccoon Rocket is taking out his anger for having been experimented on countless times; Rocket’s sidekick Groot who has only three words to say—“I am Groot”—all throughout the movie; and meathead Drax who joins the bunch to avenge the killing of his wife and child.  No one would have recruited these five to work as a team, but the movie glides on the charm of these characters.  Rivals become allies, agreeing to set aside their individual aims in order to secure the orb and keep it out of reach of the genocidal maniac Ronan.  In the end, Groot justifies his supreme sacrifice by saying, this time, “We are Groot.”  If action movies can fill the outer spaces with heart such as Guardians of the Galaxy has done, then it is hoped that the dancing twig as the credits roll is a subtle set up for a sequel.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Trophy wife

Lead cast: Cristine Reyes, Heart Evangelista, Derek Ramsay, John Estrada; Direction: Andoy Ranay; Screenplay: Keiko Aquino; Editing: GeorgeJarlego; Cinematography: Lee Briones-Meily Producer: Vic del Rosario III; Music: Teresa Barronzo; Location: Metro Manila; Genre: Drama-Suspense Distributor: Viva Films

Technical Assessment:  2 Moral Assessment: 1.5
MTRCB rating: R13     CINEMA rating:  V18

       Ang tanging ambisyon ni Lani (Reyes) ay makatuntong sa Amerika at makilala ang kanyang sundalong ama at magkaroon ng mas magandang buhay. Kaya lahat ng paraan ay kanyang ginagawa, pati ang pakikipagmabutihan sa mga lalaking may kakayahang dalhin siya sa ibang bansa. Kaya naman napakadaling nahulog ng kanyang loob kay Chino (Ramsey), isang spoiled brat na playboy. Pero dahil sa isang tunggalian sa anak ng maimpluwensyang mayor, mapipilitan si Chino na magtago sa Amerika kaagad-agad. Pero buntis si Lani at susubukan niyang humingi ng tulong kay Sammy (Estrada), matandang kapatid ni Chino. Subalit malupit si Sammy at bubundulin si Lani na magiging sanhi ng pagkalaglag ng kanyang dinadala. Sa labis na galit, gagawa si Lani ng paraan para iangat ang sarili upang makapaghiganti sa magkapatid. Makakasalamuha niya ang mga mayayaman at sa isang okasyon makakatagpo niya si Sammy na lubos na maaakit sa kanya. Samantala, sa Amerika, mahuhulog ang loob ni Chino kay Gwen (Evangelista) at papakasalan ito. Uuwi sa Pilipinas ang magkabiyak para makilala ang bagong asawa ni Sammy at laking gulat ni Chino nang madatnan niya ang labis na nagbagong Lani. Sa pagdaan ng araw, lahat ng paraan ay ginagawa ni Lani para maakit si Chino sa kanya at masira ang relasyon nila ni Gwen habang unti-unting nabubunyag ang mga nakatagong lihim at motibo.
