The Avengers: A Review

Before I begin this review, I would just like to express how much fun I had watching this movie. It was one of the most anticipated openings this year and it was every bit worth the wait. It opened to very high expectations and it did not disappoint.

The plot of The Avengers revolves around a mysterious cube known only as as the Tesseract, which is being researched at a secret facility in order to become a source of sustainable clean energy. When the facility is attacked by Thor’s exiled half brother Loki, SHIELD is called to respond to the scene. However, Loki succeeds in taking the Tesseract and hypnotizing Agent Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard from the Thor movie) to work for him and help him use the energy source to open a portal to space that will unleash the alien race called Chitauri so that Loki may reign supreme on the realm of Earth. As SHIELD leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) races to trace the location of the Tesseract, he enlists the help of Earth’s greatest heroes — super solider Captain America (Chris Evans), billionaire genius Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Bruce Banner a.k.a.The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), thunder god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and reformed assassin Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) — and hopes against hope that they may unite under the Avengers Initiative to become the world’s greatest weapon against the forces beyond its control.

From the beginning, I was quite curious to see how director/screenwriter Joss Whedon (Buffy, Dollhouse) would approach the movie. While Whedon has proven his skills in the small screen with hits featuring strong women, I was a bit scared to see how he would fare with a roomful of testosterone loaded superstars. I am glad to report that consistent with the other Marvel features earlier released by the studio, Whedon made the movie not just action packed popcorn movie but also an entertaining watch.

The first thing I liked about the movie was that it did not veer too far away from the original comic book material. Fanboys would find it easy to relate to references about the tensions within the group — Thor vs Hulk, Iron Man vs Captain America — which was featured in some of the comic books. Newbies who know nothing about the franchise will also not get lost as the movie establishes the roles of the characters lengthily in the beginning.
Another thing that I loved was the intelligently written script that provided a very real balance between seriousness and fun, which is really what a movie based on the comic book should be about. It’s like they would go into an elaborate battle scene and then it gets punctuated in the end with a witty one liner or an unexpected gag. Watch out for the Thor/Hulk team up and you would understand what I mean. Third, the chemistry among the stars was great. I loved how the personalities clashed and how the actors stuck to their guns and presented excellent and consistent portrayals of their characters’ roles.

The main stars weren’t the only ones to watch out for because Tom Hiddleston was an excellent main villain although he wasn’t really the most A-list of the roster of villains that any of the Avengers had to face. I must say that I had a soft spot for Loki in the Thor movie but this was further strengthened in this film. Agent Coulson also makes an appearance and I just love this dude. The great thing about the movie was that that it seemed to take out the best of each of the Marvel movies and combine them in one neat package. Even if one watches the films in succession, there is a sense of consistency and continuity despite the fact that the movies were directed by different filmmakers who had different approaches to presenting their features. This perhaps, was owing to the fact that some of the directors and producers of the earlier movies also had an active role in this one, and that was pretty cool.

The graphics was excellent and very fluid and the integration of the old school action scenes with new technology was very refreshing. I was just wondering why the make up artists would want to slap on an uncomfortably huge amount of foundation on Chris Evans, who is hot even if he appears imperfect. Anyways, I loved the updated version of the costumes, especially Thor’s. The Cap’s I’m not so sure about, no matter how much Coulson raved about his suit but these are quite minor and negligible aspects of the movie that should not have been mentioned at all.

All in all, the movie was an awesome, adrenaline pumping, superhero movie that casts a shadow on all other recent releases. It will surely be enjoyed by fans and non fans of the Marvel franchise, I guarantee. A tip, there is an after credit scene at the end that hints at the next Avengers villain, and this one’s a doozy. Another tip, if you still haven’t seen it, go watch it NOW! If you miss it, you miss one the best movies of the year. Hurry! (Note: I am not being paid to write this but I just loved it so much I couldn’t help endorsing)

Red Riding Hood: A Belated Review

As I may have mentioned in some of my reviews, I am a sucker for fairy tales and its various forms and reinventions. I didn’t get to see Red Riding Hood in the movies last year but I still managed to see it on video and frankly, I’m not sure if I loved the modern take of this fairy tale classic originally told by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.

Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia, Jennifer’s Body) stars in this fantasy thriller as Valerie, a girl living in remote village deep within the forest that is plagued by wolf attacks. The villagers, in order to protect themselves, sacrifice their livestock every full moon and stay indoors. Twenty years since its last human attack, the wolf takes the life of Valerie’s sister and the villagers go into a panic. The enraged townsfolk set off to hunt the wolf and kill it, not knowing that the wolf actually takes on a human form and lives among them in the village. Valerie, who is caught in the middle of a love triangle with her childhood friend and the love of her life Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and her betrothed Henry (Max Irons) is the only one who understands the wolf’s message and is left confused and unsure as to who the beast truly is.

Catherine Hardwicke, director of the first movie in the Twilight saga, takes on the reins for this movie, which cinematography wise could be the twin of tween phenomenon. As is custom, there are two cute guys fighting for the favor of one beauty and the plot thickens with the revelation of secret after secret, and with more and more suspects coming to play with each scene.

I actually liked the story of Red Riding Hood, which was based on the novel by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright, and its general sense of mystery. I liked the underlying intrigue that unfolds layer after layer as the story progresses and how the reveal in the end still holds a bit of a shock value but still made total sense. Hardwicke plays the love triangle angle like a pro, perhaps from practice from the Twilight films but there were times in the movie where the scenes drag out too much. Still, the number of potential suspects worked in favor of the film as it kept audiences interested in the the film for the better part of it, so it was a bit of a roller coaster ride for the most part.

Acting wise, I would have to say that great actors such as Gary Oldman and Lukas Haas were underutilized in this movie. I was unsure of how to receive Oldman as wolf killer/priest Father Solomon as he did no more that make announcements to the crowd and scare them silly. Haas also did not have any great moments as he was relegated into a supporting role that does nothing else but cower and kowtow to the whims of Oldman’s character. As for Billy Burke, I liked him loads better as Bella’s rough around the edges dad rather than Valerie’s father, the woodcutter, who seemed never to take a bath throughout the duration of the film. The leads were passable enough but surely their performances will not earn them any acting awards., not in the near future yet.

All in all, I kind of liked Red Riding Hood. I didn’t think it was awesome but it was good enough to spend an hour and 20 minutes to watch without regrets. Visually, it was a treat, as for the rest, it had potential.

I’m looking forward to seeing more fairy tale re-tellings this year. I for one, am excited about Snow White and the Huntsman (because of Chris Hemsworth) and Jack the Giant Killer with Nicholas Hoult, whom I adored in Skins.

The River: Series Review

After finishing the entire series in two sittings, I’m still on the fence about this paranormal/action/horror jointly created by Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli and Michael R. Perry about a crew who sets across uncharcted regions of the Amazon River in a quest to find missing adventurer and TV personality Dr. Emmet Cole, played by Bruce Greenwood.

Six months after the disappearence of famed explorer and TV host Dr. Emmet Cole who sailed with his crew on board his ship/studio the Magus, a beacon from the ship gives his family hope that he is still alive and trapped somewhere in the jungle. The studio pledges to fund the expedition provided that his son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) and wife Tess (Leslie Hope) agree to film every moment of the search to come up with another hit television show. Joined by their old crew and some new additions, they brave the Boiuna, a mysterious part of the river that travelers dare not travel because of the dangers and legends it holds. What happens after is a mix of the supernatural along with drama aboard the boat as Cole’s crew are found one by one, helping to figure out the puzzle of Cole’s true quest and location.

The series goes backward and forward in terms of camera treatments, sometimes, going the traditional route and sometimes going all shaky cam (which I am not a big fan of), which Peli is a master of. Its storytelling also alternates between present day events and found footage left behind by Emmet Cole and his crew. At times, I applaud the storytelling and presentation because of the cinema-like approach but other times, it gets frustrating because the stories drag along in a very slow pace. There are also some elements of the shows Man vs Wild, Exorcist, Supernatural, and the Walking Dead with the presence of spirits, demons and mythical tribes in the jungle — whether that is a boon or a bane depends on the viewers.

I think that more than a horror, the show proceeds like a mystery where every episode leads audiences closer to the eventual revealation, but I still think that the story could have been fleshed out more, like who Kurt really was and what his girlfriend was doing in the research facility, among other things.

