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.

The Raid 2: Berendal Movie Review

the-raid-2-banniere-xlHow can memories of one perfect action movie be destroyed by one sequel?

I was a big fan of  Indonesian action film The Raid:Redemption  by writer director Gareth Evans which made waves several years back as one of the most action packed movies of all time. It introduced the world to the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat, showcased in the movie by real life champs Iko Uwais, who played the lead character Rama, and Yayan Ruhian, better known as Mad Dog, the psychotic right hand man of the film’s main villain. In the first movie, these two doubled as fight coordinators and actors – same with the second movie. So basically, it was the same team that worked on both movies.

After Rama miraculously survived the bloodbath that happened in their raid of crime lord Tama Riyadi’s apartment block in the first movie, he is enlisted to go undercover after his brother Andi (Doni Alamsyah) is killed by an up and coming gangster named Bejo. His mission is to unmask the crooked cops on the syndicate’s payroll and in order to do that, he must get in deep in crime boss Bangun’s organization through his son Uco (Arifin Putra), an arrogant, hard headed and hot tempered gangster impatient to take over the reins of his father’s operation. But as Rama gets further involved with the syndicate, he finds it harder to extricate himself from the complexities of the underground and in the end, he realizes he must put a stop to the madness himself or die trying.

Its hard not to have any expectations when it comes to The Raid 2 because the first movie was just so well executed and heart pounding with some of the most groundbreaking stunts in the action genre. The team could have stopped there but decided that because of the success of the first film, a second film can duplicate this victory. Well, in this case, not so much.

The good news is that the action was still there. The great hand to hand combat sequences was still the highlight of the film but unlike in the first one where the film chose moments to highlight the art of pencak silat, this one chose to go for quantity, pitting Rama against mobs time and again. The sheer violence of the action scenes could tear paint from a wall. And the obsession with stabbing and hacking? What’s up with all the knife fights? In contrast to the first movie, not much guns were used in this installment which sometimes made me wish that there were more to lend variety. This is not to say that the action sequences were not executed with finesse. It was done once again perfectly with such high caliber fighters like Uwais and Ruhian, but what was different and slightly inferior was the cinematography.

PRISON RIOT. The prison riot, one of the bigger fight scenes in the movie started out artistic but ended up quite chaotic.

PRISON RIOT. The prison riot, one of the bigger fight scenes in the movie started out artistic but ended up quite chaotic.

Director Garreth Evans chose to do away with the steady cam and instead chose to use shots that were not so stable, which often resulted in the audience not being able to focus on the characters or the stunts, but rather in looking for key players in the scene. While it was understandable that Evans was going for artistry, especially in scenes like the prison riots, it took away from the moment and that was a shame because action was really the bread and butter of this film.

The scattered narrative also didn’t do the film any favors. The film seemed to lose focus, leading to confusion as to the real objective of Rama’s mission. While there was a lot happening in the crime organization, it seemed like it was all negligible to Rama’s boss because they were going after the crooked cops and not the organization itself. And up until the end, even when Rama risked his life to fight off throes of gangsters, it seemed futile because he never got close to his main objective, which posed the question among audiences about what the relevance of half of the film was because there were  a lot of dull moments that seemed boring and irrelevant to the movie.

MAD DOG REINCARNATED.  Yayan Ruhian returns in the sequel as Prakoso, a hired assassin loyal to the crime boss.

MAD DOG REINCARNATED. Yayan Ruhian returns in the sequel as Prakoso, a hired assassin loyal to the crime boss.

Another thing that was weird about the movie was the appearance of Yayan Ruhian portraying a different character. It was just weird because he had such a big role in the first movie and died so prominently but without any explanation, somebody who looked exactly like him appeared, with another name and another backstory. Because the first two movies were connected by continuity, they should have just left out Ruhian in this movie, no matter how great a fighter he was, if it were up to me. It just didn’t make sense to have him in it unless he was playing Mad Dog risen from the dead, or he was his twin brother, or something.

One thing that was noticeably missing from this movie was the kickass scoring of Mike Shinoda. Most of the scenes fell flat because there was no music to set the tone. After a while, it became so depressing to see Rama breathing heavily and resolving to get out of the mess that has become his life, or so tedious to watch protracted action scenes in complete silence.

