Sucker Punch: A Belated Review

Sucker Punch was one of the movies that my brother and I wanted to see in the cinema but refrained from doing so because of the bad reviews. It wasn’t really a sucky movie per se, but I was glad that I didn’t see it in theaters. It was in a word — slow.

The movie stars Emily Browning (The Uninvited) as Baby Doll, who accidentally kills her little sister while trying to save her from her stepdad’s abuse. Because her stepdad wanted to take control of the money left to the girls by their deceased mother, he brings Baby Doll (real name undisclosed) to a facility for mental cases specializing in torture and lobotomy. While there, Baby Doll, in the hopes of escaping her scheduled procedure, undergoes a journey in her mind, a quest to gain freedom from the hands of Blue, who runs the facility. In her fantasies, she is the new girl in a prostitution den, and will be the main attraction to draw the attention of the “High Roller,” played by John Hamm. She recruits her fellow captives — Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie and Amber–  in embarking in an escape try which would need four main elements — a map, fire, a knife and the key that opens all the doors of the joint. As a distraction while her friends acquire the items they need, Baby Doll dances her special sultry dance. While she does this, her action mission takes place in her imagination, where they are fighting off a myriad of foes in different scenarios (dragons, robots, henchmen) under the direction of the Wise Man.

What I found problematic with the entire thing, really, is the casting. Emily Browning, while she may be a nice fit for roles of innocent little girls, is not sellable as the exotic sex kitten she wants to portray as she dances. Her body, while mostly clothed in short skirts and tight fitting bodices throughout the movie looks like it belongs to a 12 year old. The girls, who should have looked sultry looked dirty most of the time with their greasy hair and updos. And while some guys might appreciate their sexy outfits, I for one, felt that the actresses looked too young to be consorting with overweight old men and seedy rich gentlemen. I also felt that the action stunts, while commendable, did itself a disservice by overutilizing the Matrix slowmo, thereby killing the momentum of most hand to hand combat scenes that had the potential to be great.

Another thing was the overuse of montages. It seemed that the musical scorer or the director was having too much fun selecting songs that should be included in the sountrack that they wanted to use the entire length of the mixes for scenes that were either portrayed in sepia treatment or noir, again in slow motion. It kind of gets to your nerves after a few.

To its credit, the special effects team did a great job with the CGI, and perhaps the cinematographers need a pat on the back for some of the shots in the movie. All in all, I think Sucker Punch was trying to achieve a Machine Girl/Blood the Last Vampire effect for the movie but what it managed to deliver was a film which focuses on torture, harassment, and molestation at the core instead of an action packed offering featuring girls in short skirts and tough attitude.

Why I love Spongebob

When Spongebob Squarepants first made an appearance in 1999, I didn’t think I was going to like it. Growing up, I loved watching cartoons but was more drawn to characters that were more structured and normal looking. Spongebob isn’t any of those, but I quickly changed my mind when I  happened to watch an episode about this effervescent sponge who lives in Bikini Bottom, an underwater town and works for a burger joint called the Krusty Krabb. Spongebob, who is always garbed in his shirt, tie and brown pants,  works for a miserly former sailor called Eugene Krabbs, and loves hanging out with his best friend Patrick Star, a starfish who wouldn’t be accused of being a rocket scientist, even on his best days. My favorite character in the show is Spongebob’s co-worker Squidward Tentacles, a surly squid and struggling musician who hates Spongebob on the surface but on occasion has come through for his “friend.” There are other supporting cast members and recurring characters that have made appearances on the show — Sandy Squirrel, a karate master/scientist doing research underwater; Mrs. Puff, Spongebob’s boating instructor; Plankton, who is always trying to steal the Krabby Patty formula; Larry the Lifeguard; Pearl, Mr. Krabb’s whale (literally) of a daughter; Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, aging superheroes whom Spongebob and Patrick idolize.

Its kind of embarrassing how I know all of these things, being an adult for quite some time now, but the show is just so entertaining I can’t help watching it to relax after a long day at work. Here’s the top reasons why I love Spongebob Squarepants.

1. It’s silly and funny. There are a lot of cartoons that try to replicate the success of Spongebob by creating characters that are as uncanny and weird as our yellow, workaholic and soft hearted hero, but they often take it a notch too high by making the show’s premise stupid rather than silly and fun like the general atmosphere in Bikini Bottom, where the situations and the schemes appeal to both the young and the young at heart.

2. It’s disgusting. For a kid’s show, there certainly a high level of decapitation and injury with Spongebob and his pals. Being a sponge, Spongebob doesn’t really feel pain (even during the episode where he is beat up by a bully), and writers are always careful to explain that this same characteristic isn’t applicable to everyone. Extreme close ups of Patrick’s disgusting habits and stuff are also a permanent staple in the show’s episodes. Yuck!

