Saturday, February 25, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge

DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson   LEAD CAST: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthingson, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving  SCREENWRITER: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight  PRODUCER: Bill Mechanics, David Permut, Terry Benedict  EDITOR: John Gilbert  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Rupert Gregson-Williams  GENRE: History, drama, war  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Simon Duggan  DISTRIBUTOR: Summit Entertainment  LOCATION: United States, Australia  RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3.5
MTRCB rating:  R16
CINEMA rating:  A18
 “While everybody else is taking life, I’m going to be saving it. With a world so set on tearing itself apart, it doesn’t seem such a bad thing to want to put a little bit of it back together.”  These words sum up the true story of Private Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector (or conscientious cooperator, as he puts it) during World War II, brilliantly portrayed by Andrew Garfield (of The Amazing Spiderman fame) in Hacksaw Ridge. Like all young men of his time, Desmond enlists to serve his country despite the protests of his father Tom (Hugo Weaving), an alcoholic and wife-beater who is a World War I veteran himself.  An earlier experience has turned Desmond into a pacifist and now, training as an army medic, he refuses to carry a gun, not even in rifle training. This doesn’t sit well with Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn), his commanding officer, his company and the army leaders. Ridiculed, bullied and beaten up as a coward he holds on to his principles even when this leads to imprisonment and court martial. His faith in God as a Seventh Day Adventist and the unwavering support of his beautiful wife Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) empowers this simple, ordinary man to do extraordinary things during the Battle of Okinawa. He was the first soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor without using a weapon.
Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson’s comeback vehicle after a 10-year-hiatus proving that he still has the chops. With effortless mastery Gibson balances the elements of the film from the opening scene to the closing credits. We are shown the sweet innocence of love between Desmond and Dorothy, his religious upbringing, and the circumstances of his choices. Dark violence builds up until the viewer is shocked with the horrors of war through excellent cinematography, well-choreographed battle scenes and a fittingly moving musical score. The inspiring true story of Desmond Doss comes to life through outstanding characterization of the lead actors (Garfield, Weaving and Vaughn) and the rest of the cast, each fitting their role like a glove. Garfield essays the unlikely hero with such honesty, conviction and passion you can’t help but root for him even if you disagree with his principles. Hacksaw Ridge is a wonderful addition to World War films, but it is like no other. Why? Because it shows that the valor of man lies not in aggression and dominance but in faith, love and self-sacrifice without being preachy.
The opening scene sets the tone of the film as we see the conflagration of battle and hear the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Have you not heard? The Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom... those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles...”  We see Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist, reading the Bible in many occasions and we know he has been praying because he lived by the tenets of his faith. He stood up for God’s command not to kill by refusing to bear arms. Pressured to abandon his convictions, he tells Dorothy: “I don't know how I'm going to live with myself if I don't stay true to what I believe.”  And in his darkest moment on the battlefield, he talks to God: “I don’t understand... I can’t hear you...” He then hears the wounded soldiers’ call for help and one by one he courageously rescues them to safety, putting his life on the line. By doing so, he not only saves 75 of his companions but inspires the rest of the company to subdue the enemy. Doss’ heroism echo Jesus’ words: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
As our country and the rest of world grow weary of reports from more than a hundred ongoing conflicts, Hacksaw Ridge jolts us by showing the brutal, gruesome, horrific and relentless violence of war. This is what war veterans suffered and what those in uniform go through. And while some may be reduced by war to act like animals, it also calls for the highest virtues of human beings exemplified by Desmond Doss. By being true to himself and relying on God, he saved lives, including the enemies. Hacksaw Ridge challenges us: Are we ready to stand up for our faith? Are we willing to suffer for it? Can we serve our fellow human beings? Unconditionally?  In short, are we ready to truly love?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve  LEAD CAST:  Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker  SCREENWRITER: Eric Heisserrer  PRODUCER: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, David Linde  EDITOR: Joe Walker  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter  GENRE: Sci-Fi  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Bradford Young  DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pictures/Sony Pictures  LOCATION: USA  RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  4
CINEMA rating:  V14
News spread about a dozen ovoid spaceships hovering over 12 different locations across the globe.  One is in the United States, somewhere in the fields of Montana, standing 450 meters tall and increasingly causing anxiety in the citizenry.  To find out what the aliens’ purpose is for coming to Earth, military intelligence officer Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) creates a team and enlists the services of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist whose expertise includes interpretation of languages and communication symbols, and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a physicist and mathematician.  Soon the spacecraft opens up, and the team comes face to face with the extraterrestrials.  Although similar teams are doing their own decoding exercise in other parts of the world, interpretations differ, thus impatience grows to panic level, until China cuts off its communication links with the rest and announces that it is ready to attack the visitors from outer space.   
Arrival is one sci-fi feature where the aliens’ spaceships come unarmed, becoming themselves symbols of goodwill in a film that deals on symbols as a tool for fulfilling a higher purpose.  Perhaps this is intentional on the part of Villeneuve, who also masterfully employs color (or the lack of it) to enable the audience to intuit the protagonist’s psyche and to meld inner scape and outer space together to arrive at the truth.  With all its technical aspects in place, Arrival fills more than the viewer’s hunger for entertainment or intellectual stimulation, and surprises with its ability to engage the audience’s attention in spite of its stark visual simplicity.  Noteworthy, too, is the story’s use of ink—not computers or English-speaking robots—to communicate.  For a superior civilization  to use a primitive writing tool such as ink to deliver its message is again a riddle worth pondering.  Adams, at once vulnerable and brave, delivers a nuanced performance that imprints itself on the memory.
It is difficult to state the message of Arrival without divulging what the movie is keeping until the end.  So let us just say that it speaks about the value of communication in relating to one another, be it on an individual or on a global basis. Arrival highlights trusting and being trusted, cooperation springing from an expansive world view, and courage borne of surviving pain and loss.  Most of all, Arrival is a tender reminder of the lofty purpose of life, and of the giftedness of the human being that he or she is in danger of forgetting.  In the film, “weapon” emerges as “gift”, therefore a gift must be used as a weapon—and a weapon can either heal or kill.  Arrival scores high in that it respects the intelligence of the audience even as it steers our consciousness into half-forgotten realms.    

