Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review of SAN ANDREAS in 3D-4DX: Relentless Roller-Coaster!

May 27, 2015

Because watching at the 4DX Theater at the Bonifacio High Street is twice the price of the usual movie, we need to decide well which films will be best seen in such an all-involving manner beyond sight and sound. The first film decided to watch there was "Into the Storm" (2014), which was about the violent effects of a monster tornado in the American Midwest. Today, for my second time to watch there, it is yet another disaster movie, this time about a massive earthquake. I guess in my book, a disaster movie would be one genre of film that would work very well in 4DX, and certainly this time I was not wrong.

At the risk of betraying my age, I recall in my childhood that there was a famous film entitled "Earthquake" (1974) which was a big deal back then because it was shown in theaters with a special soundtrack effect called "Sensurround." My vague recollections of that movie experience was that very loud and heavy bass sound effects made audiences feel like they were shaking along with the action on the screen. Of course, with one disaster film released after another over the years, audiences would expect the new one to supersede the previous one in terms of special effects of mass destructiveness. "San Andreas" definitely does not disappoint in that aspect.

Professor Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) and his team at CalTech had perfected a method of predicting earthquakes. Just when they were testing their system at the Hoover Dam, a very strong earthquake strikes. However, their equipment shows that that that Nevada earthquake was just the precursor of a bigger, more destructive as their indicators light up the whole San Andreas fault line from Los Angeles all the way to San Francisco!

Meanwhile, we meet Fire and Rescue chief Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) had to rescue his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) trapped somewhere in LA, and then rush off by all (and I mean all -- land, sea and air) means of transportation possible to rescue their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) trapped somewhere in San Francisco with her two new British friends who helped her, the charming architect Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his smart-alecky younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson). Will Ray reach Blake in time to rescue her, or will he be reliving the ghosts of a past tragedy from which he had never really moved on? 

We all know that story is not really the big selling point of a film like this. We can all somehow predict how the family drama would go in the end, don't we? We know that Ray Gaines, being the "Rock" that he is, would be a super-dad who just happened to know how to do EVERYTHING. It was so good that Dwayne Johnson nailed both action and dramatic scenes with aplomb and sincerity. He provides both muscle and heart to this film. We know we will be seeing lucky characters, narrow escapes, coincidental encounters, close calls,  last-minute saves, and yes, these incredible scenes are there aplenty. Cheesy romantic scenes? It has those too. No, we do not really watch films like this for the story.

People who watch this film are there to watch the best special effects used to recreate the most realistic disasters. "San Andreas" spared nothing in its span and scale of disaster. You may have seen the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed in other films, but I bet you've never seen it destroyed this way before. Watching this in 3D+4DX is worth the extra ticket price because this really brings us more into the midst of the massive earthquake. Our seats are shaking with the quake, as well as the motors of the cars, planes, copters or boats we see on screen, with the wind blowing around us. It is literally breathtaking as we are taken on a relentless roller-coaster ride, with adrenaline on a constant high. 

While this film fully captures the terrifying power and fearsome wrath of a widespread magnitude 9.6 earthquake, with our hero Ray and his family to root for, this film also becomes quite entertaining to watch as well. Director Brad Peyton was able to strike that perfect balance to keep us at the edge of our seats with the sense of imminent (and potentially real) danger, and yet still have an exhilarating fun time. You may also pick up some vital quake survival tips along the way. 7/10. With the 3D+4DX, 8/10.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Review of THE AGE OF ADALINE: Love of a Lifetime

May 24, 2015

When I went to see this film, I had no idea what this was going to be about. The trailer was good, because it was interesting without letting on what exactly the central story would be. All I saw was a love story about a woman named Adaline and the men in her life. With the word "Age" in the title, I guessed that there would be a time component to the story, maybe time-travel. 

It turns out this was not the case, and I was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, it is impossible to write about this film without spoiling some plot details. I could stop here and say that this was a very well-made and well-acted romance film that spans decades, with excellent period details. Ladies, in particular, will enjoy watching this and probably shed a tear or two at certain parts. But for those who have seen it or those who do not mind knowing more about the story, do read on as I write more of my thoughts about this film. I will still try to avoid mentioning too much plot detail.


