Friday, March 29, 2019

Captain Marvel

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Lead Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Lashana Lynch
Screenwriters: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Producer: Kevin Feige
Editors: Debbie Berman, Elliot Graham
Musical Director: Pinar Toprak
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Cinematographer: Ben Davis                                  
Distributor: Walt Disney
Location: California, USA
Running Time: 2hr 4mins
Technical Assessment: 4
Moral Assessment: 3.5
Cinema Rating: V13 – 13 and below with parental guidance
MTRCB Rating: PG13
Vers (Brie Larson) is a member of Starforce—an intergalactic Kree battle squad. She is mentored by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) who repeatedly reminds her not to let her emotions affect her duties, specifically of the firing of powerful energy beams from her hands. Their mission is to defeat the Skrulls, a species of shape-shifting aliens led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) who's obsessed with probing Vers' memory in hopes of getting information on one Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) and her work with a light-speed project. Incidentally, Vers interacts with that woman, not as Lawson, but as the artificial intelligence generated leader of the Kree, all while experiencing fleeting memories of a different life that's foreign to her. Then everything comes clearer when she literally crashes into Earth in the year 1995, meets an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and discovers that she once had a life on this planet. And her name was Carol Danvers. She was an Air Force pilot where she worked alongside her best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), for Dr. Lawson. With the Skrulls having followed her to Earth, Carol must then figure out the truth as to what's really happening and use her powers to save the day.
Captain Marvel is both intriguing and interesting as Marvel finally releases an on-screen super powerful hero that is both female and feminine. Those who were not familiar with Captain Marvel backstory before watching must surely be shocked to learn that the most powerful superhero of Marvel is actually a woman. That handle alone makes the film a worthwhile watch. The strategies implemented by the film’s producers such as hiring a woman as co-director and getting an acclaimed actress instead of a blockbuster superstar for its lead really worked well for the film’s success in communicating its message across all audiences. The non-linear storytelling approach may be confusing at first but everything becomes cohesive in the middle. The film does not dwell too much on exposition and it worked pretty well as revelations become more interesting as the story progresses. Lead actress Larson aptly balances out three roles in three timelines--that of Vers, of Carol Danvers, and of Captain Marvel. Law as Yon-Rogg provides perfect support. Mendelsohn as Skrull leader Talos and a cat named Goose give the film a different flavor of balanced humor and sentiment—along with the 90’s musical scoring. The fight scenes and the computer graphics may not be that spectacular but the gem of the film lies on its talented cast, and focused storytelling of Marvel’s “herstory”—clearly putting more emphasis on the heart as more powerful than the mind.  
Captain Marvel is said to be a “girl-power” movie—and it really is. For most part of the film, it is emphasized that Carol has been going through a lot of pains, rejections and discriminations as a woman trying to fit in a man’s world. She is always told to not let her emotions get in the way of what she wants to accomplish. Women stereotyped as the “emotional” kind is tackled in the film head-on—and is brutally deconstructed with the presence of the most powerful superhero to date—Captain Marvel. Despite the many hardships and struggles to fit-in, Carol’s determination paid off. The tenacity and strength of a woman’s heart is clearly demonstrated in the film—making the seeming weakness of a woman being emotional more of a strength than a weakness. Women bonding is also apparent in the film with the presence of Carol’s best friend—a woman and a mother, who once experienced discrimination as well for being one. The kind of bonding women have creates a sense of trust and brings out the best in each other. Family values are also depicted in the film as Talos leads his flock as a father deeply concerned for his family’s safety and well-being. Still, the film inevitably has scenes of violence about which young children must be guided while watching. CINEMA deems the Captain Marvel as appropriate for viewers 13 below with parental guidance.—RPJ

