Where She Went: Book Review

whereshewentHow can I even manage to describe how much I loved this book? I mean, I liked Gayle Forman’s  If I Stay well enough and even have high hopes about the movie because there’s bound to be a really cool soundtrack but Where She Went is another league entirely and had me hooked from beginning to end.

SYNOPSIS: Three years after Mia and Adam drifted apart, Adam and his band Shooting Stars hit the big time and become legitimate rock stars. Meanwhile, Mia starts to make a name for herself in the classical scene. But fame comes with a price and Adam starts to get tired of his life in the limelight and continues to spiral into depression. When a chance meeting in New York brings the two together, they dredge out old memories and open up old wounds to find closure and peace in order to finally put the ghosts of each other at rest.

Told from the perspective of Adam, the second book employed the same style as its predecessor. It happened in a space of a day and a half, with constant jaunts back to the events immediately after Mia chose to stay. While it would have seemed that the worst was over when she woke up from the accident, things did not turn out quite rosy for the young couple and instead, they found their difficult relationship further complicated by pain and loss.

By speaking in a new voice, this book may have utilized an advantage by having Adam as the narrator because his character was already familiar to the readers of If I Stay. But the second book introduces a whole new Adam Wilde to the readers. Being left by Mia made him bitter and cynical towards music and success only made it worse because his celebrity enabled him to act out in the worst possible way. Knowing the reason behind Adam’s 360 degree turn makes audiences root for him and to a certain point, hate Mia because she caused everything. How could she, right?

But at the same time, they will not help but find it in their hearts to understand Mia’s actions because she had to survive and in doing so, had to make tough choices.

When he and Mia met by luck or coincidence in New York to spend a day reminiscent of Before Sunrise, the ending was already a foregone conclusion. The connection between these two characters was just as strong as it was in the first book and readers will sense that no matter how many cans of worms they open with revisiting the past, they would get past it.

The story was both touching and painful to read because this couple was so young to have gone through all of the things that they did, and for a while, it would seem that letting go would be the better choice for the pain to go away. This was the same dilemma that Mia agonized over in choosing whether to live for the future or die with her family, and this was the same question posed in the sequel – whether or not being together, despite the difficulties, is worth it after all.

I liked that the story spoke of dealing with loss, and how people go through grief in different ways. It touched on anger and guilt, and resolve. It spoke of family and friendship and the possibility of doing the wrong thing even when the intentions are pure, just because people are not perfect. It applauded a person’s resilience and ability to get past heartbreak and become whole again. And these are messages that connects with a lot of readers, myself included. In all essence, it was a more mature look at relationships and the pitfalls it entails, and because it already established a strong backstory in the first book, this gave the book the edge it needed to bring the franchise to a whole new level.

At the end of the day, Where She Went was not just about Mia and Adam’s love story, but rather, it was about moving on and finding peace and choosing happiness over misery — living life not for the past but for the future. And forgiveness, always about forgiveness of oneself and others. It had a sense of vulnerability about it that appeals to readers of all ages. All in all, a wonderful ending to their epic story. A great read, for sure.

The Scorch Trials: Book Review

250px-The_Scorch_Trials_coverSYNOPSIS: After escaping from the Maze, the Gladers are rescued from WICKED by a group of rebels and taken to a “safe” facility. When they wake up however, they realize that their safety was just an illusion when it is revealed that WICKED is not yet done with their experiments. This time, each Glader wakes up marked with cryptic tattoos that supposedly label their roles in the group for their new task. Teresa is taken from their ranks and is replaced by a boy named Aris, who is supposedly part of Group B, who escaped from a maze identical to that of the Gladers with a reverse ratio of boys to girls. Aris shares the same telephatic ability as Thomas and is Group B’s version of Teresa. Now, the Gladers are told that they are infected with a fatal disease called The Flare, which causes madness and death to its victims, and their only hope is reaching a place called safe haven in two week’s time. With meager supplies and dangers straight in their paths, the boys are in a race for survival, unsure of whom to trust, their mettle tested by the most brutal of circumstances.