       May maganda sanang balangkas ang Trophy Wife kung naisulong lamang ang pagbuo ng kwento nito sa halip na binigyang-tuon ang paghuhubad at mga eksena ng pagtatalik na wala namang naidagdag sa kwento. Malaki ang pagkukulang ng direktor na maipalabas ang misteryo at poot sa likod ng katauhan ni Lani dahil pinili nitong maya’t mayang itambad ang katawan ni Reyes kaysa sa paghusayin ang pagkwekwento. Para tuloy isang pamamasyal sa buwan ang pelikula—malubak at punong-puno ng butas: kaya naman pala ni Lani na iangat ang saril, bakit hindi pa niya ginawa nuong una e ang tindi naman ng ambisyon niya? Bakit bigla na lamang sumulpot sa eksena si Gwen gayon malapit daw sila sa isa’t isa nuong mga bata pa sila? Papaano nagka-usap muli sina Lani at Gwen? Kung iisa-isahin natin ang paglilinaw sa pagsasalaysay ay kukulangin ang nakalaang puwang sa pagsusulat ng reaksyon. Ang walang kalatuy-latoy na mga usapan ay lalo pang napasama ng walang kabuhay-buhay na pagganap ni Reyes at Evangelista at mala-sarswelang atake ni Estrada.  Tanging sina Tongi at Fabregas  (gumanap na unang asawa at kaibigan ni Sammy) lamang ang nagkaroon ng makatotohanang atake sa kanilang mga papel. Salat na salat si Reyes sa kakayahang umarte. Iisa ang damdaming kayang ipahayag ng kanyang mukha at kilos—isang babaeng nilalapastangan ng industriya.  Kapag isinama pa ang kapabayaan sa produksyon tulad ng lulubog-lilitaw na puntong Kapampangan ni JackieLou nang nagalit siya kay Lani, o ang di-mawaring nagkulang na prosthetics sa kamay nito (kamay ba iyon o maruya?) o ang patalun-talong pagdaloy ng eksena at paglipat ng angulo, lalo lamang darami ang lubak at butas ng pelikula, hay naku!
       Walang nahihita sa paghihiganti gaano man kalaki ang atraso ng isang tao. Lagi, sa dulo, talo ang nagtatanim ng matinding poot at nagpapanukala ng masalimuot na paraan para sa ikababagsak ng kalaban. Ang mga pagsubok at dagok sa buhay ay dapat gamiting paraan upang buuing muli ang nawasak at pira-pirasong sarili, palakasin ito at ibangon hindi para sa nang-api kundi para maging kapaki-pakinabang ang buhay. Ang tema ng paghihiganti at pagsisimulang muli ang siya sanang tuon ng Trophy Wife pero tulad nang nabanggit, pinili na pahabain ang mga senswal na eksena. Marahas ang mga tema ng Trophy Wife: panlilinlang sa asawa, paggamit ng katawan para maghiganti, sabwatan at pang-aakit para makasakit, pagpatay at pagkasadista. Nakasama pang lalo na sa pagtatapos ng pelikula, ang mga may sala pa ang dali-daling binigyan ng “happy ending” sa halip na maipakita ang tunay na ibinunga ng kanilang maling pagpapasya.  Ganito lamang bang katapusan ang kailangan para makamtam ang rating na R13 ng MTRCB?  Walang matinong magulang ang papayag na mapanood ng trese-anyos nilang anak ang mga eksenang inihahain ng Trophy Wife.  Hindi kaigaya-igaya ang pelikula para sa bata man o matanda dahil sakit na nga sa ulo ang palpak nitong produksyon at kuwento, negatibo pa ang mga dala-dala nitong mensahe. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hercules: The Thracian Wars

