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 En route to her lover amid a strong downpour, Marion stops by the remote Bates Motel, operated by a  rather withdrawn young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)  and his mother.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.

The Expendables: Movie Review

expendables_ver4_xlgI unearthed this review of the first Expendables movie from my Facebook page before I started this blog. Seems fitting yo post this now that the third movie is coming. My take on Sly Stallone’s action packed The Expendables, ladies and gents :D

Fans of action are guaranteed to love this flick. One: because of the general testosterone overload. Two: because of the lineup of iconic action superstars, both past and present. Three: because of the pure kick-ass-ness of the entire movie. Name it, they have it —  hand to hand combat, blades, explosives — the works. The story is a no brainer — very typical in fact — a gang of mercenaries (Stallone, Statham, Li, Couture, Crews) were hired by the CIA to take down a military junta in the small island of Vilena, which is being used as the manufacturing and transshipment point of of an illegal drug syndicate financed and headed by the villanous Eric Roberts, who, himself was a CIA agent gone rogue. The payout was $5 million. Stallone and Staham scout the area, discover that the mission was too dangerous, and opted out of the job. Some complications arise and they end up taking on the job anyways, and this, is basically where the non-stop action begins.

I have to hand it to Stallone. I loved the last Rocky and Rambo (both directed and penned by him) because it portrayed the characters as humans, who go through life just like the rest of us. They had personal sh*t to deal with, just like any other guy. The same formula was used in The Expendables, but only, it was more complicated because of the amount of big names who signed up for the movie.

What I liked best about the movie was the humor and good-naturedness of each of the characters. They poked fun at each other and their own weaknesses like a typical group of friends having beer on a Friday night while watching a sports event. They didn’t take themselves too seriously, and obviously had fun doing the movie. Unlike in their own personal starrers, they took hits in the action scenes, as well as dished out beatings of their own. Reminiscent of The Forbidden Kingdom where Jackie Chan and Jet Li shared billing, Stallone managed to balance the screen time among all of his characters, without it seeming forced. The transitions between the scenes and the focus were good.

Stallone managed to stand out as the leader of the pack but did not hog the limelight to himself. He gave each character their own moments to shine. And because of the variety of action scenes and stunts, each character was able to excel in their fight scenes, which were very well choreographed and executed, by the way. There were elements of wrestling, mixed martial arts (Stallone used an armbar on one of the goons), Couture even mixed up his routine by doing a wall climb and superman punch. Steve Austin kicked Stallone’s ass. Statham, well, he’s an all around ass kicker for sure, but unlike in previous movies, he was not a car expert on this one, but rather, an expert in blades and the like. Terry Crews (Latrell in the The White Chicks), who was a professional football player in real life was able to show off his quarterback skills by throwing a ginormous missile across fire to take down a chopper, but Jet Li is the cutest among them all, with the dialogue emphasizing how small he is as compared to the other guys on his team. He just went along with the movie-long prank and did his awesome martial arts moves flawlessly against Dolph Lundgren. He, in turn, was beaten up just to even the score but the scene was equal parts entertaining and amazing. Mickey Rourke added to the mix by bringing in the drama factor leading to the turning point of the film, while Bruce Willis and Arnie lent more starpower to the flick by delivering dialogue loaded with punchlines and zingers in reference to their real life and their former movie characters.

All in all, the movie was not the greatest because of some lull in the middle part of the film while Stallone was laying out the story, but the action scenes and the fun script made it one of the good action movies that I will remember for a very long time. Statham said in one of his dialogues. “You Should have waited, I was worth it”…. Well, they were worth it indeed and I’m glad I did wait to see this on the big screen.

Hercules: The Thracian Wars Movie Review

Hercules_(2014_film)I’ve had to endure watching several painful versions of Hercules before this movie finally came out and I, for one, and pretty glad it delivered on the hype because I could not take sitting through another Kellan Lutz version-level of this great mythological character. 