3. Squidward and Patrick. Spongebob’s neighbors and buddies, Squidward and Patrick are complete opposites and funny in both rights. While Squidward sees himself more of an artist, is cranky and intolerant of his neighbors’ antics (mostly jellyfishing and a myriad of silly activities), Patrick is simple minded and is oblivious to what is considered normal. He lives to have fun with Spongebob, doesn’t have a job,  and manages to screw up anything that he does, but surprisingly always lands on his feet.

4. The music. On occasion, Spongebob and the gang perform songs and production numbers, original songs that depict their characters and current situations. The medleys are always upbeat and always has the tendency to stick in your head for sometime after listening to it once. My favorites so far are The Best Day Ever, The Campfire Song, Finding the Magic (I think that’s what the title is), and Sandy’s Texas song. Utterly embarrassing to have as a last song syndrome, especially if you’re a grown up (I speak from experience).

5. The moral lesson. More than comedy, Spongebob Squarepants is a show that knows kids, and as always, the kind hearted Spongebob prevails, although he gets in trouble a lot of times, and the scheming Plankton always gets his just desserts. Spongebob doesn’t shovel the morals down the kids throats but rather does it subconsciously, by illustrating how certain actions would result.

Supernatural Season 6: WTH just happened?

I’ve been a fan of the show from the very beginning. I love Dean and Sam, brothers who are complete opposites of each other but love each other unconditionally despite growing up in a dysfunctional set up. From the time they were hunting the yellow eyed demon who killed their mom, to surrendering their soul to the devil to save each other, I was there, cheering them on, laughing with them,  and crying when they were forced to make choices and sacrifices that could save the world from utter doom.

It was initially said that the show was supposed to end after five seasons, and creator Erik Kripke handed over the reins of the show to executive producer Sera Gamble after executing his vision for one of the most exciting series in television history. He was able to do what he set out to do and was content. But with the show doing so well, the producers thought they should extend the life of the horror/ action series featuring heartthrob actors Jared Padelecki and Jensen Ackles for another season or two. The problem was, how could you top the Apocalypse?

Apparently, as Season 6 progressed, it grew evident that the new showrunners didn’t have a clue. What they did instead was haphazardly recycle storylines from previous seasons without any clear direction on how to tie them together to form a coherent and plausible story to revive the franchise. It was clear that the show was grasping at straws, and it became more obvious when it ended every episode with more questions than answers. Its greatest sin, perhaps, was not planning out the season before embarking on a smorgasbord of inconsistent episodes, and relying on the popularity of the characters and the loyalty of fans to sustain the show.

Season 6 opens with  Sam trying to get Dean back to hunting, one year after the failed apocalypse. Sam, who has no recollection of hell, had apparently been busted out almost immediately after he went in but has no clue why. For the past year that Dean has been living an apple pie life with Ben and Lisa, Sam has teamed up with their grandfather Samuel, who is also mysteriously back from the dead. Samuel however, is on someone’s payroll but Sam doesn’t care what his grandfather is up to so long as he gets to hunt.

FAMILY REUNION. Samuel, Dean and Sam in a family powow.

The first few episodes of the season reminded me of a headless chicken running in all directions — the show was pulling monsters from every angle — mythology, pop culture, there were even dragons at some point, and tried to keep viewers in the dark by diverting their attention to the issues between the brothers Winchester. Unfortunately, this cloak and dagger stuff gets old, especially after viewers watch several episodes without making any progress. It is finally revealed that something is definitely wrong with Sam and it turns out that he is missing his soul, rendering him an emotional vegetable who would risk even Dean and Bobby to get the job done.  But more than Sam’s soul, the show was also missing a vital element that is the core of the series — the rapport between Dean and Sam. Dean was uncertain as to what Sam was and is almost always suspicious of him, instead of being scared for him as he was in previous seasons, he was scared of him and treated him as an enemy — expressing an easy willingness to kill him if the need arose. And Sam wasn’t helping — he seemed like a robot, and lost all the charm and charisma that endeared him to the fans from the get go.

There was also a marked difference in the treatment of each episode. While before, even during the first season when the boys were working small jobs, each hunt contributed something to the plot, this season, each episode seemed to focus more on being cute, making pop culture references, and riding on what is popular rather than relevant to the story. It seemed as if the showrunners were simply trying to tide over the viewers with a couple of new monsters, fairies, aliens, leprechauns– whatever they could pull out of their butts until they figure things out.

