The Fault in our Stars: Movie Review

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.

Pain deserves to be felt. A statement that is totally applicable to The Fault in Our Stars but it was a pain that I was glad to endure for its 126-minute run.

Its one thing to subject yourself to a movie with one sick person in it, but its pretty much torture to sign up for a film with two sick lead characters. This is the reason why I steer clear of Nicholas Sparks movie adaptations (because somebody always dies) but after I read The Fault in our Stars by bestselling author John Green, I knew I couldn’t stay away from this film. I simply had to know how the movie versions of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters measured up to their literary counterparts.

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), is a 17 year old suffering from thyroid cancer, whose existence revolves around getting medication, watching reality shows and obsessing over the ending (or non ending) of her favorite book, The Imperial Affliction, written by reclusive author Peter van Houten. She meets the charming one legged cancer survivor Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) in one of the support groups her mother forces her to go to and there begins their epic love story limited only by their numbered days on Earth.

I must say that adapting this book for the big screen was pretty tall order for director Josh Boone, not only because the material was so heavy but because of the hype and the rabid following of this novel. I can think of at least 20 people that I know of that couldn’t help yapping about how good the book was before I even cracked the first page (I agreed with them wholeheartedly afterwards). Luckily, the filmmakers actually did a good job with it.

There is no shortage of quotable quotes in this movie and it was no wonder that the script followed the book almost exactly to the letter. Still, it wouldn’t have been as effective if they had not cast the right people for the right parts. I think they did, for everyone but Isaac, because despite saying the same words as his literary counterpart, movie Isaac (Nat Wolff) always seemed a beat short of everybody else, emotion wise, acting wise. I always thought of Isaac as somewhat spunkier than Wolff’s characterization.

On the other hand, Shailene Woodley as Hazel was awesome. As an actress, she has an uncanny ability to establish a unique chemistry with her co-stars that allows her to connect the characters better. She did this with Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now, and now Ansel Elgort in The Fault in our Stars. Its uncanny because she stars with both actors in the Divergent franchise as siblings (with Elgort) and nemesis (with Teller) and it didn’t seem weird watching them play different roles. There is a certain level of comfort in seeing them together in various roles. Woodley is definitely an actress to watch out for. As for Elgort as Augustus Waters, who has captured the hearts of women and teens the world over in the books, he did a pretty decent job portraying the iconic character, which was pretty difficult because Mr. Waters is totally swoon worthy.

I liked the great soundtrack that the film used (credit to Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott for the score). The selection of songs that were cool and hip countered the rather sad atmosphere that the subject of death always provides. I realize that for these young adult novel adaptations, I always watch out for excellent music (like The Perks of being a Wallflower) because it dictates the tone of the movie and for the most park, its what makes or breaks them.

The Fault in our Stars was a beautiful book with beautiful words that got readers to think about their own mortality. Watching the movie was not as thought provoking as reading the literature but it still managed to evoke the same feelings of happiness and heartbreak. It felt real on another level and that could be counted as a success for the big screen adaptation.

All in all, the movie was an even mix of sweetness, innocence, sadness, hope and love. Its a love story but its also about family, and coping, surviving, and dying.  Despite revolving around death, it was able to evoke something positive out of the sadness as it was tempered with a message filled with meaning, that everybody gets a fair shot at their own infinity like Hazel and Augustus but it is up to them to reach out and grab it. I must admit that real teens don’t communicate as philosophically as these two, but at least the movie shows the reality of what its like to deal with disease and one’s own mortality. And also there’s the peace with the closure. Personally, that makes the film a great big okay on my book. Okay?

The Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Anchorman_2-_The_Legend_Continues83984You can’t win ‘em all, even if you are Will Ferrell.

After the success of The Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy which basically poked good-natured fun at the journalism industry as a whole, the same team of Judd Apatow (producer) and Adam McKay (director) came up with an idea for a sequel. Now, San Diego’s top anchorman Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), now married, have hit the big time, reading the 6:30 news for a New York based station. When Veronica gets promoted,  making history as the first woman to read the news for primetime, Ron loses his job and self esteem, only to be brought in by a new network which seeks to deliver 24 hours of non stop news. Ron, who initially lands the graveyard shift, brings in his team from San Diego and turns the tides to rewrite history in the field of news reporting.