In director Brett Ratner’s (Prison Break) version of Hercules, the titular character (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is not actually a son of Zeus but an extraordinarily strong man, who performs incredible labors for a fee, along with his comrades in arms — his childhood friend Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the Amazon Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso), the seer Ampiaraus (Ian McShane), his most loyal warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and his nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). His heroism however, is mostly based on Iolaus’s  exaggeration of his marvels in battle, and the people’s belief that he is a demigod. When Lord Cotys (John Hurt) promises him and his group their weight in gold to stop the war in Thrace instigated by a warlord named Rhesus (Tobias Santleman), he decides to trains Cotys’s soldiers to give them a fighting chance against the enemy.

I’m a mythology buff and Hercules is one of the most iconic mythological characters out there. Admittedly, playing  loose with the lore would not bode well for the movie (Clash of the Titans reboot), and making deviations that do not make sense (like The Legend of Hercules) would result in epic failure. Surprisingly, Hercules: The Thracian Wars did both of these things to such extreme that it worked pretty well. 

I liked the creative freedom that director Brett Ratner took with Hercules’s story. Most of the elements were still there, the 12 labors (with a twist), the death of Hercules’s family, the extraordinary strength — all of which were part and parcel of Hercules’s character as a hero. But with the depiction of Hercules as a mere mortal and not as a demigod, and with a look behind the scenes of the mythical monsters that he fought, the Hydra, centaurs, and Cerberus, the three headed hound of hell, Hercules underwent a major transformation and started to become a character independent from his mythological counterpart, meaning his movie counterpart had a whole new playing field all to himself with liberty to do things that the original character would not even think of doing. This is a powerful thing, really for a film to have — the popularity and hype of the original character and possibilities created by a new version, all rolled into one.

I liked the casting very much and Dwayne Johnson has proven himself time and again in leading ensemble casts. He has a coolness about him that transcends the setting of his adventures and this makes him appeal as a hero more effectively. As Hercules, he did not overact, but instead just took everything in stride with an ease borne of a great character actor. He owned the role and after seeing the movie, audiences will not remember anyone else who played the character.

The supporting cast was absolutely awesome. Each had their own personalities that gelled well with each other. I especially liked the character of the battle weary and mentally unstable Tydeus, and Hercules’s confidante and adviser Ampiaraus who kept waiting for his moment to die. It was my first time to see Ingrid Bolso anywhere but I could not get past the thought that she looked exactly like a young Nicole Kidman. 

The script was also very smartly written. It delivered on the laughs and the cheesy, yet inspiring pep talks marvelously. I think one of the film’s strengths is its ability to integrate the cheesiness of the material with the serious parts. 

Hercules is the type of action adventure that one would expect from The Rock. It was fun and entertaining and it was pretty wholesome considering the subject content involves war and betrayal. While it could be described as loosely based on the original material at best, it remained true to the essence of Hercules as a character and the core of his story is basically the same (albeit less tragic) — discovery, redemption, and finding peace with a little help from your friends. The movie per se was aimed not at getting critical acclaim based on its approach but rather on delivering something different, yet marketable for the movie viewing public and for that, it was quite a success. 

I am Number Four: Movie Review

iamnumberfourBecause I was in the mood for some action and eye candy, I checked out by TBW files and pulled out something that I’ve been meaning to see in a while but haven’t gotten the chance to. Reading Young Adult novels of late has piqued my interest for more big screen adaptations and I am Number Four seemed like one that never quite got the follow up it was expecting. I know, because there are currently four or five other books in the series and no movie sequel in the works. I think this is weird because this franchise has plenty more material to explore, compared with other trilogies that are fixing to break up the last books into two parts to get two movies out of it.

Nine Lorien legacies have taken refuge on planet Earth, along with their guardians to gather strength and one day unite to defeat the Mogadorians who have decimated their home planet. But before they can do so, they must first survive from the Mogadorians who have tracked them down to hunt and kill them one by one. After the death of the third legacy, Four (Alex Pettyfer) and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), flee to Paradise Ohio to build a fresh cover and at the same time discover the whereabouts of his friend, who is helping him find the other surviving Loriens. But unlike in other towns, John finds a connection with Paradise, particularly with a girl named Sarah (Diana Agron), and conspiracy theorist and school outcast Sam (Callan Mcauliffe), who happens to be the son of Henri’s friend. With the Mogadorians on their trail, Four tries to weigh the importance of his newfound powers and responsibilities against his yearning for a normal human life.

