Divergent: Movie Review

divergent-poster-1-21Even before the release of the film adaptation of Veronica Roth’s young adult dystopian novel, the film already had a lot to live up to. Not only was it being compared to The Hunger Games, which released its second movie Catching Fire to almost absolutely positive reviews in late 2013 (a well deserved praise), but outspoken lead star Shailene Woodley was reportedly talking smack about film franchises like Twilight even before the tills opened for her first major movie. Luckily for her, the books did have some solid following, resulting in great numbers in the opening weekend, which continued on for the next couple of weeks leading to the greenlighting of the second movie in the franchise. Heck, its been showing in Philippine cinemas for a month now and yet, the theaters were still turning up decent numbers when I watched it yesterday.

Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is part of a society where its members are segregated into factions according to virtue — Amity (peaceful), Erudite (intelligent), Abnegation (selfless), Candor (honest) and Dauntless (brave). On their 16th birthday, each member of society undergoes as assessment exam which determines their outstanding characteristic but they are still given the choice of which faction they would like to spend their life with. With the motto: Faction over blood, the choosing ceremony is truly a big deal because once the choice has been made, there is no going back. When Beatrice’s (later shortened to Tris) aptitude test proves that she is a Divergent, meaning she possesses not only one specific quality and thus, is a danger to society because of free thinking and refusal to conform — her tester (Maggie Q) tries to protect her by hiding the fact. On the day of the choosing ceremony, Tris chooses to be part of Dauntless, where she meets Four (Theo James), who begins to admire Tris for her stubbornness and determination. As they unravel a plot to overthrow the government, they become allies against the Erudites, whose ambitions to lead society have pushed them to do the unthinkable.

There have been a lot of bad reviews about Divergent, pinpointing a general lack of substance in the film, but I kind of liked it. I think the dissatisfaction is actually rooted from Divergent’s comparison to The Hunger Games, which is one of the best YA trilogies ever. Hunger Games has the advantage, because  it has a really solid material to explore for the movie adaptation. I haven’t read Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy but after seeing the movie, I must say it piqued my curiosity enough to pick up the book to see what happens next.

I think the reason why some of the critics became disappointed was because Divergent became more of a chick flick  than a SciFi action film they were expecting. This was actually a good thing about the movie because the chemistry between Shailene and Theo is just magnetic. The tension between the two lead stars is just so effective that even one lingering glance or the simple act of holding hands conveys their connection to the audience. Its the type of “you and me against the world” vibe that kind of makes the film center on the two of them as a team rather than just one heroine against all odds. Shailene Woodley is an amazing actress, and her natural sassiness off camera is evident in her performance, making her projection of a strong minded female character so effective. She is just so full of personality that it makes sense for the film to revolve around her. She is also very beautiful. She is more telegenic than photogenic and she is just a joy to watch, even when she is being beaten up by guys. And Theo James? Perfect casting. This dude is smoking. I’ma chick so forgive me for my lapses.

Another thing about the movie. The film shows no mercy. Gender plays no favorites in this society because girls are treated just as roughly a boys and initiates need to work equally hard to deserve a spot in Society’s army. Aussie actor Jai Courtney is truly moving up the Hollywood ladder in bagging parts in high profile movie franchises. He now plays the ruthless and jealous Dauntless mentor Eric and he is just perfect for the role of throwing around initiates and making their lives miserable. I liked the action scenes and the stunts and appreciated the fact that the actors really shaped up to step up their fight scenes.

While it is understandable that the film would revolve around Tris’s training as a Dauntless soldier, being the first installment in the franchise, what is lacking in this movie is a really sinister villain that audiences could hate. Hunger Games had Donald Sutherland and the District system to rally against. For Divergent, despite the politics and the enforced order, there is really no powerful figure that commands fear. Being an Erudite, Kate Winslet seemed less dangerous, relying merely on her intellect to implement the most ruthless underhanded coup. I know Kate Winslet is an amazing actress but as a villainess, she was sadly ineffective. All she did was walk around and talk to Tris, and imply that she was cooking up something big. And that is not enough to hate her. Its such a shame because every good movie needs to have an evil villain. I think the lack of such actually took away from the full impact of the movie. It could have been great if it went that extra mile.

All in all, I would say that Divergent was a pretty solid start to the franchise. Despite its dystopian origins, it stayed young and cool, not depressing at all, despite the odds stacked against the main hero and heroine of the tale. It had great musical scoring and good pacing. Its strong cast and direction from Neil Burger made the movie an entertaining watch. Despite its familiar premise, it still managed to make itself unique enough to be memorable. And in the age where dystopian and post apocalyptic material is king, that’s a pretty good accomplishment.

By the way, Ansel Elgort plays Caleb in this movie, Tris’s older brother. The same actor will be playing opposite Shailene Woodley in John Green’s bestseller The Fault in Our Stars. It will be interesting to see these two in a more romantic dynamic.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Movie Review

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-2014_100650After the events in New York, Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans)  is still trying to adapt to the modern world where technology and data are indispensable. He is also constantly butting heads with Director Nick Fury for his unorthodox way of getting things done at S.H.I.E.L.D. But when somebody attacks Fury, severely wounding him, he somehow ends up at the Captain’s house, and his last words “Do not trust anyone,” haunts Steve. But more than the puzzle left to him by the superspy, Steve is intrigued by the masked assassin, whose super strength and speed matched his own at every level. With Fury out of commission, he is subjected to a massive manhunt by the very agency he is helping and he begins to wonder what conspiracy lies beneath Fury’s cryptic words and the secret government program called Insight, which seeks to rid the world of terrorist threat even before it happens.