I actually think that Will Ferrell has built a niche for himself by making movies about “legendary” celebrities who really don’t deserve to be famous like Ricky Bobby and Ron Burgundy and for the most part, the comedy worked. I thought the first Anchorman was quite funny, and not much has changed for the sequel, except that the characters have deteriorated to the point that they were not quite as hilarious as they were in the original movie. They still played the same characters, true, but their material seemed to be running thin and ragged as they basically just recycled the gags they used before. It was not a pretty sight.

It was frustrating because Ron, who was simply a goofball with an inflated ego in the first movie, was promoted into a Class A jackass, stupid beyond belief, mostly landing on his feet because of pure luck. There was nothing charming about his self centeredness and nothing endearing about the things he did in this movie. It was quite frustrating because there was a pool of really great comedians on board, and even James Marsden, who played top anchorman Jack Lime, let go of his inhibitions and tried his best to deliver the laughs from his character. The only standouts for me in this movie were Steve Carell ad Kristin Wiig who played equally clueless and weird characters Brick and Chani.

It was weird because 22 Jump Street did the same thing (recycle material from the original and ran with it) but for Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, it worked because there was an obvious effort to breathe fresh life into the material. With the Anchorman sequel, it seemed like the gang was just going through the motions. They seemed to get lazy, believing that the leftover good vibes from their roles from the original would automatically carry over to the sequel.

I only found one scene particularly funny, and it was the showdown of the news anchors, a gag recycled from the original, but this time, it was leveled up due to the number of appearances by guest stars — Will Smith, John C. Reilly, Marion Cotillard, Jim Carrey, Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford, Sacha Baron Cohen and Vince Vaughn as a rival anchor from the first movie. I admit the scene was hilarious but unfortunately, it was not enough to compensate for the general lameness of the film.

All in all, I was quite frustrated by this sequel. Sure, I wasn’t really expecting much given that I have seen the first movie, but I was really disappointed by the weak material and was offended by the lack of effort by Grade A comedians to deliver on the laughs. I felt like a couple of my brain cells died sitting through this movie. In truth, I only sat through it to give it a fair chance. My advice — see something else.

The Expendables 3: Movie Review

329772524329772524329772524329772524There are three things that audiences should expect from an Expendables movie — explosions, banter and plenty of wrinkles. After the success of the first two movies, Sylvester Stallone closes out the franchise (I think), with even more aging action heroes and introduces a breed of new ones to pass the torch to. At first, I thought that going for a third movie was pushing it but Ol’ Rocky seemed to have the trilogy plotted out in his mind from the beginning so it managed to sustain the momentum of its predecessors and deliver on the franchise’s reputation fairly well. Basically, it was a great action flick.

Barney Ross (Stallone) and his team of Expendables are hired by the CIA once again to take down and bring in notorious arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who also happensto be a part of Barney’s original group of Expendables from way way back. When their first attempt to stop Stonebanks fails and a member of the team is severely injured, Barney feels responsible and cuts out the rest of his team for the follow up mission. He enlists newer, younger members of the team to end his nemesis but when things go wrong, he learns that his gang is the best chance he has in completing the mission after all.

The story of the third Expendables movie was pretty simple. It seemed like a big excuse to get more action legends into the franchise but you don’t really see an Expendables movie for the story. As usual, it was full of banter, a lot of pokes at Bruce Willis’s character Church (because it was no secret that Sly and Bruce had a falling out because of Willis’s refusal to work three days on set for less than $3 million).It was really funny especially for the audiences who know the story.

Harrison Ford did a pretty good job filling in for Willis as Drummer, the new CIA liaison. There were also a lot of cool additions to the cast — the younger ones Kellan Lutz as John Smilee, an ex-Navy Seal; Glen Powell as the adventurous hacker Thorn, and boxer Victor Ortiz as the sharpshooter Mars. UFC undefeated women’s champ Ronda Rousey also brought her legendary mean face to the movie. Her action scenes were so smooth and cool they were like butter. For the older set, Wesley Snipes made his movie comeback as Doctor Death, and there were a lot of jokes him being incarcerated for failing to file his income tax returns, which was super funny because it was true. Kelsey Grammer also had a small non action-y part but it was Antonio Banderas and Mel Gibson who truly stole the show.

