My not so successful attempt at my first movie marathon

IMG_0836[1]Laugh all you want but I got eliminated early at the Star Movies Scare-a-thon!

Yup, after all of the excitement (if you read this blog a week back, I was ecstatic to be picked by the electronic raffle), and the practice (I tried to condition myself not to react to scary movies, and not to drink too much water), I was actually one of those caught literally napping during the second movie by the marshalls. I actually don’t feel too bummed about it because the competition was tough. And I say that not to make excuses but to give credit to the competitors and the Star Movies/Fox Philippines staff who watch them like hawks.

READY FOR ACTION. These security personnel serve as marshalls for the event. These guys look really tough but they're really polite and nice. But they're experts at detecting violations. They've been doing detail at the Movie Marathon for five years already. (courtesy of Star Movies Philippines FB page)

READY FOR ACTION. These security personnel serve as marshalls for the event. These guys look really tough but they’re really polite and nice. But they’re experts at detecting violations. They’ve been doing detail at the Movie Marathon for five years already. (courtesy of Star Movies Philippines FB page)

I may not have won the the big prize (P150,000) but I had a great experience at the event. I was totally psyched to see my fellow competitors assembling early at the venue (SM Aura Samsung Hall) and feel the excitement of being part of such a fun event. It was really fun to be part of such a great crew. Everyone was excited, everyone was talking and sharing how they entered the raffle. There were some veterans in the lot, who got picked again after they joined last year or the year before and it was great to see them a) share tips about their experience or b) keep their strategies close to their chest. It was generally a great atmosphere from the first moment Star Movies opened its doors to start the registration.

EXCITED MUCH. Participants line up to get their official Movie Marathon jacket from Star World, which will be their uniform for the night. (Star Movies PH FB)

EXCITED MUCH. Participants line up to get their official Movie Marathon jacket from Star World, which will be their uniform for the night. (Star Movies PH FB)

The Star Movie Marathon, according to event organizers was made tougher this year because competitors were not only tasked to sit through countless movies but because the genre was horror, they were also not allowed to have any reaction to the movies on screen. As such, the following rules have been crafted:

  1. No standing
  2. No talking
  3. No yawning and no sleeping
  4. No screaming and no laughing
  5. No coughing or sneezing
  6. No excessive blinking
  7. No hand and arm movements
  8. No phone use, call or text (except for designated times)
  9. No accessories like hats, shades, blankets, etc.
  10. No public bowel movements (if you pee/poop on your seat, you are not just disqualified but you have to pay for the damages)
  11. No bathroom breaks except for those who win bathroom passes. Still, if one uses the pass, they must immediately consume 500 ml of ice cold water before returning to their seats all in five minutes
  12. Star Movies jacket must be worn at all times within the hall
  13. No additional food and beverage other than what is provided

Its true that at first, the rules seem harsh but come to think of it, the contestants are playing for P150,000 and its justifiable for the organizers to want the prize to go to the person who most deserves it. I, for one, totally support that idea, especially after experiencing how tough it is to be part of the contest.

SAMSUNG HALL AT SM AURA. Adding to the challenge are the narrow seats, that are better fit for events than a movie marathon. But the challenge is supposed to be tough so only the most deserving will survive. (Star Movies FB page)

SAMSUNG HALL AT SM AURA. Adding to the challenge are the narrow seats, that are better fit for events than a movie marathon. But the challenge is supposed to be tough so only the most deserving will survive. Still, the venue’s dome shape and kickass sound system was world class.(Star Movies FB page)

People think that joining a movie marathon, especially a contest like this one, is all fun and games. I too, at first thought that because I was a movie fanatic, (I blog about movies, duh) it would all be just a walk in the park. While I enjoyed by brief stint as a participant, I realized that there are a lot more things to consider aside from one’s enjoyment of the films being shown. Among these things are the physical environment — the level of comfort that one has in the venue. If its too cold, (The Samsung Hall’s dome shape and really cool air-conditioning didn’t help matters) one has the tendency to move and want to move around for warmth, or he could enjoy himself too much and simply nod off to fall asleep, which is what probably happened to me. Kindly consider that while The Exorcist and The Conjuring are both interesting and compelling horror movies, watching them at 2 am (the competition started at 12 am) without sleep is in itself a challenge, a challenge which I underestimated and paid for dearly. :D I actually felt myself close my eyes and drift off for a second before the marshall shined his flashlight on me and politely asked me to step out. Busted!