This movie has been ragged on by critics a lot, and for good reason. For one, while the actors playing the main characters are all nice to look at, the characters they play are really one dimensional and clichéd. Sometimes, Four’s lack of foresight and ill timed rebellion becomes really painful to watch. Henri seemed to be the only person who had any lick of sense and in the end, he was the one who had to make the sacrifice, which was really unfair. The fact that the movie chose to focus on Four/John and Henri’s disagreement about the latter’s strict policies may have won over the younger audience who themselves are rebelling against authority, but it was no secret and fairly understandable from from the beginning where Henri was coming from. They were in grave danger and he was being overprotective for a reason. Duh!

On the other hand, Sarah’s uniform expression in all of her scenes did not help matters and made me wonder if the hype from Glee was the only reason Diana Agron got the part. They could have gotten a mannequin to play the part and it wouldn’t have made any difference. I liked Sam (Callan Mcauliffe) and Six (Teresa Palmer),though. They added a touch of humanity and flavor in the otherwise robotic performances of the two leads. Oh, and I also liked the beagle who played Bernie Kosar. For a while, I wasn’t sure if he was a friend or a foe but no matter what, he was still adorable.

Aside from the acting and the stereotypes that the film insisted on portraying (which limited the movie’s potential) it wasn’t a bad film at all. It had great cinematography, cool stunts and a really good soundtrack as well. If audiences can get over the oversimplified writing and the insistence into slotting every aspect of the film into a formula, it was quite passable. It had good CGI and a pretty solid source material, one that I have yet to read. I have a gut feeling that the book will be better than the movie and both Four/John and Sarah would be more likeable in their book forms. I certainly hope so.

All in all, director DJ Caruso and producer Michael Bay stuck religiously to the blockbuster formula for this one, and I would have liked for them to do something different. I felt like the movie kept a lot close to its chest, perhaps in the belief that they should keep the suspense to sustain the momentum for the following movies. The problem with that theory though, is that it runs contrary to the intention of every first movie in the franchise to blow the audiences’ socks off and leave them clamoring for more. As it stands, I would be content to just find out what happens in the books. If the movie franchise continues though, I would very much like for Sarah to die and for Four to just take up with Six. Who knows? She might rub off some of her personality and presence on him. Plus, she’s smart so maybe she could influence him out of lovesick puppy mode?  

Now is Good: Movie Review

now_is_goodI’m not a big fan of dramatic films. Seriously, I’m not. Usually, I steer clear of movies dealing with death because that’s a surefire recipe of spilling the waterworks. I almost didn’t see Now is Good because it was pretty up front about the death and the disease as the subject matter. But because I was curious to find out why Jeremy Irvine rejected the role of Peeta Mellark for this one, I knew I would not rest until I saw it.

In this Sony Pictures/BBC film production, Dakota Fanning plays 17 year-old cancer patient Tessa Scott, a girl who chooses to stop treatment and live out the rest of her life the way she wanted. In order to do so, she creates a list, which includes dancing all night, doing drugs, losing her virginity, getting a tattoo, among other things. Not all of her attempts become successful but when she meets her next door neighbor, sweet and sensitive Adam (Jeremy Irvine), she finds a renewed drive to live. Just when things are getting better, reality rears its ugly head as her disease threatens to take away her chance at happiness.

First things first. It was weird to hear Dakota Fanning with a British accent. It seemed ill fitting for her and at times, felt forced (but that could be just me). Despite this setback though, I believe she was the perfect actress to play the role of Tessa because this girl is just oozing talent.