Banderas played the ever-talkative, overeager former mercenary Galgo, and it was just pure entertainment to see his antics. His character’s personality was so likable and funny, which is really a great foil to the testosterone level in the movie. It was like having Puss in Boots in the movie, especially listening to him gabbing away. Mel Gibson, on the other hand is, and forever will be an exceptional actor. His years laying low has not diminished his intensity and he was perfect to play the main villain in this piece. He just nailed it, plain and simple. His approach was so different to Van Damme in the second movie but there was just an understated conviction in the way he played the Expendable who turned dark. It was great.

The mainstays seemed happy to take a backseat to the new guys and seemed to be just enjoying the ride, delivering pound for pound action at the same level as the previous movies. Of course there were cheesy scenes and some attempt at drama. This is a Sylvester Stallone movie, after all. But these were all offset by the amount of stunts, explosions and action that is the trademark of the franchise.
What I really liked about The Expendables was the fact that its an ensemble movie and each member of the cast recognized the fact.

Everybody understood that they’re playing for the same team and they worked together (much like the Expendables) to deliver movies that entertained and reminded the audience why these aging action stars became icons of the genre. The Expendables 3 banked on this and was not afraid to to crack jokes (sometimes indecipherable due to Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s accents) at the aspects that people criticize them for (their age, mostly). It was also not afraid to welcome new blood into the gang.

All in all, the third installment was less banter-y than the second one, which was overflowing with cliches but on all respects, it was like 21 Jump Street — it was the exact same movie and delivered the exact same punch as its predecessors. And it was just as fun and entertaining as the first two installments. A definite must watch for action afficionados.

The Purge: Anarchy Movie Review

The_Purge_–_Anarchy_PosterA sequel to the 2013 Ethan Hawke starrer, The Purge Anarchy operates under the same concept. Each year, for a 12 hour period, citizens in the new America are allowed to run free and commit the crime legally, including the most heinous — robbery, rape and murder, provided they do not use weapons above a certain classification. Unlike in the original movie where the story centered on one family like a glorified home invasion movie, Anarchy stepped up the action by introducing different characters who meet by coincidence on the street on Purge night — an avenging father, a poor mother and daughter, and a couple who got stuck on the highway on the most dangerous night of the year. Together, they must survive the Purge while they are hunted down by a menacing group of armed purgers on the one hand and psychotic teen hoodlums on the other.

Anarchy is a great addition to the franchise because it was able to pick up on the missed potential of the original and push the envelope on the concept. Anarchy depicted a society gripped by abandon, disorder and chaos, something that was what was missing from the first movie in its attempt to replicate Malcolm McDowell’s character in the Clockwork Orange with the Polite Leader (something that didn’t quite pan out). Don’t get me wrong, the original movie was not the most horrible thriller out there but it definitely lacked the edge it needed to establish the interesting idea of the Purge.

In contrast, Anarchy effectively depicted the sense of danger in the streets and what the situation was for the people who could not afford to protect themselves against the purgers. At first, Anarchy seemed to pick out some choice scenarios from other horror and action movies (stuck on a backroad, a father who wants to get even with his son’s killer), but then, it was able to weave the stories together to create a unit standing against people who want them dead either for sport, for money or vendetta. And because they were together for most of the movie, and were obviously underdogs in the hunting game, audiences are able to establish a connection with them and want them to survive the night. Because it was the second movie in the franchise, unfortunately, the shock factor about how people were treated like cattle on purge night has diminished somewhat.

Perhaps this was the reason the action was more intense and that challenge after challenge emerge for the group at each turn. It certainly made for an interesting ride. Also,  instead of the main hero developing feelings of the lead female character, he bonded instead with her daughter, who was sometimes too impulsive and too idealistic for her own good, which was good in the sense that it was not all that generic. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There were a lot of stupid moves committed by the characters in this movie and at times, it would seem that Sgt. Barnes was the only person who had a lick of sense among the lot, much like Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey were the only smart characters in the original. It seemed that his companions were too lax in dealing with a night like the Purge. Nobody thought to arm themselves at the first opportunity, nor just maintain an awareness of the environment to feel out potential threats to their safety. Lots of facepalm moments right there. I would have blown the gasket were I in Sgt. Barnes’s oversized shoes. But eventually, there was some improvement, towards the end that is, but at least it was better late than never.

