Diary ng Panget: Movie Review

DiaryngPangetThe last Filipino movie I watched — indie filmmaker Lav Diaz’s Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What Was Before) was probably one of the heaviest, most thought provoking and artistic movies I’ve seen locally. It was widely acclaimed by critics, won the 2014 Locarno Film Festival, and spanned 5 hours and 38 minutes. At the end of it, I was still reeling with the depth of the movie so I decided the next Pinoy movie I will watch should counter balance all the thinking I did with Diaz’s film. Luckily, I had a copy of Diary ng Panget (Diary of an Ugly Girl) in my TBW pile. Its a light romantic comedy about a bunch of teens falling in love so what better departure from the arts could I have than this?

Eya (Nadine Lustre) is an orphan who goes to school on scholarship at Wilford Academy, a school for the rich and privileged. To say that she sticks out like a sore thumb in a school of beautiful people is an understatement because not only is she riddled with acne but she is also dirt poor. Luckily, she makes friends with Chad (Andre Paras), a popular and sensitive jock and his dream girl Lorie (Yassi Pressman), a half British half Pinoy beauty who has been in love with heartthrob Cross Sanford (James Reid) since grade school. When she is kicked out of the house by her aunt as soon as she turned 18, she finds work at the Sanford house as Cross’ personal maid and she finds out that behind his beautiful face likes a monster, who turns away anyone who attempts to get close.

Diary ng Panget is a movie adapted from wattpad, a portal for aspiring writers to have an avenue to publish their works online for free. As a matter of fact, the author Denny R. is only currently 20 years old (She was younger when publisher PSICOM picked up her novel for publishing). On the positive side, it was a great move for the studios to pick up a book written by a young author to make a film for young people. It was like getting a direct link to their target market and in this aspect, Diary ng Panget did not disappoint. The jokes were actually quite funny and the characters’ antics were really relatable to young people. For older audiences, some of the scenes may actually remind them of their exploits when they were younger so its a win-win across the board.

In terms of the casting, Viva Films took a risk in giving big breaks to a new and improved James Reid (who won in the Philippine version of Big Brother Teen Edition several years back), and newcomer Nadine Lustre and it was a gamble that paid off because these two have nice chemistry. Nadine looks like a girl next door and James is hunky so they really complemented each other. As for supporting characters Andre Paras and Yassi Pressman, who are also relatively new to the industry, their acting still needs some work but they were likeable and charming and basically, that’s all their roles ever asked of them so there’s great potential here for a new loveteam.

On the minus side, the story and the execution was riddled with plotholes and inconsistencies (which are in slumbook terms “too many to mention”). Its understandable for the source material to have this because it was written by a teenager but since the film rights were bought by professionals, scriptwriter Mel Mendoza del Rosario should have tweaked the screenplay to address these issues and not stuck to the book religiously. As a result, there were great problems with the flow of the story in terms of transitioning, impacting the effectiveness of establishing the actual love story between the lead characters. The film relied too much on the ‘kilig’ factor of the stars and forgot to infuse a certain amount of substance to make the characters memorable.

All in all, I cannot fault Diary ng Panget too much because its not the type of film that gets made for the artistry, but rather its the type of feel good rom com that pleases its audience for 110 minutes but gets forgotten after a while. I enjoyed it to a certain degree but it was frustrating because there was some potential in the movie. Working with younger people should have inspired creativity and energy to try something new. Unfortunately, filmmakers did not even make the effort of exploring the possibilities because they already trapped themselves in the mainstream formula. And its a shame.

RUSH: Movie Review

rushIf I wasn’t waiting for the popcorn tub icon to make an appearance to enter the Star Movies Scare-a-thon last night, I wouldn’t have chosen to watch RUSH on cable TV, and I would have missed out. By the end of the film, I almost forgot that I didn’t intend to see it. I wanted to own a copy of the movie on my collection. It was that good.

Rush is a biopic about the epic rivalry of two legendary race car drivers — Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) in the 1976 F1 racing season. The film chronicled the early days of the two drivers in the F3 racing circuit until they became world champions in the Formula One Grand prix.

First off, I didn’t expect to be blown away by this epic biopic but I truly was. And it was an awesome surprise. Not only did I learn about F1 racing as a sport from this movie but I gained a lot of insight about apparently two of the greatest figures in racing history. At first glance, it would seem that the biopic was about the rise and fall of James Hunt, with Niki Lauda as a supporting figure in his superstar lifestyle, but audiences have a surprise in store as Lauda’s character steals some of Hunt’s thunder as his backstory is revealed throughout the film.