As Tessa, she wore the depression and rebelliousness of her character like second skin until it felt so natural that audiences just needed to accept it. She gave audiences a perspective of how difficult it is to be sick with a terminal disease, and how challenging it is for the people around them to adjust, not just to thought of letting go but in dealing with the sick, as well.

There were times though, that Dakota’s acting was obviously classes beyond Jeremy’s and the portrayal took a sort of lopsided approach.

This is not to say that Jeremy Irvine is a bad actor. He has great potential but I felt like he was not yet ripe for a role that called for him to dig so deep into his psyche that he could translate his grief into his acting, much like Shane West did as Lander Carter in A Walk to Remember. There was something subdued in his portrayal when it seemed like the right thing would have been to completely let go.

I do understand now, why he turned down the Hunger Games’ iconic role for this tearjerker. Now is Good provided him with a good challenge as an actor and Adam is the type of role that audiences remember with fond feelings. And judging from his upcoming projects, his career didn’t seem to take too much of a slump from this choice.

I loved the scenes between Tessa and her dad, and at times, wanted to smack her in the head for being too callous about her dad’s eagerness to help her get well. It was also difficult to see her with her mother or her brother whose innocence was just heartbreaking.

This film had an indie sort of vibe about it that’s pretty typical for a British film and it worked for the overall tone of the movie, which was sad, retrospective and melancholy — most of the time. There were true gems of moments when the movie tackled family dynamics but real tearjerkers were in the realization of what her loss would entail. Audiences can’t help but cry in a movie like this one.

The only bright spots in an otherwise depressing movie were moments where Tessa and Adam were discovering their feelings for each other, and the sense of acceptance about what was obviously the next stop in Tessa’s story.

All in all, Now is Good is a good film that delivers on its promise. It may be depressing to watch but it has a certain sort of sweetness and innocence about it that connects the movie to the audience, and at the end of the film, allows them to let go and have closure.

Delivery Man: Movie Review

220px-Delivery_Man_PosterYears after he made over 600 donations to a sperm bank under the name of Starbuck, David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn), a directionless delivery guy for his family’s meat shop, finds out that has fathered of 533 kids and that 142 of his children are actively looking for him and forcing the lab to disclose his identity through a class suit. As if his life wasn’t complicated enough, he learns that his girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) is actually pregnant with his kid and would not have him in their life unless he cleans up his act. Challenged by her conviction, he blindly opens the envelope containing his children’s identities and seeks them out one by one to help them out in their time of need.

I was surprised to learn that this Vince Vaughn starrer was actually a remake of the French-Canadian film Starbuck (which is the name of a Canadian bull who sired 533 calves thus the name Star-buck). But at the same time, I also did not think it was uncharacteristic for this comedian to take on a project like this one. True, the premise is way out there but the reason why its so unbelievable is actually the reason why the film was so incredible.

The film’s strength actually lies with the fact that filmmakers were not trying to convince audiences that something as ridiculous as this would happen in real life but rather focused on the small details of David’s journey — his relationship with his own family, his brothers and father, his girlfriend, with his best friend — and the relationship he built with his children. The effort that he took was endearing and touching and would move even the stoniest of hearts. What’s great about it was that Vince Vaughn portrayed David as a guy who always had his heart in the right place so there was no question in the audience’s mind what his motives were in pursuing his kids.

Admittedly, I was initially worried about how David would be able to attend to all of his kids in the space of 104 minutes but it all kind of worked out really well. Key characters were established, David’s backstory about why he had to donate his sperm so many times, where he spent the money, and even why people loved him so because despite his chaotic lifestyle. Even creepy Viggo did not seem so creepy after all that was said and done. But my favorite scenes definitely would have to be the ones with his son with mental disability. The way he embraced his son’s imperfection in the cloak of silence was one of the most moving parts of the movie and depicts one of the greatest displays of parenthood. 