I must say that The Winter Soldier was one of the movies I was most looking forward to seeing this year. Despite the studios wanting to keep TWS’s identity a secret, even going so far as having him wear a mask for all of the trailers until the first half of the movie, its really an open secret among Marvel fans that (spoiler ahead) Bucky Barnes became the Captain’s arch nemesis for a short while, a side effect from the experimentation done to him by those creepy evil scientists from Hydra before Steve rescued him and the gang in the original movie. I loved the rapport between Steve and Bucky in the first movie and I wanted to see how they reacted to seeing each other on opposite sides of the law this time around.

The Winter Soldier sure did take its time before the two besties came face to face. Basically, the movie spent the first hour just establishing how strongly principled the Captain was, which was weird because everyone who saw the first movie, plus The Avengers were already being told something that they knew all along. While there were some cool stunts and a lot of witty comments, I still felt that the banter was not enough to make the first half of the movie really interesting or compelling. The pace does kick up a notch when S.H.I.E.L.D comes after the Black Widow and the Captain and the action picks up from there.

Surprisingly, for a movie entitled The Winter Soldier, the movie hardly shows much interaction between Steve and Bucky. I would have wanted to see more of a struggle on Bucky’s part in reconciling his memories with the brainwashing but it only ever happened in one scene and then it was all Winter Soldier mode again. It would have been nice if there was a more profound bromance moment between the two, in my opinion, because they really had good chemistry and they’re both good actors.

What’s good about the story is that it remained faithful to the source material, making TWS flow consistently from the first film. Personally, I loved the fight scene where Bucky wielded Cap’s shield (in the comic books, Bucky eventually became the new Captain America when the original was assassinated. I’m not saying it will happen in the movies but you’ll never know). In terms of what’s bad about it, the plot wasn’t very original. World leaders wanting to keep an eye on terror threats and launching a massive offensive against said threats even before they happen? Its been done countless times before and TWS doesn’t really serve it any much differently. The only distinction TWS has from other movies is that its a Marvel movie and it has really cool superheroes to boast of. Of course, UFC champ Georges St. Pierre takes on a bit part for this film so its kind of cool, and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) are always assets to any movie. Anthony Mackie as Falcon, a newbie to the franchise, held his own as Steve’s sidekick. But after seeing The Avengers, TWD was a bit underwhelming.

All in all, Captain America The Winter Soldier was a really fun Marvel flick but it could have done with a bit more editing. There were some scenes that could have been trimmed down or replaced by more action packed scenes — after all, this is a movie about superheroes. Compared to the original, I felt that the first Captain America movie was stronger because people connected to the characters — all of them and not just the Captain, plus it told a more complete story. Don’t get me wrong.  The sequel was not bad. It had its moments but I felt like they sold the Captain’s dilemma a bit too hard for this one. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo should have had more fun with it like Joss Whedon did with The Avengers.

300: Rise of an Empire Movie Review

300-rise-of-an-empire-movie-poster-2When 300 came out in 2007, I really didn’t expect to like it because it was a guy’s film through and through. Blood, guts, and basically a bunch of guys showing off their toned bodies in skimpy outfits screaming for violence and mayhem. But director Zack Snyder truly stepped up and made sure that the characters came to life. This was after all, the movie that launched Gerard Butler to superstardom in his role as King Leonidas.When it was announced that there was going to be a sequel, I was a bit skeptical because 300 was so well done that hoping to equal or even top the first movie seemed like an impossibility.

Rise of an Empire is basically set during the Battle of Salamis, opening with Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) telling the Spartan troops that the war between the Greeks and the Persians started as long as ten years ago when a soldier by the name of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) kills King Darius, the father of the God king Xerxes during the Battle of Marathon, the first Persian attack on Greek soil to rid the Athenians of the notion of freedom. The victory set off a chain of events borne of vengeance — the king’s ruthless naval commander Artemisia, against the Greeks who violated and killed her family then left her for dead, and Xerxes, whose hatred for Themistocles fueled his quest to make slaves of all Greeks. The film tackles the events before, during and after the Battle of Thermopylae where King Leonidas and the brave 300 held the Persians at bay, only to be betrayed by the hunchback Ephiliates.

The film held a lot of promise, and but it was also burdened by the the bar set by its predecessor. It had a template which to follow and follow it did, with the results not being quite as successful as it would have hoped. It had the unique visual styling  and effects utilized by the original. It had the sleek sophistication of the cinematography of the film. It had the kick ass scoring that turned 300 into an instant cult classic. But somehow, it was not enough to save this film, which spent too much time trying to emulate its predecessor and less on developing its own story.

In terms of action, no doubt that the film was full of different battle scenes. The setting was a war after all. Not just one war but three, as compared to the first movie’s focus on one. However, the style that was so effective in 300 failed to take in the sequel mainly because of the colors. Yes, the colors. While the crimson red capes of the Spartans complemented the semi noir style of the original, depicting each movement and each blood infested scene gloriously, the Athenians unfortunately were garbed in blue capes that looked quite flat and didn’t quite have the same impassioned effect of the Spartan uniform.