Some familiar faces resurface — Bobby, of course, whom I am surprised , has not been promoted to series regular, Castiel, who pops in to help out when the gang is stumped for something despite being busy fighting off Raphael who wants to pursue the Apocalypse, Crowley, who has been promoted to King of Hell after Lucifer has been neutralized, Rufus, Ellen, yes, Ellen, who gets a surprise guesting despite being killed in the previous season. It is later revealed that all events are actually linked together by the quest to open purgatory and harness the souls of the monsters who are stuck there (since they can’t be either in Heaven or Hell). Finally, a plausible storyline that the fandom could sink into. It would appear that souls are like nuclear reactors which could give the bearer (angel or demon) unimaginable power to defeat his enemies — a total game changer for anyone who wants to become the new God or the new Lucifer. Betrayals run aplenty in this season, very unfamiliar in a show which has prided itself with putting family in its center.

THESE TIES AGAIN? The boys dress up as feds multiple times but use the same ties over and over again.

I was quite relieved when finally after Episode 11 (Appointment in Samara), Death finally retrieves Sam’s soul from hell and we get the old Sam Winchester back. It was good to see the brothers interacting and working together without any suspicions. Dean was back to big brother mode, and his smart alecky ways and Sam was back to being his usual conscientious self, wanting to atone for his sins in the past year. I actually felt like I was cheated out of half of this season. The first 10 episodes almost were basically fluff that put me to sleep. They were pointless and irrelevant and only served to take away time from the better parts of the story — the one that has potential for a big time ending.  It was disappointing to note that the very people who pushed to have the Winchesters return on another run did not plan out the season through and trudged on despite a substandard storyline.

Even the deaths of characters whom viewers have come to relate to were also slipshod and lacking in depth. They were disposed of as a means to an end, and so unlike the deaths of characters in seasons past — John, Jo, Ellen, Mary. Even in the last episode, the showrunners still failed to establish the severity of the situation — this even when they devoted an entire episode to explaining the events that led to the moment that Cas became corrupted by power and consorted with Crowley.

This is not to say that the season was a complete waste. There were strong episodes that appealed to fangirls such as myself — my favorite being Episode 15: The French Mistake where Balthazar transports the boys to alternate reality where the Winchesters are TV stars who play Sam and Dean Winchester in a show called Supernatural. It was fun to see the producers and directors poke fun at themselves — even Kripke made an appearance. Mommy Dearest also had some potential but the abrupt ending to the Eve storyline was kind of disappointing. I expected her to last until the ending a la Lilith. And of course, Frontierland, which was funny and cheesy but very very cute. And to its credit, the show once again managed to blur the lines between good and bad, leaving viewers in conflict as to what they want to happen in future episodes in the aftermath of Raphael’s defeat.

I completely blame the showrunners for this weak season. The actors were doing their best with what they were handed and as per usual, they did it remarkably. But if the show has any hope of regaining its momentum, the show needs Kripke to step in fast, and fix the mess that was season 6, lest his baby be remembered as a substandard take on the supernatural genre. I still have hope for Supernatural. I’m not ready to give up on it just yet, not after following it for the last six years. At least they have set up the stage for the Seventh season — Sam’s recollection of hell, and Cas’s declaration that he is the new God. We’ll see, but for now, I want to drown my sorrows with a marathon of the first five seasons of Supernatural — just to remind me why I loved this show in the first place.

P.S. I did some poking around and found an article saying that Misha Collins aka Cas won’t be back as a regular for the seventh season. Am I just confused but didn’t he declare himself as the new God in the final scene? I’m not liking this of course because next to Dean and Bobby, Cas is my favorite character in the show. I just hope they don’t die.

Have the Simpsons overstayed their welcome?

After 22 seasons, The Simpsons closed with a question. Whether or not Ned Flanders and Edna Kerbapple should continue dating — but the real question is, do viewers still care? I must admit that I have not watched the show’s entire run. When it started with 1990, I followed it avidly week after week because the idea of a family so dysfunctional that it is normal in a town called Springfield, which is anything but normal was such a novel idea never before exploited on the animated front. Homer was the funniest type of bumbling dad, Marge, seemingly normal but having quirks of her own (she needs to have some if she survived marrying Homer), Bart, the mischievous eldest son who always ends up in trouble and lives to make his sister Lisa’s (the goody two shoes)  life miserable, and Maggie, who for the past 20 years has evolved into one of the badassest babies on television. They are backed by supporting characters that are equally funny and weird. I doubt that there is one normal person on Springfield and in all these years, no one has proved me wrong.

The Simpsons was the show to beat. It was original. It was funny. It was a parody of the normal American family in a small town setting where everybody knew everybody, where majority of the population are screwups and proud of it. Nobody was trying to get out of Springfield, and everybody played a part in the bigger picture.

