The Road… to nowhere

I was pretty excited going into the cinema to see critically acclaimed horror director Yam Laranas’s latest offering. Laranas is one of the more successful horror filmmakers in the country especially with his experience directing a Hollywood cast in the US version of the movie he wrote and directed entitled Sigaw (The Echo) starring Jesse Bradley. Leaving the cinema, however, I was more confused than impressed about the movie which seemed to take hours to set up with no remarkable outcome.

The Road had a lot going for it — a decent cast, a great director and even Swedish musical scorer Johan Soderqvist who did the background music for Let the Right One In. However, the pace of the opening credits alone should have been an indication of what was in store. A slow paced and misguided horror (?) movie whose plot was a combination of several psychological thrillers and supernatural suspense released in the market in previous years.

The movie was divided into three parts, which unfolds with every chapter. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that the events were presented backwards, seeming to peel layer after layer before the eventual reveal in the finale. The first part takes place in 2008 where three teenagers traverse an old and abandoned road closed to traffic and find themselves being chased by supernatural entities (two women with plastic bags over their heads). This first part was pretty much what one would expect given the title and the tagline Nobody Leaves. However, as the story progresses, in the second chapter, set in 1998, the premise of the road was abandoned to focus on the backstory of the two ghosts from part 1 and the serial killer who victimized them. The road was still present but was hardly the focal point of the chapter. There was some excellent acting by the young stars, but it got kind of tedious as it took too long to execute when the ending was already revealed in the first chapter. The third chapter, which takes place ten years prior to Chapter 2 deals with the childhood of the killer (abusive parents who are both loony in their own right) and why he hates women. This does not really come as a huge surprise because half of the movies involving serial killers nowadays have abuse in the backstory one way or the other. So the only thing left to do is figure out who the killer is.

The problem with the movie in general is its blown up sense of importance. It tries to be smart in keeping the details until the very end so that the audience will not be able to figure out who the killer is until all three chapters have been concluded. And while the camera shots and angles were excellent, in typical Laranas style, the director seemed to have forgotten that there are other elements to horror that should keep the audience interested, and that is pacing and a steady story progression.

The problem with the presentation for this movie was the very real departure from the original idea which was the things that happened on the road, not the house where the murders took place. The supernatural elements also failed to reach out to the audience because it was also unclear what they wanted, just where they were and what happened to them. The killer’s departure from his MO in the beginning when the victimized a guy, and what was with the ten year intervals between each significant event were also questions that the movie failed to answer. The lack of audience involvement in the cinema (nobody even screamed) was, in my opinion a sign that they were a. growing more confused; or b. getting sleepy or c. couldn’t care less. The film, in my humble opinion, could have benefited from editing out repetitive scenes that served only to lengthen the movie and did nothing for its overall impact.

All in all, The Road was one major disappointment, and only proves the saying that too much of a good thing (even though the cinematography was perfect) could be bad.

Horrible Bosses: A Belated Review

Buddy comedies are always funny for me, even with recycled jokes that sometimes work and sometimes fall flat. The reason perhaps is because people don’t often expect much from these types of movies — just laugh inducing skits and mishaps that the characters go through in order to achieve a fairly simple goal.

Horrible Bosses managed to level up its game compared to other similar themed movies as it went all out with the casting, signing up Hollywood A-listers Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrel as the horrible bosses of popular comedians Jason Bateman (The Switch, Change Up, Paul), Jason Sudeikis (Hall Pass) and Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) to bring to life obnoxious characters (that are very out of the norm for Spacey, Aniston and Farrel) who make the lives of their subordinates miserable to the point that the three hatch a plot to kill each other’s bosses to end their respective ordeals.

Spacey stars Dave Harken, the asswipe president of a company who exists only to catch his wife in the act of cheating on him and make each day of Nick Hendricks’ (Bateman) life a living hell, and Aniston plays the role of nymphomaniac dentist Julie Harris who constantly harrasses Dale Arbus (Day), her dentist aide, into sleeping with her. Jason Sudeikis’s character Kurt Buckman, was the only one in the lot who was happy with his job working for Jack Pellit (Donald Sutherland) until he dies in an accident leaving his cokehead weirdo son  Bobby Pellit in charge.  One night, the three decide that they’ve had enough of their bosses and hire a killer (Jamie Foxx) to off the banes of their existence. However, problems arise when they find out that their hired gun is actually not a killer but rather a serial bootlegger who just knows how to sound scary.

