Friday, April 26, 2013

Iron Man 3: Too Much Hype Can Disappoint You

April 26, 2013

First comment, the rating. In our country, this film is rated G. However, a scene that suggests a man's head was shot and the drugged prostitutes in a Miami mansion are hardly general patronage. This is PG-13 at best. 

Anyway, back to the movie. The hype and anticipation for this movie was incredible. The biggest chain of malls in this country had every single one of its movie theaters showing this film! Admittedly this made expectations for this movie to be as high as "The Avengers" last year. "The Avengers" made good on that hype, but "Iron Man 3" did not.

The plot centers around Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his conflict with a mad scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who has developed a powerful virus called Extremis who can give fiery powers to those who can withstand its painful incubation. At the same time, the President of the United States was abducted by a mad international terrorist who calls himself "Mandarin" (Ben Kingsley). When the Stark cliffside mansion was destroyed, his love Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) was abducted and his Iron Man suit severely damaged, Stark has to rely on his own cunning, and good friend Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and young geeky boy from Tennessee, to control his panic attacks, get his armor fixed and flying, in order to save the President and save Pepper too.

The action sequences were all very masterfully executed. I enjoyed the unbelievable "Barrel of Monkeys" sequence in the sky among people sucked out of Air Force One. Of course, the explosive and fiery finale on the waterfront was really awesome, with all those powerful incandescent Extremis soldiers and all those Iron Man suits we see in the commercials. I just felt though that the talky sequences between these action scenes are too prolonged and could be boring even. I even felt that Ben Kingsley was undeservedly wasted in the role given him. The comedic one-liners were not too funny, but the physical comedy parts by Downey were much better and funnier.

I thought this film was 70% Stark, only 30% Iron Man. I felt this film was too long and could be edited to tighten the suspense and streamline the storytelling more. The ending sequence was nicely ambiguous. The extra scene after the very long closing credits was funny with a surprising cameo appearance, but it was not so exciting to suggest what the next Marvel film was all about. (Or does it?) Overall, "Iron Man 3" was just alright, but not really worth all the hype given it. Temper your expectations.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Evil Dead (2013): Relentless Bloodbath

April 24, 2013

I have not seen the original 1981 "Evil Dead" by Sam Raimi, so I am judging this film on its own merit, not on how loyal it was to the original. Horror film that I am, I must say I do not like blood and gore type horror films. So the fact that this film had gallons of blood and gore splattering, gushing and dripping all over the place certainly did not make me like it more.

The premise was rather shallow. Five people are gathered in one lonely cabin in the woods supposedly to help one of them, Mia, get over heroin addiction. However, when one of them finds a chain-bound book in the basement and started reading the mysterious words it warned him NOT to read, then the demon awakens and the bloody mayhem begins, killing them one by one, until the inevitable last person standing.

Nothing was spared to make each member of the cast all bloodied up and dead. There just happened to be an electric knife, a nail gun, a chainsaw, anything and everything to slice, to stab, to dismember, to maim, everything to make a gory film gory. So if you hate blood, you should not watch this at all. Gallons and gallons of blood-like liquid were used in shooting this film.  Vampires should enjoy this one.

As I have mentioned, I do not particularly like blood and gore type horror films. I went into this movie not knowing that this would be like "Halloween," "Texas Chainsaw" or similar massacre type films. I confess I cringed and averted my eyes alright, as there were painfully disgusting scenes. But I have to say that this definitely was NOT the "astonishing," "astounding," "awesome," and "near perfect experience" that its hyperbolic poster would have us believe.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bayang Magiliw

April 18, 2013

This indie film is set in a second-class community in the province of Quezon called Magiliw. Its debonair macho mayor Filemon Almazan (Wendell Ramos) has ruled that any form of contraception is illegal in his town. He is proud that his town is the most densely populated town outside Manila.  He is a firm believer in the oft-(mis)quoted Biblical dictum of "be fruitful and multiply." His wife Rose is barren, so the good mayor compensates by sowing his seed all over town, siring at least ten kids with different women.

The distressed mother of his last child leaves her newborn baby outside the house of a rich family, the Tiongsons (Lloyd Samartino and Jackie Lou Blanco). Their daughter Catherine (Giselle Toengi) , who is a successful tax lawyer practicing in Manila, decides she wants to adopt the child. When the Mayor realizes that the child is his, he moves hell to get the child back, but Catherine will not back down.

Dr. Emil Magsino (Arnold Reyes), a dedicated 
young male OB-Gyne, was arrested by the Mayor because he secretly provides contraception to harassed townswomen, either in his clinic or outreach missions. Atty. Catherine accepts his case pro-bono. The doctor brings the attorney along on his outreach missions where they meet a dedicated barangay captain Ka Isay Bernardo (Raquel Villavicencio), further opening her eyes to the deep ills in her hometown.