The Scorch Trials is far different in tone than its predecessor The Maze Runner. Whereas in MR, the Gladers only had to deal with one major problem (escaping the maze and consequently battling the Grievers) in a controlled environment, the second test is far more challenging and dangerous as they set out on a world destroyed by sun flares and ravaged by disease. In the Scorch Trials, WICKED has basically laid out the task in front of the boys and told them that there would be no mercy for them in embarking on their journey as only the strongest will be rewarded with the cure. The Gladers are picked off one by one, by the barren wastelands that has become of Earth, the crazed Cranks (those who have been infected by the Flare) who are no strangers to murder and even cannibalism. Technology is used mercilessly by WICKED against the remaining Gladers resulting in a much brutal slaying of the weakest of the bunch. Not to mention Group B, whose sole mission is to kill Thomas. In short, there were more Variables in play which makes it harder for the boys to accomplish their task.

More questions also arise as Thomas begins to remember snippets of his life before the Glade and his involvement in developing the Trials, but just enough to get readers curious and form their own theories. This is a stroke of genius on the part of author James Dashner because the mystery that surrounds Thomas continues to grow, and at the same time, his feelings for Teresa also begins to evolve. It becomes more complicated as they begin to see the Trials in different ways — Teresa seemingly resigned and unshaken by their role with WICKED, and Thomas beginning to question his actions before the Glade. I like that the book did not dwell too much on the romantic connection between Thomas and Teresa but rather focused on the bigger picture, continuing to build towards the climax that is expected in the final book in the trilogy — The Death Cure. Well, I’m hoping this is what Dashner is going for anyway.

As for the characters, Dashner continues to bank on the strength of the characters he developed in the first book. Newt takes a slight backseat to Minho in this installment but nonetheless showed the same characteristics that made him so likeable in the beginning like his intelligence, practicality and calm demeanor. Minho, who was assigned as leader of the Gladers was a great choice to lead the boys, showing bravery, sense of humor, sometimes hotheadedness, and quick thinking for decisions that need to be made (mostly involving life and death) which is characteristic of his role as Keeper of the Runners. His bromance with Thomas continues in this book and their relationship is one of the strong points of The Scorch Trials because of his fierce loyalty to his friend. As a new character, Aris didn’t pop out as much as he should even given his role in the twist, but there is potential for him in the sequel given his special abilities. Same with Brenda, although she seemed a bit too clingy for my tastes.

All in all, The Scorch Trials was a well written young adult post apocalyptic adventure piece, that for me, felt more like a teaser of the things to come in the trilogy’s concluding chapter. It was a bit darker and more graphic but it definitely leveled up on all aspects of the first book. I would have liked for Group B to have more participation to play up the competition between the sexes (especially since it was mentioned several times that they got out of the Maze three days earlier than the boys and lost less people) but with the combined group of survivors and the upcoming revelation of mysteries behind WICKED, I have high hopes for Dashner’s next book. That and the fact that I want to know if my hypotheses are correct. And this is why I am happy that I waited for all books to come out before I started reading it.

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.

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.

happythankyoumoreplease: Movie Review

happythankyoumoreplease81wcj-r96pl--aa1500-jpg-187d42dd0fef498aI’ve had the indie film happythankyoumoreplease, on my TBW pile since last year because I didn’t have much time to catch up, but yesterday while browsing through my files, I had a hankering to see How I Met Your Mother’s Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) in his directorial debut in a movie that he also wrote and starred in, and so I spent my lazy Sunday afternoon getting enthralled in this film, which incidentally won the audience award for favorite US drama in the Sundance Film Festival in 2010.

New Yorker Sam Wexley (Radnor), is a budding novelist who is trying to get published. He writes great short stories but he is informed by the publisher that they can’t use his novel because his hero lacks the qualities to make audiences root for him. Just like Sam, his hero is living his life on the fence. Sam thinks that its because of his lack of pain and suffering while growing up that’s the problem but then, he gets stuck with a little boy named Rasheen (Michael Algieri), whom he meets in the subway one day after the boy gets separated from his foster parent. As the child refuses to leave Sam’s side, he learns more about Rasheen’s hardships and develops an affinity for the boy. Meanwhile, Sam’s best friend Annie (Malin Akerman), an alopecia patient and “cousin” Mary Katherine (Zoe Kazan) deal with their own personal issues and learn to accept their own imperfections and their worthiness to be loved.