The ending was quite predictable, but overall, it was a vast improvement over the first movie. Basically, it was like watching the first Punisher (for the first Purge) and then following up with Punisher: War Zone (for the sequel) in terms of action and suspense. Despite the fact that it had lesser known stars (Frank Grillo, Zach Gilford, Carmen Ejogo), it was able to deliver solid performances and a coherent movie without trying too hard to be something its not. Its straightforward and its well executed. Plain and simple.  Kudos to writer director James DeMonaco for pulling it off.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Movie Review

guardian-of-the-galaxy-poster1I aaaaaaaahhhhym… hooked on a feeling — and its a good one.

Honestly, I have never heard of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy until about a year or so ago when Marvel Studios decided to greenlight a movie starring a band of unlikely heroes destined to save the galaxy from one of  Thanos’s allies, Ronan the Accuser. After an extensive marketing drive and a super cool trailer, it easily became one of the movies I was most looking forward to see in 2014 and man, this movie did not disappoint.

Peter Quill aka Starlord (Chris Pratt), a petty thief affiliated with a band of space pirates called the Ravagers,  finds himself in a pickle when he steals an orb with one of the infinity stones, a weapon so strong that it gives the bearer the power to destroy an entire planet with just one contact. Unsure of what the orb contains and with Ronan the Accuser’s lackeys hot on his tail, Starlord crosses paths with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Thanos’s favorite daughter/assassin, bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a genetically modified trigger happy raccoon, and his sidekick, a tree like humanoid named Groot (Vin Diesel). After they all get arrested and incarcerated by the Nova Corps, they stage a daring escape with the help of Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista aka Batista), who thirsts for vengeance against Ronan (Lee Pace), who wants the orb for himself to eradicate the entire Xandarian race. Now, the band of five misfits must find in themselves the courage to save the planet and prove that they are more than the losers the galaxy has pictured them to be.

I must say that Guardians of the Galaxy has immediately catapulted to my second favorite Marvel movie after The Avengers. The trailer promised a fun and entertaining watch but director James Gunn (who ironically won a Razzie as worst director in star studded ensemble Movie 43) was able to achieve so much more. It was really a challenge to make people care about characters that they are not familiar with and Gunn managed to do that and balance the exposure of these five strong characters and give the audience moments to connect with each one of them. Its really hard to handle an ensemble cast and somehow, Gunn was able to pull it off marvelously.

I’ve seen Chris Pratt play supporting roles before GOTG but he really stepped up his game in his his first major break. He put his great comedic timing and charm to good use as the smart alecky Peter Quill, leader of the Guardians, but made sure that he also delivered on the more physical aspects of his role. While Gamora and Drax were great in their respective roles, my favorites were the two purely CGI characters — Rocket the Racoon and Groot. Bradley Cooper’s voice acting had such attitude that he made his character larger than life, even when he is actually the smallest character of the lot. Vin Diesel as Groot had no other line but “I am Groot” but his character was easily the most endearing member of the cast. He was adorable and kind, and that was why audiences loved him. Oh, and leave us not forget Michael Rooker as Yondu. Anyone who has seen Rooker play Merl on The Walking Dead knows that he is not a guy to be messed with as the blue skinned head of the Ravagers, he did everything to uphold his image.

What’s great about GOTG is the balance that filmmakers were able to achieve in the action, drama and comedy aspects of the film. The transition from an action packed moment to one of drama (mostly Groot), or comedy (mostly Rocket or Peter) was so fluid that it did not at all seem forced. The great banter, owing to the smartly written script (James Gunn, Nicole Perlman) surely encouraged a bunch of audience to pick up a GOTG comic book on the way home to learn more of the group’s antics. Not to mention the dramatic parts were so well executed that I’ve read a couple of reviews comparing the film to George Lucas’s iconic Star Wars. My favorite scenes were easily the Nova Fleet locking together to form a protective shield against the Dark Aster, and Groot sacrificing himself to save the group. Those were definitely tearjerkers for me. Yeah, its embarrassing to cry because of a comic book movie but these were great pieces of cinema.