Of course, there are other aspects to consider like mental preparedness like how will you keep yourself from responding to the movies when they’re really intended to shock, or how to manage your nerves and the tension of competing. I guess what it all boils down to is understanding one’s limits, and overcoming the physical aspect (like the call of nature and the freezing cold) and marrying that with a sound strategy that I have not quite devised yet.

After I was eliminated, I joined the other eliminated contestants on the balcony, which organizers have set as a waiting area fore those who are waiting til morning before leaving the venue. This was a really great gesture on their part because it showed that they cared for the welfare of the participants, to ensure that they stayed safe until such time they can leave when it is more convenient to travel.

At the balcony, we were still able to watch the movies being shown and even peek at what was going on downstairs at the competition. I was eliminated at 4 am but I was still able to stay to finish another movie before I left and there were less and less people who remained. I’m happy to note though that my two seatmates were still in it at the time, but most of the people on my row were already out. I would have loved to stay and still be part of it because they were starting to show the really neat classic horrors (Nightmare on Elm Street) but that’s how the cookie crumbles and I was glad for those who still stuck it out. Plus, I really really wanted to just veg out and go to bed.

FRIENDS FOR LIFE. Did I mention that I made some new friends? She's one of them. :D

FRIENDS FOR LIFE. Did I mention that I made some new friends? She’s one of them. :D

At the end of the day, I didn’t win but at least I got to make some new friends, laugh at myself, re-watch a few good movies and get a souvenir jacket and a loot bag plus, most of all, I got to keep this awesome experience. If I enter and get picked again next year, I would be better prepared but if not, its still cool because at least I got to join this one, and not many people could say the same. As for the winner, while I have yet to find out who he/she is, I am totally happy for him/her. He/she totally deserves the kudos for being the badass who stayed through it all. And thanks also to Star Movies for giving me this opportunity. It was one of the most enjoyable and unique experiences of my life and I loved every second of it.

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FINAL FEW. The last four contestants face off with true horror as the ghouls stare them straight in the eyes. (Star Movies PH FB)

This just in: There’s already a winner and coincidentally, his name is Star. Congrats dude!

LAST MAN STANDING. Finally, after hours and hours, Star was declared the winner of the Star Movies Scareathon Year 5. (Star Movies PH FB)

LAST MAN STANDING. Finally, after hours and hours, Star was declared the winner of the Star Movies Scareathon Year 5. (Star Movies PH FB)

At the Devil’s Door: Movie Review

devils-door-1280At the Devil’s Door is a supernatural horror story that shows people just how bad choices can mess up one’s life and a series of it could seriously screw one up, especially if it has anything to do with the devil.

In 1987, 17 year old Hannah White (Ashley Rickard), a rebellious teen, falls in love with a guy she met in California and gets talked into playing a game with her boyfriend’s uncle in exchange for $500. Despite being weirded out by the oddness of the game, she completes its conditions and finds herself exposed to a supernatural being who wants to use her as a vessel for its sinister deeds. Fast forward to the 2000s, real estate broker Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is asked by a couple to sell their house as soon as possible because of their financial troubles. Upon inspecting the house, she stumbles across Hannah and more weird things ensue. When something happens to Leigh, her sister Vera (Naya Rivera)  investigates to find out the truth behind the mystery.