The movie was very funny because the stars, despite their status in Hollywood were able to let their hair down and not take themselves too seriously, acting outrageous and unmindful of their appearance, especially Colin Farrel, whose character was a balding drug dependent weirdo. Kevin Spacey did not do much that he hasn’t done before but Jennifer Aniston’s comedic skills and sex appeal was put to the test with this movie as it challenged her in a role that was completely opposite the wholesome goody two shoes roles that she often plays. One major surprise the audience will get is probably on how she was very comfortable playing a vixen, even at her age, which showed her confidence in experimenting with her image at this stage in her career.

Bateman, Day and Sudeikis meanwhile, were perfect goofballs in their own right. Nick as the most mature of the group; Kurt as as the womanizing douche who finds it hard to focus on the mission because of the women, and Dale, who always screws up as he triggers mishap after mishap. The guys had perfect rapport and seemed to enjoy themselves while doing the movie, making them fun to watch and highly relateable to the audience. The script was also top notch, but I had the feeling that the guys were the injecting ad libs half the time because they’re proven comedic geniuses.

All in all, Horrible Bosses was far from horrible. It had a simple plot, true, but it was an entertaining take on the extent some guys would go because of work troubles. It might even strike a chord with some who have experienced or encountered similar types of bosses, perhaps not to the same extent as these guys, but it’s funny to see them attempt what some only imagine in their heads while thinking of terrible people they work for, or with.

Breaking down Breaking Dawn 1

I’ve learned from the first Twilight movie that one should not expect too much from these film adaptations of Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling YA novels (which I voraciously read  and enjoyed prior to watching the first movie). While I didn’t think that any of the movies were completely bad, I was truly underwhelmed over how it compared to the literary piece. And of course, I was one of the more skeptical ones upon hearing that the filmmakers were breaking the fourth book into two parts. Really? I didn’t think that the final book was eventful enough to fill two installments but now, the question will be whether or not they would have enough material to fill the last movie with interesting scenes to merit a climax. But that’s a different story for a different time. Fair warning: If you haven’t read the book, there may be some spoilers ahead.

Back to the topic at hand, the first part of Breaking Dawn tackles the events  following the death of Victoria, the vampire who’s been stalking Bella since the demise of her mate James in the first movie. Twi-hards finally get the dream wedding of Edward (Robert Pattinson) to Bella (Kristen Stewart) and the much hyped about honeymoon in Isle Esme, a remote island paradise owned by the Cullens. However, just as the young couple begin to figure out how to have a normal family life (despite their abnormal set up), Bella finds out that she is pregnant and conflict arises when the Cullens are divided about what to do with the baby, which apparently is taking its toll on Bella’s health as the pregnancy progresses. As if their worries aren’t enough, the wolves find out about Bella’s condition and decide to move against the Cullens for fear that the “abomination” will cause harm to the people of Forks.

I must admit that I was impressed by how much the franchise has grown in terms of direction. The team managed to pull off an amazing wedding — truly beautiful from the set, to Bella’s gown which was unremarkable at the front but the details at the back was truly classic, and the entire party altogether. They made the event a mix of seriousness and fun and the general atmosphere was reflective of a real wedding. Team Edward fans will have a treat in store for them with loads of romantic scenes between Bella and Edward but Team Jacob (Taylor Lautner) should not fret as there are plenty of screen time for their favorite werewolf  in this installment.

As expected, Breaking Dawn was rather uneventful, but the team managed to squeeze in a bit of action in the showdown between Sam’s pack and Jacob’s posse, which was far better than earlier fight scenes in the first three movies combined. Kudos to the make up team for transforming Bella into a reluctant bride, then a haggard waif, then a stunning vampire, and selling it. The make up team also laid off on too much foundation for the Cullens this time around, making them look more attractive (which they were supposed to be) rather than stiff and pasty. There were some deviations from the book but they were rather minor and served to improve the movie so all is forgiven.

In terms of acting, I commend Robert Pattinson for improving on his delivery although I still detect faint traces of constipation (I always joke that Bella’s and his tortured looks seem like constipation rather than emotional stress) in his scenes. As for Bella, how do I put it? Well, she was still the most consistent of the bunch, her acting never changing from the first movie until this one. Whether this is a good or bad thing would depend entirely on the audience’s perception. I appreciated the scene where Jacob imprinted on Nessie because they justified the moment with a fast forward to Nessie’s future, making it not too weird for Jacob to have strong feelings for an infant.