Another issue is the casting. I don’t know how the filmmakers decided on casting Sullivan Stapleton in the lead role but it was a mistake, in my opinion. The role of Themistocles was supposed to be the new Leonidas, true, with a different personality but this new hero looked too much of a nice guy to be a real threat to the legions of Persians attacking Greece. Come on. He held his own in the fight scenes and there was no shortage of moments given to him in this film but really, Queen Gorgo had more grit in her little finger than Themistocles had in his whole body. His men weren’t much better. They seemed like watered down versions of their Spartan counterparts. True, it was explained that none of them were actual soldiers unlike Leonidas’s band of 300 but personality doesn’t really require wielding a sword well. And none of this crew were memorable enough to be attached to.

Number three in my list of complaints was the amount of battle scenes at sea. While it was understandable that Artemisia was naval general, the sea somehow limits movement and therefore potential in the film’s battle scenes. And because of the noir style of filmmaking, the sea simply appears as dark waters that serve as a dark background for dark colored sea vessels, bearing darkly clad soldiers. The original at least had sharp golds and reds to balance the darkness but this one had nothing.

One bright ray of sunshine in this film is Eva Green as Artemisia. She was the only villain menacing enough to command a degree of caution if you ask me. Writers were correct in providing her a profound backstory because it just makes her portrayal of a cruel, scheming no nonsense general effective with so much more intensity. I wish they would have pitted her against Queen Gorgo because they were the only two characters really worth anything in this entire film. Because of Queen Gorgo, at least the last two minutes of the film were memorable. Thank you Lena Headey for signing up for this film.

All in all, what’s sad about this film was the wasted potential. Had the filmmakers only bothered to make the story more substantial rather than focus on the style, it would have been a better film. If they weren’t sure how to make it work, they should have hired consultants from the hit series Spartacus because that show had more substance in one episode than this entire hour and a half long sequel/prequel, or whatever it wants to be called. Overall, a substandard disappointment. Instead of Rise of an Empire, it should have been entitled The Fall of a Franchise.

Wicked the Musical in Manila: Green is IN!

wicked the musicalA couple of years ago, I’ve read Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, about Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, the chief villainess of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and immediately became a fan of his writing. I also became Elphie’s supporter because its hard not to admire the green skinned rebel who speaks her mind and uses her superior intellect and powers to protect the ones she loves most.

Since reading the book and learning of its musical adaptation in Broadway starring no less than Adele Dazeem *excuse me*, Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth, I have hoped and prayed fervently for the production to come to Manila. When Phantom of the Opera came in 2012, I was elated, thinking that the Wicked team might be inspired to do so as well, seeing how successful POTO was. In 2013, my prayers were answered when it was announced that the Australian cast of Wicked was performing at the CCP Theater for the whole month of February, 2014. It was later extended to the first week of March.

Of course, I wasted no time in calling up friends to see who would want to see it with me. I like having friends along because its more fun having to share my excitement with someone. Because the prices were a bit steep (but still very reasonable considering the quality of this show) it came down to just my friend Mae and I.

GREEN TEAM. Mae and I wore green in support of Elphie. :D Thank you, random audience for taking this pic.

GREEN TEAM. Mae and I wore green in support of Elphie. :D Thank you, random guy from the lobby for taking this pic.

We arrived early to the venue. I think we were actually the first ones to come for the 1:30 screening. It was cool because we had the entire lobby to ourselves and we were able to take lots of photos without bumping into fellow guests. We were also able to check out the souvenir items, and choose what we wanted in leisure instead of having to jostle with the rest at the end of the show. Unfortunately though, our choices were limited because stocks of the items we originally wanted were out. See, we were only able to book tickets for the last day of the show so they were running low on shirt sizes and the like but we bought some mementos just the same. No matter, we were able to purchase portable binoculars (P75), which are really handy for people sitting in the Balcony seats to get a better view of the details of the stage. Its reusable so it can be used again when you need it.

Being early also meant we had the luxury of scouting for the proper entrance so we were predictably first in line (again) when it came time to open the doors. By the way, going to the restroom is a good idea prior to the show because the 20 minute break after the first act is not enough to visit the ladies’ room. The lines are nuts (and it goes for all floors. yes, even the ground floor). By the time the doors opened, I could feel the grin on my face grow bigger and bigger. When I saw the stage, I wanted to jump up and down, so excited was I to see the cast.

The Musical basically follows the same plot as the book, but some parts were adjusted to suit a wider audience. Maguire’s novel was great but some parts were quite dark, especially towards the end. The show explained how Elphaba (derived from the phonetic sound of L. Frank Baum’s initials) came to be, her sad life, her loneliness, her devotion for her sister Nessarose, her uncanny friendship with the bright and beautiful Galinda (later known as Glinda the Good), her affinity for animals and her attempts to rescue them from oppression. The play also touches on Elphie’s lovelife, and gives audiences a look into the true character of the Wizard, whom Ozians revere as their leader.