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

On the Basis of Sex

DIRECTOR: Mimi Leder
LEAD CAST:  Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justine Theroux, Sam Waterston & Kathy Bates
SCREENWRITER: Daniel Stiepleman
PRODUCER: Robert W. Cort
EDITOR: Michelle Tesoro
GENRE: Drama
DISTRIBUTOR: Focus Features
RUNNING TIME: 120 mins.
Technical assessment:  3.5
Moral assessment:  4
CINEMA rating:  V14
At a time when a woman in Harvard Law School was a rarity, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) would enroll “in order to better understand (her) lawyer-husband”, Martin (Armie Hammer).  In remission from cancer, Martin becomes a willing house-husband, cooking and baby-sitting their daughter as Ruth continues with her studies and at the same time attending Martin’s law classes for him.  Then Ruth discovers one case—Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue.  Single and acting as caregiver to his mother, Charles Moritz (Chris Mulkey) is arbitrarily denied a $296 tax deduction because he is male when the US law assumes caregivers are female.  The Ginsburgs and ACLU attorney Mel Wulf find this as a gender discrimination against men and offer their services pro bono, and the rest is history.
Smart cinematography, crisp editing, and engaging dialogue all combine to spare the movie from the talking heads syndrome.  Based on the true story of the woman whose perseverance,  intelligence, and chutzpah propelled her to the US Supreme Court, On the Basis of Sex seems a tad too simplistic.   The impressive performance by British actor Felicity Jones in the lead role may have sprung from the reported approval of the real Justice Ginsburg who told Jones, “I have seen your work; you can do it!”  Revolving around one albeit landmark case, the script takes an admiring viewpoint—perhaps because it is written by Ruth’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman—and falls short of portraying a truer-to-life success story of the iconic Ruth Ginsburg.  And because the real Ruth Ginsburg is still active and alive at 85, the movie takes on the coloration of an image-building endorsement used in political election campaigns.
All things considered, even though this woman of substance comes across almost like a caricature in the film, it is nevertheless an inspiring one, capable of empowering young women in a male-dominated profession.  Many a woman would be envious of Ruth for having a husband who is beyond supportive.  Many a father would learn a thing or two from Mr. Ginsburg on how to handle a teenage child.  Ruth’s passion is inspiring, her sense of justice instinctive and keen.  What the script lacks in story-telling detail is adequately filled by the factual epilogue that comes after the last cameo shot of Justice Ginsburg ascending the steps of the Supreme Court.  The audience leaves the theater realizing how great, indeed, is the Jewish woman who struggled against gender bias and triumphed in a society that was not ready to be kind to either Jews or women.  Although the film is wholesome in general, its theme may not be appealing to children.—TRT

Monday, March 25, 2019

Familia Blondina

LEAD CAST:  Karla Estrada, Jobert Austria, Kaira Balinger, Marco Gallo, Xia Vigor, Chantal Vidella & Shane Weinberg, Awra Briguela, Heaven Peralejo
DIRECTOR: Jerry Lopez Sineneng
SCREENWRITER: Mel del Rosario
PRODUCER: Doc Denis Aguirre
EDITOR: Marya Ignacio
GENRE: Family Comedy
LOCATION: Bulacan, Philippines
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
Technical asssesment: 3.5
Moral assessment: 3.5
CINEMA rating: PG13
Susuwayin at iiwan ni Cindy (Karla Estrada) ang pamilya sa probinsya upang magpakasal sa sundalong boyfriend sa America kung saan magkakaanak siya nang tatlo na pawang mga blonde—sina John Jr. (Marco Gallo), Jenny (Kaira Balinger) at Jill (Xia Vigor). Sa kasamaang-palad ay maagang mababalo Cindy at maiiwanan ng napakalaking utang. Dahil sa kamalasang ito ay uuwi na lamang sila ng Pilipinas kahit labag sa kalooban ng mga anak. Katulad ng inaasahan, masasakit na salita ng paninisi at panunumbat ang sasalubong sa mag-iina. Titiisin lahat ito ni Cindy at sa halip ay itutuon ang isip at panahon sa paghahanap ng iba’t ibang pagkakakitaan upang maitaguyod ang tatlong anak na dumadaan din sa hirap ng biglaang pagbabago sa kanilang buhay.  Makikilala ni Cindy  ang biyudong si Tony Boy (Jobert Austria) na namatay ang asawang British sa isang plane crash. Aalukin ni Tony Boy si Cindy na maging yaya ng dalawa niyang mga anak, na mga din. Tatanggapin naman agad ito ni Cindy dahil sanay naman siyang mag-alaga ng mga batang may lahi katulad ng kanyang mga anak.  Sa kalaunan ay magkakamabutihan at tuluyang mahuhulog ng loob nina Cindy at Tony Boy sa isa’t isa.  Magkakasama-sama sila bilang isang pamilya na pawang may lahing banyaga ang mga anak.
Mahusay ang paghahatid ng pinaghalong pormula ng romancefamily-oriented at intercultural comedy sa Familia Blondina. Malinis ang daloy ng kwento at malikhain ang konsepto ng mix-marriages. Malinaw mula sa simula ng  pelikula ang magiging estado ng karakter ni Cindy. At bagamat sa pagpasok ng karakter ni Tony Boy ay naghudyat ng predictable na wakas ay naging kaabang-abang pa din ang mga eksena at palitan ng mga linya lalo na pagitan ng mga bata. Natural ang mga pagganap, komportable ang lahat at nabigyan ng akmang pagpapakilala ang mga tauhan na kani-kanilang ginampanan.  Nakatulong ang mga kuha ng kamera sa pagbibigay-diin sa mga eksena na sadyang may hatid na mensahe. Tama lamang ang disensyo ng produksyon, nakakatuwang tingnan ang mga blonde na hitsura ng mga bata, at akma ang mga nilapat na tunog at ilaw lalo na sa mga eksena sa loob ng bahay.  Sa kabuuan ng Familya Blondina, ang comedy ay naghatid ng makabuluhang mensahe at aliw sa manonood.  
Isang malaking hamon sa babae man o lalaki ang mag-isang magtaguyod ng pamilya, lalo na sa sitwasyon na kailangang harapin ang mga pagbabago mula sa nakasanayang buhay at kulturang banyaga na kinasasangkutan ng mga anak na menor de edad. Gayunpaman, nagampanan at naharap ang hamong ito ng pangunahing tauhan na si Cindy dahil sa paninindigan niyang panghawakan ang mga values o pinahahalagahan sa buhay na matiyaga niyang ibinahagi at itinuro sa mga anak na may lahing dayuhan. Kapag matatag ang isang tao sa kanyang personal values, mas madaling makapagdesisyon na may pagsasa-alang alang ng tama at mali. Ilan sa mga pinakita sa Familia Blondina ang pagiging mapagmahal sa pamilya, matiyaga, mapagpasensya, mapagpakumbaba, mapagbigay, mapagpalaya at palakaibigan. Kahit nagsimulang magtaguyod ng mga anak sa America ay di nya kinalimutan ang mga magagandang kaugaliang Filipino katulad ng pagiging magalang sa kapwa. Gayundin kinilala ni Cindy ang kultura ng lahing banyaga ng kanyang anak na pagbibigay-kalayaan at respeto sa pagiging responsible sa sariling desisyon katulad ng magpasya ang anak na bumalik ng America. Pinakita din sa puntong ito ang selfless love ni Cindy bilang ina.  Samantala, kaakibat sa mga hamon ng buhay ang di maiwasan makaharap at makasalamuha ang mga taong mapagnibugho, mapanghusga at mapanumbat, na nagbibitiw ng masasakit na salita nang di man lamang inaawat ng kanilang mga magulang na dapat sana ay mamagitan. Maaring natural lamang na maghayag ng galit at sama ng loob sa kapwa lalo na kung nasaktan naman talaga subalit ang maganda rin paalalahan ang sarili na kilalanin at tanggapin din ang matapat na pagbabalik-loob at pagsusumikap ng kapwa na harapin ang naging bunga ng mga ginawang desisyon sa buhay. Sa kabuuan ay mayaman sa positibong mensahe ang pelikulang Familia Blondina at isang magandang panooring pampamilya. Subalit dahil sa masalimuot na tema ng intercultural marriage ay kailangan ng mga batang manonood ng gabay ng nakatatanda.--IBD