After reaching more than two decades on air though, I felt as if the jokes were losing some of its punch and the writers  running out of material that tickles the viewers’ funny bones, the way it did before. It seemed that Homer and the gang, although there were still sparks of hilarity in the episodes, were finding it hard to compete with other shows such as The Family Guy, Robot Chicken, and American Dad, who were spawned from the same concept but attacks its jokes more crassly and mercilessly to get the laugh. The characters are basically younger, fresher counterparts of The Simpsons but more exaggerated and more adult, and producers don’t care at all about playing by the rules. The competition seemed to up the level a notch, drowning TV’s favorite family with their usual jokes, which now seem lukewarm in comparison to the new shows’ no hold barred approach.

In the last episode, Marge hinted that the show was going to return for a 23rd season, and I must admit that while I am still rooting for the show which I have grown up with,  realistically speaking, I doubt that it could keep up with the competition, so long as it clings to the idea of churning out more seasons and pulling back the punches, saving the good stuff for the sake of milking out more episodes. Producers should probably keep their priorities straight — whether it is to produce an amazing show or to sacrifice quality of episodes with quantity.

22 seasons is nothing to scoff at. In itself, it is already an achievement for the show. But The Simpsons could not skate along on the merits of its earlier success or simply rely on its loyal fanbase. If they don’t up their game, these fans will grow tired of recycled jokes and countless specials in one season, which used to be limited to a Halloween Special and a Christmas Special. Are these signs of desperation? I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I would like to see from the show, is one final season of the show returning to its former glory — no holding back, showing its fans that there is some juice still left for it to go out with a bang. Make one final season that tops all season, stay true to the original concept but milk it for all its worth. Come out on top, because the show deserves nothing less than an excellent exit —  but in order to do this, the showrunners should first recognize that all good things must come to an end. Even The Simpsons. It will be sad, but it will be worth it rather than ending the show with dismal ratings because everybody quit on it.

WWE Monday Night Raw: Same old, Some new

Its been a while since I saw Monday Night Raw. Ever since I started watching UFC, I sort of lost my taste for WWE wrestling, which is scripted action for the fans. But last night, while I was channel surfing, I found myself stopping to see what’s been going on in the wrestling world. I chanced upon a special three hour episode themed Power to the People where fans take control of which matches the WWE superstars will engage in for the night.

When I started watching, R-Truth and Christian were bellyaching about how they got “robbed” of their championship belts at Capitol Punishment, which I assume was held fairly recently. R-Truth lost to John Cena while Christian was beaten by Randy Orton (who I am still in love with :-) ). Enter The Miz, whom I first saw in an episode of Attack of the Show and liked immediately despite being a heel on WWE, and he too, started complaining about his loss to his protege and right hand man Alex Reilly, also during Capitol Punishment. After several minutes of whining and trash talking, Theodore Long makes an appearance and declares that the main event will be a 6 man tag team match pitting the three against champions John Cena, Randy Orton and Alex Reilly. The fans decided that the match will be an elimination match, with the last wrestler standing deciding which team gets the win.

Anyways, after the commercial, I switched channels because they were talking about new guys whom I knew absolutely nothing about. I returned to the show for the main event in time for the entrance of The Miz. It felt weird to see Randy Orton as a face this time, because the last time I watched, he was a heel of epic proportions. I saw that John Cena was still up to his usual tricks, working the crowd with his hip hop swag and his huge huge arms. Randy Orton, who was reportedly suffering from a concussion from a previous match, was sporting new ink on his arms and sort of a five-o’clock shadow, which made him look more rugged and tough *sigh*.  It was my first time to see Reilly in a match so I have no impression about him whatsoever except that I am betting that he is going to be groomed as a great heel and that the Miz will see some face time pretty soon.

One thing I can say about the WWE, they do know how to work the crowd, and while the moves are  scripted, the athleticism required to pull off the stunts are real. I have to give credit to these wrestling superstars for working their asses off to make sure that they execute the moves perfectly to prevent their opponents from sustaining injuries.  I was pretty sad to hear recently that Edge had to retire because of a career ending injury. Back to the match — there were new moves that I only first saw last night but there were also the classics — the Spear, the Sleeper Hold (which in real life could have actually put a guy to sleep in seconds in the UFC, but never really happens at the WWE), the RKO, the cross face and John Cena’s You Can’t See Me Maneuver. The match also saw the guys pumping up like bulls as they stalked their opponents, and drew strength from the crowd’s cheering a la Hulk Hogan (I think that was a bit of a cheesy touch), and a couple of dirty tricks that the wrestlers still employed after 20 or 30 something years on air. Isolating the opponent on a corner and beating on him while the another teammate distracts the referee, illegal tags — the works.  Actually, half the time, I was expecting Randy to pull something against John Cena, but in the end, the two champs won and held their belts high up in the air as the crowd cheered. Of course, this event will spawn many storylines in future WWE episodes .

