Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Mummy

Direction: Alex Kurtzman; Cast: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe; Screenplay: Davif Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman Story: Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet; Editing:  Paul Hirsch, Gina Hirsch; Producer: Alex Kurtzman; Music: Brian Tyler; Genre: Adventure, Horror; Distributor: Universal Pictures; Location: Middle East and USA  Running Time: 107 minutes  
Technical assessment: 2  
Moral assessment: 2.5 
CINEMA rating: V18 
An underground construction team unearth a graveyard of 11th century knight crusaders somewhere in London. A mysterious man, who says he is authorized to investigate the scene, narrates the story of the ruthless Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Boutella) Ahmanet was to succeed her father until her stepmother gives birth to a boy and strips her of her birthright. She murders her family and makes a pact with the Egyptian god, Set, and tries to sacrifice her lover to give his spirit a human form. But the Pharaoh’s priests mummify Ahmanet live and sentences her to a mercury-surrounded prison. In present day Iraq, soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton (Cruise) accidentally frees the tomb while investigating the area with his partner Chris Vail and one-time lover archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Wallis). Ahmanet feeds on humans to regenerate her body and summons her power to possess those around her so she can capture Nick whom she has chosen to be Set’s human vessel. Meanwhile, Edward Hyde (Crowe) intervenes and reveals his mission to rid the world of evil by capturing and experimenting on them. Ahmanet, however, frees herself and recovers the dagger and stone necessary to complete the ritual. In the final struggle, Nick succumbs to Ahmanet and is possessed by Set but regains control when he sees the dead body of Jenny. He kills Ahmanet and resurrects Jenny before disappearing into the darkness.  
This Mummy franchise is by far the most ambitious failure. The storyline erupts with mindless cliché and poor interpretation of themes you've seen elsewhere. There are moments of lightheartedness and enjoyable action but these do not compensate for the muddled plot and characters. This is technically impressive with all the meticulous work in recreating ancient times, modern zombies and a creepy lab fighting evil. But without a solid story, the storytelling tools are useless. The biggest problem with the film is Cruise himself who continuously lives that self-absorbed man stuck in juvenile mode who by some epiphany realizes that selflessness alone can save the day. He is either too old or not believable enough to pull it off. There is absolutely no chemistry between him and Jenny, and not enough reason for us to root for Morton to stay alive and for Cruise to do a sequel. 
A real hero is a hero by choicenot by fate. Almost every movie about the history of a superhero shows us how ordinary people are transformed into superheroes not by physical abilities or supernatural power but by their character that makes them worthy to receive the special gifts that will make them “supers”.  But heroes need not be super (or come with superpowers) because a hero just needs to see what he or she has within. A special talent, a competence, a passion or just the very self. And when that is strengthened, that becomes the power. Now, that power is revealed when they face a critical or life-and-death situation wherein they need to choose between themselves and others, between protecting their interests or that of the common good. We see also how a selfish, immature or lawless person transforms and reforms to be selfless, responsible and upright when they understand love and sacrifice. And this makes an ordinary person a hero. In principle, The Mummy wanted to show how Nick is transformed into a herowhether it was successful or not is another question. And with the aggressive action sequences, sexual innuendos and adult themes present, the movie is preferable for the older audiences. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Lost City of Z

 DIRECTOR:  James Gray  LEAD CAST:  Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen)  SCREENWRITER:  James Gray  PRODUCER:  Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Anthony Katagas, James Gray, Dale Armin Johnson  EDITOR:  John Axelrad, Lee Haugen  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Christopher Spelman  GENRE:  Biographical adventure, historical drama  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Darius Khondji  DISTRIBUTOR:  Collosal Mega Films Co.  LOCATION:  Colombia and Ireland  RUNNING TIME:  141 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMA rating: V14
British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) sets out in 1906 to survey Bolivia’s dense rainforests. With corporal Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), he finds relics of ancient pottery that convince him that deep within the Amazon jungle is a civilization far more advanced than high-brow London society can acknowledge. He calls it the Lost City of Z. Fawcett and Costin return to Bolivia a second time to locate the city, but their mission is sabotaged by self-directed biologist James Murray (Angus Macfadyen). On his third attempt in 1923, Fawcett is joined by his son Jack (Tom Holland). They never return, but Nina (Sienna Miller) does not lose hope that her husband and son are alive, even as she shows proof that someone saw them living with the Amazon people.
Based on David Grann’s book of the same title, The Lost City of Z is a cinematic experience of idyllic meadows in Ireland and dramatic indoor shots and closeups. With good lighting, the scenes become almost like impressionist paintings. The magic is lost when the film takes the audience to the recesses of the Amazon. The supposed emerald greens and glistening forests, even the ancient pottery that was central to the story, failed to enthrall and convince the audience that there might indeed be a Lost City of Z. The script compensates, and is outstanding for unraveling the internal conflicts of the characters: of Fawcett’s desire to restore the glory of his family’s name, his faith in the existence of an ancient and advanced civilization frowned upon by England’s intellectual aristocracy, of Nina’s struggles to transcend the stereotypical role of a devoted wife and mother as she articulates her desire to be part of the expedition herself.

