The Cabin in the Woods: A Review

Fresh from the success of the worldwide hit The Avengers, director Joss Whedon collaborates with his protege Drew Goddard on the screenplay of a low budget horror/supernatural/suspense/indie flick whose marketing strategy relies on mystery as close to no details of the plot was leaked prior to the release of the movie. I for one, was so intrigued by it that I chose to see this popcorn movie first before I tackled MIB 3. While Whedon’s humor was obvious in the wisecracks in the script, I’m not quite sure that the overall result of the film worked out the way these two creative minds expected.

The Cabin in the Woods revolves around five college students who decide to take a break from the city by going to Curt’s (Chris Hemsworth) cousin’s cabin. Unbeknownst to them, the cabin is rigged with cameras and equipment that controls the environment and dictates their every move. Meanwhile, in an advanced facility, technicians are observing the teenagers with the intent of eliminating them and using them as sacrifice for ancient and unspeakable horrors that have lain dormant for centuries.

The problem with Cabin is that it wanted to accomplish too much in too little time. I had no doubt that Whedon and Goddard (who directed the movie) had fun playing around with the concept of the film as it incorporated elements of Pulp Fiction/Grindhouse, Cabin Fever, Wrong Turn, and the Walking Dead into the plot and I could just imagine how one of them would think of a good idea and the other one would think of another until everything was integrated into one overambitious screenplay that lacked focus and fell short in the actual execution.

Cabin had all of the elements of a great horror movie, teenagers, a remote and creepy location, an equally scary dude who warns them against going to the cabin, comic relief and the typical character slots that they should belong — the jock (Hemsworth), the slut (Anna Hutchison), the nerd (Jesse Williams, Grey’s Anatomy’s Jackson Avery), the pothead (Fran Kranz) and the virgin (Kristen Connolly). And up until this point, I admired that the filmmakers were planning to do something different with the typical horror staple which was obvious with their emphasis on the characters’ personas. What I had a problem with was 1. the casting: I felt that the people playing college students looked too old to be in college (yes, despite Chris Hemsworth being smoking hot). It also did not help that the lead female character Dana  was so whiny and pathetic and did not contribute at all to the overall resolution of the movie, that I was praying for her to die sooner. Marty the pothead, in my opinion brought the movie together. He was the only one with enough brains to figure things out and do something about it. 2. The film wanted to dip its foot into too much aspects of the genre, zombies, ghosts, mermen, poltergeists, monsters, and adding the reality show factor was a bit too much. 3. the transitioning between the scenes in the woods and the facility seemed faulty and abrupt, thereby not successfully establishing audience empathy with any of the characters from the cabin or the facility. Also there were too many scenes that audiences would feel that the movie should have ended long before the final twist (and guest star is unveiled). As a result, the movie was messy (not in a good horrific way) and made audiences more confused than entertained.

In the end, it came as no surprise that I was totally weirded out by the movie, so much so that everything just kind of passes my mind like a blur. For a meager budget, it was passable at best but if I do get nightmares from the movie, it will not be from the horror of the movie but rather the horror of poor execution. Moral Lesson: Filmmakers should have a clear idea what they want first before shooting a movie, or writing a script. Horror is a difficult genre to tackle as it is because almost everything has been done already, but still, a generic plot and good execution beats a smorgasbord of ideas poorly adapted any day.

Letter Writing: A lost art

This morning, while I was rummaging through some old stuff, I decided to open my box of treasures, a huge box of letters and greeting cards given to me over the years by people close to me.

While I was browsing through the older ones, I realize that I have been really lucky to be born in the era of cheap but cute stationery from Japan which encouraged my friends and I to write to each other almost every day to 1. to show off our cute notepads, and 2. to talk about teenage stuff that seem awfully funny now but meant a whole lot during those times.

I was lucky to get greeting cards on my birthday, some personal some by group, some collages and some videos that were very personal in nature, sent by post and written by hand – even if some words were not legible, it feels good to be remembered enough and regarded with that much care that people will spend time to create something special just for me.