Australian actress Ali Calder played Elphaba and she was amazing. I was surprised to learn that she was only the standby Elphie because she was great. From the first time she appeared on stage, she was able to convey spunk and sassiness and at the same time a hidden vulnerability and longing to belong. Her solos seemed so effortless but her delivery was so effective that audiences can’t help but root for her. Justine Puy as Galinda/Glinda, on the other hand, was a gem. She was funny, she was energetic, she delivered her lines so naturally –even the ditzy ones — and she embraced her role so completely that she stole every scene that she was in. Most people hate vapid attention seekers like Galinda in real life but Puy made the audience love her, no matter how outrageous her antics were. Every time she appeared on stage, audiences knew they were in for something good.

FIYERO! Steve signs autographs for the fans waiting for him in front of the artist entrance/exit. It would be a must to bring a pen for fans who wish to ambush the cast after the show. Steve was really patient and cool. We also saw Justine but we weren't able to get a photo with her. (Mae Obispo)

FIYERO! Steve signs autographs for the fans waiting for him in front of the artist entrance/exit. It would be a must to bring a pen for fans who wish to ambush the cast after the show. Steve was really patient and cool. We also saw Justine but we weren’t able to get a photo with her. (Mae Obispo)

Steve Danielsen as the Vinkus prince Fiyero was great as the leading man. He was not only handsome but he brought an energy with him that he was able to use in his scenes with Elphie and Galinda. I liked that he seemed like a different person with each girl, so the audiences knew how he felt about each one throughout the show. He had a great voice too — not as polished as Jonathan Roxmouth’s Phantom but still, engaging enough to draw the audience to cheer for his budding romance with Elphie.

The rest of the cast turned up really solid performances. I was breathless after each ensemble number, so beautiful were the production numbers and the music. Accalimed Aussie actress Maggie Kirkpatrick as Madame Morrible, Jay Laga’aia as the Wizard, Emily Cascarino as Nessarose, Glen Hogstrom as Dr. Dillamond and the cutie Edward Grey as Boq, whom I wish had a bigger role in the show, as he did in the book, really stepped up and did their Broadway counterparts proud.

UNLIKELY ALLIES. Elphie and Galinda strike up an uncanny friendship. (www.yahoo.com.ph)

UNLIKELY ALLIES. Elphie and Galinda strike up an uncanny friendship. (www.yahoo.com.ph)

But the core of the show was really defined by the two girls’ ability to connect despite being different. They played polar opposite personalities so effectively that audiences become fascinated in their relationship from their first number “What is this feeling?” up to their last “For Good”, which was the main highlight of the musical. Their voices were impeccable, and their harmonies were to die for. My personal favorites were Defying Gravity and For Good.

GREEN IS IN. Ozians cheer for Glinda the Good in one of the bigger production numbers of the show. (credit to the owner of this image)

GREEN IS IN. Ozians cheer for Glinda the Good in one of the bigger production numbers of the show. (credit to the owner of this image)

The set was another thing of great beauty. The detail work in the props and the smooth transitioning from scene to scene was so fluid that I sometimes wondered how they were able to hide so much stuff behind the curtains and how many levels they were able to stock the major elements involved in the scene changes. The colors were so vivid yet so distinctive to the land of Oz that audiences had no problem identifying where they were. The illusion from the combination of lighting and effects added to the sense of unreality and wonderment, each scene seemed to have a different set and each set contributed to the magic of the show. It made Oz and the Shiz come alive, indeed.

My favorite part of the show however, was the music, pure and simple. The orchestra, led by conductor Laura Tipoki, was marvelous, but the songs and the lyrics by Stephen Schwartz just encapsulated the essence of the book in such a way that instantly connects audiences with the feelings that are being felt by the characters in specific points of the story. I loved that some of them were fun and some more serious. I liked that they showed range and variety. The music was so good that I hardly even noticed an hour and half go by after they announced the 20 minute break at the end of Act One.The production was so spectacular that it literally took my breath away.

My only complaint would have to be that the souvenirs weren’t as creative as I would have hoped. I was expecting the items to be more representative of the show but they were mainly just replicas of the show’s logo and poster so I was a bit disappointed. The shirts were cool but a bit pricey.

It would seem that at some point in this post, I have run out of superlatives to describe this show. I now understand why Wicked is such an international hit. The show is able to transport audience to the land Oz, and envelop them in its magic in the 2 1/2 hour long performance. Its unique, its entertaining, it boasts of beloved characters drawn from an equally beloved children’s book. At the end, I was moved to tears, I was muted by awe. My hands were numb from clapping after every segment. I wanted to record each moment in my mind because I didn’t want to forget a second of it until I grow old one day and become senile. Watching Wicked is an experience that I am glad I now have. Taken from Galinda’s number, it was unusually and exceedingly peculiar and altogether quite impossible to describe, but in a good way.

Thank you, Wicked, for coming to Manila and for making my dream come true.

ITS A JUNGLE OUT THERE.  Satisfied fans loiter the lobby of the CCP after the show. (Mae Obispo)

ITS A JUNGLE OUT THERE. Satisfied fans loiter the lobby of the CCP after the show. (Mae Obispo)

The Great Gatsby (1974): Classic Review

Great_gatsby_74Before the Baz Lurhman/Leonardo DiCaprio version in 2013, M. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby already received the film treatment in 1974 via Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the novel starring no less than Academy Award winner Robert Redford and fashion model Mia Farrow. I chanced upon this last night while channel surfing and decided to stick with it.