In my opinion, there may have been a part of  director Gareth Evans  trying to go for a Kill Bill vibe with the introduction of characters like Hammer Girl and Bat dude (as in baseball bat), two psychotic henchmen of Bejo but despite the blood, brains and bones spilled and broken after their sequences, it didn’t quite work out as well as he wanted, mainly because Bejo was not as menacing and as compelling a villain as he should have been.

All in all, this film didn’t lack for any adrenalin pumping action but in every aspect, felt inferior to its predecessor because of its overambition and inconsistency. It would have been just better if they made a separate movie altogether in order to have more freedom in terms of plot and presentation instead of adding to a franchise that could have ended solidly with the first movie alone. For me, it was just a shame and a waste of great talent and potential.

Why Nodame Cantabile is my all time favorite Jdorama/Anime

Nodame_Cantabile_1_coverBefore anything else, I would like to put it out there that I am a big Nodame Cantabile fangirl in any of its forms (manga, anime, live action) so if you’re not into these type of things, you might think that this post isn’t your cup of tea. Okay, now that you have been warned, let me continue. :D  If its not your first time in this blog, you may have noticed how I gushed about the finale of the live action and it was pretty much my entire feeling across the board for the series based on the popular manga by Tomoko Ninomiya. Recently, I discovered that the manga was being rerun on Animax, a marathon of four episodes every Sunday night and it got me hooked to the series anew. As the result, I’ve rewatched the live action Finale, the Paris Special, the first series of the anime and now the original 11 episode Jdorama featuring the beginning of Noda Megumi and Shinichi Chiaki’s quirky relationship in Momogaoka Music Academy in Japan.

A short synopsis: Shinichi Chiaki is a top piano student at Momogaoka Music Academy. Growing up in a family of accomplished musicians, he has developed a perfectionist attitude towards music in general and feels bored about the level of education in his school. The problem is, he has no way of pursuing his dream of becoming a world class conductor in Europe because he is afraid of airplanes due to a childhood trauma developed on his return flight from Prague 10 years before. When Chiaki hears a mysterious girl playing Beethoven at school, he is moved and captivated by the sound, despite the fact that the Beethoven version was not precisely according to the score. He finds out that this mystery girl is actually his next door neighbor, the hentai Noda Megumi, who falls in live with him at first sight and becomes a permanent fixture in his life from their first interaction. The second series and the finale both take place in Paris, Prague and London, while the last part of the manga — the Opera Hen marks the duo’s return to Japan to participate in an opera with the RS-Oke with the original gang.

The thing I most love about this series is that firstly, it appeals to the hentai/otaku in all of us. The reason why people are drawn to the lead character Noda Megumi is the fact that she is guileless, an innocent with raw talent, whose simplistic dreams are really short of her true potentials. But at the end of the day, her heart shines through and touches each person that she comes across. First, Chiaki, who fell in love with Nodame’s piano from the first encounter, allowing him to endure her lack of hygiene and her quirkiness — a running storyline throughout the series; Ryutaro Mine, Chiaki’s best friend and conscience, who was drawn to Nodame first because of her kawaii (cute)-ness, then her soulful piano before they eventually became friends; Kasunori Kuroki, who fell in love with Nodame’s kindness and innocence (of course, he later realized he was no match for Chiaki); the Frenchman Frank, who was attracted to Nodame’s hentai personality, and even Lucas, who harbored a crush on Nodame from boyhood to adolescence. Nodame is a character that draws not only fellow characters in the series but also the audience to fall in love with her.

Each of the characters are also bigger than life, relateable and remarkable in their own ways. They endear themselves to the viewers so effectively that each moment spent watching them is like becoming part of their gang.

Another thing about this series is its sense of vulnerability. Each of the characters have their own internal struggle to wrestle with and how they resolve each of their issues is a marvel to watch. Because the characters are so identifiable, viewers want to cheer them on. Nodame’s struggle to catch up with Chiaki, Chiaki’s struggles to start his conducting career, Kuroki’s struggle to adapt in a foreign country, Mine’s struggle to keep the RS Oke together, Rui’s struggle to have a life of her own away from her reputation as prodigy, Franz’s struggle to convey his love for the girl of his dreams, and countless other journeys that each of the characters have to take. They don’t always get it on the first try, but with each other’s help and support, they somehow emerge from their ordeals as different, better characters. My favorite scene in the manga is actually Nodame’s moment in Greece in a storage room alone, crying out for Chiaki while clutching his shirt. It was such a moment of vulnerability that was so moving and so pure that its such a perfect epitome of Nodame’s love for Chiaki.