Adaline Bowman was an ordinary woman born on New Year's Eve 1908. When she was 29 years old, her chromosomes were altered by an interaction of hypothermia and a high-voltage electrical shock, freezing her at that age for the rest of her life (a scientific phenomenon yet to be explained in the year 2035). Fearing discovery by authorities, Adaline was forced to live on the run, changing identities and residences every ten years. She shunned all forms of human relationships as much she could avoid, with only her daughter Flemming knowing her secret.

However, on New Year's Eve 2014, under her current name of Jennifer Larson, Adaline meets the charismatic young man named Ellis Jones. As Adaline falls for his charms, her deep-seated fears once again surface. Will she abandon Ellis again as she did several other men in her past and deny herself happiness? Or will she finally abandon her apprehensions and settle down with a man she loves?

This is a film about a woman with eternal youth. Thankfully, this is NOT about a vampire again. The approach of this very charming film is dramatic romance, with fantasy as its fanciful embellishment. The production design, costume and hair/makeup people have their work cut out for them as they had to painstakingly recreate each and every decade in Adaline's life. Their meticulous work deserve awards consideration as these were of excellent quality, enhancing this film's timeless theme. 

Blake Lively portrayed Adaline Bowman as a strong, refined, dignified lady, not prone to hysterics. She has to convey all her inner turmoil with her eyes and her beautiful face. I believe she pulled it off very well, and she brings us along with her charmed life with its difficult decisions. This film rides on her shoulders and she carries it with grace and confidence. It also helps that she has a timeless beauty that fit in any of the time periods her character was in. She must have been a dream-come-true for those costume and makeup guys as she can carry any look gorgeously.

Playing the wealthy and cultured philanthropist Ellis Jones is Dutch actor Michiel Huisman. I know this actor as the new Daario Naharis, the Khaleesi's consort on Season 4 of "Game of Thrones." He projects a goofy charm about him. His chemistry with Blake Lively was not immediately electric, but it steadily developed as the film went along. When he gratuitously appeared onscreen only clad in a towel with his chest and abs exposed, you knew that this film was primarily targeted for the ladies. 

Harrison Ford plays Ellis' father William, an astronomer who is celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary with his wife Kathy (Kathy Baker). Ellis brought Adaline (as Jennifer) home with him to celebrate his parents' life milestone. But when William sees Adaline, ... I will not say more. Suffice it to say that Harrison Ford gives the best and most memorable performance of his recent career in this film since his star dimmed in the past two decades. I hope his work here will not be forgotten come awards season.

Ellen Burstyn is delightful as Adaline's daughter Flemming in her senior years. When daughter began to look older than mother, they were forced to live apart. Her best scene was that when Adaline introduces her to Ellis for the first time. Her face spoke volumes of emotion pent up through the years and it was so beautiful to witness. 

As told by director Lee Toland Krieger, Adaline's story was shown as a series of flashbacks intercutting with present-day scenes when memories were triggered by current situations. It employs a voice-over narration which sounded very much like what you would hear on an old documentary film reel. The effect was a bit confusing at first, but you would get used to this voice as it interjects itself to explain odd circumstances. 

I liked how it mixed in historical facts and places in San Francisco to drive the story along. The pseudo-scientific jargon explanations were inventive, fictional as they were. At least it wasnt another vampire's bite or witch's spell that caused this to happen. There are some funny lines subtly delivered here and there to lighten up the mood. Best of these was when Flemming was commenting how very few photographs Adaline had, and Adaline quipped, "You've seen one, you've seen them all." 

I am not really a fan of romance films. However, this one caught my attention because of its time-bending theme and historical touches in its storytelling. Ladies will like this love story and its heroine quite instinctively. Their dates will also have interesting things to see, the lovely face and striking silhouette of Blake Lively not being the least of them. 8/10.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Review of TOMORROWLAND: Overwrought Optimism

May 23, 2015

In 1964, Frank Walker was a child genius who bravely showed up at the World's Fair, bringing a crude jetpack he had invented by himself. In 2015, Casey Newton uses her own mechanical inventions to try and delay the dismantling of NASA platforms at Cape Canaveral. A mysterious little girl named Athena chooses both of them to receive a pin inscribed with a letter T, a touch of which brings them to a magical futuristic wonderland. With Athena's intercession, Walker and Newton cross paths in the present day in an effort to emancipate this "Tomorrowland" from the negative forces which control it.

