Category Archives: review

Recently seen movie: Star Wars The Force Awakens

I grew up watching the first trilogy of Star Wars. I remember that my favorite of the three was the second: “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) largely because I thought those 4-legged giant robots were the coolest thing I ever saw. In my 20s I welcomed the new trilogy even if the only thing I liked about “The Phantom Menace” (1999) was Queen Amidala’s make-up and costumes. Bad storytelling and bad acting severely compromised the quality of Episodes 1-3, IMHO. I don’t really consider myself as a rabid fan but I got very excited when news of another trilogy broke out.

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And then this morning I found myself in a queue for a 3D screening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in my neighborhood SM Mall–the first screening of the day. I did my errands at the bank and the supermarket, left my shopping bag at the package counter, and made it to the cinema early enough to watch a slew of trailers of coming Disney movies.

*warning: the next paragraphs contain spoilers!

Well, 136 minutes later, I left the cinema delighted at what I had just seen. The movie had managed to bridge the 30+ years gap between this movie and “Return of the Jedi” (1983). Most of the things that happened in this movie are either direct results or consequences of what happened off-camera (that is, the period between Episodes 6 and 7). Like that “prodigal son” story arc of one of the characters. I’m glad it didn’t use flashbacks to tell the story, which would have affected the pace of the whole movie.

The return of Han Solo, General (formerly Princess) Leia, and Luke Skywalker was handled excellently. I felt a collective sigh inside the theater as each of them appeared in their respective scenes. I think there were many hardcore fans in the audience.

I liked that the sets for this movie looked lived in, the equipment used and showing wear like the rusty R2D2. There seemed to be less computer-generated shots in this movie compared to Episodes 1-3. I liked this seemingly nostalgic return to embracing practical effects. This connects me better to Episodes 4-6 and pulls me in to care about the proceedings, something that Episodes 1-3 failed to do to me. Visually, Episodes 1-3 were great in terms of CG artistry but everything looked too slick and shiny and artificial.

The new cast delivered consistently good and engaging performances. I particularly liked Oscar Isaac, who played hotshot pilot Poe Dameron, because he has this easy confidence about him. Daisy Ridley (Rey) seems able to easily defeat her opponents if she finds herself in “The Hunger Games”. It took me a while to like John Boyega (Finn) because I found him overacting in his first few scenes. I loved Lupita Nyong’o’s character (Maz Kanata) because she seemed like a cross between Yoda and Edna Mode. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), this movie’s villain, is not as compelling as villains go. At least this was the first impression that I got. Disappointing especially in the face of the other great things about the movie. However, as the movie went on, I realized that he is more dangerous because he has a lot of self-loathing and self-doubt. He is like a taut piece of wire that can cut anything in its path if pulled in a precise manner. And lash out he did. Spectacularly.

J. J. Abrams’ work on this film is quite a feat: he (with co-writer Lawrence Kasdan) produced a well-balanced script, assembled a great and charming cast, and kept the whole proceeding at an energetic pace that never felt tiring. Plus points also for snagging John Williams to score this new entry to the Star Wars canon. The force has indeed awakened, along with the film franchise.

As you can see, I was just kidding when I said this review will contain spoilers.

Well, perhaps, there is one spoiler to share. There aren’t ANY mid or post-credits scene. So there.

 

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Recently seen movie: Burnt

I like watching movies about food, cooking, and chefs because I find the experience of portraying food as luxurious, sexy, and ultimately universal always rewarding. It’s like being fed on many levels–physical, emotional, even spiritual. Of course, cinematic cooking is always a visual feast, from food preparation to plating and its consumption.

“Burnt” would have slipped through my radar if not for the recommendation of a friend, who herself is studying to be a chef in Singapore. When I saw that this movie’s lead is Bradley Cooper, I heaved another sigh of thanks. Why? Because Bradley Cooper is gorgeous! The perfect guy to photograph with perfect-looking food.

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the gorgeous and tortured chef

As it happened, however, “Burnt” is the only food-related movie I had seen where I didn’t pay much attention to the food. Make no mistake, the food being prepared everywhere in this movie looked delicious and perfectly presented. Unfortunately I was immediately seduced by extremely talented but flawed Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) and how this character played against the people around him like his friend Tony (the wonderful Daniel Bruhl), colleague/ rival Reece (Matthew Rhys), protegee David (Sam Keeley), and sous chef/ lover Helene (Sienna Miller).

