Tuesday, February 27, 2018

I, Tonya

DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie  STARRING: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale  PRODUCER: Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Steven Rogers, Bryan Unkeless  SCREENWRITER: Steven Rogers  MUSIC: Peter Nashel  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Nicolas Karakatsanis  EDITOR: Tatiana S. Riegel  GENRE: Biography – Drama  PRODUCTION COMPANY: LuckyChap Entertainment, Clubhouse Pictures, AI Film  DISTRIBUTOR: Neon  COUNTRY:  United States  LANGUAGE: English  RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMA rating:  V16
I Tonya is a biopic of American Olympian skater Tonya Harding. The movie employs “mockumentary” breaking of the 4th wall techniques to lighten the tragic fate of the protagonist. The movie follows Tonya as she wades through her abusive mother molding and training her to become a figure skater through negative reinforcement. Through rigid training, Tonya becomes the best female figure skater but her social status and unconventional choices prevent her from being acknowledged as one. At 15 or 16, she marries 18 year old Jeff Gillooly who seems to confuse her with a punching bag. Meanwhile, Tonya diverts her pain to perfecting her craft. She becomes the first figure skater to complete a triple axel in the competition. She qualifies for the 1994 Olympic competition, but an half-witted plan of her husband and her bodyguard to disable her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, backfires.  Nancy finishes 2nd while she lands in the 8th place, her husband and cohorts are arrested and she, banned from figure skating, resigns to her fate shifts to boxing.
The tragic life of Tonya is somewhat lightened by the style Gillespie has taken. But the laughters are not sustained as the discomforted audience choke a bit every time Tonya breaks the wall in an effort to annotate her pain through witty sarcasm. The story is not unique but the story telling is. It is almost embarrassing to be entertained by Tonya’s life knowing that more than half of it is real. But the biggest success of the film is Robbie’s explosive personality and dynamic performance (some scenes could not keep up with her).  This movie not only chronicles one of the most controversial scandals in figure skating history but also leaves a dent in our consciousness that audiences will remember long after the end credits roll. Mostly because it does not try too hard to shove the truth to the audience but explores the different sides of the truth without melodrama but with more impact.
Pain damages and breaks people. But it is the emotional, not the physical pain, that leaves deeper scars. From the beginning, Tonya was in pain—her mother’s verbal abuse, the discrimination of the figure skating environments and her husband’s violence. Eventually that pain defined her self-worth that she needed to resort to nonconformity to redefine herself. The very structure that needed to support a person’s dignity and growth were the very ones that destroyed them. Perhaps this is a strong reminder for all of us. As part of the structure, our role is to be the nesting ground for a person to discover, to form and to strengthen his humanity. We need to be the healer of pain not the creator of wounds. We need to build bridges with acceptance and respect, not walls that segregate and divide.  As individuals, we need to discover our worth in our hearts and souls regardless of what the structure offers. We need to realize that the first aid to the pain of rejection, abuse and violence is the love we give ourselves. The movie needs mature and discerning audiences to understand the layers of meanings between scenes.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Shape of Water

DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro  LEAD CAST: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones  SCREENWRITERS: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor  PRODUCERS: J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro  EDITOR: Sidney Wolinsky  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Alexander Desplat  GENRE: Fantasy, Drama  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dan Laustsen  DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight Pictures  LOCATION: Ontario, Canada  RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
Technical assessment: 4.5
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating: V14
MTRCB rating: R-13
Imagine tale as old as time Beauty and the Beast. Only that the beauty, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), is mute and is not stunningly beautiful. The fish monster (Doug Jones) never transforms into a handsome prince. The setting is the 60s with America and Russia in a race for global domination. Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) captures the amphibious creature, calls it the Asset, and wants him cut open for research. Elisa is a cleaner in this secret government research facility, and in the most lyrical and romantic way, connects with the Asset, through music and eggs, because though mute, she is not deaf, and her boiled eggs become the monster’s favorite dish. She rescues the Asset with the help of coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), next-door neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), and a surprising ally Dr Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbard) who is actually a Soviet spy.
The Shape of Water is a love story with political undertones. Director Guillermo del Toro of the much-loved Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) assembles an alliance of all that the bigotry in Colonel Strickland hates: Elisa is mute, Zelda is black, Giles is gay, and Hoffstetler is a migrant. They’re all marginalized and lonely, and they set free another lonely creature, the captive monster. Del Toro, who also made the screenplay together with Game of Thrones writer Vanessa Taylor, says he made the story simple so he could make the characters complex. Hawkins’ Elisa benefits the most from this approach. Her face speaks a range of emotions: disgust, rage, tenderness, amusement. She loves, she cannot speak, and for director del Toro who wins a Golden Globe for this film, that’s what love means: love renders us speechless. If the theme and acting don’t mesmerize you, the visuals will. Can anything be more graceful than water, or people in water, and the music (another Golden Globe winner) that flows smoothly with every motion and emotion in the story. We note that The Shape of Water takes time to digest. In the cinema, it’s best appreciated for its visuals and acting. It has adult content, with nudity, some gore, and cusswords, as called for in the story. It’s on hindsight that the message dawns on you, sticks to you, and you are magnetized.
The story happens in the turbulent 60s, when US President Kennedy is assassinated, Martin Luther King leads the civil rights movement, there’s the Vietnam War, and anyone who dissents is branded a communist. We don’t see these in the film. Instead, we hear the voiceless Elisa and we see the marginalized Zelda, Giles, and Hoffstetler saving the strange creature from death by vivisection. The film is a political commentary with so much hope. Indeed, the film’s message of social justice is a fulcrum to the Church’s uncompromising respect for life and its condemnation of summary killings. Cardinal Tagle in his homily during the mass in “Walk for Life” in Manila on February 24 said that life, however ugly it may seem (like the Asset or disabled like Elisa), is a gift from God. We all must protect that gift from the Colonel Stricklands of this world who seek to extinguish life. It’s been three years since Pope Francis came to the Philippines. Mercy and Compassion for the poor in the periphery, which was the theme of that Papal Visit, rings ever loudly today. The Shape of Water echoes that theme.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Sin Island

DIRECTOR: Gino Santos  LEAD CAST: Coleen Garcia, Xian Lim, Natalie Hart, TJ Trinidad  SCREENWRITER: Keiko Aquino, Jancy Nicolas  PRODUCERS: Olivia Lamasan, Malou Santos, Charo Santos-Concio, Carlo Katigbak  EDITOR: Noah Tonga  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Cesar Francis Concio  GENRE: Erotic thriller, Adult drama  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mycko David  DISTRIBUTOR: ABS-CBN Film Productions  LOCATION: Philippines  RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment:  2.5
CINEMA rating:  V18  
MTRCB rating: R-16
Flight attendant si babae, photographer si lalaki. Parehong seksi, parehong good-looking.  Bagay na bagay, inlab na inlab, at tipong magha-honeymoon hanggang 90 years old na sila sina Kanika (Coleen Garcia) at David (Xian Lim).  Pero isang araw, kukulimlim ang langit nila nang—dahil sa isang “aksidente”—ay babagsak ang wedding photography business ni David.  Sabay na maglalaho ang mga kliyente at ang self-confidence ni David, made-depress ito, lalo na’t laging naiiwang mag-isa ng asawang lumilipad sa ibang bansa. Samantala, sumisimple naman kay Kanika ang pilotong si Captain Stephen—may asawa din pero napipinto ang pagihiwalay—at di maglalaon, hindi na maitatago ang umuusbong na attraction nila sa isa’t isa.  Pagkatapos ng isang matinding confrontation nila Kanika at David, magpapalamig si David sa Sinilaban Island—a.k.a. “Sin Island”—at dito siya madadarang sa init ng panunukso ni Tasha (Natalie Hart) na malaki pala sira sa ulo.  Dito na rin mag-uumpisa ang kahindik-hindik at madugong parte ng istorya.
Kapuna-puna na dumarami nang mga pelikulang Pilipino ang nagtatampok ng magagandang tanawin sa Pilipinas, tulad ng Siargao atbp.  Naipakita din ng Sin Island ang ganda ng kapaligiran ng lugar, kaya lang, wala naman totoong “Sinilaban Island” sa Pinas—inimbento lang kung baga, para magkaroon ng “Sin Island”.  Catchy nga naman bilang title, biruin mo, isang  Pulo ng Pagkakasala!  Dahil sa pamagat na “Sin Island”, agad maiisip ng manonood ay “Siguradong bomba ito.”  Meron ngang “bomba”, pero dahil maayos ang kuha noon ng kamera, hindi naging salaula ang bed scenes sa Sin Island.  Tuloy, hindi nito nasapawan ang kwentong tiyak na mahahanapan ng magandang aral ng mga manunood.  Bagama’t makatotohanan at nagpapakita ng maturity ang pagganap ni Lim at Garcia, lalo na sa mga pag-aaway nila, medyo nagkulang naman ang characterization ni Tasha bilang kontrabida—hindi isinasalarawan ang ugat ng kanyang murderous streak, tuloy maiisip mo sa simula, “Tinotopak lang ba ito o talagang me dugong mamamatay-tao?”
Bagama’t makatuwiran ang pagtatapos ng pelikula, ang Sin Island ay para lamang sa mga may hinog na isipan, at sadyang makaka-relate sa kuwento ang mga may asawa na (o nagbabalak mag-asawa pa lang) pagka’t ipinapakita nito kung anu-anong mga bagay ang nagiging dahilan para magkatabangan ang mga dati’y maiinit magmahalan. Nandiyan ang pisikal na pagkakalayo, ang pambubuyo ng mga kasamahan, ang kahinaan ng ibang tao, at higit sa lahat, ang kakulangan ng tunay na pagkilala at pagtanggap sa sarili.  Ang malalim na pagsusuri at pagkilala natin sa ating pagkatao—anuman ang estado natin sa buhay—ang mag-aakay sa atin tungo sa matalinong paglutas ng kahit anong suliraning ibabato sa atin ng pagkakataon.  Ang pagkilala din sa tunay nating pagkatao—sa liwanag ng kaalamang tayo ay nilikha kawangis ng Lumikha—ang magbibigay lakas sa atin upang mapaglabanan natin ang laganap na mga pag-uugaling nakakalason sa ating isipan at manatili tayo sa wastong landas na magbibigay-buhay sa atin at sa ating kapwa tao.      