The Great Gatsby is the story of a wealthy but mysterious businessman named Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford) who lives in a lavish mansion in West Egg, Long Island. He unfailingly throws soirees every fortnight but surprisingly stays in the shadows to observe his upper class guests instead of mingling with them. He lives next door to the story’s narrator Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston), a war veteran and bond salesman who is cousins with socialite Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow) with whom Gatsby shares a romantic past with. Unfortunately, Daisy is unhappily married to the rich and arrogant Tom Buchanan (Bruce Dern), who is both inattentive and unfaithful to his wife. As Gatsby locates Daisy and rekindles his affair with her, he develops a friendship with Nick. But Tom, who is not a man used to losing, exhibits a mean streak and jealous frenzy upon learning of the affair, vowing to destroy Gatsby by whichever means necessary.

I did not read the book, so I had no basis to compare this classic. But what struck me about this film was how tragic the story was. Gatsby is the type of character that audiences are drawn to because of his resolve and and strength of character. Despite his humble beginnings and experiences, he was able to make something of himself to be worthy of the love of a woman he believed was waiting for him after eight years, only to find her wed and basically at the same maturity level as she was when he met her at 18 years old. It was really sad that Gatsby, blinded by love, was not able to see through Daisy’s weaknesses because he deserved so much better. Gatsby’s tenacity and resolve was the exact opposite of Daisy’s shallowness, immaturity and indecisiveness, and Mia Farrow’s portrayal was very disappointing, not giving her character the dimensions needed to explain to the audiences why Gatsby fell for her in the first place. In all of her scenes. she appeared cloying and blank — a flat character compared to the presence of Redford’s Gatsby. While Daisy’s character was annoying at best, Farrow compounded this fault by her monotonous delivery of her lines. She did a great job in getting the audience to hate her but in terms of connecting with Gatsby and the audience, I am completely at a loss. It seemed like she was on drugs and floating on air the whole time.

On the other hand, supporting characters that deserve much praise is Nick Buchanan and Jordan Baker (Lois Chiles) because of their commanding presence in the scenes they are in. Chiles’s Jordan was supposed to be a careless socialite like Daisy but her character seemed stronger because she used her brains and not simply let herself be swept away. I think if she played Daisy, it would have been better for the movie. Nick, on the other hand, by the way he stood by Gatsby until the very end, advising him with sincerity and giving him the biggest compliment by saying that Gatsby was worth a thousand of the rotten bunch (rich people) he was running around with, and the way he said he was Gatsby’s friend was the perfect person to narrate the tale. He was actually the smartest character in the bunch providing an everyman’s perspective of the story.

The film focused on Gatsby’s love story but it would have been interesting to learn more about how he got his money to emphasize the extent he had to go through to earn Daisy’s love. There were a lot of mention about his illegal activities and shady deals but it never quite got the traction it deserved.

All in all, The Great Gatsby is a great social commentary on the difference between rich and poor people at the time. The callousness in which the poor were treated and the overblown concern for status, the lack of remorse for wrongdoings and the general air of entitlement that the Buchanans, as well as the partygoers’ lack of respect for propriety in order to have a good time — and the fact that in the end, they still got away with what they have done unscathed was the biggest injustice that would linger in the minds of the audience and in a sense, its a good thing. Its just very very sad.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Book Review

The Fault in Our StarsSixteen year-old thyroid cancer patient Hazel is living on borrowed time, and the last thing she wants to do is spend it in Support Group, listening to the struggles of sick kids against the disease. But Support group is where she meets Augustus Waters, a osteocarcinoma survivor, who shares her acerbic humor and love for literature — a guy who gives her hope that her remaining days may not be so bleak after all. At first, Hazel tries to resist Augustus’s charms, to no avail as she continues to be intrigued and drawn to him the more she gets to know him. When they embark on a journey to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive writer Peter Van Houten, the author of their favorite book, their budding romance is faced with new challenges that are not so easily overcome.

I’ve seen this book in the bookshelves for quite some time but I’ve tried to steer clear of Nicholas Sparks types of novels (because someone always dies). The premise of this book, is a deadly disease after all.  But after I found out that they were releasing a movie, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a chance. I didn’t even watch the trailer for fear of spoiling myself. Good call for me because I was able to appreciate the literature more.

NOW A BOOK, SOON A MOVIE. Ansel Elgort (Carrie reboot and Shailene Woodley (Divergent) snag the lead roles for the movie adaptation of this John Greene book.

NOW A BOOK, SOON A MOVIE. Ansel Elgort (Carrie reboot)and Shailene Woodley (Divergent) snag the lead roles for the movie adaptation of this John Greene book.

The book talks about cancer and tackles the subject so matter of factly from the point of view of Hazel. Considering that this is part of the main plot, the book should have been depressing from the start. Surprisingly, Hazel’s first person narrative is done with so much honesty and candor that audiences will see beyond the disease and focus on her as a character. In so doing, readers see cancer patients with her eyes and understand their reality and that of their loved ones – their fears, their torments, their simple pleasures and their frustrations at being physically limited by their illness.

Unlike other books that tackle cancer, this book focuses not on the disease but rather the journey of people who are experiencing the disease – their attempts to live a normal life, their disgust against being coddled, their fear of becoming part of the statistic and their struggle to not let the disease take over who they really are.