My Ex and Whys

DIRECTOR: Cathy Garcia-Molina   LEAD CAST: Liza Soberano, Enrique Gil, Joey Marquez, Ara Mina, Zaijian Jaranilla, Ryan Bang  SCREENWRITERS: Carmi Raymundo, Jancy Nicolas, Gilliann Ebreo, Cathy Garcia-Molina  PRODUCERS:  Charo Santos-Concio, Malou Santos  GENRE: Romantic Comedy  PRODUCTION COMPANY: ABS-CBN Film Productions, Inc.  DISTRIBUTED BY: Star Cinema  COUNTRY: Philippines  LANGUAGE: Tagalog  RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating: PG 14
MTRCB rating: PG
Nagkakaroon na ng maraming followers si Cali (Liza Soberano) sa  blog niyang “Bakit List”.  Sa blog na to niya ibinubuhos ang marami niyang katanungan patungkol sa buhay at pag-ibig na halatang may pinaghuhugutan sa kanyang nakaraan lalo na ang mapait niyang karanasan sa pag-ibig sa ex-boyfriend niyang si Gio (Enrique Gil).  Magtatago si Gio sa pangalang “DahilListBoy” at magsasagutan sila online.  Ang sagutan na iyon ay magiging viral—daan tungo sa pagsikat ng “Bakit List” at ni Cali bilang blogger. Isang kumpanya ang magkakainteres kay Cali na maging endorser sa kundisyon na dapat ay magkasama sila ni DahilListBoy. Hindi pa tuluyang napapatawad ni Cali si Gio kaya mag-aalangan siya. Masaya naman si Gio dahil nakakita siya ng pagkakataon para magkalapit ulit sila ni Cali at umaasa siyang magkakabalikan silang muli. Papayag din si Cali sa alok ng kumpanya ngunit mailap pa rin siya kay Gio
Kung tutuusin ay hindi naman na masyadong bago ang buod ng kuwento ng My Ex and Whys—binigyan lamang ito ng bagong bihis at ginawang makabago para maging angkop sa panahon.  Ang pelikula ay tungkol lang sa isang magkasintahan na nagkahiwalay at kapwa umaasa na magkakabalikan—at tiyak namang magkakabalikan, hindi lang alam kung kalian at paano. Mahusay ang paggamit at paglalaro ng mga salita sa pelikulang ito—bagay na uso sa mga kabataan ngayon at mapalad sila dahil nasa panahon sila na marami silang paraan at pagkakataon upang mailabas ang kanilang saloobin.  Halatang pinagbuhusan ng talino ng mga manunulat ang pagsasanib ng social media at kung paano ito nakakaapekto sa buhay at pag-ibig ng mga kabataan sa kasalukuyang panahon.  Gayunpaman, nagkulang ang pelikula sa pagpapalalim ng karakterisasyon lalo na ng dalawang pangunahing tauhan.  Hindi rin nito natarok ang lalim ng kanilang pinaghuhugutan.  Naging mababaw tuloy sa kabuuan ang pelikula, at para bang ang pino-problema ng mga bida—at pinagaaksayahan ng gallon-galong luha—ay pawang mga walang kabagay-bagay lang.  Wala kasing mapanghawakang lalim sa kanilang relasyon, o maging sa relasyon napakaraming tao sa paligid nila.  Malaking tulong lang sa pelikula ang walang kapintasang ganda ni Soberano. Bagay sila ni Gil at pareho naman silang natural sa kanilang pag-arte. Yun nga lang, masyadong ginawang perpekto ang karakter ni Gil dito kung kaya’t nagmumukha namang mababaw ang kay Soberano.  