101 ways to leave a game show: A premiere review

I’m only writing this entry because I really think this show is so cool. If you think Fear Factor has a cool concept (despite being gross), multiply that by 10 and you get this crazy game show that escorts losing contestants out of the show by way of 101 dangerous stunts. Developed by the creators of Wipeout, the winner gets $50,000 and losers get a rush from the creative and wacky exits the show’s team has cooked up for them ranging from car explosions, drops from moving vehicles, ejections by jet pack and plane rides outside of the planes.

EXIT BY JETPACK. How cool is it to leave a game show by getting shot off a jetpack, just like in the movies? The contestant doesn't seem to think so.

In the preliminary round of the show, the contestants are asked a uniform question which they will all answer, closest answer to the correct one gets first pick from the multiple choice entries for the actual question. The contestant who gets stuck with the wrong answer gets booted off the show in style (with his life in peril). Second round is pretty much the same until only four contestants remain to battle it out for the cash prize. The US version is hosted by Jeff Sutphen whose ad libs are off the hook.

The reason why I totally love this show is because I too, am an adrenaline junkie. Anyone who knows me would likely say that I would probably get more of a kick out of getting the wrong answer if only to experience the cool exit (despite the danger). I love how the contestants cry for dear life and panic at the thought of getting ejected but for me, its all great entertainment. I mean, at the end of the day, how often can one person experience the same things they did on the show, right?

This show rocks! Its totally over the top but in a good way. I wouldn’t change a thing.

My Cactus Heart: A Belated Review

My Cactus Heart stars real life sweethearts Maja Salvador and Matteo Guidicelli in a generic Rom-Com about a cynical girl who is so afraid to fall in love and the guy who swears to give his heart to her. Judging by the poster, one would think that Xian Lim has a major role in the love story but surprisingly enough, the up and comer appears in only a few scenes throughout the movie and is really only included in the film as eye candy.

Sandy (Salvador) is a daddy’s girl who gets her heart broken for the first time when her father decides to leave their family and live a life on his own. Growing up, she witnesses how her dad’s action affected her mother and vowed that she will not open herself up to similar hurts by falling in love. Carlo, on the other hand, grew up believing that his mother died in Singapore after he was born. Despite having to live with his father’s vices, he remains positive, optimistic and hardworking in order to make ends meet. He also finds a passion for music that his father strictly forbids as it reminds him of his dead wife, who was like him, part of a band while they were abroad. When Carlo finally meets Sandy (he works as a waiter by day/band vocalist by night), he woos her and tries to get her to come out of her shell, risking his own feelings by getting close to her prickly cactus heart that stings anyone who ever gets near.

My Cactus Heart is pretty cut and dried as a typical romantic comedy, especially in a Filipino setting. Of course, there is the concept of family and how one’s family helps shape a person’s philosophies and personalities. There is the cute guy and the pretty girl who are as opposite as night and day. Matteo plays the charming minimum wage earner with self deprecating humor and an easy stride while Maja as the girl who chooses to close her heart to love because of her fears. There were a lot of over the top moments that drew a couple of laughs — some  romatic date montages that were there to prove that audiences are watching a romatic comedy. However, the scenes seemed like pieces of the puzzle haphazardly pieced together that they don’t really do much for the overall impact of the film.

Matteo has improved greatly as an actor and his cool guy vibe is supported by his playfulness and puppy dog looks targetted at his leading ladies. But the problem is with his speech. He is more comfortable with English dialogue rather than tagalog so poor guy roles are not really advisable for him, as with this movie. Another thing about the movie is that the story is very shallow and really doesn’t go anywhere — just goes around in a loop that goes back to past hurts that prevent Sandy’s character from moving forward. Its actually quite annoying how narrow minded her character is, especially since she did not grow up in a convent. It was kind of sad that everybody in her family (except her mom) has already moved forward except for her, and it was also disappointing that everybody knew that there was a pattern to her behavior but nobody went out of their way to talk to her and help her grt through her rut until 10 minutes before the movie was over.

All in all, the movie was entertaining enough but I was glad I didnt shell out P150 to see it on the big screen.

When Xian Met Ronald…

I recently attended my first blogger event with fellow bloggers from Team MFJ, Jenny, Hannah and Gelo to witness the launching of the McFloat Summer Medley campaign featuring rising star Xian Lim as their newest product endorser. Of course, when we received the invite, I had no idea we were going to meet the young actor, whose easy charm and sophisticated good looks made tween (and not so tween) hearts go aflutter in the primetime hit My Binondo Girl, opposite my favorite Kim Chiu.

Well, back to the subject, after we were served our lunch, we were pleasantly surprised when Eon, the PR agency handling the event announced the arrival of their surprise guest, who will be featured in their latest summer ad. (Of course, we were given a slight heads up by Jen’s friend before the actual announcement so we were able to plant ourselves on good spots before chaos ensued).