WWE fans know that the wrestling is scripted, and yet, they still allot time and effort to watch and cheer for these superstars. They know that the trash talk is bullsh*t, but week after week, they buy tickets to wherever the WWE is scheduled to hold their matches. WWE is about entertainment, and that in itself is a way of life for these die hard fans. Through these superstars, kids draw inspiration that they too, can do the things that seem impossible, and that is where its strength lies — selling the good vs bad angle, and the triumph of the face over the heels which almost always a sure thing. In truth, the show reads like a telenovela for jocks, a never ending flow of male testosterone and violence and people, both men and women eat it up because it appeals to them on some level. I, for one, watch WWE because these types of stunts can’t be found on actual regulation matches. They are not as explosive or as exciting and there is always a huge possibility of injury. I watch the UFC for a different reason — the actual fighting and the use of different disciplines in actual combat in the octagon.  In the UFC, the better fighter wins, whether he is an assw*pe or a nice guy is not a factor — only skill, strategy and training matter. It is cool and it is macho but the WWE is a different story.  It spins its weakness (being scripted) into a strength, makes it cool, utilizes brilliant marketing and knows entertainment well enough to sell an obvious fake to the billions of fans it has acquired worldwide, myself included, gives the fans the action they crave and rakes in the dough for the effort.

The Greenest of the Green

Being green nowadays means a lot of things. It can be both negative or positive — being environment friendly, being new to a workplace, an area or a system — being green minded may mean that one always has naughty thoughts. Green as a color represents many things as well, well being, balance, and is generally used to denote freshness and youth. In the Philippines, 2011-2012 is considered the year of the green as one of its top universities — De La Salle University — celebrates 100 years of presence in the country. Of course, its banner color of green and white is displayed all over Lasallian schools nationwide to pay tribute to the first Lasallian brothers who arrived to the country exactly one century ago. This blog however, is a tribute not only to DLSU (which I sneaked in because I’m an alumna) but to the most popular green figures in pop culture. And there are quite a few.

1. Green Lantern: Hal Jordan, Alex Ross, the mortals who were chosen by the Green Lantern power ring to join a 3,600 strong army of warriors that protect  various sections of the universe from evil, harnessing the power borne from will. The Green Lanterns make it to the top of the list following the release of the highly controversial movie starring Ryan Reynolds, which critics panned for being the worst movie of the year. (I highly doubt that, but still, I must admit that it is inferior to its summer box office competition of late).

2. Kermit the Frog: One of the most popular Sesame Street characters, most children grew up with this gangly, yet adorable puppet who is romantically linked to Miss Piggy. Kermit, often seen au neturele, sings, dances and is known as the leader of the muppets.

3. The Mask: Flamboyant, obnoxious, loud and wacky, the Mask transforms its wearer, in the movie, Stanley Ipcus (played by Jim Carrey) into a devil may care, yellow suit wearing menace, who is always one step ahead of his nemesis. Funny and entertaining, the Mask is one of the most memorable characters on film, audiences will either love him or hate him — a cross between live action and animation.

4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: This group of mutant turtles who take residence in New York City’s sewers are some of the coolest characters spawned in the 90’s. Trained as ninjas by a mutant rat named Splinter — Leonardo, Donatelo, Raphael and Michaelangelo, who were named after mild mannered artists, fight crime, eat pizza and repel their mortal enemies led by a pink brain in a bowl Krang and his lieutenant Shredder, along with a variety of henchmen.

5. The Incredible Hulk: A lot like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Bruce Banner, a scientist who designed the gamma bomb, is exposed to the gamma component of his invention and finds that he transforms into a green monster when he is angry or emotionally unstable. During this transformation, his rage clouds his judgement and he goes on a rampage, destroying most of what he sees. As time progresses, he learns to maintain a certain level of control and begins to use his strength for good.

6. The Grinch: Grumpy, grouchy, mean and nasty, the character was penned by Dr. Seuss as a hermit who lives in the outskirts of Whoville. He has catlike features, green fur and yellow eyes but his most striking quality is that he hates Christmas. He wears a Santa suit and steals all of the presents from the residents of Whoville, but later has a change of heart and returns them to their owners after he realizes that presents are not the true meaning of Christmas .