Sa madaling sabi, walang matinding kalaban o conflict sa pelikula.  Maging ang mga ginawang karibal ay hindi rin panghahawakan.  Epektibo naman ang pelikula sa pagpapakilig, pagpapatawa at pagpapa-iyak.  Ang Korea ay magandang backdrop para maging mas romantiko pero hindi pa rin ito naging tunay na milieu. Sa kabila nito’y nagkulang ang pelikula sa pagbubukas ng isip sa mga mas malalalim pang isyu at komplikasyon ng bawat relasyon.  Gamit na gamit na marahil ang salitang move-on kung kaya’t hindi nagawa nito ang dapat sana’y pagbibigay lalim at linaw sa usaping relasyon at pag-ibig.   Sayang.  Sinayang ng My Ex and Whys ang pagkakataong sagutin ang maraming “bakit” na tanong; sa halip, mas marami itong iniwan “bakit”.
Mas tanga raw ang hindi ang magmahal. Yan ang sagot ng My Ex and Whys sa tanong kung bakit ba dapat magmahal at magtiwala muli.  Kung tutuusin ay hindi naman talaga ganoon kadali.  Maaring simple, ngunit hindi madali. Yan ang naging sentro ng pelikula— kung paano nga ba talaga magmahal, magpatawad at magtiwala muli.  Maraming puntong tama ang pelikula—gaya ng sa pagmamahal, dapat may tiwala, dapat nakahandang masaktan, pero nakahanda ring magpatawad.  Pero hindi naging malinaw sa pelikula ang kaibahan ng pang-aabuso at panloloko sa tunay at sinserong pagsisisi at pagbabago.  Ang ama ni Gio ay hindi kinakitaan ng katiting man lang na pagsisisi at pagbabago hanggang sa dulo ng pelikula.  Pinalalabas lamang nakakatuwa at katanggap-tanggap ang pangloloko sa babae, lalo na kung ikaw ay kabilang sa pamilya ng mga macho.  Nakababahala ang mga binitawang mensahe ng mga eksenang ito.  Ang nanay naman ni Cali ay nagsabing nagmamahal siya kahit nasasaktan siya dahil masaya siyang nagmamahal—at wala man lang itong ginagawang paraan upang labanan ang panloloko at pang-aabuso sa kanya ng mga lalaki. Talaga bang walang matutunang mabuti ang mga bagong henerasyon sa kanilang mga tinitingalang magulang o nakakatanda?  Marahil sa layunin ng pelikulang sagutin ang mga bakit, maging sila ay nalito sa hirap ng mga sagot.  Siguro dahil masyadong nag-focus ito sa pagmamahal na romantiko lamang.  Hindi nito binigyang halaga ang maraming uri pa ng pagmamahal.  Ginawa pa nitong mas mahalaga ang opinyon ng ibang tao kaysa sa pagpapalalim ng mga relasyon sa paligid nila. Sa bandang dulo nama’y isa lang ang nais sabihin ng pelikula—huwag matakot magmahal at masaktan at magpatawad—ang pinakamahalaga ay ang magmahal, wala nang bakit-bakit pa.  Ang mas mahalaga sigurong tanong ay hindi “bakit” kundi “ano”.   Ano nga ba ang tunay na kahulugan ng pagmamahal? Sapagkat usaping relasyon ang pelikula at may mga eksenang pawang nakababahala, minarapat ng CINEMA na ang pelikula ay angkop lamang sa mga manonood na may edad 14 pataas.