Wonder Park

Director: David Feiss  Lead Cast: Voiced by Brianna Denski, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Broderick, Mila Kunis, Norbert Leo Butz  Screenwriters: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec  Producers: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec  Editor: Edie Ichioka  Musical Director: Steven Price  Cinematographer: Juan García Gonzalez  Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Animation Distributor: Columbia Pictures  Location: California, USA Running Time: hr 25 min 
Technical assessment:  3 
Moral assessment:  4 
CINEMA rating:  AA 
MTRCB rating:  G 
June (voiced by Brianna Denski) is only ten but her grasp of engineering is way beyond her years. Her genius and imagination are encouraged by Mom (Jennifer Garner) and Dad (Matthew Broderick). Dad even pays the bill when June’s engineering experiments damage the neighbors’ yard and smash their windows. Undaunted, June and Mom team up to create the blueprint for Wonder Park, where every child can find every possible ride and amusement he can wish for. But June’s imaginary park collapses when Mom falls ill. June wanders into the forest one day and finds the park there, decrepit with a dark cloud descending on it. Together with her animal friends, June saves the park from destruction. 
The movie takes the path with the least harm. Loss, illness, separation, depression, anxiety—all these traumas are neutralized for children’s consumption. For that, we give credit to the makers of the movie. But stripped of its impact as well is the wonder in Wonder Park. Neither the visuals nor the sounds render the park awesome as it should be. Even June doesn’t endear herself to the audience, many of whom are children. We were hoping she’d charm us like the little girl Boo in Monsters Inc., and her friends Sulley and Wazowski. Perhaps it’s because Wonder Park doesn’t unravel June’s character long enough for us to appreciate her. It’s as if the movie is in haste to usher in the theme of loss and depression, and get them over with as quickly. 
What the movie lacks in technical execution, it compensates in moral lessons. It is as much a learning journey for children as it is for parents. It’s a confidence booster, assuring children that they are loved and valued, they are the “wonder in Wonderland”. Notice the way Mom and Dad install the balance between fantasy and reality and the way they convey this lesson to June. Without extinguishing her confidence and imagination, they tell her to continue dreaming and trying, but without endangering herself and those around her.  Of course, in real life, it is next to impossible to not go ballistic when a child’s adventures threaten life and property. Still, the movie conveys the positive message so well we leave the theater light and cheery.MOE