As with the first three parts, there were standouts (other than Jacob) in this piece and for me, it was Charlie, Bella’s dad. I especially liked his gruff acceptance of his daughter’s marriage and his subtle threats about hunting down Edward if he makes her cry, which is quite typical reactions for fathers who learn that their daughters are marrying into a super gorgeous and loaded family. Another notable supporting character was Seth Clearwater, played by newcomer Booboo Stewart. The kid has charisma and an air about him that just makes people smile and he was a great antidote to Jake’s overall seriousness in this movie.

All in all, while there were many lulls in the movie, there were also fun parts so it wasn’t so bad. In a sense, it was clearer than the others because the filmmakers made the love story the focal part of the movie, with the fighting and all subsequent conflicts merely secondary. Bella could be happier, in my opinion. After all, she has two hot guys who are willing to go to the ends of the earth to have her and protect her, so it was just weird that the tortured look did not leave her face (even during her wedding to Edward who has grown even hotter from his previous hotness scale).

In the end, I may have to watch the last one if only to finish what I started but somehow. I’m really not excited about it but who knows?  The film just might surprise me. :)

For reviews of Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse, check out fellow blogger www.iamipodman.wordpress.com.

Pacquiao-Marquez IV anyone?

Photo sourced from http://www.guardian.co.uk

I don’t usually write about sports but after the controversial results of Manny Pacquiao-Juan Miguel Marquez fight earlier today, I could not help but roll my eyes at what promoters are willing to do just to score a quick buck. In Manny’s post fight interview, amid a mineral water bottle throwing incident (did anybody get that?), Top Rank promoter Arum breached the idea that there could be another slugfest between the two boxers to put to rest once and for all the nigging doubts on the veracity of Pacman’s victory.

It was true that I was worried about the results before the judges gave Manny the victory, via majority decision. But I believe that Marquez, despite his excellent showing in the beginning, was not aggressive enough to knock Manny out. Pacquiao, on the other hand, had the power to do so, but used the earlier rounds simply evading Marquez’s attacks and being content to exchange punches with the Mexican counter puncher.

While the match was not by any stretch of the imagination, a showstopper, it was still a good one in my book because both athletes showed respect for the skills of one another, playing smart and not giving in to the jeers of the crowd. Marquez’s game has improved greatly and his technique proved to be a match against Manny’s strength and speed, while Manny on the other hand showed great maturity by looking for opportunities to throw combinations and launching flurries that are not at all comparable to any of his earlier fights.

In the end, it was Manny who gained the favor of the judges who awarded him a majority decision win. The outcome was still controversial, as as with the first two matches, but it was a match backed by statistics, if not the crowd.

As per official CompuBox computation for Pacquiao-Marquez III:

From Freddie Roach's twitter post

PUNCHES
Pacquiao = 578 punches connecting 176
Marquez= 436 punches connecting 138

POWER PUNCHES
Pacquiao = 274 power punches connecting 117
Marquez = 254 power punches connecting100

JABS
Pacquiao = 304 jabs connecting 59
Marquez = 182 jabs connecting 38

This may not have been the type of ending I would expect but so far, while both boxers have improved significantly, they seem to return to the same form when they face off with one another, leading me to the conclusion that if they decide to fight again, I will not be seeing anything new. Same old strategies and defenses — so I would rather they move on from the trilogy and fight other boxers. They may be great warriors but I’ve had about enough of these two for now. Besides, if they do a fourth, they would be obligated to do a fifth, and this cycle may last well until both boxers decide to retire.

Bleach: The Bound (Bountou) arc

After the exciting events of the Soul Society arc, Ichigo and his friends return to the real world (sans Rukia) to find themselves faced with a formidable new foe, a race called the Bountou (Bound), who are humans like the Quincy with special abilities to control dolls as weapons  like the Shinigami uses their zampaktou in battle. The Bountou are immortals who survive by feeding off the souls of dying people and are the result of a failed experminent by the Gotei 13’s former 12th division to create perfect beings. After the Shingami pulled the plug on the project, they were forced to live a life of seclusion among humans while trying to hide their abilities from the Shinigami leaders who attempted to exterminate their entire race.

After centuries in hiding and bitterness, the remaining Bountou, led by Kariya Jin, who harnesses the power of the wind as his doll, gather to form an uprising and devise a means to harvest living humans’ souls and purify it to magnify their powers. However, they do not not have the ability to cross over to the realm of the Shinigami, and thereby need the powers of a Quincy to manipulate spirit particles that could create a portal to Soul Society. As the Bountou target the vulnerable Uryu Ishida, the last Quincy, who recently lost his power from fighting  12th Division captain Mayuri Kurotsuchi, the Shinigami team also scrambles to prevent the Bountou  from victimizing more innocent civilians from the villains’ plot to overthrow the Shinigami.