I just want to say that this movie was all the better for the inclusion of Brett, played by Chris Pratt, as David’s best friend — an unlicensed lawyer who, for the most part is shown in a tattered robe and close to depression while taking care of his four kids, which was why it was understandable for him to advise David to run for the hills upon learning of his girlfriend’s pregnancy, more so when they learn than he has another 142 kids who want to know him. He was really funny and cute, especially in scenes when he was trying to corral his kids or debate with them. Despite his shortcomings and seeming lack of sympathy for Stabuck’s kids, audiences knew that he had no malice and was only trying to look out for his friend, and his loyalty was reflective of his David’s personality.

All in all, Delivery Man was a story about family, and finding family in the most unexpected places. Its not the type of movie that will leave audiences with an epiphany but its a tongue in cheek look at families, and how you don’t always get what you expect with them. It shows the upside and downsides of parenting, and the hurdles that some have to go through to become actual parents. Its the type of movie that you watch to feel good, get a few good laughs and know that at the end, there will be a happy ending — pretty much a good way to spend 104 minutes of your life on.

Jake Gyllenhaal on creating the characters Adam and Anthony in Enemy

ENEMY_AnthonyWhat would you do if you discover someone who looks exactly like you?

The reality of finding your doppelganger or a mirror image or yourself is the intriguing premise of the upcoming psychosexual thriller ENEMY, released by Solar Pictures.

Based on the novel “The Double” by José Saramago, ENEMY tells the story of a university lecturer named Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is nearing the end of a relationship with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). One night, while watching a film, Adam spots a minor actor who looks just like him. Consumed by the desire to meet his double, Adam tracks down Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal), an actor living with his pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) and engages him in a complex and dangerous struggle.

“In terms of finding a lead actor for these dual parts, I was looking for someone who I would be able to share creativity and collaborate with,” notes Academy Award Nominated director Denis Villeneuve (INCENDIES, PRISONERS).

“In Jake I found someone that was highly intelligent and creative. He had a beautiful vision for the characters. It’s always fantastic for a director when your lead actor is so good that you can just follow him instead of telling him where to go. I love that.”

“When Jake’s name was first put on the table we immediately realized we needed him,” recalls ENEMY Spanish producer Miguel A. Faura. “Not only is he an extremely gifted actor capable of delivering the wide range of subtleties needed for these two roles, but he has always showcased his taste and love for art and cinema in each role he has taken on. When he said yes, we felt not only lucky, but reaffirmed about the inner quality of our project.”

“First and foremost I wanted to make this movie because I think Denis is an incredible filmmaker,” says Gyllenhaal. “I was really drawn to the incredible script which offered an interesting blueprint for what Denis wanted to do with this idea. When I first met with Denis and talked about the film, his idea of what it was and what he wanted it to be far surpassed what the script was saying.”

Gyllenhaal had the unique task of playing two different characters that become entwined in each other’s lives. As can be expected, there was a delicate dance involved in creating the similarities and differences between the two characters. Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal agreed early on that the differences between Adam and Anthony should lie in subtleties.

“There are so many ways that you can go with this movie and I think probably the hardest one, the most interesting one, was making Adam and Anthony as close to each other as possible,” notes Gyllenhaal. “There’s the world in which one character has a beard and the other one doesn’t and one talks with a funny accent and the other one doesn’t. That would have been an incredibly vain way of going about it and I think, in a way, that’s exactly what this movie isn’t about.”

“I made choices early on about the characters and, as a result, Adam and Anthony started to separate from each other. I knew that I had to fall in love with both of them and that there couldn’t be any judgment for either of the characters even while being in the scene with the other one,” explains Gyllenhaal. “What’s interesting about playing two characters in the same scene is the literal comparison of what you’re doing. I actually created the character of Adam before Anthony even showed up on the scene and the first time I worked as Anthony was when he was right across from Adam.” The film centers on Adam’s psychological struggle and, as Gyllenhaal notes, the notion of struggle is very apparent in both Adam and Anthony. “These two characters are struggling with the same thing in a different way but inevitably one of them has to let go and give up in order for the other to survive. The question of which one it’s going to be is ultimately what the movie is about,” states Gyllenhaal.