7.Ben 10: After finding the Omnitrix, which he first mistook for a watch, Ben Tennyson finds that he has the ability to transform into 10 different alien superheroes on command. Being a kid, cocky, stubborn and brash, he often finds himself in trouble because of his powers rather than better for it at the beginning. With the help of his Grandpa Max (who was a former government agent in charge of taking care of alien problems) and his cousin Gwen (who is a powerful spellmaster), Ben tries to master his gifts and use his alien powers to protect the planet from aliens who want to get hold of the Omnitrix. Several versions of Ben 10 are out now due largely to the strong following.

8. Green Hornet: From being a radio program in the 1930s, the Green Hornet has been adapted by several media including comic books, television and movies. The character of the Green Hornet is a newspaper publisher Britt Reid who turns into a masked vigilante at night, fighting crime with his sidekick Kato who drives a cool car named Black Beauty.

9. Marvin the Martian: Marvin, a Martian appears in Looney Tunes cartoons often pitting him against Bugs Bunny. He wears a Roman uniform that are several sizes too big for him which hides his face in shadow, leaving only his eyes to denote his displeasure or satisfaction. He is soft spoken and methodical, yet he is always outsmarted by Bugs.

10. The Riddler: One of the Dark Knight’s arch nemesis, the Riddler takes pride in committing crimes and leaving trails for Batman to follow. Most of these clues are in the form of riddles (duh! That’s why he’s the Riddler!), which he could not resist leaving due to his obsessive compulsive personality. Before he was a supervillain, the Riddler  assumed the name of Robert Nygma, a play on the word enigma which means msytery.

So, there you have it. My Top 10 green characters in pop culture. Feel free to sound in if you think I missed anyone, anything… whatever! Have a good one folks!

Movie Review: Centurion

I must admit that I had Centurion on my TBW (to be watched) stack for quite some time now and had I not been impressed by Michael Fassbender’s performance in X-Men: First Class, it would have stayed there. I should say I was pleasantly surprised by this take on the mysterious disappearance of the Ninth Legion of the Roman army in AD 117.

The movie starts from the first person perspective of Centurion Quintus Diaz (Fassbender), the sole survivor of a raid on his outpost by the ruthless Picts, inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands who are the only clan still resisting Roman rule after 20 years. Because he knows the language of the Picts, Diaz is taken prisoner and is tortured by the Picts under the leadership of their king Gorlacon. Diaz manages to flee from his captors and is saved by soldiers of the Ninth Legion, who are under orders to launch an attack on the Pict camp, despite the reservations of their general, Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West, Punisher Warzone). They are guided on their quest by a Pict mute, a tracker by the name of Etain (Olga Kurylenko, Hitman, Quantum of Solace), who unbeknownst to them is leading them to an ambush. 3,000 soldiers are massacred mercilessly while Virilus is taken captive. Seven remaining survivors,  armed with only a few weapons and their wits, decide to enter the enemy camp to save their general. Pretty soon, they find themselves the target of a group of Pict assassins after Gorlacon’s son is killed in the failed rescue attempt.

Movies in the like of Centurion often find themselves compared with blockbusters like Gladiator or 300, but the movie holds its own against its predecessors by ensuring that the execution of the battle scenes are done well. Writer and director Neil Marshall found the right balance between scenes that depict the bloodbath, which was indeed bloody to satisfy the male audiences and those that focus on the more poignant moments where the lead character Quintus helplessly tries to save his comrades as they are being killed by the Picts — his utter despondency in realizing the possibility that he will yet be the survivor of another wipeout of his legion. The movie spares the audiences nothing as it illustrates war in all its glory — the blood, the maiming, the honor of the Roman soldiers and their senseless deaths, what compelled the Picts to fight back against the Romans.

The cinematography served the film well as the hunt for the remaining survivors of the Ninth Legion is magnified by long shots of the vast landscape which they should traverse to get home — their smallness compared to the backdrop of forest and ice — magnificent on any other occasion had it not been the center of the hunt.

The film appealed to me not because of the glorified battle scenes but because it also depicts the vulnerabilities of the lead characters — their doubts and flashes of hopelessness as they realize that they are outnumbered by the Picts and their supplies and weapons are getting low –and the utter sense of disregard of Roman politicians who ordered the attack and easily buried the truth behind the 3,000-strong legion’s disappearance in order to suppress uprisings from other fronts. The casting was great in the sense that none of these actors were truly A-listers when they filmed the movie but still proved that big names only help to boost the popularity of a film but are not necessary to come up with an epic masterpiece. The emotions that they were able to convey with a single look — Quintus as he is tortured by the Picts, Virilus as he orders Quintus to abort the rescue, Etain as Gorlacon tells the tale leading to her betrayal — pushes the audience to empathize with their characters, no matter what side they are on.