Xian Lim looked every bit as handsome as he was on television but I must say,  in real life, one could better appreciate his height, his build, his confident but boyish stature, and one could fully understand his charisma. The crowd was all agog as he entered the room. I think half the girls  (myself included) were so starstruck that we momentarily forgot why we were there in the first place.

Xian and McDonald’s 

PRESSCON. Ronald McDonald (back) tries to grab some of the limelight from hearthrob/celebrity endorser Xian Lim (front, center) who is flanked by executives of McDonald's Philippines.

After an impromptu performance of a rearranged version of “I’m Walking on Sunshine,” which Xian recorded for the television commercial (TVC), Xian sat down with McDonald’s executives to field a few questions from bloggers and guests from the mainstream media.

According to officials of McDonald’s, Xian was chosen for the campaign because they wanted someone young, fresh and inspiring to be the face of their summer campaign in order to reflect the same freshness and feel good appeal of their brand.

No complaints from this end, as Xian’s well executed TVC indeed had a very cool vibe. His smile throughout the 30 second duration of the ad clearly illustrated the feel that the company was going for — a very cool and refreshing summer with a talented, down to earth boy next door that everyone could relate to.

When Xian was asked however, why he thought he was the best person to endorse the product (a question asked by Gelo), he confided that even while he was growing up in the US with his mom, he had a very special connection with the global brand and universal hang out.

He recalled one incident when he was little when he attended a McDonald’s Fun Day for Halloween. He said that while many kids were dressed up in elaborate costumes, his mom still entered him in the competition using only her face powder and lipstick to improvise. He said that the experience was particularly striking because it reminded him of bonding moments with his mother, which McDonald’s was a part of.

He said that despite being the underdog, he was chosen among all the kids to receive the best costume and was awarded many freebies as part of the prize. Since then, he said that he’s been a fan of McDonald’s products, especially Chicken McNuggets which he claimed to be one of his favorites.

If this was the basis of the collaboration, one can probably say that a McDonald’s and Xian partnership has been fated from the start.

The Products

At the launch, guests were treated to samples of the four new McFloat flavors — the Blueberry Sprite McFloat, Four Seasons Sprite McFloat, Green Apple Sprite McFloat and Honey Banana Sprite McFloat, a perfect foil to the scorching heat outside the store.

The Verdict

I was only able to sample two of the flavors — Honey Banana Sprite McFloat, and Apple Sprite McFloat and will probably weigh in on the other flavors once I’ve tasted them.

So far, I liked the Green Apple better because it had a zesty feel to it that felt cool and refreshing especially when partaken at a particularly warm summer day. The Honey Banana, while not displeasing to the taste was a bit too sweet for me but would surely satisfy sugar junkies for sure.

Still, my favorite is the classic Coke float because of its no frills approach to refreshment.

All in all, I would consider the event a major success and judging by the response to Xian’s TVC (which we got to view a few hours before the actual television release), I would say that many Pinoys have also acquired the taste for the new additions to McDonald’s product line up.

 

 

The Hunger Games: A Review

After over a year of waiting for the movie to come out, I have finally joined the millions of fans who saw the big screen adaptation of one of the best young adult trilogies of this generation. Needless to say, I am a huge huge fan of the literature so I had high hopes that the film will do the books justice.

The plot of  The Hunger Games revolves around the dystopian society of Panem, which is composed of 12 districts and controlled by the Capitol, where the rich and influential plot and manipulate the people with their promises and bravado. Each year, two tributes, a boy and a girl from each district, are chosen to represent their home in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death competition among all the tributes televised Big Brother style to serve as punishment for the rebellion that happened 74 years ago and remind the citizens what power the Capitol yields against those who try to go against them. During the reaping ceremony,  16 year old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her 12 year old sister Primrose, who gets chosen as tribute, while Peeta Mellark, the mild mannered baker’s son who once saved Katniss from hunger by throwing her a piece of bread, becomes her male counterpart. In a battle where only one victor will emerge, their only hope lies with Haymitch Abernathy, their drunkard mentor, and the only person from their district who survived the games many years prior.

The plot was pretty much set from the beginning so the only thing in question for those who read the books was the execution. For me, the cast did a stellar job, especially Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. She was mostly weepy for the duration of the movie but her approach was quite understandable for someone faced with the possibility of death in the hands of her ruthless competitors. Josh Hutcherson also proved his detractors wrong by turning up a great performance as Peeta, whose vulnerability and easy charm is a stark contrast to the surly teenager roles he has been used to playing the past. Liam Hemsworth’s Gale Hawthorne is a bit of a change from the Gale in the books as the literary character is more intense and brooding. Hemsworth’s Gale is a bit more optimistic and charming in the short time he is exposed in the movie so that was a refreshing change. Word of warning, Team Gale fans would not find much to root about for their guy in this installment. Woody Harrelson was awesome as Haymitch. His dry approach to humor is a great combination to his lines. But the standouts for me in this film were newcomers Willow Shields as Primrose Eeverdeevn, and Amandla Stendberg as Rue, who turned up strong dramatic performances as Katniss’s sister and Hunger Games ally. Their scenes were actually some of my favorites in the entire movie. Very touching.