Distributed by Solar Pictures, Enemy opens in cinemas on July 30, 2014.

Divergent: Book Review

divergent_hqSYNOPSIS: In the dystopian city of Chicago, a faction system keeps order in society. When children reach the age of 16, they participate in a Choosing ceremony which will determine whether they opt to stay with their families in their faction or settle for another faction. Those who are inclined towards courage choose Dauntless. Those who value intelligence choose Erudite. Those who think honesty is the best virtue choose Candor. Those who wish to live in peace and harmony go with Amity. Those who value selflessness and service to others choose Abnegation. In order to help them make their choice, the teens undergo an aptitude test to see which faction they should belong but unlike the others, the choice will not be easy for Abnegation-born Beatrice Prior, because she learns that she has more than one of the virtues and this makes her a rare breed called Divergent. But being Divergent has its risks because there are those who go to extreme lengths to eradicate the Divergent from society because they cannot be controlled, and Beatrice knows that she must hide her secret to survive.

Its weird because I saw the movie first before I read the book, and I loved the movie because there was such a strong chemistry among the cast, especially lead stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James. I was thinking, how could I muster enough enthusiasm for the movie’s origin material when I pretty much know what’s going to happen? Turns out I shouldn’t have worried because even as the movie remained faithful to the main elements of the book, the book was awesome in its own right, possibly even more so because it provided an in depth perspective from Tris due to the first person narrative.

What I loved most about the books was that Tris, despite being a heroine in a dystopian world, was pretty relatable to readers across ages, but mostly with teens because she harbors the same insecurities and the same challenges about making choices, being at a loss about making decisions, making friends, and of course falling in love. I loved that she was a flawed heroine but she was able to overcome her flaws because of her inner strength and her drive t push forward. I loved her innocence most of all because of her upbringing and her occasional prudishness. It’s a refreshing change and a contrast to their liberated way of doing things in Dauntless. She could well be a transfer student from another school — her anxieties were the same as the usual teens, just amplified more because she was going to learn to survive from training after all.

I also loved that the book talked a lot about the people surrounding Tris to give readers a better understanding of her motivations. The movie introduced her friends but did not dwell too much on their personalities and that was understandable yet a shame because they were very rich characters, especially Al and Christina. But I loved Four the most because even from the books, he was the type of hero that readers  find themselves levitating towards. He is smart and shy but sensitive, and makes a perfect foil for Tris because they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I love that he was the first to say I love you to Tris and that final scene on the train totally made me melt.

There wasn’t much of a surprise with Divergent but the book was obviously setting up towards the bigger picture and leaves no doubt that more layers in the plot to eliminate Divergents will unfold in the next installments.

All in all, Divergent was a very strong beginning to the trilogy. I loved to read Divergent because Tris’s voice just seemed to reach out and grab readers into the story. Its explores fear and courage and how people respond to these phenomenon and inspires readers towards the latter.Excellent writing on the part of Veronica Roth, seamless transitioning and a lot of action packed between the pages. Divergent was funny, endearing, exciting and larger than life. It was about family, friends, romance and recognizing the person within and having the courage to be that person. What a great read. My only complaint would have to be that Tobias is not really a super cool name for such a cool guy as Four, but then again, I got used to the same well enough so I guess that nullifies my complaint.

Begin Again: Movie Review

Begin-AgainWhen I first saw the film poster and the trailer, I assumed that Begin Again was going to be a sort of a May December affair between a record producer (Mark Ruffalo) and his protege (Keira Knightley). While I was on the fence about it, I was intrigued not just because  it was a strong lead cast but because it was Adam Levine’s film debut. For some, this would be reason enough to buy a film ticket but when I saw the film’s entirety, I realized the film had so much more to offer than star power. It touches something basic in the audiences and the best part is, it uses music to accomplish this purpose.