The Bountou arc, proceeds at a much slower pace compared to the Soul Society arc. It has more of a political build up and plotting on the part of the Bountou and efforts to gain strength and figure out the plot on the part of Team Shinigami. It starts off with Ichigo still getting his bearings back from his return from the Shinigami realm and being unable to use his Bankai powers in his battles against the Bountou. Renji, who has been assigned to take the place of Rukia as guardian of Karakura town for the meantime, also suffers some discomfort as he finds himself relying too much on the support of Ichigo and his friends. As the two face their own dilemmas, Ishida tries to do what he thinks is the best for himself and his friends without being too much of a burden to them, Rukia returns, still not 100% from her injuries and only relying on her kidou, and Urahara gives them additional support in the form of three Mod Souls (Modified Souls) Cloud, who has the ability to mimic the look and the fighting ability of his source; Ririn, who has the ability to create elaborate illusions, and Nova, who is skilled in manipulating dimensions and teleportation, to help them track their foes. Vice captains from the Gotei 13, Matsumoto (10th division), Kira (3rd division) and Hisagi (9th division) are also dispatched to put an end to the Bountou threat.

COOL VS COOL. Two of the strongest warriors, Kariya Jin and Kuchiki Byakuya fight without even breaking a sweat.

What’s good about this season of Bleach is that there is a great touch of drama to the story. The Bountou are portrayed as villains but they still have backstories that justify their actions so that viewers also sympathize with their plight. Heroism is still the general theme of the series as the weaker members of the team show strength and mettle in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Ishida, with his quick thinking and self sacrificing tendencies, Orihime with her genuine compassion and healing powers, and Chad, with his unequivocal loyalty and determination to fight side by side with Ichigo. Captains Ukitake and Kyuraku do not have a lot of action scenes in this series but they have key roles in solving the mystery of the Bountou.

As with the Shinigami arc, all of the characters were also given their moments as the captains who were defeated in the first season were given highlights this time around. Kuchiki Byakuya, who appeared aloof and unemotional in the earlier arc actively shows protectiveness of Rukia this season, as she suffers deeper injuries to her spirit power without having fully recovered from her scars from the Shinigami arc. He however, remains cool and consistent while fighting, not even blinking an eyelash while combatting the strongest of the Bountou, in direct contrast with Ichigo’s emotional state while in battle.

Rukia is flanked by Kurosaki Ichigo (left) and Renji Abarai (right)

Ichigo and Renji eventually find their footing, and have an easier time achieving Bankai, as does Ishida  and the captains — Soi Fon,  Kurotsuchi, Zaraki, and Hitsuyaga who showed great power while going head to head with the attacking Bountou. But my favorite scenes by far are still those that show Ichigo and Renji being fiercely protective of Rukia, especially towards the end where the recuperating Rukia is flanked by her two guardians at the Kuchiki home in Soul Society.

There are a lot more deaths this time around, but its kind of hard not to have any casualties in a boy’s manga at all. I appreciate Bleach, however, for trying to keep things not too violent, all the while trying to justify the elimination of certain characters by fleshing out their roles and making sense of their existence in the anime.

Bleach is great story about friendship and camaraderie, and it is presented with consistency that has been established even from the beginning of the anime. I can’t wait to devour the next seasons. :) Check out my review of the Shinigami arc here.

The Thing (2011): A Review

I initially thought that the 2011 version of The Thing was yet another attempt to mess with the horror cult classic by John Carpenter but upon doing some research, I learned that the film is actually about the events that happened prior to the horrific incidents that happened in the Kurt Russel starrer released in 1982.

The 2011 version stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Final Destination 3, Die Hard 4.0) as American paleonthologist Kate Lloyd who is tapped to take part of a Norweigian team in the discovery of a spaceship buried under the Arctic and an alien life form frozen in ice. Unbeknownst to them, the alien is still alive and breaks out of its frozen prison without much effort. It also has the ability to kill and replicate the cells of humans, enabling it to fuse with its victim and use its body as a host before it strikes anew. In a bind, the team is left with no choice but to quarantine themselves in their base to try and figure out which one of them is hosting the alien to try to contain the danger to civilization and put an end to the alien threat that they unleashed.

As a prequel, the film remains faithful to the premise of the original (including the setting) and ends where the other one begins. Its strength lies in its success in merging the elements or horror, sci fi and mystery and its ability to combine old school horror techniques with a much more modern presentation.