Most critics have basically given At the Devil’s Door a thumbs up because of the excellent performances of its female cast members and I totally agree. Ashley Rickards managed to portray the troubled teen in a different way than her usual Jenna Hamilton from MTV’s Awkward. Naya Rivera broke out from her Santana (Glee) persona to deliver an empowered female character and Catalina Sandino Moreno, while she had the shortest role among the three managed to evoke empathy among the viewers because of her obvious love for her sister. It started out great with a gradual build up and executed the supernatural scenes with a control that did not give out too much but still left a lot to the imagination. The film also had great continuity and the flow in the way it transitioned from different timelines. I liked that it picked the right moments to break out the scares and proceeded cautiously with every scene, building up on the suspense gradually.

However, while there was a great potential in the film, I felt like there was something lacking in the basic premise of the story that should have made it stronger as a horror. It had sympathetic characters, it had ominous music and a creepy house as a setting and even the demon was well made. Yet, the fact remains that there wasn’t a lot of substance to the story and most of the movie was just stretched out to make the ironic connection between Vera’s original lack of interest in building a family and the how she eventually found one.

What really irked me was the sheer stupidity in some of the characters actions like why would a girl take orders from a creepy stranger just because her boyfriend told her to? Why would a husband and wife  leave their baby to an obviously unstable babysitter, or what the requirements were to become the devil’s vessel? I just wished screenwriter/director Nicholas McCarthy had made that clear. I believe that had he done this, the story would pack a lot more punch than it did because as it stands, some parts were fairly predictable. All it would have taken was a little more tweaking in the script.

All in all, I was a bit frustrated about what didn’t happen for At the Devil’s Door, more than anything else. I believe that it played safe when it would have made much more sense to push forward and its a shame about the wasted potential. It could have been an awesome awesome horror but it chose to box itself in. Still, the girl in the red raincoat was an excellent touch, visually.

I’M IN! Star Movies Scare-a-thon

photo from Star Movies twitter page

photo from Star Movies twitter page

Ever since I read about the Butt Numb-a-thon event in Austin, Texas, it has become part of my bucket list to join such an event. Call me crazy but I really do think it would be totally to watch movies for hours on end surrounded by a bunch of other movie afficionados.

When Star Movies organized their Movie Marathon event several years back, I have constantly emailed entries but participants were chosen via electronic raffle, so my chances have always been slim.

This year, Star Movies opened the contest again but timed its event for Halloween, and the rules have grown stricter. Participants would be required to sit through hours of horror movies barred from stretching, texting, flinching, standing up or going for bathroom breaks. Pretty tough, huh? Still, I religiously viewed their shows and watched out for the popcorn tub icon which fleetingly appeared every once and a while. I sent my entries daily. My dedication paid off when I got this in my email.

scareathon

SUCCESS! After years of trying and failing to make it to the shortlist of Star Movies Annual Movie Marathon, I finally received the coveted email that finally included me in this year’s Star Movies Scare-a-thon. Yay! PS. I have already confirmed. 

I’m so psyched. I’m actually not in it for the money (P150,000 for the grand winner) as I have no competitive bone in my body at all, but I’m totally excited for the experience. So far, the record for years past has been 16 hours. I’m thinking I’ll be happy to sit through five or six movies and push myself as I go along. All I know is that I’m going to enjoy every single second of it. What a great belated birthday gift for me. Wish me luck guys!

7500: Movie Review

7500-2014Over the weekend, I managed to catch up on my TBW pile and I decided on this supernatural horror from Japanese director Takashi Shimizu (who incidentally directed The Grudge Japanese trilogy). It looked promising as it had Amy Smart (Crank), Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), Christian Serratos (The Walking Dead), Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch) and Leslie Bibb (Zoopkeeper) in the cast. I had high hopes for Shimizu because The Grudge was great.