Centurion bears similarities with Gladiator and 300, but more than the type of music or the editing, all these films are well written and manages to mingle emotion with courage, strength with weakness and tempers hard core action with touches of drama.

 

 

In fairness to Green Lantern

Call me crazy but I didn’t think that the Green Lantern movie was as bad as I thought it would be. I had less than 0 expectations after I heard bad reviews from friends who have watched it (who have excellent taste), and a low 20s rating on rottentomatoes, but the fangirl in me couldn’t dismiss the only DC superhero movie out there who had the nerve to go up against the very cool and awesome Marvel comic hero films lined up for the entire summer.

I was glad that I gave Hal Jordan a chance to shine the light of his Green Lantern, yes, despite the presence of Blake Lively, who has in my opinion a very ironic screen name for someone whose only claim to fame is drawing out her words as if she was just up from bed or intoxicated, and pushing up her breasts and looking stern to express her displeasure at her leading man a la Serena van der Woodsen. Some would think that I have this bias against Lively but even if I saw her for the first time on Green Lantern, I will probably come to the same conclusion. Anyways, enough of this ranting. Back to Green Lantern. I just had to get that out of my chest.

Ryan Reynolds was a good choice for Green Lantern because he exudes a devil may care attitude and the quick wit leftover from his Van Wilder days. He doesn’t miss a beat when he lets go if his zingers, my favorite being when a fellow pilot asks him to watch his back, he responds with “That’s impossible.” There were a couple more punchlines throughout the movie but I don’t want to ruin things for those who plan to watch the movie. Hal Jordan should be cocky, reckless, irresponsible, resourceful, smart and tormented at the same time, and Reynolds delivered. He looks similar to the Hal Jordan in the comic books too, so that was a plus as well.  Peter Skarsgard (Orphan) was a transformation in this movie, not just in looks but also in disposition as he played the nerdy professor Hector Hammond, son of Senator Robert Hammond, who gets exposed to fragments of meteor found on the body of Abin Sur, the purple alien who perishes and passes on the ring to Jordan. Hector, like Hal is in love with Lively’s character Carol Ferris in the movie, although I’m still not sure why, except that she’s hot. Mark Strong plays the Green Lantern Sinestro, the commander of the 3,600 strong Green Lantern Corps. very effectively but because he has played the villain for so long, seeing him on the side of heroes took some getting used to. I heard that the producers of the movie were gearing for a sequel so it will come as no surprise to Green Lantern fans that Sinestro actually turns out to be his arch nemesis.

The movie basically stayed true to the Green Lantern lore. The Green Lantern Corps — 3,600 in all are tasked by the ancient Guardians to harness the energy of willpower to protect the universe from threats like Parallax, who draws strength from fear and has the ability to wipe out civilizations to stay strong. Parallax, who is later revealed to be a former guardian who sees the potential of harnessing and taming the energy borne from fear but is devoured by the power which he wishes to master, is banished and contained by the strongest of all Green Lanterns — Abin Sur, who of course becomes his first target when he breaks out of confinement. Abin Sur, mortally wounded flees to the closest planet — Earth where the ring chooses test pilot Hal Jordan to be Abin Sur’s replacement. There were questions as to whether or not Hal should have been chosen at all since the first requirement to become a member of the Corps is fearlessness but as always, the hero finds out in the end that accepting his vulnerabilities is the key to harnessing his strength.

The strength of the movie lies with its attention to detail, which would please GL fans of the comic books. It also steered clear from major deviations to the story, which is already complicated enough as it is. The action scenes and the CGI was also good, better than Thor in my opinion, but mostly constricted to glowing green things. And it was not a complete dud, as the trailer suggests.

Its weakness, however lies in investing too much time and effort in developing the love story between Hal and Carol and trying to untangle Hal’s trauma from the death of his father. It was already obvious from the get go and going back to it scene after scene was kind of a drag. I felt that the time could have been used better by fleshing out the end of the world angle, or developing Hal’s abilities, which are far more consequential than analyzing what went wrong in the Hal/Carol hook up years ago that they already knew the answer to. While the movie was gaining momentum from the fight scenes whether on Earth or in outer space, the mood is dampened by all these pussyfooting between Hal and Carol and not only once did I yawn aloud as I waited for the next scene. I think that the time could have been used better had it been devoted to Sinestro, and developing his character to prepare audiences for a sequel (had it been their goal), or to Hector Hammond, who developed psionic powers after his exposure to the meteor and his life as a villain.

Generally, it was a passable superhero movie. It would have fared better in the critics opinion had it been the only superhero movie out there but since it is following the likes of Iron Man, X-Men First Class and the surprise hit Thor, it had a lot to live up to, and it could have upped its game a bit more to be at par with the competition. Should it have a sequel, I still have hopes that it can learn from its mistakes and move forward to produce a better movie.