Friday, February 16, 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

DIRECTOR: Jake Kasdan  STARRING: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Bobby Cannavale,  Nick Jonas, Rhys Darby;  SCREENPLAY: Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, & Jeff Pinkner; STORY: Scott Rosenberg BASED ON: the book "Jumanji" by Chris Van Allsburg   BASED ON: the film "Jumanji" screen story/screenplay by Greg Taylor; PRODUCED BY: Matt Tolmach, William Teitler, Ted Field, Mike Weber
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Dany Garcia, David B. Householter, Jake Kasdan; GENRES: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy; MUSIC BY: Henry Jackman; EDITED BY:  Steve Edwards, Mark Helfrich;  CINEMATOGRAPHY: Gyula Pados; PRODUCTION COMPANIES: Columbia Pictures, Matt Tolmach Productions, Radar Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions; DISTRIBUTED BY: Sony Pictures Entertainment; COUNTRY: United States; LANGUAGE: English  RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 59 minutes
Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 3
Cinema Rating: A14
MTRCB Rating: PG                        
Back in 1996, an old board game, Jumanji, is found on a beach, taken home, and magically turns into a live game. In present day, in this brand new Jumanji adventure, four high school teenagers Spencer, Fridge, Martha, and Bethany (Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner and Madison Iseman) discover the old video game console while serving school detention and are sucked into the game's jungle setting, literally becoming the adult avatars of the game characters (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillian and Jack Black) they chose. What they discover is that they don't just play Jumanji—they must survive it. To win the game and return to the real world, they'll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, and change the way they think about themselves—or they'll be stuck in the game forever.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is fun-filled, entertaining spectacle.  The premise may be quite worn-out given that it’s no longer original but the tweak of the story focusing on teenage issues has worked well to make the entire feature an interesting adventure. Central to the film’s overall comedic appeal are the charismatic actors who enthusiastically portrayed complex, juxtaposed characters. The real-life simulation of the game remains to be an interesting handle although the Jumanji games seen from the point-of-view of a gamer may be a mediocre one, but the heart of the story keeps the movie afloat. The twists and the climaxes provide enough thrills and there is never a dull moment in the film.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a coming of age film with the adventures of a real-life game simulation as its backdrop. The teenagers’ issues on identity, acceptance and peer pressure are all tackled in the film. It’s good that somehow the movie gives a sensible take on these matters that concern mostly the youth. There are realizations here and there—of one’s worth not being determined by looks and popularity, of one’s identity not depending on others’ approval, and of friendships not being nurtured by benefits. When the conflict of survival comes in, the film goes even deeper and more meaningful. The challenge after the game—the real life being actually more challenging and the bond that is built on trust and genuine care—all these somehow tell that there is hope in the youth only that they should be given a platform to bring out the best in them.  The film also shows that the avatar game characters are neither immortal nor perfect—they die and they have weaknesses. But the focus must be on the strengths, and weaknesses can be an opportunity in disguise. Real-life lessons are learned in the game—the world of the young. And so the film is also talking to the experienced ones that to teach the young, they must enter into their world. The film however still exhibits some portrayals of violence and insinuations of sexual awakening that may not fit the very young. So CINEMA recommends the film as suited to audiences aged 14 and up.—RRP 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Greatest Showman