Straight off the bat, a story about a man looking for something missing in his life and a boy who has had his fair share of suffering despite his young age is nothing new. A kid idolizing his new friend, just as Rasheen does with Sam is similar to the premise of About a Boy and Big Daddy but the message and its interpretation through happythankyoumoreplease is really sweet and beautiful. Radnor deserves praise not only for directing this piece but also for writing it. The manner in which he crafted the dialogue for the characters, who are all dealing with their flaws is so realistic that they become so identifiable to the audience. Unlike his big screen counterpart Sam, Radnor was able to create characters in different stages of giving and accepting love, nearing the point of realization that all they really need to do is go out and grab the opportunity that life is presenting to them. Its the when and how that makes the film truly interesting because Radnor obviously invested a lot of thought in the process.

Radnor also had great chemistry with his young co star Michael Aligieri and the kid is just so adorable that viewers will immediately fall in love with him even before he even says a word. He just has a sort of vulnerability in his look that makes him relateable from the first moment he appears on the screen.

All in all, happythankyoumoreplease used a very indie approach to the movie (because it is, after all, an independent film) but unlike some indies, it did not set out to be profound and overarching to prove a point. It just set out to deliver a simple message — be happy, thank the universe and ask for more of the positive things. Its a simple formula, much like Eat, Pray, Love, but it makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? And that is the reason viewers will finish this film with a smile on their faces and a nice feeling in their hearts.

HIMYM: A bittersweet end to a nine season wait

How-I-Met-Your-Mother-Season-9-Episode-12From the minute that it was announced that season 9 of How I Met Your Mother was going to be its last, fans of the show, including myself have gone sentimental, because really, it was hard to say goodbye to a show that made your weeks complete for nine years. And there was only one word that came to mind to describe these final 24 episodes — it was bittersweet.

Season 9 basically revolved around Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) wedding weekend at the Farhampton Inn, with flashbacks of the gang’s antics from the first eight seasons mixed with some stories that related to Barney and Robin’s wedding. It was also revealed how Ted (Josh Radnor) finally met the kids’ mother Tracy (Cristin Milioti), and how Marshall (Jason Segel), Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and the rest of the gang met The Mother in separate incidents way before Ted finally mustered up the courage to go up to the girl with the yellow umbrella at the train station.

From the first episode of the season, it already felt like a farewell. Ted was already packed to go to Chicago where he would start afresh without having to deal with Barney and Robin’s wedded bliss in New York. Of course, he has never completely gotten over Robin, and his sacrifice meant that he would be able to keep his friendship with the gang without things getting weird. Marshall and Lily have their own fresh start to look forward to, as with the newlyweds. The weekend is filled with a lot of legendary antics and the final season is a mix of the humor that made HIMYM such a guilty pleasure from the beginning — and sentimentality for having to let go of this group of people that seemed like a regular part of each week. Because everything happened in a space of two days, the format seemed different, yet familiar, which is a credit to director Pamela Fryman, who has been with the show from the start.

The flashforward to the future where Ted finally finds the girl of his dreams and how it is interwoven into the story was a great reward for all of the heartbreaks that Ted had to go through in the season’s nine year run. The fact that the mother was just as goofy as he was was an added bonus. When Cristin Milioti was first cast as The Mother, I had reservations because she wasn’t exactly what I had pictured for Ted after meeting all of the girls that he got involved in. But when she gelled so well with the gang, I knew she was going to blend well with the group’s chemistry. When she sang La Vie En Rose, she totally got my seal of approval. See, in the show’s nine seasons, one can’t help but root for Ted because he is such a pure soul. He loves his friends and he loves completely. The innocence in which he falls in love with women and the pureness of his belief in happily ever after connects him to the viewers so well that they feel like he is their brother — or in Barney’s case, Best Bro. I’ve always been Team Barney and Robin though just because there is no one in the world who gets Barney like Robin does so when they decided to get married, I was over the moon. Lily and Marshall also got their fair share of closure. The issue of Marshall’s judgeship and Lily’s dream job in Italy totally made viewers take a look at their own marriages and deal with their own imperfections.

I liked how HIMYM closed out the stories gradually — especially Marshall and Barney’s Slap Bet, which has been a running storyline for many seasons (and one of my favorites). I liked how everybody seemed to get their happily ever afters, despite the fact that they were going to be apart. And just when I thought that everything was going well, the last two episodes had a major bombshell waiting for me (and the millions of fans). It was filled with heartbreak.