From the trailer alone, we know "Tomorrowland" would be an extravagant visual treat. And that it really was. From meticulously recreating the 1964 World's Fair with its retro fashion and quaint technology to imaginatively envisioning a metropolis of the future with its outlandish architecture and snazzy hovercrafts, this film is a masterpiece of production design. An old wooden farm house becomes a high-tech ironclad fortress. A store in Houston becomes a treasure trove of pop culture memorabilia, a true blast from the past. And best of them all, the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris becomes a sparkly and spectacular rocket launch station! 

Visuals alone though do not a great movie make. The way director Brad Bird tells it, the story goes through 130 minutes of convoluted loops and elaborate turns. The first act was slow and long-winded, with so many fancy stunts that led nowhere. The second act when Franky and Casey get together was the best and most exciting part of the film. I forgot my dissatisfaction of the first act, and felt the rising tension so effectively built. Disappointingly, whatever momentum was created by the second act got eroded away by an overlong and even tediously anti-climactic third act. I could not wait for it to end, but the end was not coming soon enough.

Since his two main co-stars are relative newcomers, the talent and experience of George Clooney were essential to bind this whole rather messy bundle together, and he does so effectively. Clooney plays his disillusioned genius character Frank Walker as a gruff curmudgeon, and he was charming and funny. 

Britt Robertson has been acting for 15 of her 25 years and this lead role as Casey is her biggest break. I do not know if it is her acting or the way her character was written, but she did not succeed to have me rooting for her Casey.  She came across as too sassy and smart-alecky for comfort. Aside from optimism, what exactly is Casey's dream? We were not clearly told. Her closeness with her father is only implied but not elaborated. It seemed too easy for her to just run off to another state without seeking her father's permission. This was bothersome from a parent's point of view.

Child actress Raffey Cassidy fares much better in her role as Athena. We had seen her delightful pixie face before as the young Eva Green in "Dark Shadows" and the young Kristen Stewart in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Here she had good chemistry with Thomas Robinson, the actor playing the young Frank Walker, as well as with Clooney as the old Frank. It is just too bad that her character was not developed too clearly. When her climactic dramatic moment came at the end, we fail to emotionally connect with it

Hugh Laurie was given the thankless role of Nix, the leader of Tomorrowland whose motivations are unclear and do not really make any sense in the final analysis. This underwritten antagonist character was certainly one of the factors why the story did not fly.

Since his auspicious animated feature film debut "The Iron Giant" (1999), Brad Bird had consistently given us top-notch films: "The Incredibles" (2004), "Ratatouille" (2007) and the live action "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (2011) are all excellent. Audacious as it may seem on the surface, "Tomorrowland" is Bird's most disappointing project to date. 

Of course, as this is a Disney movie, we are expected to approach this film with childlike idealism, flawed as the underlying message may be. Optimistic dreamers are the ultimate saviors of the world.  For me, "Tomorrowland" was not able to sell that idea too well. 

It concentrated too much in developing grand images guaranteed to awe and amaze us, hoping that the poorly-told story will not matter so much. Frank Walker did have a line that went, "Can't you just be amazed, and move on?"  For young kids, maybe because they will not really understand what is going on. For most adult audiences though, they will see through the smoke and mirrors and feel oddly empty after the final (supposedly inspirational) scenes. 5/10.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review of SPY: Marvellous McCarthy

May 21, 2015

Since she started working for the CIA, homely and obese Agent Susan Cooper has been content to be the unseen and unheralded desk support partner of superspy Bradley Fine. In one operation gone wrong, Raina Boyanov, a ruthless international nuclear arms dealer, takes down Fine and threatens all the known CIA field agents. Knowing her anonymity is the CIA's best option, Cooper volunteers to track Boyanov down. From there, Cooper awkwardly and fumblingly goes around Europe disguised as frumpy matrons in order to stop Boyanov and her evil plots.