I for one, thought that the best element of the movie was director Ron Howard’s ability to depict on screen the intense rivalry and the fierce competition between Hunt and Lauda, and how they pushed each other to their limits. Howard was able to depict the two characters as equals from beginning to end, and how one could not have been the person they were without the other. Howard was able to establish the opposite roads that the two icons took to become icons in the racing circuit, their polar opposite personalities and work ethics — James, who was a reckless, happy go lucky womanizer oozing with raw talent, and Lauda, a pragmatic descendant of a rich family of businessmen, who made his way in the sport with his talent, hard work, and analytical skills. It was interesting to see the two men face different struggles, make different choices, yet end up competing for the same prize — the world championship and the adoration of the racing industry in an epic battle culminating in the 1976 Grand Prix.

The movie was intense from beginning to end, on the racetrack or off it, and it was owing mostly to the realism in Hemsworth and Bruhl’s portrayal of two larger than life characters. While the rivalry and animosity between the two characters was apparent with each repartee and insult, they also had a fierce loyalty and respect for each other that drove their characters and it was what made this moment of racing history come to life. Its impossible not to empathize with these two characters as audiences will easily identify and respect these men’s journeys in their own right. They earned their place in racing history fair and square no matter what drama they faced in their personal lives behind the scene.

The final dialogue between Hunt and Lauda at the airfield in Bologna, summed up their relationship and differences clearly–  James believing that racing is all about the rush and living for the moment, Niki, firm on his convictions about taking calculated risks, yet there was an underlying acknowledgment in their words about a shared passion for driving. After all, the two men came a long way from the rookies they were in F3, and their shared experiences have brought them closer to each other than they expected. They motivated each other, they envied each other, they respected each other and became one half of the world’s most iconic racing duos in sports history.

Adding to film’s strengths were the raw and extreme scenes, shifting between long shots, close ups and POV shots from the perspective of the racers, coupled with a really strong musical score that accented the danger and drama of each moment. While my favorite race was of course, the one in Japan, the lead ups were equally thrilling and engaging.

All in all, Rush was a movie for the books. Excellently written, with edge of your seat action, a great story and a dramatic finish brought to life by great acting and a unique chemistry between the two lead stars. Its hard to believe that all these happened as is in real life. It was a great call to make a movie out of this because it was like fate wanted it to happen. My only gripe in the movie was that Chris’s accent sounded more Australian/Scot than English.

The Following: Season 2 Review

season 2How can a series involving a group of psychotic killers get any more terrifying? Series creator Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries)  knows the answer and he used every inch of his creative genius to set the new path for Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and his new set of followers in the second season of Fox’s The Following.

A year after Claire’s death, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) seems to be living a normal life — staying healthy, teaching at University, making new friends and even reaching out to his family, more specifically his niece Max (Jessica Stroup), a New York police detective. On the surface, Ryan seemed on the top of his game, but this is only because he and Max are secretly working on weeding out the remainder of Joe’s followers, and even Joe himself, as Ryan believes that his arch nemesis did not die in the Lighthouse incident. When Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) is called in by the FBI to consult for a killing spree in a New York subway train involving perpetrators using Joe Carroll masks, Ryan is convinced that Carroll is up to his usual antics. What he didn’t see coming was the appearance of a much more powerful villain, with more resources, and just the same amount of crazy that Joe has.

I thought that the first season of The Following was awesome and thrilling but Season 2 upped the ante with double the amount of crazies, this time involving twin psycho killers Mark and Luke (both played by Sam Underwood from Dexter). Underwood actually impressed me the most this season because of this kid has loads of intensity and portrays both of his characters with a sort of vulnerability and desperation that made viewers relate to him. However, he was still able to make them separate entities for the viewers. I really thought that there were actual twins playing the role at first but kudos to Sam for doing such a great job. Despite the obvious psychopathy, I actually liked his character so much I sometimes forgot that I was on Team Ryan.

I also liked the development of Mike and Ryan’s relationship this season and Mike’s evolution from a smart, by the book FBI agent to a dark and driven version of his old self after he suffered personal losses and started obsessing about his own nemesis. There were a couple of times Ryan and Joe mentioned that he was turning into Ryan and I liked  that despite the fact that he was going dark, he was basically the same dude. This was a challenging season for Shawn Ashmore, indeed and he stepped up the plate and delivered. Plus I liked his character’s chemistry with Max, specially in the last episode. They make a great pair and gave the show a breath of fresh air from all the mayhem and violence.

Speaking of character development, Joe and Ryan’s weird  bromance was one of the main highlights of this season. The last three episodes had Joe expounding on his connection with Ryan and how he was his best friend, which was weird but made a lot of sense considering the odds — how similar they were and how they were both obsessed with the other. It was creepy but it made a lot of sense. It was a defining moment that wasn’t there in the first season despite the constant taunting and it was a great moment to see.