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Alone Together

Director:  Antoinette Jadaone
Lead Cast:  Liza Soberano, Enrique Gil
Screenwriter:  Antoinette Jadaone
Producer:  Olivia Lamasan
Editor:  Benjamin Gonzales Tolentino
Genre: Romance
Cinematographer:  Neil Daza
Distributor: Star Cinema
Location:  Philippines
Running Time:   110 Minutes
Technical assessment: 3.5
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating: A14
MTRCB Rating: PG
Pagtatagpuin ng sining ang dalawang magkahiwalay na mundo na noo’y mga college students pa lang na sina Tin (Liza Soberano) at Raf ( Enrique Gil). Magiging close ang dalawa ang magkakatuluyan bilang magkasintahan. Punong-puno silang dalawa ng pangarap at ambisyon – sabay nilang binuo ang kanilang pangarap na sila ay tatandang masaya, matagumpay at higit sa lahat, magkasama. Ngunit tila hindi ito ang mangyayari. Makalipas ang walong taon, magku-krus muli ang kanilang landas – sa pagkakataong ito, si Raf ay isa nang matagumpay at pilantropong doktor. Habang si Tin nama’y nagta-trabaho bilang executive assistant ng isang may-ari ng NGO (Non-Government Organization). Kalauna’y magkakaalaman na tila sila’y pinaghiwalay ng sanga-sangang mga pangyayari. Magkatuluyan pa kaya sila sa bandang huli o mas makabubuti sa kanilang dalawa ang magkani-kaniyang landas?
Makasining at makabuluhan ang Alone/Together. Hindi ito yung tipikal na pelikulang kilig kahit pa ang sikat na tambalang LizQueen ang naririto. Tinalakay nito ang masalimuot na pag-ibig sa gitna ng pangarap,  ambisyon, dangal at paninindigan. Mahusay ang pagkakahalukay ng pelikula sa tamang damdamin ng bawat tauhan bagama’t maka-minsa’y pawang hindi ito gaanong dama ng manonood. Kasabay ng pagtatalo ng isip at damdamin ng pangunahing tauhan ay sabay din ang pagkalito sa mararamdaman ng manonood. Pero maaring ito’y sinasadya din. Patungo ang pelikula sa mga usaping kung ituring ay “mature” – trabaho, obligasyong panlipunan, ambisyon, responsibilidad, pangarap at tunay na kasiyahan.  Bagama’t kung tutuusi’y marami dito ang parang “pilit’ at di pa masyadong akma – at ang tila hindi kapani-paniwalang pagitan ng mga panahon o timeline, masasabi na ring mahusay ang pelikula sa tapang nitong maghain ng isang romance na may kakaibang sangkap. Dun pa lamang, kahanga-hanga na ang pelikula.
Maraming nais sabihin ang Alone/Together – nariyang ipaalala nito sa mga manonood maya’t-maya ang dapat na “hindi paglimot” sa nakaraan. Patungkol ito sa hindi paglimot sa kasaysayan at sa mga aral na dulot nito. Tama nga naman, sa gitna ng palasak na “move-on mentality”, bakit hindi natin balikan ang nakaraan hindi upang maghasik ng galit or kawalang patawaran kundi upang matuto sa mga aral na nakapaloob sa mga pangyayaring ito. Magkaiba ang paglimot at pagpapatawad. Sa hindi paglimot ay magagawa nating maging mas mabuting tao – at sa pangkalahatan ay makakabuo tayo ng mas mabuting lipunan. Sinasabi rin ng pelikula na parating may pag-asa at parating may pagkakataong bumangon sa pagkakadapa. Hindi rin dapat panghinaan ng loob na tuparin ang pangarap dahil lang sa pagkakamali. Ang sining ay sumasalamin sa buhay – hindi perpekto ngunit makabuluhan at may sariling pagkakakilanlan. Ang pag-ibig gaya ng ipinakita sa pelikula ay parte lamang ng kabuluhan  at hindi ito ang lahat-lahat. Sa pagmamahal dapat laging isinalang-alang ang maraming bagay at komplikasyon na nakapalibot dito. Kahanga-hanga si Tin bilang isang karakter na nagawang pairalin ang isip higit sa puso – na bagama’t naging takot at mahina sa simula ay nag-ipon ng tapang at lakas upang harapin ang at sundan ang mga pangarap. Si Raf naman ay kahanga-hanga rin na nagawang baguhin ang kanyang buhay sa pamamagitan din ng pagsusumikap. Magandang halimbawa silang dalawa para sa mga kabataan – maliban lamang sa isang pagkakamaling kanyang ginawa sa bandang dulo ng pelikula – na tila pinanindigan din naman niya kung kaya’t katanggap-tanggap na rin ito sa kabuuan. Dahil sa mature na tema ng pelikula, nararapat lamang ito sa mga manonood na 14 gulang pataas.—RPJ 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Cold Pursuit