Resident Evil: the Final Chapter

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson  Lead cast:  Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Iain Glenn  Screenwriter:  Paul W.S. Anderson  Producer:  Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Robert Kulzer, Samuel Hadida  Editor:  Paul Haslinger  Musical Director:  Doobie White  Genre: Science Fiction  Cinematographer:  Glen Macpherson  Distributor: Screen Gem  Location:  Germany, France, Canada, Australia  Running time:  106 minutes
Technical assessment: 2.5
Moral assessment: 1.5
CINEMA rating: A-18
MTRCB rating:  R16
The sixth in a series of video-game based films since 2002, the film opens with Alice (Milla Jovovich), who has grown stout in the service, out to battle the undead as well as the evil Umbrella Corporation led by Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen). Alice’s sidekick, Claire (Ali Larter), provides occasional assistance. Alice has 48 hours to find the airborne antidote to the T-virus, a pandemic that has turned the planet into its disastrous state, populated by zombies. Will she be able to make it against the strength of the enemy?
With the film on its sixth franchise, it already has a grown fan base who would really appreciate the film for what it is.  Like a video game, it is just dark, messy, bloody and dizzy—if such a term should describe a movie.  Non-fanatics of the series would really be alienated and confused as to what’s really going on in the story—as if there is a story to speak of.  The movie tries very hard to create a plot but it never goes beyond one single goal—and the entire film is just focused on it.  Characters are not well fleshed out—their names not even clearly mentioned—sending a message that they are not significant at all. The film treats scenes, characters, and even special effects like a video game: nothing serious, just for fun.  But it gets more bizarre when it tries very hard to put some human dimension to an otherwise non-human or superhuman character. Jovovich remains to be effective as the tough Alice and it seems she has been the role—she owns Alice’s character.  The entire film caters still to its fanatics– and their audience may just have fun as relentless as the lead character’s and video gamers must have enjoyed the killing spree.
Non-humans can be more human at times. That might be the main message of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.  It is preposterous how humans can think of destroying the humankind in their own terms—acting and playing God. The film has a non-human, clone character for a lead who longs to feel how humans feel. Someone created by man transcended into something greater than what God created– a moral statement that is quite difficult to accept. Perhaps the film’s message is as ambiguous as the entire film. It wants to say something moral out of something that seems immoral from the very beginning. For what is the purpose of cloning than to re-create God’s creation out of man’s pride and arrogance in thinking they are equal to or even greater than God? What is moral with cloning? The film in its entirety is wholly disturbing bordering on abhorrent, with its dark theme, heavy violence, and all the world’s pessimism and negativity.  One character appears to be good or upright, but it’s still not quite convincing that only childhood memories can make one purely human. The respect for and the dignity of human life is all the way insulted in this film that is true to its name, Resident Evil.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Space Between Us