The film tries to inject a lot of political issues, aside from the controversial RH Bill. We can clearly see that the Mayor controls everything and everyone in town. Even the Catholic Church was not spared as the old parish priest (Tony Mabesa) had to be afflicted with narcolepsy, falling asleep mid-sermon or mid-confession, making him the only truly comic character of the film. The arguments for and against RH Bill are echoed in the script, sometimes sounding pedantic and forced, but nothing really original.

Sometimes the director was not too sure where the movie was going. The supposedly satiric comedy is limited, and not too funny. In fact, there were more dramatic scenes than funny. There were even sexy scenes oddly
 inserted, including the much-advertised scene where Wendell Ramos was running in the nude, which need not really have been there.  The love story angle was also very awkward and unnecessary.

G Toengi, Jackie Lou Blanco and Raquel Villavicencio did very well in their roles. Wendell Ramos did not really look or act like a credible Mayor despite his salt and pepper hair. I commend director Gil Portes for boldly tackling a controversial theme. The good intention was obviously there, but the finished product was uneven.  
"Bayang Magiliw" is the opening line of the Philippine National Anthem. This line is even often mistaken to be its title. This title defines the ambitious scope and target audience of this movie.  Unfortunately it falls short of achieving its lofty goal.

Friday, April 12, 2013


April 12, 2013

I knew nothing about the story of "Oblivion" when I went in the theater, but when I came out I was completely awed by this movie. This is the first film this year that I feel is a real contender for Oscar nominee consideration. 

The story is intelligent without being too "Inception"-like in its telling and development. The setting is the future after aliens have destroyed the Earth. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a technician who fixes drones or "Wall- E"-like flying robot police gofers of that time. He works with with his partner Vika (Andrea Riseborough) and they report to a talking head on their computer named Sally (Melissa Leo). He keeps having flashbacks of going around the observation deck of the Empire State Building with a woman. One day, he rescues a female crew member of a pod that crash-landed named Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who could be connected with his past. A band of human rebels (led by Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) gives Jack an insight on his real nature. I could not divulge anymore plot details so as not to spoil your enjoyment of this must-see film.

The technical aspects of this film were flawless. The cinematography by Claudio Miranda was breathtaking, and the director really takes his time with these beautiful imagery. The art direction for this futuristic setting, from the stylish tech towers to the ruins of Manhattan, were all very well done. That transparent flying machine they use is radical in design and movement. The visual effects, so integral for science fiction films like this, were very subtle, not obtrusive at all. The atmospheric musical score was awesome, from the big orchestral sweeping ones for grandeur to those small quiet rhythmic ones for suspense.

Tom Cruise does very well in this movie as the central character Jack. He does not overact this time. On the contrary, he was quite unusually reserved in his approach, underplaying, which was perfect for his character. I am not exactly thinking of an acting nomination or anything though but he is so right for the role. Freeman and the exotic Bond girl also do well in their smaller supporting roles. 

OK, there are some derivative scenes which may remind you of "Star Wars" or "Planet of the Apes." But more important than those minor observations, writer-director Joseph Kosinski really had a good story and he tells it very well indeed. He knows how to maximize the talents of his crew to create this audacious yet reflective sci-fi masterpiece. Highly recommended! .

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

April 11, 2013

"Olympus Has Fallen" has been called by various critics as "Die Hard in the White House" because that is exactly what it is. The White House was attacked and taken over by a crazy North Korean terrorist Kang (Rick Yune) and his posse. The President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) himself was held hostage with his closest staff. The entire presidential security in the palace had been ALL killed off. 

Well, that is, except for one Mike Banning (Gerald Butler), who had been removed from the close-in security of the POTUS because of a lapse of judgment 18 months ago. As would be expected in a pseudo-"Die Hard" film like this, Banning single-handedly outwits and disposes off all the bad guys, averts a nuclear attack against the US in the nick of time, leading to the melodramatic uber-patriotic speech from the rescued President that we had anticipated from the start.

As an action film it was quite good. We just have to shut our brain off for two hours and not think. We do not get spared from violent fight scenes which were graphic and bloody, and that is good since we came into this film expecting an adrenaline rush, and indeed we will get that.

Let us just disregard certain unbelievable plot holes, such why Banning security access status was still active 18 months after he lost his job as Presidential Security, or how the terrorist was able to get the final secret code for the nuclear weapons without the POTUS giving it to them, among many other questions. You are not supposed to notice these things anymore.