DIRECTOR: Hans Petter Moland
LEAD CAST: Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Julia Jones
PRODUCER: Finn Gjerdrum, Stein B. Kvae, Michael Shamberg
BASED ON: “In Order of Disappearance” by Kim Fupz Aakeson
MUSIC: George Fenton
GENRE: Dark Comedy-Action
DISTRIBUTOR: Summit Entertainment
COUNTRY:  United States
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 2
CINEMA rating: V16
MTRCB rating: R16
Nels Coxman  (Neeson) is a gentle family man who receives the Citizen of the Year award. But when he learns that Viking Calcote’s (Bateman) drug cartel murdered his son, he becomes an ice-cold vigilante wanting to exact revenge on them. He kills three of Viking’s men and dumps their bodies in the river. Viking, believing the deaths are caused by White Bull (Jackson), a Native American drug lord, abducts and kills the latter’s son.  This begins the endless violence and killings from the opposing gangs while Nels plots to dismantle the cartel.
Cold Pursuit is the remake of Moland’s own Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance. While you can praise its ambition deliver high powered action and dark humor. The exchanges are amusing –although not always clever – and entertaining breather to the body count and blood coated snow. There is a subtle wit in the cinematography and design which emphasize the stark yet imposing landscape. Cold Pursuit offers humor, a quality never seen in Neeson’s Taken franchise. This immediately endears the audience and makes them overlook shortcomings. The plot is still the same father-seeking-justice, Neeson does the same angry tough calculating dad routine, some characters are underwritten and serve no purpose to the film. But the biggest issue we have with the movie is that it is several minutes longer than it needs to be.
Justice taken into one’s own hands creates an endless cycle of violence. While we understand that criminals need to face the consequences of their actions, we emphasize that these should be done within the boundaries of the law. When revenge, brutal death, and violence are funny and audiences laugh at these scenes, danger signs should be flashing.  The movie has all the ingredients for it not to be suitable for young viewers—drugs, revenge, language, gore, and violence. But these are not what makes the film strictly for mature audiences. It is the comedic tone used in presenting them. Cold Pursuit plays with the audiences’ reaction to death and violence. This treatment is appropriate for older and mature viewers.—PMF