Direction: Peter Chelsom; Cast: Gary Oldman, Asa Butterfield, Carla Gugino, Britt Robertson; Story: Stewart Schill, Richard Barton Lewis, Allan Loeb; Screenplay: Allan Loeb; Cinematography: Barry Peterson; Editing: David Moritz; Music: Andrew Lockington; Producers: Richard Chelsom; Genre: Drama; Location: US; Distributor: STX Entertainment; Running Time: 121 minutes
Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating: V14
Genesis’s CEO Nathaniel Shephard (Gary Oldman), proudly presents his brainchild project and sends the very first team of astronauts to build a community in Mars. However, two months into the journey, head astronaut Sarah Elliot (Montgomery) discovers she is pregnant but the mission is not aborted and her condition kept a secret from the public. Shortly after arriving in Mars, Sarah gives birth to Gardner (Butterfield) but dies of complications. Nathaniel is forced to keep the child in Mars given that his gestation period in space made him unable to adapt to Earth’s gravity. Gardner’s existence is kept a secret and Nathaniel secludes himself from NASA and Genesis. Sixteen years later, Gardner raised by 16 scientists, grows into a brilliant and resourceful but utterly bored young boy. He secretly develops an online friendship with Tulsa (Robertson). Tulsa is a street smart girl who has jumped from one foster home to another but is cynical of everyone around her except Gardner. Meanwhile, Gardner discovers a wedding ring and a video file of his mother with a young man and becomes convinced that that man is his father. Kendra (Gugino), his mother figure on Mars, arranges for him to be brought to Earth to be able to live a normal life despite protests from Nathaniel. On Earth, Gardner makes his way to meet Tulsa so he can in turn help him find the man he thinks is his father. Concerned with Gardner’s inability to adapt to Earth’s gravity, Nathaniel and Kendra chase Gardner and Tulsa as the latter make their way tracing leads about the man on the video. As Gardner’s condition worsens, he and Tulsa fall in love with each other. They end up in the house where the video was taken and before Gardner’s body gives up, Nathaniel arrives to call for help and confirms that he is his father. The movie ends with Gardner and Nathaniel back in Mars and Tulsa training with Kendra who has legally adopted her.
Visually, The Space Between Us is impeccable. It provides the dryness of Mars, the coldness of the space shuttle and the confusion of the different places Gardner and Tulsa travelled. But against the clumsy narrative, it becomes impeccably dry, cold, and confusing as a backdrop of a love story whose pacing results in a diabetic comatose. Butterfield and Robertson are great in interpreting their characters but there is just no chemistry. Oldman and Gugino are easily the best played characters but sadly, the story is not about them. In fact, the storytelling wants it to be an ill-fated story of star-crossed (literally) lovers but it just falls flat and forced and moves better along the parenting line. The scoring is sickeningly sentimental.

Lined up against other “me against the world young love that cannot be” movies, The Space Between Us just provides lots and lots of black spaces. Love conquers all—most teenage romance films build on this premise as the lovers find ways and struggle through difficulties just to be together. But in this film, the romance took a back seat in favor of parental love and family. While difficult and painful, Nathaniel decides to let his son remain on a planet so the latter may live. Kendra, despite being biologically unable to bear children took parenting seriously with Gardner and chose to share her life with Tulsa. A parent’s love knows no bounds. A parent’s love fears no sacrifice. On the side, we see how technology, no matter how advanced, can never replace a real face to face relationship. However, Tulsa’s street smartness leads her to steal a lot and the implied pre-marital sex between teenagers who just met for the first time after long distance friendship, which might send wrong signals to the target viewers.