The Fault in Our Stars trains the spotlight two teenagers, Hazel and Augustus, but their relationship is so much more than puppy love. What they share is sweet and innocent, and is grounded on something much deeper than the prose which they both share great passion for. There are times when the depth of the literature may seem overwhelming (especially when they share correspondence with Peter Van Houten) in contrast to their personal exchanges but this is quickly processed by their quick witted and ever entertaining banter.

Augustus is a charmer, as the book will repeatedly (but not tiresomely mention, whether from his own mouth or another character’s) and he has such a positive attitude. He will steal readers’ hearts from his very first appearance at the Literal Heart of Jesus. As his friend Isaac described, he had a heart as figuratively good as his literal one sucked. Its hard not to like him.

And Hazel, despite all her attempts to maintain a strong and tough façade, will inspire deep admiration among the readers. She is wise beyond her years, despite her addiction to reality shows like ANTM. Augustus’ description of his love for her pretty much sums up the depth of her character.

There were a lot of sweet moments in this book, a lot of humor, even despite the characters’ fragile mortality. Their interactions with each other, their families, their friends and the beauty of each dialogue, delivered with such simplicity brings tears to one’s eyes. I particularly loved how Hazel’s dad described his feelings for his daughter on page 278, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

All of the supporting characters are all so well written that readers will feel like they personally know these people. Hazel and Gus’s parents, Isaac, nutless Patrick, Peter van Houten and his assistant Lidewij. Heck, even the extras are interesting.

Logically, The Fault in Our Stars should have been a downer because its about cancer, not just cancer but kids with cancer. But somehow author John Greene manages to overcome the direness of the situation with excellent and entertaining writing technique. Instead of fearing who might die in the end, readers look forward to more encounters between Gus and Hazel. And this is what makes their story so great. The pureness and honesty of their relationships, even with their imperfections, the wonder of discovery and their acceptance of the inevitable.

The Fault in Our Stars is a love story, pure and simple. But it talks about love in its many forms, and what it all entails. It talks about endings, beginnings, and what lies beyond. It is about oblivion and the afterlife and a bunch of other philosophical questions.

Like Hazel and Gus, who felt cheated by the non-ending of An Imperial Affliction, I wanted to read more after reading the end to this book. But alas, it was not to be.

All in all, an awesome read. I wish I had Hazel, Gus or even Isaac’s sharpness to articulate how great an experience it was to spend hours reading this book but it’s a journey that one needs to experience on their own. Highly recommended for young adult readers and beyond.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: Movie Review

Cloudy-with-a-Chance-of-Meatballs-2After Flint Lockwood and his friends save Swallow Falls from the flood of giant food produced by his invention, the Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator or FLDSMDFR, his childhood idol, scientist and Live Corp. CEO Chester V. calls for the evacuation of the entire island to make way for the clean up operation. He also extends an invitation to Flint to become part of his team of Thinkonauts, which is Flint’s lifelong dream. However, unbeknownst to Flint and the rest of the community, Chester V.s intentions are far from pure as the FLDSMDFR has become more than a food producer. It now has the ability to bring food to life making the entire island an ecosystem for hybrid food animals.

The original Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a pleasant surprise. It was a great movie that had a lot of humor and a lot of heart. It also had an original story (based on the book with the same name) and it brought a great sense of adventure with it. The sequel, I am happy to note, also delivers the same wonder and excitement as the first one, much more so because of the introduction of cute and colorful characters and a magnificent fictional environment that is so much different from the original Swallow Falls but still bears the same basic elements of the island.

I liked the film’s consistency with the original and the continuity of the relationships developed in the first movie, especially that of Flint and his dad. The comedy doesn’t miss a beat and everything, thanks to the great script and the stellar voice acting of comedians Bill Hader, Anna Farris, Andy Samberg, and Neil Patrick Harris. James Caan also did a great job as Flint’s stoic dad Tim and Will Forte brings in the rear as the film’s main antagonist Chester V.

But what I loved most about the sequel was actually the great design for the foodimals — the incorporation of the food and animal elements and the rendering of these images into creatures that were adorable and cute were awesome. Shrimpanzees, flamangoes, cheesespiders, watermelonphants, peanut butter and jellyfish in seas of syrups, coconuts — they all present a surreal but magical picture that kids and parents wills surely enjoy. And the foodimals also have magnetic personalities. Kudos to the filmmakers for humanizing these characters despite their lack of understandable dialogue. Also a nod to the humans as the witty wordplay, puns and one liners flowed freely among the characters without missing a beat. Everything was just so alive it fills audiences with wonder and amazement, whatever age they may be.

All in all, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 was able to add to the awesomeness of the franchise by sticking to its roots and working around it. Like its predecessor, it presents itself unassumingly but earns the audiences’ approval in the end by delivering an animated feature that is entertaining, heartwarming, sensible and beautiful to look at. Its great for kids and adults alike but don’t see it when you’re hungry or you might not be able to curb your craving for berries after.

The Vow: Movie Review

about timeI had The Vow on my TBW pile for a while before U finally watched it today, Valentine’s Day, when watching something sappy seemed to be my marching order for the day. The movie is inspired by the real love story of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, who authored a book by the same name.