My problem with the show is that it succeeds in making audiences care about the characters and getting them involved in the story. The show was overall, well crafted and executed. But after hours of watching to reach the finale, the climax does not quite reach expectations and feels generic and ill contrived.

I’m not looking forward to a second season at all but it was good enough while it lasted, I suppose although I can’t get rid of this feeling of unrest about what could have been.

The Witness: A film you would rather not witness

I’ve been quite intrigued by this movie ever since I saw the trailer over a month ago. More so when I saw the intricate detail in the camera shots and the potential in the general premise of the film. After I passed it over for a couple of blockbusters, I finally caved in today and saw it. As it turns out, I should have stayed home instead to spare myself from the anguish and frustration that this supposed horror action-drama jointly produced by GMA Films and Skylar Pictures brought me.

Angel Williams (Gwen Zamora) and her family are expats from the Philippines who have been living in Jakarta for the better part of 10 years. When she survives the attack on her home that killed her parents, her sister and the rest of their household, she begins to have dreams of a boy fraught with depression, while ghosts of her family haunt her during her waking hours, leaving her clues to the killer’s identity. As the mystery behind the motive for the killing grows deeper, Angel is caught in a web of scandal that may put her in danger yet again from the man who slaughtered her family.

I must admit that director Muhammad Yusuf and and his team did an excellent job with the movie’s scoring and cinematography. The long shots lent to the sense of creepiness of the locations while the general silence in some of the sequences coupled with subtle music should have been great indications of a great overall movie.

Sadly, the story did not have enough material to sustain the gains of the film in the beginning (until the murder scene) and was left to resort to overly playing out the depression of the lead star Angel, who spent the better part of the movie making stupid decisions, crying, sniveling and running in slow motion. I swear, for the entire movie, this heroine did nothing right and spent a great deal of time whining rather than letting the police (who was super willing to assist her and catch the killer) help her find justice for her family. Everything she did right was done by mistake, so thank heavens for that or she would have ended up as one huge pile of dung.

The thing is,  some actors consider the ability to cry on cue as a sign of excellent acting, but the truth is, real acting hinges on the ability to do something other than leak out a few tears, screams and terror. True acting stems from the ability to improvise and make the scenes different from each other despite the fact that the material is quite thin and limits one’s range. This was precisely what killed the movie for me.

Because the material was not deep enough to sustain the entire film, filmmakers had to focus on the survivor angle and even re-enacting the murders several times (some on supernatural form) to keep the back story (which was more interesting than the main story) close to their chest before they revealed it in one fell swoop sequence towards the last 20 minutes of the film. So for the entire time, sequences of Angel crying, having a breakdown, and being haunted became the norm and the problem was it felt like the same scene over and over again. This made the film rather tough to digest in the long run.

All in all, The Witness was a big letdown — not recommended for people will low tolerance for crap, and generally those who regard their time with some importance.

Why movie addicts should get an E-plus card

I recently attended the launch for the SM E-PLUS card, the SM Group’s latest innovation to make the moviegoing experience a more fun and hassle free experience for its loyal patrons throughout the nation.

The E-PLUS, which stands for Entertainment, Privileges, Lifestyle, Upgrades,  and Surprises pretty much says it all. The RFID card, once availed becomes a reloadable all access pass to all movies, foreign and local being shown at SM cinemas without having to go through the long line at the ticket booths. All the cardholder needs to do is choose which movie he wants to see, go straight to the cinema and use the card to enter.

TIME OUT. SM Bowling's mascot hams it up with crew members of program partner Sbarro.

SM assures that their systems are well in synch and will not accept the card if seating is already full to ensure that the cardholder still gets a good seat and has the maximum viewing experience.

Reloading is also made easier with a special lane at the ticket outlets devoted especially for the purpose.  Upon reloading, the cardholder is entitled to a free upsize of their drink once presented at the Snacktime counter and a free meal credit which can be used to get popocorn and drink for every P500 or P1,000 reload amount.