The steady progression in the storyline is also something that I love about this series. Now that I’m rewatching the series from the beginning, after seeing the finale, I notice how different Nodame’s playing was from the first. It was mentioned countless times in the various stages that Nodame played sloppily at the beginning and it occurred to me how raw her performances were at the beginning, when she was playing Beethoven’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Rachmaninoff to her debut with Stresseman in London. Chiaki’s conducting style also changed from the beginning but continued to be as intense as ever. Their story has also evolved from a master/pet relationship in the beginning, to a denial and gradual capitulation on the part of Chiaki, and his understanding of Nodame as a budding artist, and later on his acceptance of her true feelings for her. This while they struggle to individually make their own way in the music industry on their own and eventually find their paths merging together in the end. I was a bit frustrated about how insensitive Chiaki has mostly been to Nodame but when his point of realization came, and he was even willing to sacrifice allowing Nodame to stop pursuing piano to do as she liked and still stay with her despite that, I was totally won over.

Another thing that got me hooked into this drama was the continuity of the presentation. True, that since the anime had more episodes, it followed the manga more religiously, but all of the versions had the same focus and the same heart as the original material, generally conveying the same idea and the same message, envoking the same feelings and emotions in all of its forms.

Finally, the music. I must say I’ve learned a lot about the classics and the great composers watching this series and it has been an education of sorts. It gave me a better appreciation of the classics and the sheer joy of simply listening to the pieces as the orchestras come together in perfect harmony. The purity of the sound was astounding, relaxing and simply amazing. Compared to songs with lyrics, the classics are so different but has a different appeal. It also gave a peek into the world of music students and the passion involved in mastering their craft. Respect,  is pretty much all I can say.

All in all, this series made me fall in love, with the story, the characters, the music, and the world… Chiaki and Nodame share an unconventional relationship but their journey was so touching. Learning from each other, together and apart. It was a journey all right, and in the end, they came full circle.  But Nodame was not only a story about romance, its a story about friendship, about growing up and reaching one’s potentials. Its about kindness and love and positivity and at the end of the day, these feelings are infectious. And that is why I love it so much.

Transformers: Age of Extinction Movie Review

Transformers_Age_of_Extinction_Poster.jpegMichael Bay pretty much screwed himself when he made such great Transformers movies and finishing the trilogy with such a bang in 2011. Now that he has returned to the franchise to set off a fresh saga a la George Lucas in Star Wars, people are using the bar he set for himself to compare his latest offering starring action superstar Mark Wahlberg , Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer. My take — Transformers: Age of Extinction was a great movie given Michael Bay’s expertise in delivering blockbuster style popcorn movies but while it had its strengths, it was nowhere as good as the first three movies in the franchise.

Years after the war in Chicago where the Autobots helped the humans preempt the invasion led by Sentinel Prime and Megatron, all aliens are being hunted down by the government, with the alliance with the Autobots severed as they are now seen as a threat to humanity. In order to effect this extermination , CIA lead agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has allied himself with a Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown, who wants Optimus Prime as part of his collection. To hedge his bets, Attinger has also entered into a secret deal with billionaire visionary Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), head of research facility KSI, where Joyce is initiating a program to develop his own Transformers using an element called Transformium, the same metal the Transformers are made of. Meanwhile, an injured Optimus Prime disguised as a rustbucket of a truck is bought and found by amateur inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) in Texas, who eventually helps him reunite with the other Autobots to stop Attinger from his plans to extinguish their race.