Melissa McCarthy totally owned this film as her own. In her previous films, her characters were very brash,loud and quite unlikeable. But here in "Spy", you immediately take a liking to her delightful Susan Cooper and you will be rooting for her for the whole film. Make no mistake, the familiar foul-mouthed McCarthy persona does make an appearance. But here, it is in line with her undercover spy duties.

Even if the marvellous physical comedy skills of Melissa McCarthy is front and center on display here, you also cannot ignore the comedic talent displayed by the other actors in the cast, many of whom are more known for dramatic roles. 

Rose Byrne was so on point as the mega-snooty Raina Boyanov, so funny in her straight-faced over-the-top alpha-bitchy mode. The rich comedic rapport McCarthy and Byrne had with each other as mortal nemeses certainly buoyed the middle act. It was so surprising that this glamourous actress is not averse to physical comedy, as evidenced by Byrne's comically painful scene as her character was pinned down under two heavy-set men while her private plane was having anti-gravity issues. 

My unexpected favorite in the cast is Jason Statham and his uncharacteristic portrayal of abrasive CIA Agent Rick Ford. We usually see him as the strong and silent macho hero taking up the cudgels of the oppressed in his many action films. He is still strong and macho, but whoa, Statham is definitely NOT silent here! This must be the first time I have heard him deliver lines in mile-a-minute speed as he proudly relates his many incredible career exploits. Never thought Statham could ever be funny. I really enjoyed his scenes.

Jude Law was right in his element as Bradley Fine, a suave, tuxedo-clad secret agent and charming ladykiller. Allison Janney plays Cooper's no-nonsense boss Elaine Crocker. Gangsterish Bobby Cannavale plays the glamorous terrorist De Luca. Tall and mousy-looking Miranda Hart plays Nancy, Susan's supportive friend and co-worker in their rat-infested CIA basement. Roguish-looking Peter Serafinowicz plays Aldo, Susan's overly amorous Italian backup agent. All of them stood out in their respective portrayals, helping McCarthy generate more laughs in their scenes together.

This is the third time writer-director Paul Feig is working with his favorite actress Melissa McCarthy. In "Bridesmaids" (MY REVIEW), McCarthy was funny as part of an ensemble of comediennes. In "The Heat" (MY REVIEW), she was funnier, sharing the screen with Sandra Bullock. In "Spy", McCarthy is the funniest she has ever been. 8/10.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review of MAGGIE: Subtle and Sensitive Schwarzenegger

May 19, 2015

A global viral epidemic was turning its victims into cannibalistic zombies. Marguerite "Maggie" Vogel was recently diagnosed with this dreaded disease. Against all odds, her father Wade brought her home, stood by her and protected her as the virus gradually and cruelly takes over her body and mind. 

Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger is headlining this, zombie fans may be expecting something exciting and grand scale like "World War Z" here. Quite the contrary though, "Maggie" takes a languidly-paced and low-key approach to this genre. While it may have some gruesome images, "Maggie" is not a horror film by intention. It is driven not by scenes of mass mayhem and explosive war, but by the relationship of its two main characters, an intimate family drama about the father and daughter bond. 

Ever since he hit the Hollywood big time as "Conan the Barbarian" back in 1982, Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger has always been known as an action star - brash, loud, invincible. "Maggie" is remarkable because we see a totally different Schwarzenegger.  He is quiet and sensitive here, almost contemplative. His best scene here did not even have a single word, punch nor gunshot. Schwarzenegger shows that he does have a wider acting range than what we give him credit for. Who would have known he had subtlety in him before this?

For her part, Abigail Breslin has been impressive since she debuted as Mel Gibson's daughter in "Signs" (2002). Her young career was already rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her sparkling performance in "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006). Here in "Maggie," under all her grim zombie makeup, Breslin was able to effectively convey the conflicting emotions of a young teenager facing a certain deadly fate, keeping a brave front outside while screaming from the inside. 