The film revolves around the passengers of Flight 7500 bound for Japan where a man suffers from a mysterious seizure and dies. As the flight crew relocates the body to the first class cabin, air hostesses Laura (Bibb) and Suzy (Chung) begin to notice passengers disappearing, along with the body of the dead guy. When paramedic Brad (Kwanten) overhears the conversation, he enlists the help of his estranged wife Pia (Smart) and newlyweds Rick (Jerry Ferrara) and Liz (Nicky Whelan) to discover the identity of the dead passenger and his connection to the disappearances. What they find in his belongings bring chills to the already spooked amateur sleuths.

7500 seemed like an alright horror at the beginning. It had a certain air of  mystery about it the promises on a great payoff at the end of the movie. Sadly, the payoff didn’t come to fruition.

The biggest problem I felt, was the storytelling, which seemed fragmented and unsure. Shimizu did make an attempt to make audiences care about the characters, but there was really not much in terms of character development or a backstory to support their actions. Nobody really stood out of the lot and for the number of passengers on the plane, it was just sad. Kwanten came close to being that guy but the general air of broodiness overwhelmed him. He seemed to give up and resign to the monotony of the film, which was another problem of the film. The movie proceeded at a singular tone, like a song without a crescendo. It was always at the same level from beginning to end. I felt like it was attempting too much to keep the twist so close to its chest because it was the only thing that the movie had going for it. But when it was revealed, it was not the shocker that viewers were hoping for. It was nothing new. It was just disappointing.

While technically the effects were well executed, there were never any real outstanding scary moments that really take place. The movie did attempt to inject some meat into the story by building up the shinigami story but there was never real focus on it, and it was never really answered what the dead guy’s connection to it was. This storyline was just abandoned as abruptly as it was unveiled.

All in all, 7500 deserves an A for effort but an F for everything else. It wasted a lot of talent and a lot of time, hiring good actors to run around the plane like headless chickens only to stop at a dead end. It was, sadly an underwhelming and unremarkable horror film that does not quite take off.  Not quite horrible but a snoozefest just the same.

The Fifth Estate: Movie Review

the-fifth-estate-movie-poster-copyIn 2010, The Guardian, The New York Times and Le Spegel simultaneously released a story on the Afghan war logs and credited their source as Wikileaks, a website responsible for releasing vital information provided by unnamed sources. The website is founded by the eccentric activist Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a handful of volunteers, including his partner Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl), a computer hacker from Berlin. The story was devoted 14 pages in The Guardian, 12 in the Times, and major coverage by Le Spiegel, and became a major sensation because it entailed the biggest leakage of US military documents in American history. The story catapulted Wikileaks as a legitimate news source when it released the logs without edits but also called to question the ethics behind the move as it imperiled the lives of hundreds American sources in war zones in Afghanistan.

Even before the movie was made, the subject of Wikileaks was already a very controversial one because on the one hand, the site aims to give the public access to free information about corruption and oppression in the world. It was founded to bring down tyranny using information as a tool. However, on the other hand, its refusal to edit information and publish the leaked documents as is including data like addresses and contact numbers of the officials involved in the controversy has been called to question for endangering the individuals and subjecting them to public outrage.

As a former journalist, the dilemmas in the movie proved to be truly engaging. Weighing Wikileaks’ actions against the Journalism Code or the Canons of Journalism was truly baffling. Professional journalists seek vital information and sources of news but as members of the fourth estate, they also serve as gatekeepers of this information, and as such bear the responsibility of crafting the stories that hold merit to the public without endangering the sources of their information or those who may be affected by it. Wikileaks practices journalism to a certain extent — in protecting its sources, and in verifying the validity of the documents that they release on the website. But the handling of the information between the major news networks and the website differs by a wide margin. While The Guardian, Le Spiegel and Times, redacted sensitive information such as the names of government informants in war torn areas, Wikileaks pushed ahead and released over 250,000 war logs to prove that it had no bias and stayed true to its original principles. This resulted in a major catastrophe within the US military and their allies when the information was fully released.