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Favourite

DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos
STARRING: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn
WRITTEN BY: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
PRODUCERS: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, Yorgos Lanthimos
GENRE: Biography, Drama, Comedy
EDITED BY: Yorgos Mavropsaridis
PRODUCTION COMPANIES: Scarlet Films, Element Pictures, Arcana, Film4 Productions,
Waypoint Entertainment
DISTRIBUTED BY: Fox Searchlight Pictures
COUNTRIES: Ireland, United Kingdom, United States   
LANGUAGE: English           
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours 6 minutes
Technical assessment: 4
Moral assessment:  2.5
CINEMA rating:  V18
MTRCB rating: R 13
In early 18th century England when the country was at a costly war against France, Duchess of Marlborough Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs the country on behalf of the gout-ridden, intellectually challenged, and emotionally flaky Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) who’d rather raise ducks for racing and play with her 17 rabbits—representing the 17 children she had lost either in the womb or in infancy—than run the army or keep tab of taxes.   Life seems snag free for the ruling tandem of Sarah and Anna—the men in high places acquiesce to the two women’s will and whim regarding state affairs, while the latter gleefully carry on with their clandestine love affair.  Enter Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s impoverished younger cousin who was dropped from nobility when her father lost her at a bet to a German in a card game.  She seeks employment through Sarah at the palace, and is hired as a scullery maid.  When Abigail’s poultice soothes Queen Anne’s leg sores, Sarah allows her in the royal chamber, on demand.  Soon, as Sarah is kept away by the politics of war, Abigail is spending more time in the Queen’s company, playing with her rabbits, massaging her legs, and eventually sharing her bed—a perfect opportunity to regain her aristocratic standing.
The Favourite is a good story well told.  While basing the film on real life, director Lanthimos combines equal parts drama, comedy, and history into one dish that is both satirical and funny.  Deborah Davis’ and Tony McNamara’s screenplay is brought to life by the flawless acting of Colman, Weisz, and Stone, but what Lanthimos wants his audience to see is not really the rivalry between two women for the favors of the third, but human foibles, the ridiculous norms of human society, and the rottenness in the human heart.  The Favourite shows that the hunger for power recognizes no gender, palaces do not guarantee good manners or serious business, marriage proposals are accepted for political expediency; ambition is justifiable motivation to lie, to scheme, or to kill.  The deeper messages dressed in comedy are delivered by a subliminally mood-setting soundtrack: Baroque and classical music keep the pace up and complements the dialogue, while an ominous sound fills the dead air to provoke the viewer’s imagination to hear what is unsaid.  The traditional gender balance is tilted, with women wielding power whether in the war room or the scullery, while men amuse themselves racing ducks and pelting losers with rotting fruit.  In support of this viewpoint, Powell made the costumes speak: the women are garbed in no-nonsensical black and white and hardly any makeup, while the men sport colorful attire, elaborate wigs, pale faces but heavily rouged cheeks, and shamelessly red lipstick.
So—who’s the favorite?  Is it Sarah who has been banished but is now apparently missed?  Is it Abigail who now has the ear of the Queen and elevated to the rank of Keeper of the Privy Purse?  Is Queen Anne a victim of Sarah’s and Abigail’s manipulations, or is she the greatest manipulator of all?  Does it really matter who made a puppet of whom, or who really is the favorite?  This dark comedy refuses to give clear answers but rather teases viewers to read body language and come to their own conclusions.  The closing shot may be concealing a lesson: Anne grabs Abigail by the hair tightly, as she would reining in a stubborn horse, and harshly orders her to massage her legs—she is the queen, after all.  The erstwhile triumphant Abigail is down on her knees, looking down while kneading the royal legs, but Anne does not moan from relief as before—with sad, reddening eyes she gazes at the unknown.  Both women look trapped in a cage of their own machinations, while life goes on as usual for the rabbits.—TRT       

Monday, February 25, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Director: Dean DeBlois  Lead Cast: Voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham  Screenwriter: Dean DeBlois  Producers: Bonnie Arnold, Brad Lewis  Editor: John K. Carr  Musical Director: John Powell  Cinematographer: Gil Zimmerman  Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Animation  Distributor: Paramount Pictures  Location: USA  Running Time: 1 hr 44 min
Technical assessment: 4.5
Moral assessment: 5
CINEMA rating: V13
MTRCB rating: P13
Grimmel the dragon slayer (voiced by F. Murray Abraham) sees no point in having man and dragon co-exist on earth. With mad obsession, he seeks to exterminate the dragon species Night Fury, whose last of its kind, alas, is Toothless, the dragons’ alpha male. His master and trainor Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), now chief of the Vikings, remembers his late father talk about some faraway place—the Hidden World—where dragons can be safe. So he leads the dragons and his people to that sanctuary. But first, they must ward off Grimmel and his army of drugged dragons that are programmed to kill. Plus, Toothless needs to focus, because he’s smitten with Light Fury, and he doesn’t have the courtship skills that can win the heart of his beloved. He gets some coaching from Hiccup who is himself awkward and tentative but obviously in love but can’t quite propose yet to his best friend Astrid (America Herrera). Thanks to strong woman Astrid, his anchor, who believes in his capacity to lead with or without Toothless, even when he doubts himself.  
This is our third How to Train Your Dragon, and we do think the franchise has squeezed out every which way to train a dragon in this last instalment. Judging by the reaction of the horde of children in the jampacked theater, the interval between conflict and the next surprise is too long. What earns a thumbs up from CINEMA is the editing and cinematography aided by CGI that can rival giant sci-fis such as Star Wars.  Someone called it a screensaver cinema: a swirly succession of pretty pictures and colors. Although the scenes are not exceptional and, in fact, much too similar to Avatar, they nevertheless are undeniably breathtaking.  The movie does elicit laughter from both kids and adults at instances like the courtship dance between Toothless and Light Fury, for example, with Hiccup coaching his best friend from behind a rock.
Toothless, the alpha male is, well, toothless, with his now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t teeth which by worldly standards diminish his macho image. Like his master Hiccup who is head of the pack, Toothless has a prosthetic tailfin.  While themes of letting go can trigger separation anxiety in young audiences, here it’s handled well because it’s told in the context of mentor Hiccup allowing his friend Toothless whom he tamed and trained to fly away and start a new life with Light Fury. You want lessons about teamwork, it’s also here. Hiccup and his friends go to battle, always a team, never leaving each other, and although they grumble, decision making is actually very democratic among the Vikings. And finally, it’s every parent’s mantra instilled in children, told in various permutations of take courage, be brave, believe in yourself. Finally, it will please adults to know how the recurring theme of marriage—the traditional kind, not the quick fix kind—is presented here with Toothless courting Light Fury, each looking out for the other, and Hiccup and Astrid who are BFFs since childhood not rushing to get married. Despite all these good messages, we’d still recommend parental guidance for children below 13 because the fighting and visuals may be too assaulting for very young audiences—MOE