I also loved the soundtrack, which were really iconic songs from the 70s and 80s. I loved it so much that I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this. One thing I didn’t like as much was the limited exposure of Ronan the Accuser. I would have wanted him to be more badass to amp up the impact of the final showdown between him and the Guardians.

All in all, I loved Guardians of the Galaxy because it had heroes that had no great superpowers but had a lot of heart. It was actually the ultimate underdog movie made even cooler by the fact that all of the adventures were taking place in outer space. True, some of the characters had anger management issues but hey, they’re only starting to turn a new leaf and embracing their role as actual heroes. Mainly, I had a lot of fun watching this movie because I felt that the crew had a lot of fun doing the film. It makes me much more excited to see the sequel.

Blindness: Movie Review

Blindness-Movie-PosterAfter watching Denis Villanueve’s take on Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago’s novel The Double with Enemy (starring Jake Gyllenhaal), which I appreciated way after I have watched it compared to when I actually was, I did a bit of research on Saramago and learned that one of the films I missed in 2008 starring Mark Ruffalo, Blindness, was actually adapted from one of his works — a novel of the same name. Of course, I wanted to see if it was just as strange as Enemy. It was, actually, but in a different way.

In an unnamed city somewhere in the world, a man suddenly loses his sight in the middle of traffic, but instead of going dark, he experiences a phenomenon where he is swallowed by light “as if he is swimming in a milky sea.” A bystander offers to drive him home but for far more nefarious reasons. The stranger ends up stealing his car. Later, the man’s wife arrives and takes him to an eye doctor and pretty soon, all of the people who grew in contact with man succumb to the same phenomenon. Soon, the city is swamped by the epidemic called white blindness and all those afflicted are sent to an old mental asylum, including the doctor’s wife, who has not suffered from blindness but pretended to do so to take care of her husband. But being the only person immune to the disease eventually takes its toll on her, and it becomes a challenge far greater than what she signed up for to deal with an entire facility of people who are suddenly plunged into helpless depression, abandoned by government and society because of fear and ignorance.

I must say that this movie was more horrifying than seeing the end of the world because of a zombie apocalypse, because it dealt not with monsters but the monsters within men. Director Fernando Meirelles, did a brilliant job of depicting the desperation and anxiety of a society unsure of what they are dealing with, deprived of one of the most vital parts of their being — sight. As the movie progressed, Meirelles clearly illustrated the difference between the doctor’s wife’s perspective and those of the blind inside the facility, her sacrifice and her ability to process fully the injustice and the inhumane conditions surrounding her because she could see. The chaos and the filth and the lack of compassion was both heartbreaking and disgusting so on that score, the film was able to establish among the audience an affinity for the blind. And because the characters had no names, just titles — doctor, doctor’s wife, girl with the sunglasses (Alice Braga), thief (Don McKellar), King of Ward 3 (Gael Garcia Bernal), man with eyepatch (Danny Glover)it became easier for the viewers to become more involved in the movie because they could just as easily subplant themselves with the characters they believe they could identify with the most.

There were times in this movie that I found it hard to watch the scenes — the utter depravity in some of the actions of the film’s villains turned my stomach to knots that I wanted to hurl. And the indifference of the government, the mishandling of the situation and the sheer thought of just sticking people in subhuman conditions, being treated like less than diseased cattle  was equally to blame as the evil inside the walls. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo were stellar in their roles as the film’s lead characters but the supporting cast were no slackers too, in delivering characters whom audiences can relate to or abhor.

I read somewhere that when this film was released, a group of blind people were so offended by the depiction that they criticized and boycotted the movie as  it damages the image of blind people everywhere, but I don’t really understand how the film put the blind in a bad light, because upon closer analysis, the film was not blaming the blindness or lack of sight per se, but rather then sudden lack of order and control and what this meant to people who are used to it.