Yet even with a laudable script, or perhaps because of it, The Lost City of Z fails to stir our hearts, but as a purely intellectual experience it challenges us to examine our own prejudices. To what extent are we prepared to abandon our preconceived notions, much of them subliminal, of racial supremacy? That the film is told from the point of view of a white man and very little if at all is conveyed about or by the Amazon tribes gives us pause. It mirrors how modern society silences the poor in the periphery, quite opposite the preferential option for the poor that we as Catholics should vow to pursue. We also shouldn’t miss the centrality of marriage and family as drivers of one’s choices in life. The film illuminates this issue so well, showing how Fawcett is at once driven by personal ambitions and lofty ideals, and his son Jack, in rage, questions his father’s convictions. Immensely relevant in today’s Filipino diasporas mushrooming in various parts of the world, where people go in search of better jobs. Overseas Filipinos are our modern day Fawcetts. The Lost City of Z makes us think, and as a tool for introspection, it achieves its purpose. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge

Director:   Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg  Lead Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Kaya Scodelario, Brenton Thwaites  Screenwriter:      Jeff Nathanson, Terry Rossio, Ted Elliot  Producer:  Jerry Bruckheimer  Editor:  Roger Balton, Leigh Folsom Boyd  Musical Director:  Geoff  Zanelli  Genre: Fantasy-Adventure  Cinematographer: Paul Cameron  Distributor: Walt Disney  Location: United States  Running Time:   129 minutes
Technical assessment: 2
Moral assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating: A14
MTRCB rating: PG
The fifth installment of the popular franchise, Pirates of the Carribean: Salazar’s Revenge take an all-new adventure with the usual not-so-lucky Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who feels the winds of ill-fortune blowing even more strongly when deadly ghost sailors led by his old nemesis, the evil Capt. Salazar (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil's Triangle and are now after him.  Jack's only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon—but to find it, he must forge an uneasy alliance with a brilliant and beautiful astronomer Carina (Kaya Scodelario) and a headstrong young man Henry Turner (Brenton Thawaites), son of  Jack’s old associates Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Turner (Keira Knightley). Henry is out to free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman. Jack, Carina and Henry sail together to find the Trident of Poseidon for different reasons. Will they be able get there and survive amidst the rage of Jack’s enemies?  
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge suffers from the usual problems of convoluted storytelling without a compelling center. The point-of-view is confusing from the very start as it introduces the new and young characters Henry and Carina. With the presence of these two, it seems that Jack Sparrow’s presence is just coincidental and does not go beyond from being merely functional. The characterization seems uninspired with most of them bordering on the mechanical. There is no depth of emotional development or human dimension besides superhuman beings and ghosts who appear to be more powerful than the living—result is a poorly developed story with a spectacular backdrop of visual effects and production design. Even the action sequences appear to be as tired as the franchise with no more new tricks and antics to offer other than extending it for the sake of introducing younger characters. Lighting seems to be dark at most times, making some scenes hard to understand. But then the film still tries very hard to live-up to its original appeal—romantic, naughty, action-packed, mysterious, dark yet has something good to say. Perhaps it just pales in comparison to its predecessors.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge revolves around the unfailing love of a son for his father which is later on compensated by a father’s sacrificial love for his daughter. Although these are not attributed to the main character, Jack Sparrow, it is the fuel of the story though not necessarily well-developed. There are questionable scenes of adultery and violence that may not be suitable for the very young followers of the franchise. Such depictions of immorality are easily dismissed as not central to the conflict. However, given that the franchise is made popular by its lead—a drunkard, womanizer, criminal,  a pirate with no apparent redeeming value aside from being supportive and instrumental for others to achieve their pure intentions—the film remains on the borderline of being morally disturbing. Not to mention the graphic violence with a certain degree of blood and gore in most fight scenes which might desensitize young, impressionable minds. CINEMA deems the film as fit only for audiences 14 years old and above.  Parents are cautioned to guide their children while watching this film as its genre will always be misleading as wholesome entertainment.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