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Second Act

DIRECTOR: Peter Segal
LEAD CAST: Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, Leah Remini, Treat Williams, Milo Ventimiglia
PRODUCER: Jennifer Lopez, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Justin Zackham, Benny Medina
SCREENWRITER: Justin Zackham, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas
MUSIC: Michael Andrews
EDITOR: Jason Gourson
COUNTRY:  United States
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
Technical sssessment: 3
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating: V13 – with parental guidance
MTRCB rating: PG
Maya (Jennifer Lopez) just turns 40-year-old and struggles with frustrations for not having achieved more in life. As an experienced, quick-witted, perceptive employee of a megastore, she is passed over for a promotion for not having a college degree. Maya is devastated. Overhearing this, her godson secretly creates and revamps her online identity landing her a job as consultant at a high-end consumer products company. Being street-smart, she quickly earned respect and confidence of the CEO and he pits her against his daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens) to see who can better design an organic skin care line. But Zoe turns out to be more than just a corporate rival. How long can Maya keep up with her made-up identity?
Second Act is neither a romcom nor a drama—it is a comedy with a heart. Lopez brings out her romcom background best in this movie with a lot of maturity. Her commanding screen presence perfectly fits the Cinderella plot device. Lopez and Hudgens look good together and the twist in their connection in the film is both surprising and sweet—making the film veer away from usual predictable endings. The supporting actors give enough comedic flavor as well. The female bonding is smoothly executed in the film and the female second leads deliver the film’s sentiments.  The film in its entirety is a delight to watch and the audience are sure to have good laughs in between plenty of sobs and inspiration.
Second Act serves as inspiration to the aging sector in general and to women in particular. Most especially the film talks to those who have unfulfilled dreams or those who are thinking that they were not given equal opportunities in life for some reason—lack of education, poverty, unexpected pregnancy, etc. Second Act simply says it is never too late to chase after what one really wants, or to work for a dream. Living in society that puts so much prime on the young—the film is a mild eye-opener. Maya’s character may be flawed with wrong choices or wrong decisions but she is not imprisoned by regret. Instead, she stands up and dusts-off her mistakes and corrects them in the process. The truth has set her free.  More often than not, people would choose comfort over truth but Maya chooses otherwise. She is an example of woman’s strength of character that looks beyond selfish desires—willing to risk everything for the sake of truth. However, there is clear indication of co-habitation in the film and sexual relations outside   marriage—so the young audience must be guided on this. The deception is taken lightly as well although taken into context, it is said in the film that there is no substitute for truth-telling. CINEMA deems the film as appropriate only for audiences ages 13 years old and above with parental guidance.—RPJ