DIRECTOR: Michael Gracey  STARRING:    Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya  SCREENPLAY: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon  STORY: Jenny Bicks  PRODUCED BY: Laurence Mark, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping  GENRES: Drama, Musical, Performing Arts  MUSIC BY: John Debney, Joseph Trapanese  EDITED BY: Tom Cross, Robert Duffy, Joe Hutshing, Michael McCusker, Jon Poll,   Spencer Susser   CINEMATOGRAPHY: Seamus McGarvey   PRODUCTION COMPANIES: Chernin Entertainment, Seed Productions, Laurence Mark Productions, TSG Entertainment  DISTRIBUTED BY: 20th Century Fox  COUNTRY: United States  LANGUAGE: English  RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 45 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3.5
CINEMA rating: V14
The father of Phineas Barnum works as a tailor for the upper class Hallett family.   Mr. Hallett notices the fondness between the pre-teens Barnum and his daughter Charity, and makes his objection to this unforgettable by slapping the boy in the face and warning him to stay away from his daughter or else.  Soon sent away to a finishing school, Charity keeps in touch with Barnum, however, and the two marry as adults.  Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) are happy in their humble world, with their two daughters, but Barnum is determined to keep his vow to give Charity the opulent life she was raised in.  With a bank loan a jobless Barnum purchases a museum, which made no money, prompting him to gather freaks and create a spectacular show of oddities that was to become a worldwide sensation.
No doubt about it—The Greatest Showman is a spectacle to watch, backed up by a strong unequivocal story and heartfelt performances by a meticulously chosen cast.  Jackman is spot on as a life gambler who refuses to sink or be beaten, lightheartedly going through his song-and-dance routines like a pro.  Williams plays the “plain housewife” role with an umistakable touch of class.  Zendaya gives a did-she-really-do-it performance as a trapeze artist, lending the film one of its jaw-dropping moments (in the well-rehearsed choreography with Efron).  Ferguson as “the Swedish nightingale” Jenny Lind is a sight for tired eyes, while the cast of freaks complete with the set, costumes, and animal players ensure the viewer of the show within a show.  The whole movie’s apparent lack of depth is due to its montage-like approach to story telling—its purpose, anyway, is to tell Barnum’s success story in a succession of vignettes, not to vivisect the souls of the characters.  Thus it succeeds both in telling its story while entertaining its audience.
That The Greatest Showman is based on the true story of P. T. Barnum—a name that was to be synonymous with “circus” since the 1880s—should be enough to put the message across to the 21st century movie viewers that certain values remain strong in the human heart despite socio-cultural differences or personal success.  People do find happiness in the family and fulfillment in marital fidelity.  Despite social prejudice people fall in love, say “I love you”, hold hands in the dark, and defy all odds as they fight for their heart’s desire.
Although the movie is wholesome enough to be seen by young children, there is not enough happy, musical footage to keep them entertained; the adult theme might even bore them, so make sure to explain things to them should you view the movie at home.  Young teenagers can take the story, and might even find good counsel in the example of the Barnum couple who reconcile and mend their marriage (as Barnum lets go of his circus career in order to focus on his wife and children).