I found myself relating to and identifying with him as the story unfolded on the screen. At the end of the movie, I had cried and laughed and cringed at the things that happened to him.

Hours later, as I was having coffee while waiting for my friends to show up, the story of Adam Jones was still in my mind. So much so that I proceeded to write things on my planner, in order to process perhaps, the feelings I was feeling that time. I realized the story resonated so much to me because it touched on themes that for the past years have weighed heavily on my post-clinical depression life here in Manila.

These interlocking and interconnected themes include Redemption, because Adam Jones’s back story was that he wasn’t able to handle success very well that he turned to vice (drugs), resulting in self-destructive behavior that affected all around him. He then ran away for a period then returned to reclaim his lost glory.

Another is Recovery, because getting back into the saddle is harder than falling off of it. The movie showed that each time one decides to change his life for the better, one has to completely say good-bye to his old life, often including the people you know in that old life. Adam Jones wasn’t really okay (even if appearances showed otherwise) until he sought the help of others, which was very difficult for him to do because doing this will  stir up issues relating to the theme of Trust.

This is trust in many levels: trusting the self, trusting other people, and allowing one’s self to be trusted by others again. Trust is tightly linked to another theme, which is Friendship. Adam’s friendships are the gateways to the milestones he must reach on the way to being well. Because for one to truly move on, old debts must be repaid first. For a friendship to last, it requires a lot of work. Some friendships are borne out of a fierce rivalry (Reece), of hero-worship (David), or of animosity (Helene). And in the case of Tony, unrequited love is always returned–one way or another.

Everyone has been betrayed by a friend at one point, I realized. I don’t have the monopoly to horrendous friends.

If you’re still reading at this point, let me apologize because this movie review doesn’t sound like a movie review anymore.

The movie entertained me. Kudos to the deft direction of TV veteran John Wells (ER, The West Wing). But this is how the movie affected me. And it felt like something I could share to anybody who has hit rock bottom and who’s still trying to get right back up.

Catch “burnt” at the cinema and see if it exerts the same effect on you.

Recently seen movie: Goosebumps

I was in my final year at university when the first Goosebumps book came out. I remember seeing it at a bookshop, reading its blurb and deciding not to buy it. I love the horror genre, be it on books or films or TV shows. Goosebumps targeted older children so it didn’t seem to take horror seriously–compared to Stephen King and Clive Barker–so I passed it by. I also found the TV show a bit silly and goofy.

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So what made me want the Goosebumps movie? Well, the trailer was interesting. And at my age, I welcome a bit of silliness in my life. Then there’s Jack Black.

Even if Jack Black wasn’t his usual bombastic self in this movie (he was grumpy and sinister-looking, in fact), I still enjoyed his performance here.

The CG monsters were very well done; I especially liked the gnomes, the poodle, and the giant praying mantis. The dummy was also very creepy. Story-wise, it’s fairly simple and straight-forward, with all loose ends neatly tied up in the end. And opened just a wee bit for a sequel.

Also, the lead actor caught my eye: 19-year-old Dylan Minnette. I’ve seen him as guest in many TV shows like Law & Order: SVU and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; he was also the bully in “Let Me In”. In his previous appearances, Dylan has always played precocious kids who conceal a bit of creepiness inside them. Quite the opposite in this movie. I do not normally fawn over teenagers (talk about creepy) but I seriously think that in five years or so (and if he doesn’t get into drugs or other nasty habits), he will be leading man material.

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Recently seen movie: The Last Witch Hunter

Vin Diesel is an extremely magnetic and likable presence in any movie but he has yet to dazzle me with his acting skills. That is fine, as long as keeps making movies where he is some bad-ass with a soft fluffy heart inside that hard shell of a body. Judging from the trailer of ‘The Last Witch Hunter’ alone, I had no other expectations from this action-horror-fantasy mash-up other than to be treated with Mr. Diesel’s adorable gruffness.

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And yes, my expectations were largely met by this movie. It’s got great art direction and visual effects, a pedigreed supporting cast lead by Michael Caine, Elijah Wood, and ‘Game of Thrones’ alumnus Rose Leslie, and enough weirdness and humor to make me suspend my disbelief. It’s very entertaining. The action set pieces were staged awesomely and seemed integrated well into the plot, unlike other genre films wherein the plot is set around the action set pieces. Kudos to the confident direction of Breck Eisner, who also gave us the creepy remake of George Romero’s ‘The Crazies’.