As a whole though, the film itself may be too slow and depressing for the mainstream audience. In his feature film directorial debut, Henry Hobson opted for a relentlessly maudlin mood as all color had seemingly been washed out in favor of greys. Despite the heavy and potentially oppressive gloom, the project still remains watchable mainly because of the commendable acting performances of Schwarzenegger and Breslin. Their powerfully restrained climactic scene together in itself makes the whole film worth watching. 6/10. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: Bold, Badass and Beautiful

May 17, 2015

I have only a fleeting memory of the Mad Max films from 1979-1985 directed by George Miller and starring Mel Gibson. These were set in the dystopian future in Australia, where energy is a critical commodity. Max was a man mad with revenge after his wife and child were brutally murdered. This setting is all the background you need to know about the previous franchise in order to enjoy this present incarnation, 30 years after "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome", the last film of the first trilogy.

In the massive Citadel, a skull mask-wearing tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules, cruelly withholding precious water from his impoverished subjects. Mad Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) has been captured to become a blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of Joe's War Boys. Elsewhere, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a female War-Rig driver, helps Joe's five wives escape to the fabled "Green Place" of her childhood. Nux, with Max still attached to him, joins Joe and the other War Boys to pursue Furiosa. This chase leads to a major explosive battle-royale in the desert, one that would cause an upheaval of the balance of power in the outback. 

The screenplay by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris was rich and complex, with deep emotional moments. The cinematography of John Seale, with his orange-tinged day scenes and yellowish-hued night scenes, was breathtaking to behold. The magnificent action sequences with 90% actual (not CG!) vehicular stunts with gigantic monster trucks were so perfectly planned and executed. These were edited with precision by Margaret Sixel, with awesome sound mixing to boot. I thought the eye-popping 3D effects for those exhilarating car chase scenes are very much worth the extra in ticket price.

Tom Hardy was impressive in both his athletic ability and his facial expressiveness as the quietly macho Max. He was required to underplay his role since Max is a strong and silent type. But to his credit, Hardy was able to come up with a relatively silent but memorably strong performance. His final scene was very haunting even without any words being spoken.

Despite being totally bald, one-armed, with black grease on her face, Charlize Theron never loses her elegant screen presence for a moment. Her performance, so rough and physical and yet so warm and moving, was the very heart of the film. Truth to tell, she was riveting every time she is onscreen, even stealing the thunder from the title character himself. Rare as it may be for an action film, I feel Theron is definitely in serious contention for a Best Actress award.

More than anything else, "Mad Max: Fury Road" is one gorgeous-looking film. Director George Miller was able to mine cinematic beauty from the vicious violence and badass brutality amidst the dirty and dusty dystopian setting, and that is no mean feat. I am looking forward to the coming installments of this new and improved Mad Max franchise. 9/10.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review of PITCH PERFECT 2: Refreshing Riff-Offs!

May 16, 2015

I was late on the first "Pitch Perfect" bandwagon when it was first shown back in 2012 and became a sleeper hit. I did not rate it too highly when I wrote my review about it, giving it only a 6/10. I cited that I did not like the lead character of Beca as played by Anna Kendrick. I thought the singing scenes were hit and miss, with the climactic final number ruined by a pitchy solo by Kendrick. However, with repeated viewings with my kids, I confess that I eventually warmed up to the movie, and the Bellas.  The whole family was very excited to watch this sequel the first chance we had.

In Part 2, we see the Barden Bellas on a roll after winning the Nationals three years in a row. However during a fateful command performance in front of the President of the USA at Lincoln Center, Fat Amy had a wild wardrobe malfunction disaster which plunged the Bellas into major shame and competition suspension. In order to redeem themselves, they enlist to join the formidable World Acapella Competitions, which no US team has ever won. This film shows how they try to recover the group harmony they lost, as they face graduation and welcome a talented new Bella in their midst. 

Since we all know these girls very well already, it was really great to see them all again. Anna Kendrick's Beca Mitchell is again her dour self, but she is more tolerable now than in the first film. She secretly enters an internship in a recording company in pursuit of her dream to become a record producer. This gave her a chance to interact with a very funny Keegan-Michael Key as her boss. I liked the guesting stint of Snoop Dogg in the scene where Beca got to show her boss her mixing skills. 