All in all, the film was able to deliver the sense of terror, desperation and fear that the book obviously set out to do, but while it touched on the worst of humanity, it was also able to showcase the best of it — an indomitability of the human spirit, kindness, and an appreciation for beauty that needs no sight to reveal. My favorite part about this film was actually the words because they carried a very deep message that was so simple to understand. Truly, nothing beats the combination of a filmmaker who truly understands and appreciates the material and committing to deliver on it with artistry and quality. Ironically, a film that talks about blindness is one that opens the eyes of its audience to reality in today’s society and calls upon them to look inside themselves and their own humanity. A mass of contradictions, but a brilliant, profound and thought provoking film, and one of the best I’ve seen so far. I feel really stupid for not seeing it sooner.

Enemy: Movie Review

Enemy_posterAdam Bell is a boring History Professor at a university absorbed in his quiet life, doing his daily routine over and over without fail. One day, a co-worker recommends that he watch the film When There’s a Will, There’s a Way, in which he sees an actor who looks exactly like him. Intrigued, he researches the background of his supposed doppleganger, and contacts him to meet. But he gets more than what he bargained for when Anthony, the person who looked exactly like him, bullies him into doing something unspeakable, a thing that pushes Adam to the wall.

I must say that the motto for this movie is really Patience is a virtue. Everything progresses very slowly, as if director Denis Villanueve was ensuring that everybody was following the story, and getting into it as much as he was. The artistry in this movie is top notch, and each frame, each transition seemed to be regarded as vital to the movie. And the accompanying music by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans just pushed the scenes over the edge. Sure, it takes a while for the story to move along but there was a general sense of foreboding throughout the movie that seemed to be cluing in the audience to be extra observant about the setting and the dialogue lest they miss anything.

In truth, the plot in itself was fairly complicated, and the mystery was made even more intriguing by Villanueve’s presentation. It seemed like he wanted to keep as much to his chest as possible for the longest time so that the great reveal will be worth it, while at the same time dropping hints and clues through the dialogues. Jake Gyllenhaal did a great job playing his two characters because while they looked exactly alike with very very subtle difference in the hairstyle in terms of appearance, there was a marked disparity in the portrayal of Adam and Anthony that seemed equally enigmatic and dangerous.

What’s great about this film is actually the sense of imbalance that audiences will feel throughout, as if the movie was one big puzzle that they had to solve. And while they think they’re making headway, another scene unravels making them doubt earlier conclusions formed about the characters. I don’t know, but there was something very Hitchcock about this movie, making it a cut above the rest of the regular psychological thriller.

All in all, the film was a very interesting watch despite its snail-paced progress. It was mentally stimulating but exhausting to follow but it was just the type of movie that’s even better after audiences see it because there are a lot of nagging questions following the ambiguous ending. Its the type of film that keeps audiences on their toes and at the edge of their seats, either biting on their fingernail of tearing their hair off in frustration, leaving them either overly exhilarated or shocked by the conclusion. It makes audiences ask who was actually the real Enemy? I would not reveal more on this post for fear of spoiling potential viewers but feel free to sound off on the comments section below to see if we interpreted the ending the same way. One thing’s for sure. I am going to read The Double by Jose Saramago, the book in which the film was based just to see if I was on the right track.

Enemy is still showing in cinemas, and brought to the Philippines by Solar Entertainment.

Sharknado: The Second One Review

sharknado2There is something to be said about a TV movie like Sharknado. Its a film that is meant to be enjoyed in all its silliness, and dwelling on the technical shortcomings of this SyFy production is definitely not the way to do it. Luckily, after last year’s surprise hit Sharknado (which I loved by the way, don’t judge me), the audience has learned what to expect from the sequel and were able to embrace it for what it was. I for one, waited for months for it to come out and was glad that it was aired simultaneously with the US so I didn’t have to wait around longer. Yay, SyFy.

Finn (Ian Ziering) and April (Tara Reid), who are trying to work through their relationship, head out for New York for a book signing (The two have collaborated on a book about their Sharknado experience in LA), and a visit to Finn’s sister and her family. But even before they reach the Big Apple, disaster strikes when their plane ends up in the middle of a giant Sharknado, where one of April’s hand becomes a casualty. With an idea of what to come, Finn tries to save his family and the city from hailstorm of sharp toothed menaces to follow and rallies everyone to work together to take back their city.