In an ensemble like cast like the tributes, there really isn’t much to expect exposure-wise, since there will be many (24 to be exact, minus the disposable characters) vying for moments throughout the movie. Alexander Ludwig (Race to Witch Mountain, The Seeker), and Isabelle Furhman (Orphan) had their fair share of face time but hardly registered because of the speed of the killings, which I will comment on shortly.

I was expecting a lot of bloodshed and brutality because that was the type of book The Hunger Games was. It had no mercy in its depiction of carnage because it wanted to emphasize how little the members of Capitol valued the lives of the young tributes from the districts. This  clicked with the readers on an emotional level and got them involved in the story. Unfortunately, the movie was very stingy when it came to the details of the killings (perhaps in consideration to young audiences) but in sanitizing the scenes, the movie lost some of the momentum that should have been established on the audience at this point.

I also felt that some important parts of the games were ommitted, and that most of the scenes focused too much on Katniss and her running. I understand that there was a strong tendency toward this happening as most of the book dealt with Katniss’s experiences, thoughts and feelings but I felt that filmmakers should have embellished a bit more on his part in order to sustain the sense of urgency that the Hunger Games should have.

I must give credit, however , to the depiction of the Capitol and its people, and the contrast to their excesses compared t the poverty in the lower district was a good way to get the message of inequality across. I did imagine the mining district 12 to be more grimy though.

All in all,  The Hunger Games was a good enough movie, but not as awesome as I expected it to be. It was not a bad effort per se but it could have gone the extra mile just to solidify its following. I must admit to being slightly underwhelmed. I would very well stick to The Hunger Games in my imagination, for now. For my fellow fans, may the odds be ever in your favor.

To check out my review of the book, click here.

To check out my entry on casting choices, click here.

The Muppets: A refreshing stroll back memory lane

The Muppets make their successful return to the big screen with this new adventure, this time to save their studio from a rick oil magnate who wants to tear down the Muppet homebase to dig for oil and gain profit.

The plot revolves around brothers Walter and Gary, who both grew up in a place called Smalltown. Gary is very normal while Walter is a bit different (he looks like a puppet) so even as the brothers remain as close as can be, Walter can’t help feeling that he doesn’t belong anywhere. To escape his loneliness, he watches the muppets on video and television and through their antics, he finds inspiration and joy. For their anniversary, Gary asks his girlfriend Mary to go on a trip to Los Angeles, and asks his brother to tag along so that he may fulfill his dream of visiting the Muppet Studios. When they accidentally discover a plot to tear down the Muppet legacy by the villanous Tex Richman, the trio help Kermit and the gang stage one final show to raise the money to buy back the studio and save their home.

What I loved about this movie was its old school approach to the Muppets. Kids of my generation will surely find the return of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and Fozzie Bear a riot in its own right, especially when they break out into elaborate production numbers reminiscent of their old routines. The movie is a great way to reintroduce the Muppets to this generation and revive the art of puppetry in entertainment. And for sure, the young ones of today will love the same things about the Muppets that their parents loved about the crazy gang.

The comedy is quite straightforward. I got a hoot out of their repeated statement of the obvious and the classic gags that shouldn’t really be funny but just are. The actors were also a good choice. Jason Segel is a whiz at any type of comedy and Amy Adams is an alum of Disney movie Enchanted so there was really no question what she could bring to the table. The movie was also not short of great guest stars (Jack Black, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Parsons) and a great moral lesson about believing in oneself and loyalty to one’s family.

All in all, The Muppets are great entertainment, whether in the small or big screen, they remind me of my childhood and happy, carefree days. I’m super glad I saw this movie.

Hugo: A Review

I’m more used to seeing Martin Scorsese’s darker psychological thrillers rather than whimsical adventure dramas featuring children but upon seeing the trailer, I was set on watching this movie from the get go. When it won five awards in the Oscars, I was doubly intrigued and propelled to watch this visual masterpiece.