The movie was based on the book written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg after his falling out with Assange over the handling of the Afghan logs and it was only natural for Assange to debunk Berg’s claims. While the movie focused on the dynamics between the two characters (Cumberbatch was spectacular as the weird, often obsessive activist Assange), I was more fascinated in the evolution of the site from breaking small stories to taking down billion dollar financial institutions and an entire dictatorship. I was inspired by what difference conviction and determination can make against those who abuse their power. At the end of the day, it was a matter of trust. Berg trusted in Assange’s ideals and up to a certain point agreed wholeheartedly with what he stood for when no one else believed in him. Its wonderful to see passion like these two shared with their cause, especially in a world of people who couldn’t care less about issues that do not impact them directly. No matter how Assange was depicted in the film, I believe that he was truly a visionary. Not many people could accomplish what he did with the limited resources that he had. And he made it happen. No many people have this gift.

While the relationship of Assange and Berg did not exactly end amicably, I was not really surprised because when two people care about their cause as much as these two, there is bound to be conflict. Still, it gave me a new respect for these two. Imagine, building Wikileaks with just two people, processing all of the information and making a difference in the world by building a network of sources whose identities are protected by layers and layers of code. I admire the principles of Wikileaks even if I don’t totally condone the manner in which they release the information.

All in all, I think The Fifth Estate is a great movie to open society’s eyes to the power of information, and the best lesson in media ethics as one could probably get. An insightful piece of cinema, it inspires people to take action and underscores each person’s responsibility to society. Change is possible and while Wikileaks may not have brought about the holistic change that Assange dreamed for the world, the site did manage to make a difference for a short period in time. And that’s always a good start to start a revolution.

Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What Was Before): Movie Review

Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon poster(1)Critics have raved about Lav Diaz’s Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What was Before) which recently won the Pardo d’ Oro (Golden Leopard) at the Festival del Film Locarno 2014, the singular highest honor achieved by a Filipino film in its nearly 100 year history. During the award ceremonies, it also bagged the International Critics’ prize, the Don Quixote Prize, Environment is quality of life prize, and the Independent Critics Award for newcomer Hazel Orencio as Best Actress. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the press screening of the film at the SM Mall of Asia, an event sponsored by SM Cinema together with the Film Development Council of the Philippines and Sine Olivia Philippines on the anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, which many Filipinos believe heralded the darkest days in Philippine history.

MMSKAAN is the story of life in a remote barrio in the years leading up to Martial Law. Itang, a devoted sister to her disabled sister Joselina; Tony the winemaker who harbors a dark secret, Mang Sito, one of the respected elders of the barrio and his “nephew” Hakob, who longs to flee the village to see his parents in Culion, Palawan. The story details their hopes and dreams, their sins, their regrets, their poverty — but as their connections unravel, they are faced with an ominous new threat and are introduced to fear that drives them away from their homes and their native land.

While some other filmmakers who tackled the subject matter of Martial Law have chosen to depict the brutality in the human rights violations perpetrated by those in power during the Marcos regime, indie director Lav Diaz was the first to focus on the lives of regular folk in a remote barrio in the main premise of the movie,  making it a unique take on the the same premise. Instead of the rallyists and the activists, the movie trained its lens on those who were in the periphery but were equally touched by the controversial chapter in the nation’s past.

A masterful storyteller, Diaz uses no shortcuts to achieve his means. He takes his time to tell the story sequentially, focusing on every small detail. On the one hand, audiences will appreciate his effort and passion in creating cinematic masterpieces with every frame. It was obvious with each scene that Diaz and his crew took great care to come up with the perfect angle and capture the perfect shot as each frame of this movie could be entered into a photo contest. Each second is composed perfectly with every element (even the animals) seeming to know where there should be. Diaz made sure the each second of this the 5 hour and 38 minute-long film was beautiful to behold. On the other hand, this strength may also be a turnoff for some mainstream moviegoers as Diaz’s penchant to lengthy scenes accented by only by the natural noise of the environment becomes tedious for the less than patient audience. Personally, I thought that the length of the scenes, while calculated to give audiences a chance to process the events, could have benefited from a little more editing to expedite the storytelling. Cutting out some of the scenes could have helped too as it could have shaved off a couple of minutes or even an hour from the film, which would not entirely be a bad thing. I’m all for a cinematic experience and all but of course, it should always be balanced with the audience experience.