At first, I was actually wondering how the second season would play out. I knew that the guy in the lighthouse was a very important component in building season 2 but the twist still surprised me. What surprised me even more was how Joe managed to build another set of followers, this time using religion as a base and abandoning the Edgar Allan Poe route. It was scary how Joe was able to easily manipulate and brainwash Korban cult members into believing that he was a prophet and that he holds the key to salvation, and that in real life how the possibility is also open. How easy to convert religious fanaticism into psychotic killer obsession was one of the most horrifying realizations this season presented.

Admittedly, this season was not perfect. There were a lot of facepalm moments for Ryan at the beginning when he stubbornly refused to involve Mike and went all maverick on the cops with his own investigation. His carelessness was astounding but so was the FBI’s inability to track Joe and his followers despite all of the resources available to them. I was glad when Ryan finally decided to let Mike in on his team and their trio with Max was complete. At least he had some solid backup. All I could say about this ragtag team is that they have the luck of the Irish. It seemed like there were close calls in almost all of the episodes. I was so tired worrying about them. It was exciting but very very exhausting.

All in all, Season 2 was definitely more violent and showed less regard for human (or animal) life, depicting them as disposable tools to build a legacy. Viewers will learn more about the motivation of Joe and Ryan and the ending seemed like it could work as a series finale as well. But it was also open for a third season, which according to reports will be helmed by a new showrunner Jennifer Johnson from Alcatraz. It would be interesting to see what she brings to the table when it seems that the Carroll/Hardy chapter (the strongest storyline of the show) has drawn to a close.

Oculus: Movie Review

OculusAfter 10 years locked up in a mental institution for killing his father, 21 year old Tim Rusell is finally free and eager to see his sister, Kaylie, who has spent the last decade in a myriad of foster homes, building a career for herself and obsessing about the night that tore their family apart. Kaylie believes that an antique mirror in their old home possessed her parents into doing the despicable things they did and swears to prove her parents were not murderers. When she finally locates the mirror, she asks for Tim’s help in destroying it to put an end to its curse once and for all.

Oculus caught my interest from the very first moment because of the sheer mystery behind the events in Kaylie and Tim’s childhood. While Oculus was clearly going for a supernatural horror with its Sinister-inspired approach, there were always more questions raised as more details were unraveled about the events leading up to that fateful night in the Rusell household.

Initially, it will throw audiences off to learn that the brother and sister remember things differently. The fact that the two have tendencies of suffering from delusions compounds the mystery further. The psychological jargons that serve to justify what happened 10 years prior fuels the possibility that the events happened because of very real personal issues with no supernatural entity involved. But then again, there is also a very real possibility that the events were spawned by something elemental and a very real sense of danger ensues as the two unstable and traumatized siblings try to entrap a supernatural being preying on people for centuries.

With all of this confusion, one would normally think that Oculus would be a mess but it was not. Sure, the jumping timelines took some getting used to but as the story progressed and the siblings get more immersed in their mission, the transitions became more fluid, and so did the intertwining stories of both past and present.

PROVING A THEORY. The siblings set out to face their demons (or a demon) in their old house.

PROVING A THEORY. The siblings set out to face their demons (or a demon) in their old house.

Personally, I loved the innovative cinematography of the film, leading to beautiful shots and not just the typical person looking at the mirror fare. The camera shots here were well framed, birds’ eye view, slanted in such a way that only a portion of the individual is seen through the mirror. I also loved the strong sibling dynamics which carried the overall effectiveness of the movie. The you and me against the world theme was executed flawlessly by both pairs of lead stars. Karen Gillan (adult Kaylie) and Annalise Basso (young Kaylie) consistently projected the intensity and courage of a protective big sister, while Brenton Thwaites (adult Tim) and Garret Ryan (young Tim) both showed the vulnerability and uncertainty of a younger brother overwhelmed by what’s happening to his family.

What’s great about Oculus is that it took its sweet time laying the groundwork for a mind boggling horror, reserving shocks in strategic moments but establishing a strong dramatic relationship between the lead stars, then basically just keeping the audiences at the edge of their seats with quiet deliberation. The danger lurks and rears its ugly head throughout the movie but audiences can feel that its always there whether in the form of a malicious supernatural being or a crazy sibling.

But what’s really brilliant about Oculus is that despite its simplicity, it manages to divert the audiences’ attention into thinking that what was causing all of the problems was something else when in fact, it was what it was saying all along. And what shouldn’t be a surprise becomes a great surprise with the ending.

All in all, a great horror movie. It felt long because it was so quiet but it managed to accomplish what it set out to do, which was keep audiences at the edge of their seats and not make them feel safe, even for a moment. For those who are curious to know what happened to Tim, director/scriptwriter Mike Flanagan developed a short in 2006 entitled Oculus Chapter 3: The Man With a Plan. I don’t know what happened in between though.