DIRECTOR:  Brett Ratner  LEAD CAST:  Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, John Hurt  SCREENWRITER:   Ryan J. Condal & Evan Spiliotopoulos  PRODUCER:  Brett Ratner, Barry Levine, Beau Flynn  EDITOR:  Mark Helfrich & Julia Wong   

MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Fernando Velazquez   GENRE:  Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Dante Spinotti  DISTRIBUTOR:  Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer Pictures  LOCATION:  United States RUNNING TIME:  99 minutes

Technical assessment:  3.5     Moral assessment: 2.5
       Moving on from the painful loss of his family, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) with his friends become mercenaries riding on the legend of the demigod Hercules and his countless impossible pursuits. The stories, whether true or fabricated, help to scare his enemies and make him the most sought after hero. Princess Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), on behalf of her father, Lord Cotys (John Hurt), king of Thrace, requests Hercules to defend Thrace against the supposed centaur demon army of Rheseus (Santelmann) and promises to pay him gold equal to his weight. Hercules trains the Thracian army and defeats Rheseus—who turns out to be just a man on a horse. Later, Hercules discovers his team has been used by Lord Cotys in the latter’s greed to establish an empire. He refuses to be part of the king’s future plan and decides to put a stop to his greed only to be confronted by the bitter truth about his family’s murder which challenges him to embrace his true calling.
      Hercules is a mash-up of the Greek Myth Labors of Hercules and the graphic novel Hercules and the Thracian Wars. The movie offers an interesting plot and script equipped with humor and honest portrayals by McShane and Hurt. But while buffed and didactic Johnson is pleasant, he is as stiff and bland as a rock during his pep talks and supposedly inspirational moments. His Hercules is not engaging enough and is easily overthrown by all the cinematic hostility. Cinematography is dynamic as an action movie should be and production design justifies the setting of the Athens period. But neither the action sequences nor computer-generated scenes offer anything new or epic save for the body count and body parts spewing out blood all over the screen. Hercules’ greatest achievement is bringing down the massive supernatural legend of a demigod into bite-sized logical stories of a hero. Hercules is good but not great enough to merit a standing ovation in its genre.
        No matter how painful an experience Hercules may have had, he still chooses to move on and remain positive in carrying out a mission such as taking the task of training the soldiers to fight and to win. Though it is a compensated task that Hercules accepted together with his friends, his team ensured that their trainees would be equipped not only with the skills to fight but with the right attitude and values and trust in God. The film shows the importance of teamwork in the context of friendship, brotherhood, trust, concern, support, and fidelity to one another during tough times.  Hercules is about heroism. But how does one become a hero? Through a great packaging and hard sell marketing which blurs the lines between what is real and what is fantasy? Through overrated stories of one’s accomplishments? While the film shows courage and strength to be the outer qualities of a legend, it underlines more the fidelity to one’s innate nature of service and selflessness as the more important qualities of a hero. Whether Hercules is really the son of Zeus or just an ordinary mortal is irrelevant once he chose to defend the weak and save the innocent. But then again, a hero takes a higher road of forgiveness and peace—which unfortunately Hercules is incapable of when he chose to murder the people behind his family’s fate. The movie is violent and graphic and not appropriate for young children. Themes are also obscured and need adult guidance and direction.

Begin again

DIRECTOR:  John Carney  LEAD CAST:  Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden  SCREENWRITER:  John Carney  PRODUCER:  Anthony Bregman, Tobin Armbrust  EDITOR:  Andrew Marcus  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Gregg Alexander  GENRE:  Drama, Musical & Performing Arts, Comedy  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Yaron Orbach  DISTRIBUTOR:   Weinstein Company  LOCATION:  United States  RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

Technical Assessment: 3.5  Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating: V 14

Begin Again tells a tale of two persons whose spirits are currently crushed by their different circumstances. Dan (Mark Ruffalo) has just lost his job from the music label company he co-founded, and has been battling a long-time a crisis in his marriage. Greta (Keira Knighley) has just broken-up with her boyfriend (Adam Levine) whom she discovers to be unfaithful after she flew all the way from England just to accompany him and have a music career in New York. One fateful night in a bar, Dan sees Greta playing a song and he is immediately mesmerized by her music that he convinces her to produce an album with him. But Greta is set to go back home to England after what happened to her and her boyfriend. After much convincing, Greta agrees. Without much resources and a backing of a label, the two together with a ragtag band of musicians collaborate to record an album in the streets of New York.
        The film banks on the fine performances of the lead cast. Knightley and Ruffalo morphed into their roles with so much heart and intensity without going melodramatic. The scenes depicting simple conversations come out as the most powerful scenes given its naturalistic appeal. There’s magic when actors need not try hard to make scenes very dramatic. Like music, the film is at its best when it just flows. Never mind if they get corny sometimes but they will just carry on and let the natural rhythm of life bring them to destination. Begin Again successfully connects life and music and how one affects the other in the nexus of complications brought about by relationships, ambition and materialism.
      The original title of Begin Again  is “Can a Song Save Your Life?”. It is a rhetorical question that the film has tried to answer. Well, obviously, the film answers the question with a resounding “yes”. Music indeed has saved the lives of Dan and Greta. They meet when they are at their lowest points and music becomes the invisible and powerful bridge that led them to become the best of friends. Music binds them together and they are able to get through life’s blows because of their faith that transcends genre and generations. The film also questions the entire music industry’s commercial system, proving that persistence pays off at the right time. The film somehow serves as a glimmer of hope to those who have been betrayed and seemed to have lost confidence and faith in other people, in God, and in themselves. Dan may have resorted to excessive drinking, which can be a bit disturbing but taking it into context, it will be seen that his drunkenness makes situations worse and does not do anything good. Music is God’s gift and creation and as the characters are seen to genuinely love a creation of God, so they remain on track because of such love. However, the movie’s theme, emotional stress and some vulgar language make the film appropriate only to audience 14 and above.