For all intents and purposes, the Sharknado sequel was just as silly and ridiculous as the first one, but because audiences already know what they’re in for, the idea of a Sharknado hitting New York was not as farfetched as it was in the first one. Besides, the scriptwriters made sure that they included a lot of technical weather jargon about the Sharknado phenomenon to make it seem like there was a scientific basis behind it. But the fact that it happened just as Finn and April were headed to NY, was kind of ooookay, so this is how this one is going to play out. I shouldn’t be surprised because of the amount of crap that the movie tried to get away with, really.

Because of the success of the first movie, The Asylum seemed to be greenlighted with a bigger budget, well, perhaps bigger than the $1-$2 million they had to work with in the first one. It was awesome to see how the filmmakers chose to utilize the money —  a.) the CGI was loads better than the first one, especially for the bigger shark close ups, and b) hiring more extras and disposable characters to up the body count, including Kelly Osbourne and Perez Hilton (the dude on the subway). I’m sure he blogged about it before Sharnakdo’s release. There were also guest appearances for Matt Lauer, Wil Wheaton, Kurt Angle and loads more celebrities who have gotten in on the joke that is the movie and joined the fun.

In truth, what I really loved about the movie was its consistency about its inconsistencies. True, there were less technical issues about the editing this time around but they were there, out in the open, with not even an attempt to disguise them. Still, audiences knew what they were getting into when they tuned and just didn’t care because they’re enjoying the show too much. There was a bit of a push for a romance between Ian Ziering and Tara Reid but given the state of Reid’s cosmetic surgery, it was just gross to even think about it. Sorry. In fairness, it gave me a kick to listen to Tara scream emotionlessly. It was like listening to bad porn, and it was hilarious. Ian, as with the first movie, seemed to embrace his role as the film’s hero and while most of his ideas were stupid and dangerous, you have to give the guy credit for acting like he would do the same thing in real life. On the other hand, Mark McGrath in a sweater and doing almost nothing was just so wrong. My teen years were filled with Sugar Ray’s music and this totally did not match his cool rocker image in the 90s. Vivica Fox seemed to lay on the tough black girl stereotype a bit too much but hey, this is a made for TV movie so I’ll give her a pass and applaud her for getting into the spirit of things.

Actually, the film got more silly as it progressed but what made it work was its ability to treat the whole thing as a joke and stick with it. There are so many things that are wrong with this movie but like the original, it managed to reach the level of “its so bad its good.” It was a load of fun, that’s for sure. More sequels? Bring it on!

Psycho (1960): Classic Review

Psycho_(1960)Making wrong choices. Raising red flags. There were plenty of these to go around so its no wonder Norman Bates’s “mother” was so successful in killing those who were unfortunate enough to fail her moral standards at the Bates Motel. Still, I enjoyed every minute of this 1960 classic which, up to this very day, I believe is Alfred Hitchcock’s finest work.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a secretary for 10 years at a small real estate firm, takes $40,000 entrusted to her by her boss to start a new life with her boyfriend, who is dead broke from paying alimony to his ex wife. En route to her lover amid a strong downpour, Marion stops by the remote Bates Motel, operated by a  rather withdrawn young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)  and his mother. Norman seemed normal enough but his mother was obviously abusing him so Marion feels some sympathy for him. When Marion mysteriously disappears, her sister Lila (Vera Miles) and lover Sam (John Gavin) look for her with the help of an experienced private investigator by the name of Arbogast (Martin Balsam) and as they sniff around the Bates Motel, they feel something amiss with the quiet, run down motel and its occupants.

Its amazing that the film has been around for close to 50 years and yet, the different cinematic techniques it used still stands as one of the best up to this very day. Hitchcock employed really simple effects but executed them so perfectly and meticulously that I cannot find fault in the technical aspects of the film. I liked the steady cam and the excellent framing of shots, the assorted camera angles (although I did sense that Hitchcock was partial to close ups of his main star Janet Leigh). The shower scene that became one of the most epic scenes in the history of Hollywood was awesome. Leigh got the perfect pitch for the perfect scream and it was obvious with every frame that  this was going to be the signature scene for the film so the filmmakers used utmost care and artistry in the handling of this particular scene.