DIRECTOR: Seth Gordon   CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, David Hasselhoff  SCREENPLAY BY: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift  STORY BY: Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant  BASED ON: Baywatch by Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonann  PRODUCERS: Ivan Reitman, Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonann,  Beau Flynn  EDITOR: Peter Elliot  CINEMATOGRAPHY: Eric Steelberg  MUSIC: Christopher Lennertz  GENRE: Action, Comedy, Drama  PRODUCTON COMPANIES: Paramount Pictures, Contrafilm, The Montecito Picture Company, Vinson Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Flynn Company, Cold Spring Pictures  DISTRIBUTORS: Paramount Pictures  COUNTRY: USA  LANGUAGE: English  RUNNING TIME:  116 minutes
Technical assessment:  3
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating: V18 
MTRCB rating: R16
Lt. Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) leads a team of lifeguards composed of Stephanie Holden (Ilfenes Hadora) and CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) at the Emerald Bay. Mitch is well regarded by the bay community because of his track record on life rescues. In one of his routine patrols in the bay he finds a pouch of prohibited drugs washed up near the Huntley Club owned by big time businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyandka Chopra).  Suspecting something fishy going on at the Club, he sets to investigate its activities, involving his team of lifeguards plus trainees—surfer Summer (Alexandria Daddario), nerd Ronnie (John Bss), and Matt Brody (Zac Efron, a disgraced Olympic swimmer and gold medalist).  Brody initially comes on arrogant, his ego puffed up by his Olympian celebrity status, but with Mitch’s tough mentoring, he learns to work with the team.  The full team works to gather evidence of Leeds’ illegal drug operations   but the syndicate, the bay management, and the police give them a hard time.
Baywatch has a good cast telling a good story but excessive reference to sexual inhibitions of a nerd character and exposure of male genitals of a dead body to elicit laughter is rather distracting.  Exchange of jokes in vulgar language somehow overshadows meaningful dialogue on Baywatch duties.  Nonetheless, the film offers good cinematography in some of the long shots of the bay, underwater and rescue scenes, with compliments of good editing.  The rescue scenes (especially the one with the boat on fire) actually give viewers a ringside view of lifeguarding, and graphically tells them the job is not just about “protecting people from sunburn”.  The production design, costumes and make-up are appropriate either at the beach or in high-end social functions. The musical score gives an overall upbeat tone to the film.
Inspired by the famous American TV series of same title, Baywatch focuses on the interaction between Mitch and Brody—mentor and trainee—and the latter’s maturing through failures until he finds meaning and purpose in his work. All work duties especially as a team leader require dedication, hard work and accountability. This is how the character of Mitch is portrayed in the film.  He does not tolerate arrogance among his team mates and he makes them realize the importance of good attitudes and self-discipline to be able to succeed in a lifeguard job where precious life is always at stake. The film also depicts that no matter how far a person has reached a celebrity status there comes a time that his humility may be challenged to face life’s realities, just like the character of Brody, the disgraced Olympian. When there is misunderstanding between two people with a wide age gap, the older shows firmness and maturity in injecting right attitude and values.  However, the movie is peppered with shots of women’s breasts, butts, men’s sex organ, and expressions of sexual desires with vulgar language.  Did Baywatch intentionally use sexual humor and situations to get the younger audience to sit up and listen to Mitch’s wisdom and sound values?  For instance, we see the dead-man-in-the-morgue footage as a test of Brody’s sincerity to serve seriously as a lifeguard, and we hope that the audience who laughed over this scene saw its value as we did.  Maybe yes, maybe no, thus, CINEMA gives it a V18 rating—for older teens and adults who are assumed to be more discerning viewers.    