But first, how to get it? The starter kit, which costs P300 comes with a personalized E-PLUS card, a premium item, free popcorn and drink, plus a free pass to another movie upon validation of a text message that will be sent by SM shortly upon registration. If  one totals the actual cost of the freebies, the cardholder actually comes out ahead as the card comes virtually free. All that is required for registration is a duly accomplished registration form available at the E-PLUS booth or through download from their website.

COUNTDOWN TO THE LAUNCH. Guests chat and bond while awaiting the launch of the E-PLUS card and the premiere of Battleship at the SM Cinema 3.

But wait there’s more! E-PLUS also works like a loyalty card similar to the SM Advantage Card and earns points for each time it is used to watch a movie at SM theaters. It is also good for special offers from the program’s partner merchants where cardholders can avail of great discounts from White Hat, Sbarro, Airphil Express, Lenovo, Silverworks, Belo Men, Beauty and Butter, the Body Shop, Slimmer’s World, North Face, Bratpack, Roxy, Delsey High Sierra, Quicksilver, Kickers, Sanuk, DC and The Travel Club, along with SM brands and entertainment facilities.

So in a nutshell, having an E-PLUS is like having a membership to an exclusive club that caters to everything that a movie geek wants. And the best part is that cardholders can share these privileges with their friends and family as one card (as long as it has enough load credits) can be used to purchase multiple passes at one time. Best part is, it doesn’t expire so there will be no worries renewal fees.

“While E-PLUS is one’s gateway to all our exclusive offers, it is also our way of rewarding our loyal patrons. Because it offers convenience and loaded entertainment experience with its privileges, ever-growing number of surprises and partner merchants, our membership base will continuously grow,” Edgar C. Tejerero, SVP of West Avenue Theaters Corporation says.


Battleship: A Review

I was fortunate enough to catch the premiere of Battleship last night at the SM Megamall Cinema 3 courtesy of the SM Cinema E-Plus Card, a new innovation by the SM group to make moviegoing a more convenient and enjoyable experience for its patrons. I must say, despite my dislike for lead actor Taylor Kitsch who talked trash about his Customs experience in my country (which apparently never happened…dude was in Indonesia), I enjoyed the 131-minute adaptation of the naval themed board game.

The United States finds a planet that is similar to Earth in climate and vegetation and begins to embark on efforts to communicate with the said planet in the hopes of using it for future habitation. The plan backfires when five heavily armed alien spaceships land on the Pacific and set out attacks on facilities and structures that they believe to be threats on their invasion. This all happens while naval troops around the world are engaging in their annual war games off the coast of Hawaii, where a sensitive communication facility is situated. However, the fleets prove helpless when a forcefield is formed that shuts off the island from armed intervention. The fate of the world is left in the hands of an inexperienced, reckless and impulsive young officer (Kitsch) who finds himself in command of the remaining Destroyer at the other end of the invisible barrier — Earth’s last chance to take down the invaders.

The film employed textbook style filmmaking in the movie, seemingly marking off an invisible checklist to a Hollywood blockbuster — hot actors, great effects, hard core action, aliens and weaponized alien ships, a badass dude with metal legs, and war strategy on a huge body of water. It’s been a while since an end of the world sci fi action film happened in the ocean so this kind of helped make the movie work.

Honestly, the first 30 minutes of the movie was a bit of a snoozefest for me because nothing much really happens except to establish the Admiral’s (Liam Neeson) dislike of Lt. Alex Hopper (Kitsch) who was only enlisted into the Navy because his big brother Stone (Alexander Skaarsgard) wanted him to clean up his act. When the action finally picked up, it was as if the movie started to come to life and the characters finally seemed to wake up from the cliched characterizations they have earlier established in the film.

There were elements of Armageddon in the beginning and the aliens were sort of a cross between Transformers (of course, because it was co produced by Hasbro and Universal) and District 9, but I appreciated the creatives for this movie for the flawless CGI that merged well with the film’s 2D elements. The writing I believe, had highs and lows. There were a lot of witty zingers that drew laughter from the crowd but there were also those overly cheesy cliches that fell flat because audiences have heard it too many times.

WTH? A team investigates what type of ship caused the major uproar in the Pacific and upset the war games.