After a car accident leaves Paige Collins (Rachel McAdams) with serious brain trauma, her husband Leo (Tatum) struggles with her inability to remember him and the life they share. In the aftermath of her amnesia, Leo vows to make her love him again as he deals with her estranged family and her ex fiance, amid a web of complicated relationships and different priorities.

There is a reason The Vow became one of the highest grossing romantic dramas of all time. First, casting The Notebook alum Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum together was a surefire way to get hard core chick flick fanatics on board. Even before Magic Mike, Channing Tatum has been known to send female hearts a-flutter because of his natural charisma and charm. It doesn’t hurt that he’s so hot and talented and he can do anything — comedy, drama, action — he can dance and in this movie, he also plays the guitar. Rachel McAdams, on the other hand is such a sweetheart that she doesn’t even have to do anything for audiences to like her. The combination of these two and the positive chemistry that they collectively inspire makes for a really solid foundation for this romantic drama.

I loved the contrast in the life of Paige before and after the amnesia because it clearly depicted the challenge that Leo faced to get her back. And the pureness of Tatum’s portrayal of his love for Paige was just so heartwrenching. In the moments when he was in pain, he was like a adorable puppy dog kicked once too often, but in the moments when he was goofy, he was super charming. There was no main villain in this film — just a lot of imperfect people whom, at the end of the road, find their place in the big picture.

The story itself is inspiring, and will surely bring on the waterworks for most romantics. How often does a guy give up everything to win the girl that he loves second time around? What does it take to turn one’s back on a once in a lifetime love in order for the other to find true happiness? This film gives audiences a real look at true love and not the fairy tale kind where the girl wakes up one day and everything is okay. This film is based on a true story of a real life couple so it gives audiences a warm feeling to know that having a love story like this is possible.

All in all, I loved The Vow because it wasn’t too sappy, which is a major turn off for me. As a chick flick, it works on all levels because audiences can’t help but root for the main stars and fall in love with the characters. It didn’t oversell the drama but instead focused on just telling an amazing love story. Its a story about hope and new beginnings and not giving up. Its everything that a love story ought to be.

Snowpiercer: Movie Review

SNOWPIERCER_LE-TRANSPERCENEIGE-Affiche-defHad I not checked what was showing on the cinemas the other day, I might never have found out about Snowpiercer, a South Korean production starring Captain America himself, Chris Evans, along with other Hollywood A-listers Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris and Jamie Bell. Had I missed it, it would have been a great shame because it was one finely executed movie.

Snowpiercer is an action thriller inspired by the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige which director Boon Joon ho read in a comic book store in Korea. The film chronicles the events 17 years after a failed experiment called CW7 screwed up the Earth’s weather resulting in a new ice age that killed all life on the planet except for a precious few who managed to board the Snowpiercer, a train that is built to run non stop throughout the year. The train is self sustaining and equipped with all the facilities needed for its occupants to survive. However, it operates on a class system wherein the rich and privileged occupy the front of the locomotive in luxury while the poor are cramped in the tail living in inhumane conditions and subsisting only on disgusting protein bars that the train’s owner Mr. Wilford (Ed Harris) provides. When the abuse continues to worsen, Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), aided by cues from a mysterious ally from the front, forms a plan with tail end elder Gilliam (William Hurt) and his best friend Edgar (Jamie Bell) to take the engine. In order to get past the doors leading to the different compartments, they enlist the help of Namgoon Minsu (Song Kang Ho), a prisoner who designed the train’s mechanism and his clairvoyant daughter Yona (Go Ah Sung).

CAN'T CATCH A BREAK. Rebels realize that getting to the engine is not as easy as they imagined it to be.

CAN’T CATCH A BREAK. Rebels realize that getting to the engine is not as easy as they imagined it to be.

The performance of the cast is already a given. The strong Hollywood cast, coupled with top Korean actors made for an explosive combination that that made the story more compelling and effective. From the beginning, the film took its time to lay the foundation for an interesting plot. Each segment of the train held an unexpected challenge that surprised not only the characters but also the audience resulting in a lot of facepalm moments when the characters find it hard to catch a break. But the brilliance of the film really lies with its ability to use the segments as building blocks that gradually add to the story. Characters talk in riddles, leaving clues for audiences to follow. Towards the beginning, the filmmakers were leaving crumbs about him not being who people thought he was, but when his backstory is unraveled, it was just so gutwrenching that its really hard not to be torn between dismay or sympathy for the rebel leader.When Curtis finally reveals the events that led to the revolt and how his character is connected to other people in the tail, the audiences will feel like they have been through the journey with Curtis himself.  But just as Curtis unburdens himself and audiences think everything is over, yet another plot is revealed and this one is more mind boggling and shocking.

TOTAL TRANSFORMATION. Tilda Swinton's portrayal of Mr. Wilford's quirky lieutenant Mason is creepy but entertaining.

TOTAL TRANSFORMATION. Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of Mr. Wilford’s quirky lieutenant Mason is creepy but entertaining.

Koreans are known for their excellent cinematography and film style and Snowpiercer does not disappoint. The style in which the movie was executed  was magnificent and very consistent with the graphic novel itself. Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of the quirky Mason added to the sense of the overall unreality of the film as well as the over the top mind conditioning in the front of the train.