I also loved the music composed by Bernard Herrmann for the film. It was sophisticated but still provided a sense of urgency to the scenes where stabbing and violence ensued.

Psycho was one of the first films to reveal a major twist in the ending and I would have given anything to experience this movie without that knowledge in order to get the full impact of the revelation (which admittedly a monologue on the lengthy side). Its hard not to get spoiled when the movie has been around before I was born and spinoffs and television series are being developed around it. But the real highlight of this movie was Norman Bates himself, played by Anthony Perkins. There were stages to his performance as Norman, at first a bit charming and shy, and then changing into someone weird, innocent and in the end, downright creepy. His expression in the last shot gave me the chills. His flexibility as an actor truly impressed me.

The only funny thing about this movie was actually the overreaction of Leigh’s character to everything, which could have been justified by being a first time criminal but her reaction to all points leading her to the Bates Motel raised alarms in even the least suspecting of minds. The way that Abrogast brazenly pressured Norman with his questions, or the way Lila and Sam trampled about to search the motel were no feats of genius too, by the way. But still, it was in the 60’s and that’s the way things might have been done in that era so I’m keeping my mouth shut about it now.

All in all, Psycho deserves the reputation that it was able to establish through the years as one of the horror greats because it really was, and still is. It wasn’t as scary as the 90’s slasher films and SAW movies but it had a very disturbing quality to it that preyed on the audience’s mind. That despite the epic scoring and perfect cinematography that everything is not as it seemed, and there are actual people who are similarly pegged as Norman, and therein lies the thought that would bring nightmares to the fore. By the way, the movie was based on the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch and Norman’s character was inspired by a real life serial killer in Wisconsin, Ed Gein.

If I Stay: Book Review

If-I-Stay-coverSYNOPSIS: It was a regular road trip for talented cello player Mia and family but tragedy strikes when they figure into a road accident that kills her mom, dad and little brother Teddy. Mia wakes up to find herself detached from her physical body and observing her loved ones as they wait for her to wake up from her stupor. As she debates whether to give up and be with her parents and brother, she is torn by the thought of leaving her boyfriend Adam, her best friend Kim and the rest of the people who are pulling for her to survive.

The events of If I Stay takes place in the space of 24 hours, from the morning before the accident until the following day and throughout the book, Mia is like a ghost observing her loved ones, on the precipice of choosing death or life, reliving her memories with her family, and Adam and Kim and pondering her future if she survives.

At the beginning, I didn’t quite like the book as much because I didn’t quite feel as connected to Mia’s family as I should but as Mia gets more and more flashbacks about her early life, I slowly understood where they were coming from, what type of people they were and what kind of family they had. I liked the fact that Mia, despite being different from the rest of her family, was embraced for what she was. She did not have any teen conflicts of rebelliousness so it was pretty clear what she had on the other side of the equation.

Her relationship with Adam, on the other hand, was very sweet. It was simple because they both loved each other, but complicated, because of where their musical journeys were bound to lead them, but it was Adam’s sincerity that truly spoke to me. He definitely would have teenage girls swoon if he were a real guy. And the extent that Kim went to encourage her friend to stay, it really tugged at my heart. I would like to think that my friends would do the same for me.

If I Stay had a pretty retrospective tone that makes readers want to help Mia make the choice, but the flashbacks were delivered and explained so well that each person would likely have a different opinion. And this is what makes the book so interesting to read. The only giveaway would have to be that there’s a next book so readers would have an idea what Mia decided in the end.

I, for one, finished the book in just three hours (thanks to my new Kobo reader for keeping track) and overall, I felt like it was actually a short book about the magnitude of the subject (death or life). What I liked about author Gayle Forman’s writing was that it did not dwell too much on the depressing subject but rather focused on Mia’s life, and the love surrounding her, which sort of balances out all the sadness that is bound to crop up when death and loss is on the menu. It would be pretty interesting to see how the movie turns out but I have high hopes because music plays a big part of it.

All in all, a touching read that I will have no issues recommending.