From the beginning, Michael Bay was pretty consistent with his style of directing in all of the movies of the franchise. Even his formula remained the same. There was a requisite hot chick Tessa (Nicola Peltz), Cade’s 17 year old daughter, her Irish boyfriend Shane (Jack Raynor), a main villain (Grammer) and a main hero (Wahlberg). It was admittedly a stretch for Mark Wahlberg to be playing a geek of any sort but somehow, he sorta, kinda make it work in his own way. Besides, his backstory as a high school jock sort of justified why he was able to pull off a lot of physical stuff. Mark is a great actor and can play pretty much anything – action, drama and even comedy so the way he played Cade was pretty fun, especially when he was being a protective dad butting heads with his daughter’s suitor. I was pretty annoyed with the daughter across the board because she was basically just in the way of everything but I can’t really say I blame her because the only reason she was written in the movie was just to look pretty and wear skimpy outfits.

SINGLE EXPRESSION. This was the extent of Nicola Peltz's acting in Transformers: AGe of Extinction. Yes, she was perfectly made up throughout the movie.

SINGLE EXPRESSION. This was the extent of Nicola Peltz’s acting in Transformers: AGe of Extinction. Yes, she was perfectly made up throughout the movie.

What’s different about this edition of Transformers was that there was no clear direction in the narrative. It seemed like the filmmakers wanted to open up different storylines all at the same time to establish the beginning of a new trilogy and this made  it  hard to focus on what the more immediate problem was. And because of this, the relationship between the humans and the Autobots were not as effective, unlike in the first Transformers movie where Bee clicked wit Sam straight off the bat and the movie proceeded from there. In my opinion, what drove the first three movies was the combined struggle of humans and Autobots against the Decepticons. There was a common enemy and there was an emotional connection that made the robots seem human. This was also the key why audiences loved the Transformers — because they shared the same connection to the characters and felt like the Autobots were their friends.

AUTOBOT RESISTANCE. Aside from the Dinobots, only five Autobots remain -- Hound, Drift, Crosshairs, Bumblebee and Prime

AUTOBOT RESISTANCE. Aside from the Dinobots, only five Autobots remain — Hound, Drift, Crosshairs, Bumblebee and Prime

There is a fresh batch of Autobots introduced in Age of Extinction. Only Bee and Optimus remain from the original batch, giving the conclusion that all of the Autobots have been killed by the humans and scrapped for parts. It was a heartbreaking thought already but Bay milked that idea and included one heartbreaking scene where a beloved Autobot was executed. It was quite brilliant because it elicited the same emotions as that scene in Dark of the Moon where Doc was killed mercilessly.

This scene kind of justified how embittered Prime has become in this installment. While the leader of the Autobots was once selfless, patient and calm, this time around, he was obviously on a quest for blood against those who hunted down and killed his friends. He seemed unrecognizable for a bit but not entirely alien to the audiences who loved him from the start.

The new Autobots were really cool, especially Hound, voiced by John Goodman. I liked his toughness and scrappiness even backed against a corner. For the part of the humans, Stanley Tucci and Mark Wahlberg did great in their characters. Since this was indeed a popcorn flick, they had fun with their roles and delivered really solid performances. They were really entertaining to watch, and for a couple of guys lugging around an alien bomb that has the potential to level an entire major city, they were pretty cool about the whole thing. On the other hand, the father-daughter thing was a hard sell throughout the movie, seeming to create an Armageddon type scene between Cade and Tessa but it didn’t work quite as well because Nicola Peltz pretty much has one expression in all of her scenes. Li Bingbing, on the other hand, started out so subtly and came out in the movie as someone to really watch out for.

DINOBOTS. Optimus Prime rides Grimlock into battle.

DINOBOTS. Optimus Prime rides Grimlock into battle.

Despite the film’s flaws, one thing that totally made up for it was the appearance of the Dinobots. These dudes were totally badass. They were huge, they were awesome. They didn’t look much like the cartoons, but none of the Transformers actually looked like their animated counterparts. The design for Grimlock (T-Rex) and Strafe (Triceroptops) were very cool.  It was a shame that they were in the film for only a short portion but having been introduced to the franchise, there is always that new possibility of reappearance in the next installments. I am confident that there would be new films because of the open storylines. And the Transformers’ connection to the extinction of the dinosaurs, priceless.