Monday, February 13, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

DIRECTOR: Chad Stahelski  LEAD CAST:  Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane  SCREENWRITER: Derek Kolstad  PRODUCER: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee  EDITOR: Evan Schiff  MUSIC: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard  CINEMATOGRPHER: Dan Laustsen  GENRE:  Action Thriller  PRODUCTION COMPANY: Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven Productions  DISTRIBUTOR: Summit Entertainment  LOCATIONS:  United States, Italy, Canada  LANGUAGE: English  RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
Technical assessment:  3
Moral assessment:  2
CINEMA rating:  V14
Legendary hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is tired of violence and wants to turn his back on his destructive lifestyle.  He now prefers a quiet existence in the company of his extremely well-behaved nameless dog, but past partners in crime won’t let him.  As his former boss Santino D’Antonio chides him, “Everything you have here, you have because of me.”  Translation:  “It’s pay back time—now you do what I want.” And what Santino wants is for Wick to kill Santino’s own sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), a rival in the family business.  Determined to live clean, Wick rejects the offer.  Santino repays the slight by blowing up Wick’s house.  Wick can’t escape the feeling that he “owes a marker” to Santino, so he agrees to do his bidding as his last mission.   He assassinates Gianna in cold blood; now Wick must run away from her bodyguard Cassian (Common). Santino’s henchwoman Ares (Ruby Rose), and about a dozen more unlikely characters racing to kill him for the $7 million bounty on his head.
Age has not slowed down Reeves; it has instead refined his performance in the action genre.  As they say, practice makes perfect.  Fans of John Wick Chapter 1 will not be disappointed with this sequel as it delivers more of the same heady cocktail of “testosterone, adrenaline, blood, viscera and broken bones.”   Viewers looking for subtlety in violence will not find it here—in fact, the movie seems to be enjoying its own love affair with choreographed violence that it has stopped caring about the body count.  Wick’s skills with the trigger and martial arts is simply superhuman; he kills everybody who gets in his way, mostly with one shot, and also with a knife, if one is stupid enough to engage Wick in hand-to-hand combat.  No—no living man can be that good at singlehandedly outsmarting almost a hundred enemies lurking at every turn.  (Note, however, that Wick only runs out of bullets when the chase slows down, and once he has reloaded, the enemies pop up again.)  Of course, it’s only choreography, and it feels like a video game, although some scenes are more engaging than the rest, like the chase in the catacombs and in the hall of mirrors.

Wick is a tormented character:  one side of him cares tenderly (that’s why the dog is there), while the other kills ruthlessly (no compunction about shooting someone who is already dying from a slashed wrist).   Towards the end, a character mocks Wick by saying he will never be able to change, that he will always kill because for him it’s already an addiction.   A reflection on the psychology of assassins and serial killers might offer some clues to understanding why there are so many crimes in our midst today.   Does killing a human being give the killer a high?  In the Philippines, they kill addicts, but are the killers not addicts yet?  The ending of John Wick is an open road—where it will lead Wick should be shown in the last part of this trilogy.  Although John Wick earned a V14 rating from CINEMA assessors, we suggest those below 18 look for other movies to enjoy and learn from, like Hidden Figures or Arrival.        

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Why him?