The surprise here is Vin Diesel himself, because he was required to do more than kick other people’s asses in this movie. His character, Kaulder, was given a great backstory: he was cursed with immortality by the witch-queen and because the movie is set in contemporary times, he walks around in a world-weary way while totally pining for his wife and daughter. Vin Diesel got the been-there-done-that bluster. He was quite effective when he was flirting with Rose Leslie. However, he still fell short in moments of drama. But I don’t hold that against Vin Diesel. I’d still give him plus points for trying.

Over-all my only complain about this movie was that the finale felt rushed. I would’ve loved to see more of the with-queen and how they fought. Otherwise, I found this movie surprisingly entertaining; a fresh and original adventure that stands out in the current cinematic environment of rehashed, remade, and rebooted stories.

Recently seen movie: Crimson Peak

“Crimson Peak” is one of my highly anticipated movies for this year so I caught it on the first day of showing. I went with high expectations because the director is Guillermo Del Toro, he who gave us “Blade 2”, “Pan’s Labyrinth”, the two “Hellboy” movies and most recently, “Pacific Rim”. Trailers of this film successfully stimulated my interest. I happen to admire GDT’s visual aesthetics, which is indelibly stamped in all his movies.

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In this regard, Crimson Peak did not fail me. I almost had sensory overload just looking at every visual treat and listening to the musical score that evoked both wonder and fear. Allerdale Hall, the imposing and dilapidated mansion in this movie made Hill House in “The Haunting” (1999) look like a cottage. One can, in fact say, that this haunted house on steroids is this movie’s main star.

This movie has buckets of atmosphere; its sense of foreboding permeates every nook and cranny of the sceneries, which range from New York of the late 19th Century to rural England. And believe me, there are thousands of nooks and crannies in this movie. Along with torrents of blood. Each visual cue, whether emanating from the surroundings or seen on the faces of the actors, is an appeal for me to be frightened.

Unfortunately, for a Gothic horror movie, Crimson Peak isn’t really frightening for me.

Blame my long standing love for the horror genre. I’ve been reading horror books and watching horror TV shows and movies for years that I no longer scare easily now. Not really. At my age, I am still able to enjoy–and appreciate–a good scare.

Watching Crimson Peak felt like watching one of those Hammer films of the 60s and those Italian horror movies from the 70s. The plot was, sorry to say, predictable. I mean, the classic tropes of haunted houses, restless spirits, and murderous husbands are practically begging to be deconstructed/ revised/ updated for the current times and I expected Crimson Peak to turn these old horror tropes on their coiffed heads but GDT just gave them an imposing new (haunted) home. Based on the trailers, I imagined that this movie was a retelling of Bluebeard’s tale; that Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) was an immortal who sustained his long life through his brides, or something like it. Instead I got incestuous siblings who murdered socially awkward women and ran off with their monies.

I must really be desensitized to horror because incest is no longer shocking to me.

The cast turned in effective performances in spite of the somewhat thin material. Mia Wasikowska is perfectly waif-ish for her role while Jessica Chastain appeared to have the best time with her role. She is both ravishing and menacing as Lucille. Tom Hiddleston could have narrated the whole movie and I wouldn’t have minded. His voice is simply divine. Charlie Hunnam acted like he was still in “Nicholas Nickleby” (2002). I only knew Jim Beaver from the TV series “Supernatural” so his presence in this movie was a welcome surprise. His grisly demise iss one of the highlights of the movie.

If the main star of this movie is Allerdale Hall, the main protagonist is probably the set design. As a character, the intricately decorated surroundings drives the viewer to great imaginings and anticipation of horrific things to come, before unexpectedly showing us, in the end, that there isn’t much horror to be had. This is the plot twist that’s enough to kill all plot twists.

Nevertheless, I will watch this movie again, just to be lost in the curlicues of Allerdale Hall’s wooden confines, or in the puffed sleeves of Edith Cushing’s (Mia Wasikowska) night gown, which seemed to grow larger and more diaphanous as the movie plodded along its snowy and bloody track.