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 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel

DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez
LEAD CAST: Rosa Salazar, Cristoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley & Keean Johnson
SCREENWRITER: James Cameron & Laeta Kalogridis
PRODUCER: James Cameron & Jon Landau
EDITOR: Stephen E. Rivkin
GENRE: Science fiction/Fantasy
DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
RUNNING TIME: 122 mins.
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  3.5
CINEMA rating:  V 13
MTRCB rating:  PG
After the cataclysmic war known as “The Fall”, Earth has become a monumental trash heap where everyone scavenges to survive, kept alive by the thought of one day finding relief in Zalem, a city of the elite high up in the sky.  One day as the compassionate cyborg scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Cristoph Waltz) scavenges for treasure among the trash, he finds the bust of a female cyborg with a human brain, half dead.  In his his clinic he succeeds in giving it a robotic body.  The cyborg awakens but can recall nothing about her past or identity; Dr. Ido then names her Alita (Rosa Salazar), after his deceased daughter.  Alita becomes comfortable with her new body and as her unique skillset surfaces, the curious cyborg discovers that Dr. Ido is a warrior-hunter.  As the story unfolds, layer upon layer of secrets are peeled off, revealing the surprising depth of each character.
Alita: Battle Angel is the big-screen adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga, “Battle Angel Alita”.  With its great attention to detail and character development, the film has created a world where viewers may easily get carried away, especially if it is watched on a giant screen.  While the bleak setting, Iron City, is a veritable junkyard, the movie is not depressing; while the lead female is a robot, she is not cold.  The visuals are breathtaking; the action, wow!  Director Rodriguez’s eye for action is complemented by cleverly placed close-ups that give the story its heart.  Waltz as a kindhearted man proves his acting mettle once more in a role that’s the opposite of his usually villainous, ruthless film persona.  Salazar, on the other hand, inspires sympathy—is it due to her role, or her soulful eyes?
An aspect worth pondering in Alita: Battle Angel is the wide range of human emotions depicted.  The story is set centuries into the future—year 2563—and yet, the characters’ responses to emotional stimuli remain the same as ours today.  Note the relationship between Alita and Dr. Ido, Chiren’s maternal instinct causing her change of heart, Alita’s self-sacrificing love for Hugo, etc.  Whether it is anger, love, ambition, or hatred fueling their actions, the characters—human or cyborg—are so like us, responding the way we do now, or even as our counterparts did centuries ago as history proves.  The desire for power or dominance is still there, so is the human longing for love.  Also, man still itches for greener pastures, as the gap between society’s rich and poor, the elites and the scavengers, remains unbridgeable.  If only the externals are changed 500 years from now, is the movie saying that the human brain is the same yesterday, today and forever?  What about human existence, purpose, or destiny—will it be forever a mystery?—TRT

Friday, February 8, 2019

Dragon Ball Super: Broly

Director: Tatsuya Nagamine  Lead Cast: Masako Nozawa, RyĆ“ Horikawa, Bin Shimada, Chris Ayres  Screenwriter: Akira Toriyama  Producer: Toei Animation  Musical Director: Norihito Sumitomo  Genre: Anime, Action  Distributor: Warner Bros.  Running Time: 1 hr 41 min 
Technical assessment: 3.5 
Moral assessment: 3 
CINEMA rating: V13 
MTRCB rating: PG 13 
In some universe somewhere, there are ultra-aggressive warriors called Saiyans. They become a threat to a super god Frieza who wipes them out. But some survive, including three Saiyans: Goku and Prince Vegeta who land on earth, and Broly who had been exiled to another star as an infant by Prince Vegeta’s father who was then King of Saiyan. Broly exhibited powers that surpassed the prince’s, and the king did not want anyone to eclipse his son. Broly’s father Paragus joined Broly in exile, raising Broly for combat and revenge against Vegeta. But neither Paragus nor Broly could restrain his immense power. Years later, the three Saiyans face off in a battle when Frieza’s soldiers steal Bulma’s dragon balls, which have magical powers. Bulma is Vegeta’s wife. Broly—used as pawn by Frieza—grows stronger, while Goku and Vegeta, on the opposite side, discover their new strength of fusion as they combine to become Gogeta. 
Many anime fans consider this latest instalment in the Dragon Ball franchise the best in the series. Even viewers alien to the Dragon Ball vocabulary like the flashbacks that give context to the story, helping them understand that Kakarot the baby is now the grownup GokuAnd the dialogue has enough to explain that Frieza’s and Bulma’s motive in gaining possession of the dragon balls is not power over the universe but aesthetics and personal vanity. Anime has a great following among adults and children, and this movie plays up every Super Saiyan power that can be visualized on screen with distinctive fight scenes suffused with vibrant colors, exaggerated movements, and hyped-up sounds and expressions 
The movie is from beginning to end, battle scenes—glorified, alluring, and interjected with some humor. That is the nature of anime, and to say that the director should have made it otherwise would be to strip it of its own genre. But lest it be overlooked, the movie requires parental guidance when children are in the theater, which is not unlikely because Dragon Ball appeals to the young. There are. of course, some good messages. For one, we see how Broly’s potentials are laid to waste because he was brought up in an environment of hatred and fighting. His father manipulated him. Frieza is a cruel leader whose insecurities propel him to further acts of violence. But good is good, and cannot be extinguished. Goku reaches out to Broly after their showdown. Broly has episodes of tenderness and madness. These are allegories of life that lay hidden in the mesmerizing world of anime. And, unless viewed with a careful eye, they can seep into our consciousness as norms, especially among the young.MOE