Friday, June 9, 2017

Wonder Woman

DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins   LEAD CAST: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen  SCREENPLAY: Allan Heinberg, Jeoff Johns  PRODUCER:  Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jack Snyder, Richard Suckle  EDITOR:  Martin Walsh  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Rupert Gregson-Williams  GENRE: American Superhero Film  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Matthew Jensen  DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros. Pictures  LOCATION: United Kingdom  RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes
Technical assessment: 4
Moral assessment:  4
CINEMA rating:  V14\
As the only child among Amazonian women warriors in Themyscira, 8-year-old Diana (Lilly Aspel) is told that she has no father, as her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) had sculpted her from clay and that the Greek god Zeus brought her to life.  Eager to be like the warrior women around, the girl pleads with her mother to start her training, but the maternally protective Hippolyta forbids it.  Hippolyta’s sister, General Antiope (Robin Wright), begins to secretly train Diana until they are discovered when Diana is aged 12, (Emily Carey).  When Antiope argues that Diana should be able to fight to at least protect herself, Hippolyta gives in and tells her sister to train Diana 10 times harder than the rest, but she must never be told the truth that her father is Zeus. After dramatically defeating Antiope in training, Diana (Gal Gadot)—now a young woman—isolates herself, apparently stunned by the supernatural power she has manifested in combat.  At this point she witnesses a light plane plunging into the sea, and instinctively swan dives off a cliff to rescue its drowning pilot, American spy Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), with whom Diana is to begin her mission of saving the world from the god of war, Ares (David Thewlis).
It is easy to see why Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman earned a record breaking 96 percent approval rating (on Rotten Tomatoes) from film critics and moviegoers alike: everything from the solid plot and narrative to the meticulously designed sets can hold the audience spellbound from beginning to end—and yet wanting to see more.  The film’s record-breaking performance at the box office proves Wonder Woman’s appeal to the movie-going public, exceeding all expectations in terms of ticket sales and critical reception (from the first 300 reviews).  
Wonder Woman (1974)
As the first superhero movie featuring a stand-alone female lead, Wonder Woman causes women in the audience, feminist or not, to rejoice and celebrate woman’s pulchritude.  The movie extols the power, wisdom, courage, purity, and strength of women, and chucks the woman-as-sex-object stereotype.
Compare the costumes of Wonder Woman circa 1974 (Linda Carter starring) and this Gal Gadot version: notice how the former is garbed in a strapless costume virtually cut out from the American flag?  It looks more like a bathing suit designed for Miss America contestants—with matching Santa Claus boots at that!  Funny?  Pray tell, how could a bosomy heroine fight evil in that outfit without risking warbrobe malfunction?  Unless it is tattooed on.  Ridiculously funny.  On the other hand, Wonder Woman 2017’s armor combines elegance and wearability, is stylish yet battle-worthy; and modest, too, mind you—thoughtfully concealing the cleavage and the mons veneris from slobbers.  And those gladiator boots?   Masterfully crafted to kickass the badass.  Talk about the dignity of women.
While not without a few technical slips, Wonder Woman has plenty of wow moments to grab the viewer’s attention and preclude nitpicking from nasty blanket-wetters.  Cinematography, editing, dialogue, sound, lighting, special effects all score high.  Real stunts eliminated the need to rely heavily on CGI for spectacular footage.  Casting real life Olympic athletes, supermodels, beauty queens, martial artists, and equestriennes as Amazonians heightened the realism of the battle scenes.  Gadot herself, who was Miss Israel of 2004, served as combat instructor in the Israeli army for two years, enabling her to tackle Wonder Woman’s superb fight choreography with skill and grace.
The chemistry between Pine and Gadot who are both naturals for their respective roles also does much towards the credibility of both story and characters.  Much of their dialogue establishes characterization and emphasizes the difference in the worlds they’re coming from.  To wit:
Steve:  “Have you never met a man before?  What about your father?”  Diana:  “I have no father.  My mother sculpted me from clay and Zeus brought me to life.”  Steve:  “Well, that’s neat.”   
Diana: “What is that?”  Steve:  “Oh that?  That is a watch.  My father gave it to me….  It’s a good thing it’s still ticking.”  Diana: “What for?”  Steve: “Because it tells time, when to eat, sleep, wake up, work…”  Diana:  “You let that little thing tell you what to do?”  
Steve:  “I can’t let you do that!”  (trying to stop Diana from killing Ludendorff)
Diana:  “What I do is not up to you!”  (brushes off Steve to run after Ludendorff)
As for the title character, no one else could have incarnated Diana Prince/Wonder Woman better than Gadot who infuses the role with the required dose of grit and grace, innocence and resolve, might and beauty, charm and chutzpah, humor and pathos.  Gadot’s portrayal in the hands of Jenkins makes the movie 140 minutes of sheer empowerment.

Through this landmark film directed by a woman and ennobling women, the DC Extended Universe has launched a new icon—a woman who might as well serve as a role model for girls/women with an expansive outlook in life.  Entirely free of guile, Diana—graduating from naivete to humility and compassion—realizes that the world of men, sordid though it seems, may still be seen through the eyes of love, and thus be saved—only by Love. The one thing that makes Diana Wonder Woman in her core is her awareness of and faithfulness to her destiny as a restorer of peace in a chaotic world.  As may be gleaned from Diana’s lines—“I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” “I cannot stand by while innocent lives are lost!”  “It’s not about what you deserve.  It’s about what you believe.  And I believe in love!”—life has shaped the girl who had wanted to be a warrior into a woman who embraces the call to love—not erotic love, but the Love that is willing to deny the self in order to serve a cause that is greater than herself.  Really, how Christlike can a female superhero get?