DIRECTOR:  John Hamburg  LEAD CAST:  James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck & Keegan-Michael Key  SCREENWRITER: John Hamburg & Ian Helfer  PRODUCER: Stuart Cornfeld, Dan Levine, Shawn Levy & Ben Stiller  EDITOR: William Kerr  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Theodore Shapiro  GENRE: Romantic Comedy  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kris Kachikis  DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox  LOCATION: USA  RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment:  2:5
CINEMA rating:  V18
MTRCB rating:  PG 13
Greeting her dad by webcam during his birthday party, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) is put in the hot seat by the premature arrival at her pad of her devil-may-care boyfriend Laird Mayhew (James Franco) who wiggles his behind in front of the camera.  Most shocked of all are her conservative, mid-Western, middle class parents  who only then get to know that their Stanford-educated daughter is already in a relationship.  The embarrassment over, Stephanie invites her whole family—dad Ned (Bryan Cranston), mom Barb (Megan Mullally) and 15-year old brother Scotty (Griffin Gluck) to spend the Christmas holidays at Laird’s mansion, with the intention of letting them come to know her weird boyfriend better.  Oil and water meet, and the Mayhew mansion turns into mayhem.
The production sets are in keeping with the characters they represent, particularly the Southern California mansion that’s like a cross between an ostentatious nouveau riche palace and a Google estate.  Why him? reminds one of Meet the Parents, a Robert de Niro comedy where old school meets new age and round pegs are stuck into square holes.  One can say Why him? is a formulaic movie although it has its own charm owing to the new combination of characters and the gags that rise from different circumstances.  Hamburg and Helfer’s story is plausible and could happen to anyone in America-the-land-of-the-free: the romance plot is given tension by the conflict between a prospective father-in-law who runs a printing company that’s nearing bankruptcy, and his daughter’s over-hopeful beau made a new billionaire by his computer games business.
Any parent would understand Ned’s disgust of the aspiring son-in-law who besides being foul-mouthed is as libidinous as a goat in the mating season.  To strengthen the message of Why him? Laird, the character in question, is made exaggeratedly boorish, unfiltered, and devoid of good manners.  But to Stephanie, he is refreshingly honest, guileless, good-natured, and loves her truly, and therefore must be given a chance.  For CINEMA to say that this is a totally objectionable film is to be guilty of the very crime Why him? is fighting against: judging a book by its cover.  The foul language, potty humor, raunchy jokes, et al, stand for the cover; and the book’s pages are the values it promotes—family, commitment in a relationship, deference to elders in matters that truly count.  (Laird is a product of a drunken one-night-stand, grew up without ever meeting or knowing his father, and the one thing he desires most is to belong in a family.  While he seriously wants to marry Stephanie, he would not do so without the blessing of her father).  So, why not him?

The Great Wall

Cast: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal: Direction: Zhang Yimou; Story: Max Brooks, Edward Zwicks, Marshall Herskovitz; Screenplay: Carlo Bernard, etc.; Cinematography: Stuart Dryburgh, Zhao Xiaoding; Editing: Cariag Wood; Music: Ramin Djawadi; Producers: Thomas Tull, Charles Roven, Jon Jashni, Petr Loehr; Genre: Fantasy-Adventure-Action Location: China; Distributor: Universal Pictures  Running Time:114 minutes 
Technical assessment: 3.5 
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating: V18 
MTRCB ratingPG
The movie opens with a group of mercenary soldiers, whose motivation is money and food, and is pursued by the Khitans.  Eventually only William Garin (Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pascal) survive while hiding in a cave and accidentally slashes the hand of a monster.  The following day, the two come across the Great Wall and are captured by General Shao’s (Hanyu) elite army named the Nameless Order. Apparently, this army trained for eternity to eventually fight the Taotie beasts which invade the Jade Mountains every 60 years. Originally, Garin and Tovar’s objective is to steal black powder but the former gains the respect of the elite army and fights with the deputy commander Lin (Tian) to defeat the monsters. 
The Great Wall is a masterful visual extravaganza and nothing more. With the arsenal of Hollywood at its disposal, the movie had no reason to miss technical and production excellence.  Effortlessly, from start to finish, Yimou treated us with his signature filmic bravado playing lights, colors and movement in a dynamically choreographed scene. Audiences will always remember cinematic articulations like the funeral of Geneal Shao and tapestry of the Gobi desert and others. Editing is tight and successfully weaves together a series of suspense and action. For these elements alone, videwers will leave the theater satisfied. We wish we could say the same for its narrative. However, the storyline is flat and develops half-heartedly. The overwhelming visuals are sometimes too much to take given the absence of a complementary narrative exposition or motivational backstory. The supporting cast feels like a driftwood coasting through mounds of dialogue. 
The Great Wall offers a very timely message: selflessness supersedes self-centeredness. While we understand that people need to survive and will do anything to make sure he gets his next meal, to fight for something other than personal existence and die for a cause so others may live elevates humanity. Garin’s original motivations are food and money but through Lin’s courage and passion, he understands the value of serving others and sacrificing one’s self. And eventually finds more meaning in life. Society is not built on violence, anger or power. It is a collaboration of people building communities, strengthened by trust, loyalty and brotherhood.  While violence is unavoidable, it is not presented graphically so as to disturb the sensitivities of the younger audience.