Rebel Wilson's Fat Amy is wackier than ever, even getting herself a big solo number and an official boyfriend in this one. Brittany Snow's obsessed Chloe is still my personal favorite, deliberately flunking a required subject just to remain a Bella. The rest of the girls, butch Cynthia-Rose (Ester Dean), sexy Stacie (Alexis Knapp) and mysterious Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), are all still there, though not as much as the first film. We meet a new Bella in the person of Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who has a knack for writing original songs. I was more excited to see "Married with Children" Katey Sagal as Emily's mother, but too bad her part was too short.

Their rival boy group the Treblemakers, including Jesse (Skylar Astin) and Benji (Ben Platt), were pretty much in the background only this time. Annoying former Treblemaker leader Bumper (Adam DeVine) returns to Bardem as a security guard, and gets a bigger part here as Fat Amy's love interest. The main antagonist in this film are the ruthless and joyless German team, Das Sound Machine, led by two towering Aryan bullies Pieter Krämer (Flula Borg) and Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen). 

Getting much more exposure and more grating and potentially offensive racist and misogynistic remarks are the competition commentator duo of Gail Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberg (Elizabeth Banks) and John Smith (John Michael Higgins). Higgins in particular was really given very sharp and controversial lines to deliver, which could be very funny -- but only if you are not in the demographic he is dissing. 

The best singing scenes in this sequel was still the Riff-Off part, just as this was my favorite part in the first film. The mash-ups were seamless and the singing was dope. The first such sing-off with the category of songs about butts was made even more hilarious by the guest appearance of buff and burly football players, the Green Bay Packers, singing "Bootilicious" of all songs! You have to see and hear it to believe it. In the international competition at the end, we see Pentatonix representing Canada and Fil-am group Filharmonic representing the Philippines, which were nice surprises.

If you liked the first Pitch Perfect film, I think you will like this one more. I thought the acapella song numbers were much better arranged and executed here than the first. I liked the throwback reference to "When You're Gone", the "Cups Song" which was a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for Anna Kendrick long after the film had left the cinemas. The original song featured in this one, "Flashlight," is promising potential hit as well, with its own catchy handclap routine. "We Belong" by Pat Be star is this film's answer to last film's "Don't You (Forget About Me)".

The story had the right balance of comedy and drama to delight and touch fans, told pretty well by first time director Elizabeth Banks, on triple duty here as producer and star as well. In spite the occasional raunchy off-color jokes or race- and gender-insensitive comments, I'd call "Pitch Perfect 2" THE feel-good good-time film for this summer of 2015. 7/10.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review of PAUL BLART: MALL COP 2: Security Silliness

May 10, 2015

In 2009, we were introduced to Paul Blart. He is the bumbling security guard of West Orange Pavilion Mall. By sheer accidental luck foils, he saves his mall from the nefarious plot of an formidable criminal organization. 

Now in 2015, Blart is down and out from familial losses. But things turn around when he was given a trip to Las Vegas to attend the convention for security guards. Blart's overactive paranoia and clumsy awkwardness gets him into more trouble than he bargained for as he encounters another criminal gang in the very hotel where Blart was checked in.

As expected, this is a film where you check your brain in at the door before you go in to watch. It is slapstick and lowbrow humor all the way. There are times when you will cringe and be embarrassed for Blart for his crazy nonsensical ideas. There are many times when you will be scratching your head as to what the point of certain scenes are because the "joke" simply fail to fly. I think the worst one is that very long scene with the crowned crane bird which was totally unfunny.

The only reason why the first movie succeeded and even had this sequel was most likely because of the good-guy everyman appeal of actor Kevin James. James has imbued the character of Paul Blart with such goodwill, such that however stupid or crazy the things we see him do, we know deep down this guy's heart is in the right place, and all he wants to do is help. Whenever we see him ride that Segway, we root for him to get the bad guy. I do not know why being hit by car or kicked by a horse can be funny, but those gags make this guy Blart the superhero of security guards.