In a way, I would have wanted the series to end on a happy note for everyone, and I would have been happy if they had just stopped at that. But HIMYM, despite its silliness, is a series about the realities of life and friendship, and love. And while it didn’t exactly end the way I wanted, the ending totally made sense. And it ended with a hint of hope, which is the core of the show after all. In the end, it went full circle and everyone ended up where they should be — happy to have been part of each others’ lives. As for me, I can always watch the gang on DVD anytime I want to revisit their adventures, and that makes me happy too. It was a legendary nine seasons, and I would not have missed a minute of it.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: Movie Review

Cloudy-with-a-Chance-of-Meatballs-2After Flint Lockwood and his friends save Swallow Falls from the flood of giant food produced by his invention, the Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator or FLDSMDFR, his childhood idol, scientist and Live Corp. CEO Chester V. calls for the evacuation of the entire island to make way for the clean up operation. He also extends an invitation to Flint to become part of his team of Thinkonauts, which is Flint’s lifelong dream. However, unbeknownst to Flint and the rest of the community, Chester V.s intentions are far from pure as the FLDSMDFR has become more than a food producer. It now has the ability to bring food to life making the entire island an ecosystem for hybrid food animals.

The original Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a pleasant surprise. It was a great movie that had a lot of humor and a lot of heart. It also had an original story (based on the book with the same name) and it brought a great sense of adventure with it. The sequel, I am happy to note, also delivers the same wonder and excitement as the first one, much more so because of the introduction of cute and colorful characters and a magnificent fictional environment that is so much different from the original Swallow Falls but still bears the same basic elements of the island.

I liked the film’s consistency with the original and the continuity of the relationships developed in the first movie, especially that of Flint and his dad. The comedy doesn’t miss a beat and everything, thanks to the great script and the stellar voice acting of comedians Bill Hader, Anna Farris, Andy Samberg, and Neil Patrick Harris. James Caan also did a great job as Flint’s stoic dad Tim and Will Forte brings in the rear as the film’s main antagonist Chester V.

But what I loved most about the sequel was actually the great design for the foodimals — the incorporation of the food and animal elements and the rendering of these images into creatures that were adorable and cute were awesome. Shrimpanzees, flamangoes, cheesespiders, watermelonphants, peanut butter and jellyfish in seas of syrups, coconuts — they all present a surreal but magical picture that kids and parents wills surely enjoy. And the foodimals also have magnetic personalities. Kudos to the filmmakers for humanizing these characters despite their lack of understandable dialogue. Also a nod to the humans as the witty wordplay, puns and one liners flowed freely among the characters without missing a beat. Everything was just so alive it fills audiences with wonder and amazement, whatever age they may be.

All in all, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 was able to add to the awesomeness of the franchise by sticking to its roots and working around it. Like its predecessor, it presents itself unassumingly but earns the audiences’ approval in the end by delivering an animated feature that is entertaining, heartwarming, sensible and beautiful to look at. Its great for kids and adults alike but don’t see it when you’re hungry or you might not be able to curb your craving for berries after.

The Kings of Summer: Movie Review

The-Kings-of-Summer-2013-movie-posterAfter stumbling upon a secluded patch of the forest with school weirdo Biaggio (Moises Arias), 15-year old Joe Troy (Nick Robinson, TV’s Mel and Joey), convinces his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso), who is himself being suffocated by his overprotective folks — to leave home and build a house in the woods to live in the wild free from the control of adults. After much work, the trio begin their journey into manhood in an endearing, heartbreaking and touching tale of friendship and family and the unlikely places from which they spring.

The Kings of Summer is an independent film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 that released on a limited scale in the US. It was not widely distributed in other parts of the world as well, which is a shame, because this is the type of film that audiences will appreciate.

Beginning with the story, the plot in itself has a touch of whimsy so infectious that audiences will feel a sense of adventure through these three youths, who believe themselves invincible and finding out the hard way that it takes a whole lot more to become men. For one, the mere nerve of plotting something such as leaving everything behind, and doing it in the wild should earn the admiration of even the most strong willed individual. It kind of reminded me of another indie film, Moonrise Kingdom but KOS was more contemporary. It was very interesting to see how they would fare against the challenges of the woods and it was entertaining to note that it resulted in a lot of comedic moments in the film.

The script was also great — the dialogue and the acerbic humor that Joe and his dad both share are absolute gold. The soundtrack was good in setting the mood for the scenes. It gave a very earthy sense to the movie. The transitions that showed the parallelisms between Joe and his dad, Joe and Patrick, as well as the switching from the forest scenes to the youngsters’ homes were very consistent and framed so beautifully.

PLAYING HOUSE. Joe, Biaggio and Patrick plan how they will survive in the jungle after they finish their rickety abode.