The script was beautifully written, the words seeming like poetry in the general scheme of things –words uttered by regular folk with a depth of underlying meaning. A subtle social commentary about corruption and evil, of sacrifice and solidarity, of secrets and shame, of courage and fear. It was filled with meaning, fueled by emotion of characters who experience different types of pain and suffering.

The tone changes significantly when the Armed Forces entered the scene and started outlining their operational orders against the communists. The air in the cinema changed. People sat up much straighter and paid more attention to what was going to happen, but if they are expecting brutality and violence, they will be disappointment because MMSKAN’s approach is much more subtle. It leaves audiences with the task of filling in the blanks and drawing their conclusions.

All in all, watching MMSKAN is an investment of sorts– an investment of time, emotion and thought. It haunts audiences with questions long after the movie is over, and as such, succeeded in getting audiences to think about the message behind the story. It holds audiences captive, forcing them to come to terms with the characters and their stories and gives them ample time to process each scene before it jumps to the next exquisitely framed sequence. Its  fraught with food for thought, that challenges moviegoers to appreciate anything different from the mainstream. It’s a really really  long journey. I’m not kidding. This is one of the longest movies I’ve sat through, and I felt every second of it.

Take Me Home Tonight: Movie Review

Take_Me_Home_Tonight_PosterMatt (Topher Grace) has had a crush on Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer) since high school but he never had the guts to ask her out. The opportunity presents itself years later when he bumps into her at the video shop he works at. He pretends that he’s a successful banker to impress her but in truth, he’s an engineering graduate who is still figuring things out (thus the video store job). At a party attended by all his high school friends, where he gets the elusive “in” that he has been dreaming of since adolescence, Matt must weigh whether honesty is more important than a shot at winning Tori.

At first glance, a film about a bunch of freshly minted college grads reliving high school in a party thrown by the high school douchebag (played by Chris Pratt) doesn’t seem very interesting. But if TMHT has anything going for it, its high school nerd getting together with the popular girl angle, plus a lot of funky music from the 80s. While attending a raucous throwback to high school party never appealed to me, there is something to be said for wanting to catch up with high school friends and seeing how they’ve been since you last met. I’m not sure that Matt and his best bud Barry (Dan Fogler) had a lot in their teens but it was quite funny to see a lot of cringeworthy awkwardness on screen as they try to appear cool in front of their peers.

I don’t know if it was me learning that Teresa Palmer is Australian that had me detecting a faint accent in her speech in this movie but it wasn’t bothersome. What was bothersome was that the character of Matt, who was supposed to be a smart, charming goofball, didn’t deliver on the goods. For one, for a smart guy, he made a lot of bad choices. His vulnerability in not wanting to take a risk at anything should have made him endearing, but instead, it achieved the opposite. I never once felt a connection with Matt because he was pathetic. It was just sad.

It was a shame that Anna Farris’ comedy was not better utilized in this film. It was nice to see her paired with real life husband Chris Pratt in this movie though. Dan Fogler did his best to salvage the movie with his antics but it was obvious that the main star was Topher Grace and his character was a dud. It was just obviously trying too hard to be a cool 80s throwback movie but with characters who are so much willing to be boxed into stereotypes, it never really clicked for me.

All in all, Take Me Home Tonight felt like a watered down high school movie. The main difference is that its fun when you see teenagers goofing around and doing stupid things but when adults try to relive their glory days in high school, thinking that coolness is the end all and be all of everything, its kind of sad,  and kind of shallow, especially when they are at a point in their lives to be celebrating the future, instead of the past.