As a side story, we see Paul Blart dealing with his teenage daughter Maya. She has been accepted to UCLA, but cannot bring herself to telling her over-protective dad. It was just unfortunate that the young actress who played Maya, Raini Rodriguez, as spunky as she was, did not really share a good chemistry with Kevin James in this movie. Even though Rodriguez also played Maya six years ago as a child, now they look too different to be convincing as father and daughter. 

Overall, this may be a film you'd like to watch on a lazy afternoon for some deliberately shallow feel-good time watching an underdog win. But then again, if you are easily annoyed with inane senseless comedy, you should probably give this a miss. 3/10.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Review of CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: Nick Gets Naked

May 7, 2015

We first saw some scenes of this movie back in December 2014 when it was featured in the hit Metro Manila Filmfest entry "English Only Please." I felt that was unusual how scenes of a foreign movie would be part of a scene in a local movie. Even if it did not really look that promising then, I checked it out when it was shown in cinemas this week. 

Doug Martin is a local boy who gets attracted to Lena, the beautiful young woman who lived next door. Problem is she is married to a much older wealthy man who was shrouded in an aura of danger. Of course, his teenage hormones got the better of Doug when Lena encouraged his interest. But then, where there is an illicit affair, a violent payback will not be far behind.

This story has been told many times before. An young guy is seduced by a sexy married woman. This type of film is usually told from the woman's point of view like the recent Jennifer Lopez film "The Boy Next Door", though the point of view is reversed in this one. It also brought back memories of "A Night in Heaven" and "Private Lessons" shown back in the early 1980s. IMDB lists down at least 40 films with this steamy plot, mostly trashy B-flicks. This just goes to show that films like this that deal with adolescent sexual temptation will always be there to appeal to the baser instincts of viewers. 

Isabel Lucas seems too young to play the femme fatale Lena. She looks great to look at, a true seductress, that is, when she is not talking. When there are lines to deliver though, her limited acting skills show. It seems she has not really improved her craft since her similarly wooden big screen debut in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen". 

Dermot Mulroney, an all-around good guy in most of his old films, plays against type as Lena's sinister husband. It was good to see Paul Sorvino as the local policeman. Too bad these two veteran actors were underused in their limited scenes. 

This film is clearly a showcase for Nick Jonas to signal his foray into more mature film roles. Director Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum, herself previously associated with teen-oriented films and TV shows like "Aquamarine" and "Gossip Girl", lovingly sets up her camera to capture her star Nick Jonas in his best angles, in various stages of undress for his teenage girl fans (old enough to watch R-rated films) to ogle at. To his credit, Jonas does register well on screen and he did do passably in the acting department. 

Fresh from being slimed as emcee of the last Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards, Nick Jonas may find it hard to escape his teen idol image at first. Mark Wahlberg has proven that that curse could be overcome. As for Jonas though, that still remains to be seen. 4/10.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review of SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: Simply Scintillating Stop-Motion

May 5, 2015

"Shaun the Sheep" is also a creation of Academy Award-winning British stop-motion animator Nick Park. Shaun was first seen in a 1995 Wallace and Gromit animated short film entitled "A Close Shave". It then evolved to be the lead character of its own long-running stop-motion animated television series which started airing in the UK since 2007. 

Initially, I had no plans to watch this film, but the very good reviews encouraged me. I watched it only with my youngest son (who had to orient his old man about the characters during the film). My older son was not interested to watch it with us, saying this cartoon style was not his type. That also got me more curious about it.

As it turns out, "Shaun the Sheep" is practically a SILENT barnyard comedy. Aside from its eclectic musical score, we only hear the occasional baa from the sheep characters and garbled mumbles from the human characters. It is one thing to make this a visually-entertaining 7-minute long short on television, but to take this concept and make it into a full-length film for the big screen must have been a big endeavor and challenge for Aardman Studios since its first full-length stop-motion animated feature film, "Chicken Run", a big box-office hit back in 2000.