PLAYING HOUSE. Joe, Biaggio and Patrick plan how they will survive in the woods after they complete the construction of their rickety abode.

But the film’s biggest success perhaps, is in casting its three lead characters — three actors who were able to portray three totally different  individuals and were able to light the screen up with their easy banter and smooth chemistry. Moises Arias has certainly grown up from his Hannah Montana days, and although he looks weird, I must admit that he is playing his cards right in picking roles that are non conventional but still memorable (he also played an annoying team captain on Ender’s Game). Gabriel Basso as the mama’s boy was very charming but it was Nick Robinson who stole the show in every scene he was in. Whether he was dealing with his dad, with his friends or stumbling along trying to impress the girl, he was able to project in his character a confidence tinged with an underlying anxiety. The intensity in which he portrays his jealousy is a great testament to his acting chops. He really does have a commanding presence and a leader vibe that makes him stand out of the crowd.

The Kings of Summer is a coming of age film that reflects imperfections — in families, in friendships and in love — but it does so so perfectly that it is hard to find fault with the film. And as with these sorts of dramas, the best thing about it is what the characters learn about themselves at the end of their journey. What I really loved about this film was the development of the characters and how well their stories were told. Kudos to director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and screenwriter Chris Galleta as well as all those who worked on this magnificent film.

All in all, KOS was a feel good movie that reminds viewers of what its like to be a teenager. My only complaint perhaps was the amount of the sharp objects the three teenagers were able to obtain for their adventure. I was nervous each time they wielded the weapons for fear of them having an accident, on film or in real life.

Sunkyunkwan Scandal: Korean Drama Review

Sungkyunkwan_Scandal-posterAfter my family trip to Seoul, I found it hard to let go of the city that has been so good to me with the friendly people, the cool air, and the excellent shopping that when I got back, I wanted immediately to catch up on my Korean dramas. I still had a couple on my TBW pile and immediately, I zeroed in on the Sunkyungkwan Scandal starring Park Yoo chun and Park Min young. I wanted to see Yoo chun’s Rooftop Prince (which I believe was more popular but a friend spoiled the ending for me so I decided to go with Scandal) but as it turned out, I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

Kim Yoon Hee (Park Min young) is a girl burdened by having to provide for her mother and ailing brother when her father passed away at an early age. In order to do so, she assumes her brother’s identity to work at the bookstore transcribing old books and making study guides for Sunkyungkwan university scholars, sons of noblemen who will soon take positions as government officials. But when their landlord, the Minister of War pressures the family to pay their debt worth 100 nyang or face eviction, Yoon Hee becomes desperate and she takes on the offer to become a substitute exam taker at Sunkyungkwan. A case of mistaken identity lands her face to face with Left Minister’s only son, the uptight, bookish and friendless Lee Soon Joon (Park Yoo Chun), who takes a special interest in her talents and forces her to take the exam and become a scholar herself.

I finished the entire series in a total of one day and two nights because I was just so engaged with this series. The story was pretty generic, girl disguises herself as a boy to get better opportunities, gets close to the lead guy, while another gets interested in her, forming a triangle of sorts in which the story revolves but despite the fact that this storyline has been used countless times in other dramas, it still worked out, mainly because it was set in the Joseon dynasty period in Korean history so this injected a different flavor to the execution.

Aside from being a love story, the drama touches on major political issues that people in ancient Korea had to deal with such as inequality, politics, discrimination – things that most people of today take for granted and it was blended so well that viewers get immersed in what is happening and they get invested in the characters and the outcome.

The drama was depicted in such a way that it also became a history lesson, a lesson in friendship and a lesson in family. A father’s love for his offspring, a teacher’s love for his students, a king’s love for his people, and the loyalty of good friends who will risk their lives to protect one another.

I loved the chemistry between Soon Joon and Yoon Shik/Yoon Hee. Park Yoo Chunwas awesome as the awkward and uptight nobleman who was overly optimistic and naïve to real world, and Min Young provided a perfect complementary character to his stiff and bookish Soon Joon, with the resilient, headstrong, smart and sassy Yoon Shik, who despite being disguised as a man, manages to capture Soon Joon’s heart. The two other characters who made up the Jalgeum Quartet, Geol Oh (Yoo Ah in)  was equal parts tough, sensitive and adorable, while the cunning charmer Gu Yong Ha (Song Joong Ki), kept things very interesting. He had this devilishly wicked smile that makes viewers wonder what he’s up to and this added levels to his character that one would not have expected from the beginning. I loved how their different personalities blended together, but my favorite moments were actually towards the beginning when Soon Joon and Geol Oh were both becoming confused about what they were feeling for their roommate, and how the truth was eventually revealed. The fighting about the sleeping positions were particularly hilarious. Even the main villains had their fair share of humanity towards the end, when everybody eventually stepped up their game to achieve the new Joseon that the king dreamed about.