All in all, I would venture to say that Snowpiercer, despite its relative lack of promotion, is one movie that deserves to be seen. It is intelligent and methodical. It is visually arresting and stunning. It deals with characters that are multi-faceted and engaging. It affects audiences on an emotional and intellectual level. At the end of the film, audiences will continue to marvel at its execution and this is a mark of its pure awesomeness.

Carrie: Original vs Reboot Movie Review

Carrie_-_Chloe_Moretz_vs_Sissy_SpacekStephen King’s Carrie is one of the best book to movie adaptations of the 70s about a teenager who suffers in the hands of her religious fanatic of a mother and at the same time endures the bullying of her classmates at school. When Carrie discovers that she has the ability to move things with her mind (telekinesis), a malicious prank on the night of her high school prom results in horrors beyond the imagination of her tormentors.

Carrie is a cult classic so much so that Carrie White has a pretty solid fanbase among horror afficionados. Filmmakers who decided to do a reboot of this horror classic in 2013 knew that they had big shoes to fill going into production. For the titular role, they cast the talented Chloe Moretz who slayed as Hit Girl in Kick Ass franchise and made her mark in mainstream movies like Hugo and gritty indie films like Hick. For Carrie’s psychotic mom Margaret, the studios enlisted no less than award winning actress Julianne Moore to reprise the part earlier portrayed by Piper Laurie. For sure, there was no shortage of talent in the fresh cast but the 1972 classic starring Sissy Spacek as Carrie White was scary as heck, and holds up even thirty years after it was originally released in theaters. So, how did the reboot fare? I give you a head to head account.

CARRIE: Sissy Spacek vs Chloe Moretz

Don’t get me wrong. I love Chloe but for the record, Sissy was more consistently creepy than her counterpart. Chloe’s Carrie was a tad lopsided, appearing extremely weird in some parts yet earnest and normal in some. She was also too pretty to be tagged a weirdo, and the kids in her school must really be idiots not to see her as beautiful. Sissy’s Carrie was more effective because she looked plainer and acted like a weirdo for the entirety of the movie. All of her actions supported her reputation. In the prom scene, Chloe was more demonstrative and used bigger movements but for Sissy, it only took slight gestures and a menacing stare for the entire room to run screaming. She totally kicked ass.

MARGARET: Piper Laurie vs Julianne Moore

Piper Laurie was a formidable Bible-wielding fanatic, spouting passages from the Holy Book and passages about witchcraft and demons on a regular basis in the original movie but somehow, Julianne Moore’s self mutilating, obsessive take on the character made more of an impact.

SUE SNELL: Amy Irving vs Gabriella Wilde

A tie but Amy Irving made more of an effort.

TOMMY ROSS: William Katt vs Ansel Elgort

William Katt was great as Tommy Ross. He looked the part of a nice guy who genuinely wanted the outcast to feel special during the prom. I don’t know, but there’s just something about Ansel Elgort’s look/smile that makes him appear insincere and up to no good, despite his good guy role. Still, in both versions, it was kind of lame for Tommy to die because of a bucket that fell on his head. The bucket didn’t really seem all that heavy.

BILLY AND CHRIS:  Nancy Russel and John Travolta vs Portia Doubleday and Alex Russel

I must admit that the modern day versions of these two troublemakers takes the cake simply because of the sheer malice that they inject into their roles. Portia’s Chris was a Class A bitch which makes the efforts of Nancy Allen seem like child’s play. And let’s get real. John Travolta’s Billy only got in on the prank because of the promise of sex but Alex Russel’s Billy relished the opportunity to hurt the animals and humiliate Carrie. Guy oozes evil.

MAYHEM AND CARNAGE

Both versions pretty much followed an identical storyline but the 1972 version takes the cake for this category because of Carrie’s indiscriminate rage. The girl totally gave a whole new meaning to the term “seeing red” as she subjected the entire gym to her fury, sparing no one in her revenge. While the 2013 version was more specific in exacting justice, with Carrie killing off her oppressors systematically, Classic Carrie’s carnage was slightly more subtle but infinitely more menacing. When she burned down the gym, it was a given that everybody who was in there did not survive. And her rage! Her thirst for vengeance was palpable with every step she took and the blood looked much more vivid especially since it was accented by the red light and the fire. Even when I watch it now, I get an urge to run for the hills. Points though for 2013 Carrie’s send off for Billy and Chris. It was a very cool death scene indeed, and well deserved.

DIRECTION: Brian de Palma vs Kimberly Pierce

While Kimberly Pierce has the advantage of better editing tools and special effects, old school wins by a mile in this Carrie face-off. Brian de Palma’s establishing scenes and use of sound accentuates the creepy vibe that the Whites have. The loop of Margaret’s manic warning “They’re gonna laugh at you” was an excellent touch on the part of the classic that magnified the intensity of Carrie’s thirst for blood.

OVERALL:

All in all, Carrie 2013 did not do too shabbily against its classic counterpart. It made only slight modifications to the story which made sense, considering that it updated the story to relate to a new market. It has a lot of things going for it but I slightly preferred the classic over the reboot this time around for the reason that its simplicity enabled it to develop Carrie into a character that people can relate to and identify with no matter what generation they belong. Despite Carrie’s weirdness and lack of ability to fly (unlike her updated version), people root for her even during her eventual unfolding because they understand where she is coming from. And this is a testament to the directing skills of Brian de Palma and the imagination of Stephen King who spawned the story.