I am Legend Korean Drama Review

I am Legend, starring Kim Jung Eun of Lovers in Paris fame is a drama about a 30 something former band performer Jeon Seol Hee who marries into the wealthy family of lawyer Chai Ji Wok, and suffers countless heartbreaks because her mother in law hates her for her lack of social pedigree.

After several years of marriage, Seoul Hee, who has has had enough of her mother in law’s abuses calls it quits with Ji Wok after her husband fails to defend her when his mother prevents her from donating her bone marrow to a sister who is terminally ill, saying that this will affect her chances of producing an heir for the family. To make matters worse, she discovers that Ji Wok has been unfaithful to her with his fellow lawyer Oh Seong He, who is divorced from Jang Tae Hyon, a songwriter whom Seol Hee admires. The court grants their divorce after a long and bitter battle.

While there is the typical Korean drama formula at work in I am Legend — an abusive mother in law, a love triangle, a rich husband and cool guy who secretly loves the main actress,  the series is only romantic up to a certain degree. It focuses on Seol Hee’s life after the divorce, how she picks up the pieces and shows her strength without her husband to support her. The show is  mainly about the empowerment of women when  Seol Hee, reforms her former band, and despite being “older” than most superstar groups, tries to pursue of her dreams of making music and becoming successful. The drama also touches on the difficulties of juggling career and family responsibilities, especially for married women with kids — but shows that it is possible if the family is supportive and priorities are properly set. It is very relateable to women who fit these demographic.

As with other Korean dramas,  the story is fraught with a lot of subplots, mostly court cases involving Seol Hee (who works part time as a legal secretary) and Ji Wok, who find themselves working the same cases on opposite sides of the table. A lot of tears are shed, a lot of music is played, and the ending is not your typical Korean fare where somebody dies or somebody gets married. Those who are rooting for either Ji Wok or Tae Hyon would also not be disappointed as it is open ended, and leaves the viewers to form their own conclusions.  It is a very good drama, in my opinion. Not too sobby and not to happy, but very realistic.

Gnomeo and Juliet: Cheesy but Effective

This animated film by Rocket Pictures released by Touchstone entertainment features the powerhouse voice cast of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, and Patrick Stewart in a story of two opposing clans of garden gnomes belonging to two neighbors, Montague and Capulet who can’s stand each other. These two clans, identified by color of their pointy hats (red and blue) have been feuding for the longest time for an undisclosed reason. Their interactions have always been at a minimum, for the most part heckling and competing in  lawnmower races between Gnomeo (McAvoy), and Tybalt (Statham), a red gnome who is is mean and arrogant. When Tybalt cheats Gnomeo out of a victory in the races, the blues try to get back at them by sneaking into the red garden to pull a prank on the cheat. But even as their plan fails, the film’s hero meets Juliet, who is herself sneaking into an abandoned garden to pick a flower, and the two fall in love after a lengthy duet.

The plot follows the pattern of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but with the intensity watered down to appeal to its target market– children. The film, has to its credit, excellent animation and a well paced story. I wasn’t expecting to like it but I actually did. The movie was undeniably cheesy while the two lead characters were courting and getting to know each other on clandestine dates, but it was also infinitely entertaining, never boring audiences with lengthy monologues, and instead keeping a steady flow of action — sandwiching romantic sequences with scenes of attacks and counterattacks (and counter counterattacks) and it was really funny because these little gnomes looked so adorable and yet, they were plotting invasions of the opposing garden like they were trained soldiers. The contradictions served the movie really well.

There were also subplots for the supporting characters who did much to liven up the movie (Featherstone, Nanette). They were well rewarded for their work when they too got closure in the ending (a thing that most movies forget) so everybody leaves the cinemas happy. As for the script, there were occasional references to the original literature and there were verbal jabs between the reds and the blues, but they basically kept it clean. I liked that Emily Blunt, James McAvoy (after seeing him on X-men and this one, I think I’m already a bit in love with him) and Jason Statham were able to let loose their genuine British accent and they were perfect matches to their characters. Statham in animation is as tough as he is his live action roles.

Credit should also be given to the musical scorer and director of this film. He chose the best songs to accentuate each situation and the original songs used for the movie weren’t too shabby. I would also like to give credit to the fight coordinators if there were any because the stunts (while made in reference to successful action flicks) were truly well executed. The animators, as I have already said, did a great job with the graphics but ultimately, it would all boil to excellent direction for having the vision and the structure to make everything gel together. For a relatively new artist studio, Gnomeo and Juliet could give Dreamworks (Pixar is still miles ahead) a run for its money.