I thoroughly enjoyed this drama. Towards the end, even when I wanted to find out how it was going to turn out, half of me wanted the drama to go on and on. The only regret that I have right now is that I didn’t watch it sooner. I have no doubt that I will be seeing it again, and again, and again in the near future.

Must Be Love: Movie Review

must_be_loveI caught the last full show of this teenybopper rom com on its opening date along with my co- workers. From the minute I plopped down on the seat and opened by popcorn, I braced myself for an hour and a half of lighthearted entertainment filled with LOLs and an occasional dramatic scene which is the trademark of Star Cinema, the studio that produced this movie. True enough, all my expectations were met.

Ivan (Daniel Padilla) and Patchot (Kathryn Bernardo) have been friends since they were kids. They have been through a lot together. Ivan was there when Patchot’s beauty queen mother left her family for loftier career opportunities, and Patchot stood by Ivan when his father ran off with another woman. When they grew up, their familiarity starts to pose a problem with Patchot, who starts to develop feelings for her best friend, who finds it hard to see her beyond the friend zone. Worse, Patchot’s cousin Angel (Liza Soberano) arrives from the US and Ivan immediately falls for her. Even worse, Patchot’s dad (John Estrada) would not allow her to explore her femininity because he fears that Patchot would turn out exactly like her mother, the deserter. When Ivan’s gay uncle (John Lapuz)  decides to help out the lovelorn teen, Ivan begins to see a whole new side to the friend that he has known forever.

The plot was predictable — a no brainer, the stuff formulaic mainstream movies are made of.  On all counts, this should have accounted for a boring disaster.

However, I found that I liked the film a lot despite the recycled plot. It seemed that the excellent direction of Dado Lomibao and the witty script of screenwriters Melissa Chua and Roumella Monge made the film seem fresh and fun, entertaining and relateable to the audience. The script was peperred by a whole lot of acronyms and delivered with a certain sense of coolness which will surely start a fad among teenage members of the audience. Terms like YOLO (You only live once), MTB (Meant to Be), MBL (Must Be Love), slow mo and fast forward will surely dominate the walls of facebook in a couple of days. As for the family element, was incorporated into the film early on so when the focus shifted from the love story to the family drama side, it did not seem awkward and blended seamlessly into the narrative.

The best part of the movie however, was the great chemistry between the lead stars and among the supporting cast members. Young heartthrob Daniel is a natural born charmer and he carries with him an appeal that is not common among young stars of today. When he delivers his lines, it is with great abandon to self consciousness that when he does goofy, it turns out endearing. His dramatic acting could still use some work but there is great potential there. Teen princess Kathryn, on the other hand, maintains a good girl image that is such a foil to Daniel’s effortless cool that makes their pairing work so well. Perhaps, because of working together many times before and establishing a rapport (or something else), the two stars seemed very comfortable with each other which made their scenes appear very natural and heartwarming. The supporting cast, which mainly provided comic relief, lent barrels of laughter rifting through the audience. All this was reinforced by the magnificent backdrop of Cebu as the setting for the film. Surely, this will be a boon to potential tourists who want to revisit the places the scenes were shot.

If I were to post any complaint about the movie, perhaps , it would only be overselling of the tomboy angle for Patchot in the beginning. It is one thing to be boyish but it would seem that her character was also oblivious to the basic tenets of personal hygiene, appearing always caked in dirt, sweat and charcoal. Also, the speed of the courtship between Ivan and Angel seemed to proceed at too fast a pace.

All in all, Must Be Love had a very simple story that carried a very positive message. It spoke about love between friends, family and and love for oneself — looking beyond the superficial and appreciating a person for what he/ she is. Its a bit cliche but for a movie that targets mostly teens, its still a great lesson to impart. A great date movie, or just to see with a bunch of friends. Loads of fun and an awesome way to unwind and spend the better part of two hours. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, given the opportunity.