In this film, Shaun wanted a change in the humdrum routine of farm life. So he conspired with this sheep cohorts to lull their Farmer to sleep and lock him in a trailer car, while they go watch television in his house. However, the trailer gets dislodged from its mooring and it rolled downhill all the way into the city! The resulting head trauma from this accident gives the Farmer amnesia. Realizing their folly, Shaun and friends have to find the Farmer and get him back, even if it means having to face the dangerous animal catcher Trumper.

Since I was not really familiar with the "Shaun the Sheep" TV series before watching this, it took some time for me to get used to the slow pace and silent nature of the film. It was quite a departure from the very frenetic, very loud animated films we are more used to seeing on TV (like "Spongebob Squarepants") 

However, once you get the drift of things, you will be thoroughly entertained with the homespun storytelling style of "Shaun". It is droll and delightful, very British in wit and humor. The storyline of having country folk getting lost in the big city is simple and familiar, but the charming demeanor of Shaun and friends and its sweet, light, cheery treatment of the hero's dilemma win us over. The sequences about the runaway trailer and the restaurant are particularly hilarious. I also liked the references to films like "Wolverine" and "Silence of the Lambs". 

Stop-motion is really a painstaking style of animation requires patience and precision in its animators.  "Shaun the Sheep" may be considered lower-key when compared to the fast and furious "Chicken Run" (2000) or the complex and rowdy "The Pirates!" (2012). However, in a silent film like "Shaun", you really appreciate the littlest details that go into this process. It is really admirable and amazing how emotions are expressed in very minute and subtle changes in the eyes of those clay animal figures. This film is scintillating in its apparent yet deceptive simplicity. 8/10.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Review of UNFRIENDED: Chilling Cyberspace

May 1, 2015

Since the time of 'The Blair Witch Project," the horror film landscape had been peppered  with various variations of the "found footage" style ad nauseam. This even created an entire profitable franchise in the "Paranormal Activity" series. It is high time for something new to shake up the horror genre. Here comes "Unfriended" where all the action happens online from a computer screen.

Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) and her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Storm) were having a naughty private chat online, when they were suddenly joined in by their other friends namely the nervous Adam (Will Peltz), the clueless Jess (Renee Olsted), the techie Ken (Jacob Wysocki), and the bitchy Val (Courtney Halverson). 

However, that night, they were joined by a mysterious account that seemingly belonged to their other friend Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman). However, Laura had been dead for a year now. She had committed suicide after being cyber-bullied when an embarrassing video of her in a drunken stupor was posted on the net. Now, Laura wants payback and badly.

The conceit of this horror flick is that all we are seeing on the big screen is what Blaire sees on her Apple laptop screen. We see her watching Youtube, posting on Facebook, group chatting on Skype with webcams, downloading videos and photos, among other online activities we are all familiar with.  That is what makes the horror, outlandish as it may seem, in this film so palpable. It involves activities we do practically do every day as we fiddle with our computers. The possibility that the paranormal can infiltrate our virtual reality is compelling stuff.

Director Levan Gabriadze, in his breakthrough Hollywood debut, effectively creates genuine chills despite the limited confines of his setting. Annoying computer problems, like slow download speeds, screen glitches and snail-paced buffering times, had been used to create suspense and excitement to push the scare level up. Of course, the obvious downside of this film's gimmick is that computer-illiterate people who do not understand these online activities will find all the clicking around on screen to be completely ludicrous and meaningless.

It really helped that the actors and actresses in this film are not big stars. They maybe too whiny or unlikable, but that is what makes them regular young people who hang around the net with their friends.  The story takes a deeper turn as it delves into their inter-relationships as friends. That game of "Never Have I Ever" is a high-tension sequence which kept me on the edge of my seat as Laura pressures each of them to reveal dark secrets they have kept from each other under the threat of death.

I appreciate the originality of this film in the story-telling technique. The name of the lead character, Blaire, could well be a tribute to the "Blair Witch Project", reflecting its attempt to break new territory in horror film-making with this movie. I caught its reference to "Dangerous Liaisons" at the end and I liked it. It is as much an intense suspense film, as it is a sociological treatise on today's youth and the brutal cyber world they live in. 8/10.