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Green Book

Director: Peter Farrelly 
Lead Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
Screenwriters: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly 
Producers: Jim Burke, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, Charles B. Wessler 
Editor: Patrick J. Don Vito 
Musical Director: Kris Bowers 
Cinematographer: Sean Porter 
Genre: Drama, Comedy 
Distributor: Pioneer Films 
Location: Louisiana, USA 
Running Time: 2 hr 9 min
Technical assessment: 4.2
Moral assessment: 4
CINEMA rating: V13
MTRCB rating: PG 13
You’re black. You’re gay. It’s the 60s—there’s a toilet for whites, a separate toilet for blacks. And you’re a renowned classical pianist, invited to perform before the most genteel audiences in the Deep South with its long history of black slavery and racial segregation. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) chooses to make a concert tour in Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama when he can be paid thrice as much in upscale New York. This he does to make a political statement—for an end to discrimination. And for that he endures the cruelty of the conflicted whites who applaud him for his music but refuse to have him use the same toilet they use, much less dine in the same restaurant they dine. Shirley knew he would be subjected to violence, so he hired Italian migrant and now New York City bouncer “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) as driver. Tony’s job is to deflect the blows against the great African-American artist so Shirley can complete his tour and Tony gets to return home to his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) in time for Christmas. Shirley does not go unscathed, but Tony emerges exorcised of his own prejudices.
Green Book is based on a true story, while “The Green Book” is a little booklet of tips on where to eat and where to sleep when you’re black and traveling in the Deep South. It becomes the centerpiece of Tony’s initiation into the world of segregation, which escaped his consciousness because he is white. With most of their illuminating interactions happening in a green Cadillac, Ali and Mortensen make the story move: Ali with his measured lines and guarded ways (for which he wins a best supporting actor award), and Mortensen with his unrestrained benevolence and glee. With fewer words, camera angles and movements allow us to enter into the inner conflicts of the two, and to laugh at their endearing quips and banters. The camera pans over rolling hills and verdant landscapes with Kris Bowers’ music in the background, interspersed with Aretha Franklin and Little Richard plus costume and production design to recreate the mood of the 60s.
The magic of Green Book is its play of contrast between Shirley’s fastidious discipline and Tony’s street-smart hustle. But both converge on a shared humanity and friendship, leaving us convinced that the key to communion is openness, to tolerance is recognition—of the fundamental right to live our life just as others have the same right to live their own. By using the language of cinema, director Peter Farrelly paints for us the irrationalities and perversions of discrimination on account of race, color, and gender. And with that same language, he brings us back to the anchor that builds our character and forms our beliefs and views—the family where life begins and where acceptance is a given.—MOE

Monday, February 11, 2019


DIRECTOR: Travis Knight
STARRING: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon
PRODUCER: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Tom DeSanto, Don Murphy. Michael Bay
SCREENWRITER: Christina Hudson
BASED ON: Transformers by Hasbro
MUSIC: Dario Marianelli
GENRE: Sci-Fi Adventure
DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pictures
COUNTRY:  United States
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
Technical assessment: 3.5
Moral assessment: 3.5
CINEMA rating: VA
The Autobot is about to lose the Civil War against the Decepticons. In an effort to live another day and continue the resistance, the Optimus Prime, their leader, dispatch a scout to Earth to set up a base where they can regroup. However, the scout is mistaken as a hostile invader by the military, led by Col Burns (John Cena) and attacked by a Decepticon scout who destroys his voice box and memory in an ensuing battle. Before the Autobot scouts loses consciousness, it takes the form of a 1967 yellow Volkwagen Beetle. Meanwhile, a teenager Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is very unhappy because her mother and younger brother have quickly moved on from the death of her father. Moreover, she dislikes her new stepfather, feeling he is constantly overreaching.  She impulsively buys (actually receives it a birthday gift) the rundown yellow Beetle and attempts to fix the car. She wakes it up and accidentally activates its homing signal which alerts Decepticon rangers. Unable to speak, the Autobot uses high pitched sounds prompting Charlie to nickname him Bumblebee. Charlie finds a friend in clumsy but endearing Bumblebee. She gets into trouble when her mother blames her for the destruction caused by Bumblebee’s clumsiness. With the government and the Decepticons chasing Bumblebee, Charlie decides she is the only person who can help her friend. A struggle takes place with Bumblebee saving Burns and defeating the Decepticon. The film ends with Bumblebee taking the shape of a Camaro and Charlie letting him go as she realizes “Bee” has a greater purpose.
Bumblebee is a brilliant choice for a solo movie since his character was the most endearing and iconic of the Transformer franchise. Providing him with a backstory was a sure blockbuster—if only the storytelling was as strong and tight. Thankfully, Steinfeld brought life to the movie. She was energetic and enigmatic enough to stand Bumblebee’s clumsy gentle giant persona. However, after a few cutesy moments together—one begins to feel the weight of an overstretched scene. After a while, it gets dull and repetitive. The conflict was predictable yet the action packed sequences with the robots transforming from one machine to another effortlessly did not lose its magic—even to non-fans.  No doubt the editing and CGI effects were enough motivation to watch the movie. It tried to be an “E.T.” with the friendship and heart-breaking goodbye—but it just did not get there.  Overall, Bumblebee would have been more effective as a short film. Without the need to stretch it into a full length feature, it could have developed more focus and tightened the narrative.
The movie, like its predecessors, talks about love and sacrifice as a powerful motivation to go through pain or death, if need be. It shows how one will do anything and everything to protect the ones they care about—human or machine. Bumblebee also shows how real love pushes us to protect and save people who are out there to harm us. And with such action, the original hate transforms into gratitude and love. There is also an underlying theme of being attentive and sensitive to the needs of others, especially our family. Charlie’s feelings were constantly neglected by her family causing her to find solace in Bumblebee. Fortunately, her “friend” provided positive influence. Otherwise, she could have been another troubled rebellious teenager.—PMF