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Paddington 2

DIRECTOR: Paul King  LEAD CAST: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson  SCREENWRITER: Paul King, Simon Farnaby  PRODUCER: David Heyman  EDITORS: Jonathan Amos, Mark Everson  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Dario Marianelli  GENRE: Animation, Adventure, Comedy  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Erik Wilson  DISTRIBUTOR: Captive Cinema Distribution, Studio Canal  LOCATION: England, Ireland  RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  4
CINEMA rating:   V13
MTRCB rating: PG
Paddington 2 brings back the adorable bear Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw), now happily settled with the Brown family in a small London neighborhood. He thinks often of his Aunt Lucy who raised him. For her 100th birthday, he works several odd jobs to get her a pop-up book of famous London landmarks. But the book is stolen, and Paddington is sent to prison when no one—not even eyewitness Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant)—can corroborate his story that a heavily bearded man stole the book. In prison, Paddington befriends the terrifying cook Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson) who later helps him escape to go after the real thief. Meanwhile, Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins) and the rest of the family discover a link between the stolen book, a missing chest of dazzling jewelry, and a man with many faces.
This live-action/animated film occupies us with its CGI, convincingly merged with breathtaking cinematography of nature and urban outdoors. Then there’s live action and the lead actors’ good acting. We can overlook how the adult actors eclipsed the Brown children’s characterization, who should have been given a more prominent role in this movie meant for children. But all is well, because the screen is undeniably redeemed by the rest of the cast, especially Paddington himself, who is created entirely on CGI. Thanks to Ben Whishaw (of the critically-acclaimed Perfume and The Danish Girl) voicing for Paddington. His voice moves us to tears and his naivete earns guffaws from children and adults in the cinema. Paddington 2 is a skillful mix of technology, direction, script, plot development that holds our attention with its suspense, and a bucket of lessons of disarming good-naturedness.

There is however one point in the story that needs adult guidance: Paddington and friends’ prison break is uncomfortably glorified. The rest of the plot—including Paddington being suffused with grief thinking the Brown family has abandoned him, later he nearly drowns, and there’s the brutishness of life—are all within the context of the story and there is redeeming value. Conflict is resolved in the end, to the point, in fact, of being too explicit about it. CINEMA considers Paddington 2 a clean wholesome film, well-made, with outstanding lessons to impart: manners-manners-manners, gratitude, believe in the goodness in people, unearth them and stubbornly believe in them even if the people themselves don’t, because eventually people have a way of redeeming themselves. The movie draws us in, and we leave the cinema with an overwhelming sense of goodness, and the world bending to receive it.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

DIRECTOR:  Wes Ball  LEAD CAST:  Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scoldelario, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter, Ami, Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Blake Cooper, Jacob Latimore, Dexter Darden,  Rosa Salazar,  Patricia Clarkson & Giancarlo Esposito  SCREENWRITER: T.S. Nowlin  PRODUCER:  Wyck Godfrey  EDITOR: Dan Zimmerman  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  John Paesano  GENRE: Action/Sci-Fi  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Gyula Pados  DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox  LOCATION: South Africa  RUNNING TIME: 152 minutes
Technical assessment:  3
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMA rating:  V14
Staging a daring train rescue operation, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and companions Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Dexter Darden), Brenda (Rosa Salazar), and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), brave death to free young people from becoming guinea pigs in the organization WCKD’s experiments to find a cure against the Flare virus.  They discover, however, that their fellow “Glader” Minho (Ki Hong Lee) is not among those they have rescued.  Feeling certain that Minho has been taken by WCKD—led by Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and her sinister right hand Janson (Aiden Guillen)—Thomas decides to leave their base camp and go on his own to search for Minho.  Newt and Frypan join him; soon they encounter Gally (Will Poulter) whom they had thought to be dead, but who helps them enter the Last City.  Gally tells Thomas’ that his love interest Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is now one of the WCKD scientists; captured, Teresa reveals to them that Minho is indeed being used in WCKD’s experimental search for the “death cure.”
Based on James Dashner’s novel The Death Cure the movie—the conclusion of the Maze Runner trilogy—features heart pumping chase scenes that almost never stop—whether the chaser is a giant beetle, the zombified characters called Cranks, or the enemy’s flying machine guns and foot patrol.  Acting and characterization are adequate, with the exception of Scodelario’s somewhat robotic Teresa.  Janson (Guillen, Game of Thrones’ Little Finger) should have been given more screen time to show bigger and meaner fangs as the villain.  Throughout the dystopian milieu, the characters project flashes of vulnerability, justifying the plot’s twists and turns.  However, (spoiler alert!) the too frequent resorting to deus ex machina as a salvation device diminishes the story’s credibility and realism.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure’s redeeming factor is the innate goodness of the young people in the story.  The greater good is the glue that binds all those young people together in spite of past offenses and misgivings.  Friendship, forgiveness, loyalty to ideals, repentance, and courage in the face of danger are values highlighted in the film.  Aristotle once wrote, “He is courageous who endures and fears the right thing, for the right motive, in the right way and at the right times.”  It is the kind of courage that the characters displayed here, and the script is clear enough about how evil deeds are dealt with in due time.  The ending implies that it is these young people who will populate the earth anew, inspiring one to hope they will create “a new heaven and a new earth.”