Hugo, originally titled The Invention of Hugo Cabret, tells the story of a boy who lives behind the walls of the train station in Paris, secretly winding the clocks to ensure that they run smoothly and that he does not get caught doing it. Hugo used to live with his widowed father, a clockmaker who works for a museum until an accident kills him and leaves Hugo to his drunkard uncle, the train station’s maintenance man who abandons his nephew to perform the tasks that he was hired to do. Left to his own devises, Hugo sets out to fix a unique automaton that his father once brought back with him from the museum in order to find a message from his dad and find his purpose. In so doing, he meets a girl at the station who literally holds the key that could bring the automaton to life. The two strike a friendship and try to discover the mystery behind the origins of the automaton.

As with any other Scorsese movie, Hugo was a wonder of cinematography and filmmaking. Every frame of the movie was a visual treat, and the scoring was also superb. They always managed to support the scenes with the proper mood and tone. Ben Kingsley as Papa George Melies, a shopowner at the station who is intrigued by Hugo’s gifts was excellent throughout the progression of the movie as his connection to the automaton was slowly revealed. Sacha Baron Cohen seemed normal (after playing Borat and Bruno) as the station inspector hell bent on catching Hugo and sending him to the orphanage. The two child stars who led the cast — Asa Butterfield as Hugo (Boy in the Striped Pajamas) and Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass, 500 Days of Summer) could not have done any better as they were able to muster the wonder of discovery and a sense of daring in embarking on a secret adventure required for this feel good film.

Hugo had a bit of a slow pacing in the beginning as the filmmakers established the boy’s life behind the walls in contrast to how big his dreams were. It was a welcome surprise to know that the actual journey to make the automaton work was only the tip of the iceberg and the real adventure was in discovering its connection to one of the main characters of the film. I loved the story’s connection to the beginning of the cinema, how despite its simplicity in the early years, it managed to evoke the same sense of wonder and magic that we feel for the movies of today. Much in parallel with this movie’s journey.

The film had a great build up to its poignant and touching finale. I was actually expecting the worst with a lot of close calls but thankfully, Scorsese went the other way. An excellent film highly recommended for children and adults alike, Hugo is magical.

The Walking Dead Season 2: All bets are off

After the literally explosive season finale of the first season of this AMC series, I thought that the producers and showrunners would be hard pressed to top the level of awesomeness that the show already had, but was Season 2 totally blew my mind. Season 1 was about the walkers but Season 2 was all about the survivors, and how they try to cling on what little normalcy they have in their lives.

While Rick and his group try to find safety, Carl is accidentally shot by Otis, who lives at a nearby farm and is brought in to be treated by Hersel, the land’s owner and a veterenarian. However, Carl’s wounds are serious and needs more advanced equipment so Shane volunteers to get the medical supplies with Otis. Unfortunately, they find the site overrun by walkers and tough decisions are made to ensure the success of the mission. In the wake of the ordeal, Hershel agrees to let Rick’s group set up camp in the relative safety of the farm as they look for Sophia, Alice’s little girl who got lost in the woods. But tempers run high as group members  begin to question Rick’s decisions — mainly Shane and Andrea, whose disillusionment from her sister’s death has pushed her to the wall. More than this, they discover that the safety of the barn is a mere illusion as danger lurks right under their noses. As emotions run high, Rick is pulled in all directions by the people that he loved and the people that he is trying to protect, pushing him to do horrible things for the greater good.

What I loved most about the second season, aside from cinema style presentation, was the pace. While the sense of urgency was always present in Season 1 as the group tried to outrun the walkers, the danger now lies within the group as its leaders Shane and Rick become more unstable as decisions become harder to make. The series also lulls its viewers with a false sense of security. Just when they think they are growing bored with all the talks of plotting, they are blindsided by assaults and chases that will get their hearts pumping. The story grows deeper in the second season as the characters evolved. Glen, the most loyal member of the group is faced with many secrets and is forced to make tough choices. Andrea becomes the opposite of the level headed lawyer she was in the previous season. Shane grows more restless and is clouded by his resentment about Rick’s return. The always grungy Daryl turns out to be one of the most honorable men in Rick’s camp, while Lori, I am quite unsure what her angle truly is because her actions have all been inconsistent with what she tells Rick.

The best thing about the second season for me, was the characters’ struggles to retain what is left of their humanity, their inner turmoil in weighing the importance of their survival against the possible harm it causes other survivors. Season 2 was not just about man’s survival against the walkers but rather man’s competition to stay ahead of the pack and survive. What makes The Walking Dead a show unlike any other is that despite the hordes of zombies always on the sidelines waiting to feast on human flesh, the show also focuses on the people and their stories. Friendships are tested, families are torn apart, loyalties grow more frail. The Walking Dead is not only a visual masterpiece but also a masterpiece of storytelling. It compels viewers to get off the fence and invest on the characters, and understand their motivations — good, bad or somewhere in between. It’s not just a zombie series, it’s brilliant in all levels — as a horror, as a drama, as a series. Now, the problem. How do I wait until fall for the next episode?