The release of this film is as timely as could be since North Korea is currently positioning itself as an aggressor in the real world, declaring war on South Korea, and practically, the USA as well by extension. I am just wondering why the US would allow a movie showing their White House so weak in security or their President so weak in resolve. Do these really fire up patriotic fervor, or raise more questions about Washington would do in a crisis like this?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pitch Perfect

April 10, 2013

I only got wind about this film after I saw a couple of teenagers singing a song a capella while rhythmically flipping tumblers during a birthday party earlier this year. They said it was from a movie called "Pitch Perfect," so I got curious and sought out a copy to see what this film was all about.

This film's theme is very much like "Glee." Some misfit girls try to make their mark in college by joining a disgraced a capella singing group called the Bellas. The story follows the Bellas as they try to be the first all-girl group to win Nationals. However, with all the drama queens in their small group (ala "Mean Girls"), it is not going to be easy an easy task.

This film is currently very popular with the teenage set. However, for me, the humor is already very much at the boundary of raunchy comedy at times for this age group. Definitely, it crossed the gross-out comedy boundary of PG with all the inexplicably voluminous projectile vomiting scenes. There were some weird comedy like the mousy Asian girl Lilly whose voice was so soft you'd wonder how she got into a singing group at all. (She is cute though, but she says the darnedest things, if you actually hear what she says.)

The central character is a freshman named Beca, who want to be a musician against the wishes of her father, who wants her to go into the academe. The personality of Beca, as played by Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick, was so unlikable. She sticks out like a sore thumb playing it so seriously while the others were obviously having fun with their characters, especially Rebel Wilson (as Fat Amy). I can't really say I was rooting for Beca at all to make it in anything, be it career-wise or romantically.

The singing scenes, which were supposed to be the highlight of the film, were hit and miss. Some were very good, like "No Diggity" and the other songs sung during the sing-off in the gym. However, there were those where the mix was not too good. The final song number by the Bellas in particular, while generally good, was marred by a terribly pitchy solo by no less than Beca herself.  As for the a capella number of the boys, well for me, the Warblers on "Glee" were much better.

Anyway, despite all my problems with the execution of this film, in general it was entertaining to watch. I may be out of their target demographic hence my middling review, but I can completely see why the teen set loves this film with all the hip song mash-ups and the funny scenes and lines.  But I do hope these teen fans are mature enough to recognize that this is only comedy movie, so far from what really matters or happens when they are in college.  But hey, who am I to judge, as I also did pass through my own naughty teen movie phase when I was their age.  I don't think I was mature enough when I watched those films back then (which were probably worse than this one), but I think turned out okay.  Haha!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie

April 9, 2013

Believe it or not, I have never seen anything Naruto until today. This name though, and the image of the young guy with three stripes on either side of his face, with the yellow spiky hairstyle, and wearing an orange jogging suit has long been familiar to me as a Japanese anime character. However, for some reason or another, I never got a chance nor the interest to see any TV episode nor movie from this franchise before, until my kids convinced me to bring them to watch this film this afternoon on opening day in a local mall.

"Road to Ninja" tells a complicated story where Naruto and his friend Sakura are sent into a parallel mirror world by an evil ninja wizard, where their deepest dreams come true. Sakura, who resents her parents meddling with her life, realizes that her parents have both died as heroes. Naruto who had lived his entire life as an orphan, now enjoys the loving presence of his parents, Minato and Kushima. 

Both Naruto and Sakura are still cognizant though that they are living in an illusion that needs to be broken. Powerful ninja battles ensue during the night of the red moon, the only night when the spell can be broken by a mysterious scroll, and Naruto had to invoke the Nine-Tailed Fox within him in an attempt to return their world back to how it used to be.

Despite the fact that I did not even know a single fact about Naruto or his friends, I did not find it difficult to get into the groove of this story. I had to ask a question or two to my son beside me to set me straight on character relationships, but overall it was not too tough to get through. 

The story was told very well, without really requiring an in depth knowledge of the animated series. The flashbacks give us the necessary historical background in order to understand better the current situation the characters are in. The clarity of this story development is quite impressive considering this is already the ninth Naruto film!

I can now see why this anime series had been so popular over the years. No wonder this particular installment had just become the highest-grossing Naruto film. I think I might just go watch the first film and really get acquainted with this popular series more.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Croods

April 8, 2013

I honestly did not want to watch "The Croods." The ugly title and the crude way the characters were drawn did not really appeal to me. I kept trying to defer it when my kids were asking to watch it. Well, at the mall yesterday on a lazy Sunday afternoon with nothing specific to do, there was no more excuse or escape for this dad to delay the inevitable.