Its hard not to geek out watching a Transformers movie, and if there’s one thing this film is not short of, its action, great CGI, and really marketable characters. This film just kept on pushing its boundaries. After it perfected its CGI on the robot design and transformation, it kept things fresh this time around with a more fluid transformation sequences with the Transformium on Galvatron and Stinger. There was no shortage of intense car chases, gunfights, battle sequences and heart pounding action scenes to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

All in all, audiences won’t notice that Age of Extinction ran for two hours and 45 minutes. There was a lot going on, as is expected from a franchise trying to establishing a new chapter and at the same time trying to keep it as far away from the original trilogy as much as possible. I think that this sequel should be considered a transition movie, and as such, it should be cut some slack because it did a pretty decent job. With a film of this length and magnitude, there’s a lot of room to go wrong, and Transformers was far from perfect, but what it managed to get right, it did so brilliantly that these are what the audiences will remember after leaving the theater. If it managed to accomplish one thing, it was to blow the door wide open for new movies in the Transformers universe. And with the success of this installment in the box office, I think that was what the studios were gunning for.

22 Jump Street: Movie Review

22_Jump_Street_PosterFollowing the unexpected success of the movie reboot of the 1980′s classic procedural in 2012, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return to the big screen for a sequel which pretty much reprises the formula of the original movie, only with a bigger budget.

After best buds and undercover cops Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) successfully bust the syndicate manufacturing and distributing the synthetic drug H.F.S. in a local high school, the partners are assigned to a fresh case, this time embedding them as students in MC State College where a drug called WHYPHY, which is linked to the death of a young college girl. But because Schmidt and Jenko have polar opposite personalities, college proves to be very different for the two as Jenko is immediately embraced by the jocks, leaving Schmidt to run with the art school kids. As the two learn to work separately, they discover that their friendship is much stronger than any opportunity that college has to offer for either of them.

I loved the 21 Jump Street movie and was really happy to know that the same team (helmed by directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) was working to make another one. 22 Jump Street (so named because the headquarters had to move across the street after the Koreans bought back the original location) basically recycled the entire plot of the first movie, and reused and improved on the parts of the formula that worked, making the sequel just as hilarious as the 2012 sleeper hit.

The only thing that was different with 22 Jump Street was the location (college), but the gags, the characters, and the issues remained the same.

What I liked about the sequel was its ability to embrace its lack of originality and the filmmakers’ sheer gall in using this as a running joke throughout the film. Nick Offerman (Deputy Chief Hardy) and Ice Cube (Captain Dickson) made constant references to the first movie and how much more money the studios have put in the budget because the first operation was such a surprise hit. It poked fun at the stars’ ages and handicaps and this was hilarious because Tatum and Schmidt were so comfortable with themselves and with their roles that goofing off seemed natural.

There were also links to the first movie with guests appearances from 21 Jump Street baddies Dave Franco and Rob Riggle, who are now incarcerated for their crimes, as well as scenes connected by dialogue to the first Jump Street like Jenko taking a bullet for Schmidt. In terms of new characters, I liked the character of Zook (Wyatt Russel) and the chemistry he had with Jenko. They had great rapport and it was awesome to see them share screen time together.

As with the original, there were also a lot of jokes referring to Jenko and Schmidt’s weird bromance, which became even more ridiculous when Jenko had to grope around Schmidt’s underwear for a hand grenade. The action was great, as there were more action sequences (owing to the bigger budget) —  Jenko did a lot of parkour while Schmidt, well, he pretty much stayed the same in terms of physical activities. The itemized list of where the actual money was spent, injected somewhere in the script, was a brilliant move on the part of Hill, who co-wrote the script. It was really funny and underscored how tight the budget for the 21 Jump Street was (the first movie was given a production budget of $42 million while the sequel was greenlighted with a $65 million budget).

Ice Cube was given a bigger role in the sequel which was hilarious especially after it was revealed that his daughter went to the same college as Schmidt and Jenko. One of my favorite scenes was his character texting Schmidt non stop with life threatening messages.  Plus there were also a lot of cameos and even more gags in the aftercredit, which leaves the door wide open for a potential sequel.

All in all, I liked the first Jump Street movie better because it basically had more substance but the sequel was not bad either. 22 Jump Street offered no pretenses and just served up a buddy comedy that was very entertaining and filled with mindless fun. Sometimes, that all a movie has to be.