Greta (Knightley), a British songwriter, moves to New York when her long time boyfriend and musical partner Dave Kohl (Levine) lands a record deal after successfully doing the score for a blockbuster movie. When Dave dumps her after an extended tour in LA, Greta decides to fly back to England to mend her broken heart. But before she is able to do that, she is discovered by Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo), a down on his luck record producer who has an uncanny vision of music, who offers her a deal straight out. While Greta is initially apprehensive, she bonds with Dan over music and they form an idea to produce a unique record outside of the studio, using the entire city of New York as a backdrop.

I loved Begin Again, from beginning to end, no matter how much some reviewers have bashed Kiera Knightley for being “too thin.” Straight up, how she looks should not be the main focus of criticisms because first and foremost, she is a good actress and she delivered her part of the movie flawlessly. Not once did she stray from her portrayal of a pure artist who never compromises about her artistry and she was charming, abrasive, tough and vulnerable when she needed to be. I never knew that she could sing but she has a really great tone to her voice that sounds really raw but really clean, which is perfect for the role because she was playing an indie singer/songwriter who cared nothing for convention. As for Adam Levine, I saw his acting once in American Horror Story and he was okay but in Begin Again, he has matured a lot and began to show level in his acting. My favorite part was his poignant performance of Lost Stars, where he showed a remarkable range not only in his voice (this dude has a faultless falsetto), but a variety of emotions when he realizes the error of his ways and understands the result of his choices.

However, the star of this show is really Mark Ruffalo, who wore his heart on his sleeve for the entire movie. From his first appearance, audiences will fall in love with his character, no matter how unkempt he looks or how old he appears, compared to his other movies. And its because its obvious behind the flippant remarks that he has been through a lot, lost a lot, but not his love for the purity of music. His portrayal of his vulneraribility is just so amazing that its impossible not to root for his character.

Begin Again also showcases the beauty of New York as a city, away from the glamor and the grind — the side alleys, the skyline, even the streets that are filled with people milling about, going about their business, the steps of the narrow apartments — the film shows that New York, just like any other city is not perfect, yet its a city filled with romance and possibilities. The scenes showcasing Greta and the gang making their records behind the dumpster, on a rooftop, outside of a museum, under a bridge, was a really creative way to connect the city to the music. Mark had a quote after one of the most special scenes in the movie where he and Keira walked around New York listening to music from Greta’s music library, where he said music makes the banalities of normal life become like pearls, and this holds true because when the scene was taking place, everything that was happening all around them seemed to sync with the beat of the sound and it seemed like the beauty of the moment was magnified by meaningful sound.

And speaking of music, music was at the heart of the film and it was awesome to experience. The lyrics were so engaging and so releatable, and just spot on in painting the picture for the story that its hard not to get drawn in by the sound. I loved every song on the soundtrack, and Adam was the perfect guy to sing the theme song. When Usher was praising him in the Voice in saying that he had one of the most unique voices in the industry, that was an absolute truth and you could tell that the acting was only gravy for his part because he was so into the music that it could well be his life story, except for the beard and the douchiness. Its also awesome to know that  writer/director John Carney also wrote some of the songs in the film — Like a Fool performed by Keira Knightley with James Corden, who played her best friend in the film, and some in collaboration with Gregg Alexander and Nick Lashley, who were responsible for most of the songs in the movie.

Kudos to the filmmakers for innovative way of presenting the lead characters’ back stories. How they went back and forth before the moment where Greta played her song on stage, and how it was compared to how Dan was listening to it — it was very creative, and very entertaining to see. It made audiences connect to the song on different levels and it was really cool.

All in all, Begin Again was a great feel good movie, because it was so much more than a love story. Its about a journey — a journey made much more colorful by great melodies and great characters. It was about opening up and learning, and not losing oneself to the lights and the sound. It was about one woman finding a connection with another person and finding a family of sorts in a foreign country. It was about a man disillusioned by his industry and finding fresh inspiration in his life and family. It was a story of friendship and finding joy. It was a story about having the power to choose how to start life anew. It was a charming piece of cinema that tugs at the heart and one can’t leave the theater without a smile on their faces.

Begin Again is distributed in the Philippines by Solar Entertainment and will open in theaters July 9.