"The Croods" was about the last Neanderthal caveman family on Earth who were forced to get out of the cave that had kept them safe all these years when the mountains around them began to crumble down. With the help of a young inventive caveman named Guy, they follow the sun and venture into the big wide unknown, seeking to escape the destruction of the world they knew. On this journey, the Crood patriarch Grug faces his biggest dilemma as a father when his established way of keeping his family together and safe is challenged by his rebellious teenage daughter Eep, the "modern" ideas of Guy, as well as the shifting continental land masses.

It took time for me to get into the groove of the story. The superhuman abilities of the Croods as well as the incredibly strange flora and fauna around them were simply too unbelievable and weird. Once I got that initial resistance out of the way, I not only had a very good time laughing at their hilarious antics, I was also very personally touched by the situation experienced by Grug as head of his family, now facing the ultimate threat for their very existence, dealing with new untested concepts about fatherhood.  This film is very entertaining and heart-warming at the same time.

The technical excellence of this film is unquestionable. OK, I did not really like how the Croods looked, but hey they ARE cavemen anyhow. Why the baby daughter Sandy looks and acts so horribly, I wouldn't know.  However the artwork and cinematography of the world around them was breathtaking. The visual effects, grand or minute, dealing with rock, or water, or dust, or tar were so realistic. The voice work by Nicolas Cage for Grug is so good, gruff but so sincere. Emma Stone as  Eep, Ryan Reynolds as Guy and Ms. Cloris Leachman as the cranky grandmother also turn in remarkable vocal work. 

Like several Dreamworks animated films before this one, namely "Shrek", "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Megamind", I was initially turned off by the non-traditional, OK non-Disney, look of the artwork. But after hearing much positive word of mouth, I gave them a chance and watched them. Of course, I appreciate them as the excellent films that they are. I now add "The Croods" to that list. I should really learn my lesson and stop judging them by the way they look in the trailer.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Host

April 4, 2013

Caught between two big box-office hits over the weekend (local "It Takes a Man and a Woman" and Hollywood "GI Joe Retaliation") not too much was heard about this film in both print nor online media. That made me even more curious to catch it.  I have not read the book. But I have to admit, it was the author's name that intrigued me to watch this movie. Stephenie Mayer, of course, is very famous for her Twilight books, the writing of which I am not exactly a fan. But I am curious about what other stories she is capable to telling us, so I felt I had to check out "The Host."

"The Host" is a sci-fi movie set in a future when the Earth was in its most perfect state, but alas, it was because an alien race had possessed the bodies of nearly everyone on the planet. As in other alien invasion films, there is still that small pocket of human resistance fighting the situation. The story begins when one of the key members of this human resistance force, Melanie Strider, was severely injured in a chase with the alien seekers. Her mutilated body was  healed and given an alien being who called herself "Wanderer." However, Melanie's mind remains alive, and continues to rebel against her alien parasite, who turned out to be of a rather kind and compliant nature. Melanie's family and friends felt drawn to her, calling her "Wanda", yet were at a loss whether to trust this new Melanie or not, as the alien seekers close in on their secret lair in the American outbacks.

The sci-fi aspects were generally well-presented with cool computer graphical effects. It was just too bad there was too little background told about the alien race itself and where they came from and why. The shiny futuristic sets and props, as well as the breathtaking desert setting, were enhanced by the vibrant cinematography. The action scenes were only few but well-executed. Being written by Meyer, romance scenes were aplenty and could really be cheesy and corny many times, especially those that pertain to kissing and slapping. I literally groaned in those painful scenes.

The  talented lead actress Saoirse Ronan was impressive, as she makes the incredible conflict of two beings living and arguing inside a single body actually believable.  She has certainly matured and improved a lot from her Oscar-nominated debut role in "Atonement."  The much-missed William Hurt was likewise remarkable in the role of her benevolent Uncle Jed .  The child (Chandler Canterbury) playing Melanie's kid brother Jamie was very good. Their tender scene in the cave of coal worms was very touching. It was also good to see "Titanic" mom Frances Fisher again, this time as a gritty frontierswoman.  The two new young actors who played her rival boyfriends Jared and Ian (Max Irons and Jake Abel) were not known to me, but obviously cast to be the new "Edward" and "Jacob" fighting for Melanie's/Wanda's love. 

Overall, this was quite an entertaining absorbing film, which is unusual for me to say since I do not really like love story movies. I did not expect to like it, but I did.  Above the shallow romance theme, there was a nobler theme in there of humanity and harmony that pervades above all.  And yes, Stephenie Mayer does have a much better story here than she did in the four books of the Twilight Saga.