Say what you will about the geographocally challenged Taylor Kitsch but there is a reason Hollywood keeps casting this guy for leading roles. Kitsch is not the typical good looking Prince Charming type but he has a rugged charisma that helps him pull off the bad boy type charmer that the hot girls go for. As a diamond in the rough naval officer who is forced to lead Earth’s remaining weapon to stop an invasion, he was quite effective, and his character complemented the character of Japanese actor Tadanobou Asano as Captain Nagata, whose rigid disipline is always challenged by Hopper’s stubborness. Brooklyn Decker was not required to much in the movie except look alarmed and look great doing it, and Rihanna did well enough but not as as bad ass as Michelle Rodriguez could have portrayed the role in my opinion.

I liked the shoutout to the game when they used the water disaplacement strategy to create tsunami buoys so at least there was still a connection to the original material and of course, my favorite part was the special role that the Naval Veterans played in the movie. The tribute to the efforts of the veterans, coupled with the heavy metal score totally rocked the house. Their entrace totally kicked butt. The explanation at the begining about the difference of a Destroyer from a Battleship was also an excellent touch to get the audiences who are unfamiliar with Navy terms on board on what will happen towards the end, thereby ensuring that they were on the same page throughout the movie.

I think that the movie had highs and lows but I liked it because it was very entertaining. It was everything a blockbuster popcorn movie should be . A bit long for my tastes but an excellent movie to relax and enjoy in the weekend to bond with friends and family. Yes, even the kids will enjoy it.

Just a tip, there is a hidden scene at the end of the movie that quite possibly hints at a sequel, well depending on his it fares anyway.

Game of Thrones Season 2: A Premiere Review

With Joffrey assuming the Iron Throne, Westeros is in chaos, especially since King Robert Baratheon’s brother Stannis has declared his claim to the kingdom, making public Ned Stark’s disclosure that the young king is the product of incest between Cersei and Jamie Lannister.

In the far north, Rob Stark continues to win battles and advances towards the south with the intent of freeing his sisters from the Capitol and asserting autonomy from King’s Landing. Meanwhile, the men of the black have left their post to travel beyond the walls to find out what supernatural beings threaten the peace of the kingdom.

As if there is not enough drama in the South, the dragon princess Daenerys and what’s left of her loyal subjects travel without any clear direction, weak and hungry but still certain that they have what it takes to reclaim her father’s legacy. With four leaders who want to be king and everyone moving to the the Capitol to declare war, the men of the black have their work cut out for them as they alone lay between the dangers of the unknown and the safety of the Kingdom.

Game of Thrones is an epic series. This is already a given. I personally love the cinematography and the scoring for this HBO release and the acting and the cast is already a bonus.

WHO WANTS THE THRONE? Stannis Baratheon openly declares his claim on the Iron Throne, dissing nephew and obnoxious king Joffrey, whose arrogance I'm sure will kill him one day.

What I liked about the premiere is that it manages to take off where the first season left off without missing a beat, with new characters being introduced and integrated seamlessly into the story. Of course, Joffrey is as obnoxious as ever and Tyrion, who now serves as Hand of the King, is still quick witted and smart. He is still my favorite character in the series. Cersei gets her comeuppance as her son grows arrogant and power hungry and Rob seems to be the only one among those who want to control the Kingdom with reasonable enough demands. The politics and the drama in all corners of Westeros keep viewers on their toes and I suppose that in series like these, not knowing what happens next because of not reading the books just yet is an advantage.

FRESH FROM BATTLE. After years of standing in the shadows, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) finally gets to be the one who cleans up his sister's messes.

I especially love how grown the direwolves have gotten and still, they are adorable. Also, I can’t wait to see what happens when Jon Snow and Aria meet (when they finally do) at the wall, and how the king’s bastard son Gendry, who has become somewhat Aria’s protector and friend plays off these dynamics. And of course, who can forget the adorable Bran, who tries to fill the shoes of Lord and Master of Winterfell in the absence of the adults.

There are many more events that are set to happen and the premiere leaves viewers with a promise of a great season, and I for one think its torture to wait week after week to find out how the long winter treats the kingdom of Westeros. After finishing the awesome bloodbath that was the Spartacus finale, and the cliffhanger that was the Walking Dead season ender, I’m glad that Game of Thrones came back at just the right time to provide me with my fix of danger, drama, politics and great television.