What’s good about this film is that there is a steady progression in the story — there is a beginning, a middle and an end (although audiences are left to analyze if  Kate makes the right call). First, the team tries to figure out the alien’s capabilities are. Next, conflict ensues as to what course of action to take, all this while the alien goes on a killing spree and kills them off one by one. Compatriots are pitted against each other, friends and families are forced to take action against perceived allies and division among the ranks compound differing motives (of course, the scientists want to preserve the discovery even while the other guys prioritize survival). In this sense, the presentation was very similar to the general air of Stephen King’s The Mist, because the team has to only to work with what little they know and fight instinctively using whatever tools are available to them against a seemingly insurmountable foe.

WTH IS THIS? Team members look on at the alien after t was burnt to a toast, and prepares to dissect it.

The look of the alien is not so far out of the league of previous movie aliens. It is spiderlike and has the ability to fuse with its victim. There was one brilliant scene where one member of the team was being attacked (I won’t mention which) wherein the alien, using the body of another member of the team fuses with the other with the alien simultaneously occupying two bodies and using the form to stalk his other prey. The special effects in this movie is awesome so huge props to the special effects team. My only complaint was that the beginning was a bit too dark, so the overall magnitude of the unraveling of the spaceship lost some momentum. Also, most of the Norweigian dudes look too similar to each other so it was a bit hard to identify with them until the story moves forward.

The movie stayed true to its original material (Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.) and it showed great respect to the classic by not making a muck out of it. The effects, although it had great CGI at its disposal, did not overdo its execution and Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.deserves much credit for this. All in all, the premise of the movie is a bit generic but it managed to deliver suspense, a couple of good scares and got the audience involved in figuring out who is hosting the alien, so good job :)

Paranormal Activity 3: A Review

Paranomal Activity is the third installment in the Paranomal Activity franchise which started from the sleeper hit in 2008 that earned $198 million worldwide from a $15,000 production budget. In this chapter (the prequel), events in 1988 revolving around the franchise’s lead Katie (Katie Featherston), and her sister Kristi are presented wherein they interact with an invisible presence which leads to tragic events for their family. The franchise, which is known for its documentary style approach of recording paranormal events through the use of “home videos,” still maintains the same technique wherein the girls’ mother’s boyfriend Dennis, mounts video cameras around their home to figure out what is  behind strange occurrences happening inside their home.

For the record, I was seriously unimpressed with Paranormal Activity 1, which I thought was really boring and too similar to the Blair Witch Project. At the beginning of Paranormal 3, I thought I was going to be in for the same old tricks because of the slow pacing intended to establish the continuity of the three films. This time around, however, filmmakers improved on the already workable elements of the first two movies (Paranomal 2 was released in 2010), to add some suspense to presentation of the “home videos.” This time, instead of simply mounting cameras and leaving them at one angle, there are mirrors that show different perspectives, and there is also this brilliant segment wherein Dennis invents a makeshift platform for his camera using the oscillator of a deskfan enabling the camera to pan left and right at specific intervals. There is also a divider in the middle of room which provides a blind spot in the center, establishing a short window to transition from one part of the room to the other where viewers can expect paranormal events to occur.

At the beginning, the waiting gets kind of tedious, but it all becomes worth it when the paranormal events level up with more aggressive hauntings. Filmmakers were able to provide a solid story to make sense of the hauntings (which follow the girls in the next movies) and were able to create openings to be answered in parts 1 and 2. The prolonged silences that echo throughout the rooms also made the setting more spooky, leading audiences to concentrate on what would happen next. The effects were very subtle and needed no great special effects or CGI but it was very effective in its end results.

Another good thing about the movie is that it managed to pool together a great cast. The kids are very cute and very natural in their portrayal, especially Kristi who has direct contact with “Toby,” her imaginary friend who compels her to do things she does not want to. Dennis and Julie also provided a perfect backdrop of a young couple in the ’80s who are very carefree and in love with each other while trying to raise a family. Dennis was especially likeable as the boyfriend who relates well with his girlfriend’s children from a previous marriage especially with his genuine concern and protectiveness of the girls when the paranormal events take place.

There is not much to be said of Paranormal Activity 3 except that was a good surprise for me. Its great for a couple of scares while in the cinema, and a great movie to watch with friends as the darkness in the theater amplifies the overall spookiness of the film. It isn’t as creepy as The Ring or as bothering as The Blair Witch project but it was good while it lasted.