Teddy Bear Museum: A walk through history with the cute and the cuddly

Originally posted on cineramaetcetera:

TEDDIES IN HANBOKS. The Teddy Bear Museum depicts Korean history through cute and cuddly bears. (photo by Tyrone Chui)

When I originally booked my family’s trip to South Korea, I wanted to visit as many settings to Korean dramas as I could and one of them was the Teddy Bear Museum featured in one of my favorite Kdramas, Princess Hours. However, I knew that the Teddy Bear Museum was situated in Jeju and we only had time to look around Seoul so I was a bit defeated.

ELECTRONIC MAGNIFIER? Check out short presentations of specific areas in the map through this LCD. (Angie Chui)

Luckily, I didn’t give up and researched a bit more, only to find out that there is a branch right in the middle of the city at the N Seoul Tower. And the great part is, the area is also covered by the Seoul City Bus Tour, which we used to travel the city’s various tourist spots in two of our four-day trip.

LIFE AT THE PALACE. Palace workers go about their usual functions like a well oiled machine. (Tyrone Chui)

Getting there: Commuting is a bit tedious as the area is uphill since the tower…

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Ender’s Game: Movie Review

Enders-Game-film-posterIn yet another Hollywood adaptation of a young adult novel by Orson Scott Card, featuring kids being used for violent entertainment/propaganda (Hunger Games) or weapons in a war against aliens, Asa Butterfield (Hugo) stars as Ender Wiggin, a brilliant young cadet who was handpicked by International Fleet Col. Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) to receive training and be groomed as the next commander in a major attack against aliens called Formics, who 50 years ago tried to establish a colony on planet Earth. With his talent for logic, and strategy, Ender goes through the program and becomes the leader of a ragtag band of talented misfits in the Academy. As the training becomes more intense, however, Ender begins to question his decisions and the true face of the enemy.

INTENSE. Asa Butterfield concentrates as he crafts a battle plan against the Formics in Command training.

INTENSE. Asa Butterfield concentrates as he crafts a battle plan against the Formics in Command training.

From the trailer, one would think that Ender’s Game is a non stop action adventure like Star Wars or Starship Troopers. The concept, is, after all, based on the same premise — destroying alien invaders. The difference is, this time, kids as young as the 10 years old are being trained to launch wars in simulated battle environments, with the care for their welfare, sanity and morality becoming only secondary considerations in a war against the Formics, giant moth-like creatures that are being prevented from a second attack against the planet.

ENDER'S POSSE. Ender's band of misfits revive the Dragons, a Battle School team discontinued for not ever winning one challenge in the school's history.

ENDER’S POSSE. Ender’s band of misfits revive the Dragons, a Battle School team discontinued for not ever winning one challenge in the school’s history.

The graphics for Ender’s Game was awesome. The designs were spectacular and looked like it could very well be lifted from scenes from a video game. I liked the scenes with Ender at the academy, while he was establishing his role as leader to the Dragons — composed mainly of his streetkid buddy Bean (Aramis Knight), Petra (Haylee Steinfeld), Alai (Suraj Partha), and the bully Bernard (Connor Caroll). I think that casting for this movie was pretty amazing. The kids gelled well together as a group and as individuals, their performances were excellent — especially Asa Butterfield, who played the conflicted genius Ender, who bore on his shoulders the responsibility of eliminating a threat to his planet, to his race and to his family and the one person he truly loved — his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin), who is growing up to be such a beautiful young woman. I liked that when they were playing war games, they looked like they were having fun like kids playing capture the flag in camp. While the bullying is a bit violent and extreme for me (more like prison level), it served to establish the magnitude of the training and the level of competition and hate that are developed in the children. The intensity of the cadets’ concentration in the final simulation and the difference in their attitude from the beginning of the training was totally different and this reaches out to the audience, especially when the final twist was revealed.

FINAL SIMULATION. For graduation day, Ender leads a simulated attack against the Formics.

FINAL SIMULATION. For graduation day, Ender leads a simulated attack against the Formics.

Ender’s Game could have, however, benefitted from some editing. While sequentially, each scene served to establish the big picture, there were parts of the story that were too drawn out making the dialogue parts too long before the next major development in the story. The foreshadowing parts were good and when everything is pieced together in the end, the horror becomes all too real for moviegoers, especially those with children.

All in all, Ender’s Game was a good movie, but it was nothing like the campy (but entertaining) action-fest like Starship Troopers or the Sci Fi adventure like Star Wars or Star Trek. While it stars children, the content is nothing truly appropriate for kids. While it was visually stunning, the message would sit better with adults and world leaders because the elements of this science fiction scenario can easily be subplanted with real life countries waging war against each other in our world today. At the end of the day, Ender’s Game gets audiences to think what cost humanity is willing to sacrifice to win a war. Because come to think of it, we really don’t need aliens to destroy our planet. We are doing it on our own.