Its always challenging to come up with something to write, especially to fill a blank piece of paper and in doing so, one really has to share something of himself in order to make the page come to life, to speak to the person he is writing to and for this, letter writing is indeed an art. Most often than not, even a simple Happy Birthday from a person you least expect to greet you becomes a big deal. It always means something. It touches the heart.

When I moved to the province after high school. It was an especially difficult time for me, living all my life in Manila and through this time, I realized that many of the letters I kept were mailed from my elementary and high school friends, asking how I was or how I was holding up. I really did not think that my friends would take the time to share with me what I’ve been missing but they did, and their words helped me find the strength to meet new people and establish new friendships. Suffice to say, that even though we are not always in touch, we don’t forget each other’s birthdays. We also touch base every now and then but every time, we catch up like we’ve never been apart.

I am quite thankful that I have kept these letters all this time, even if it takes a huge amount of space on my drawer. Reading them makes me feel closer to that time when waiting for the final bell is the best part of the day, because it meant that we would be free to hang out and tell stories, go to the mall and horse around some more. They bring me to a time when I had to wait an entire month before I got a letter from my cousin abroad and I would find in it pictures enclosed in the envelope about places she’s been and friends she met along the way.

I have been blessed with a lot of people in my life, some I have not much contact with, but these letters serve as a link to our relationship at one point in our lives and refreshes memories of school, and work, happy times, not so fun times.

I am sad that these days, because of emails and social networks, people hardly write letters to each other anymore. Worse, some bookstores don’t even have greeting card sections now which is weird. Its sad that this art of showing people your love and concern is slowly fading because of technology. People hardly write in shorthand anymore, preferring to type their messages on their keyboards and their tablets, texting on the phone and posting on facebook rather than making that extra effort to purchase that greeting card whose message reflects his feelings for you, writing a personal message and going that extra mile to go to the post office to mail it. I’m afraid that pretty soon, social networks, whose intention is actually bring people closer together will serve to deteriorate their relationships as all communication will be facilitated online.

Call me old school, but I just miss the good old days when we wrote letters. It is good that one day, when I grow old or die, I will be able to leave something behind to my children and grandchildren that will give them an insight as to how I was when I was a teenager, how I dealt with people and how they saw me. It would be nice to leave behind mementos that other people made for me, those that were sent without being prompted by birthday alerts and electronic memo pads — things that don’t have the same impact when they’re printed from the computer or posted online (even though it reaches a wider audience like this blog).

Thank you to all of my family ad friends who wrote me letters/ notes, and sent me cards throughout our relationship. I do keep them and consider them my treasures, much like I consider you all as gems of my life. You have brought me great joy and a lot of happy memories that I relive each time I read your words. I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

IMHO: Why Phillip won and Jessica didn’t

I just finished watching one of the most explosive finales in Idol history and I mean for the entire 11 seasons. I was one of the millions waiting with the rest of the Idol universe to see who will be crowned as the champ of Season 11.

At the finale results show, audiences were treated to the best performance of the season and arguably the best performance on the show- ever (yes, even rivalling Adam Lambert’s duet with Kiss)  — the duet between the original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday and 16-year old phenom Jessica Sanchez. (Check out this link to view the performance)

Viewers were also treated to perfomances from Aerosmith (WOW) and music legends Reba McIntyre, Neil Diamond and John Fogerty.

If audiences were to judge based on the number of moments given to the Top 2, there was no wonder that Jessica was given more exposure and more time to shine, perhaps leading viewers to believe that she was going to be the eventual winner, but at the end of the show, of course, consistent frontrunner Phillip Phillips was crowned the winner, making him the show’s fifth straight white dude to win the honors since the show’s Season 7 David Cook.

Some would say that Jessica had the upper hand because she was more vocally powerful than Phillip and could wow the audiences with her powerbelting. Phillip took the more laid back route, and chose songs that suited his voice and style perfectly. They were so different and that was what made the finale so interesting to watch.

But here’s why I think Phillip won.

1. The show is called American Idol and between the two, Phillip is the true blue American. Jessica is a mix of Filipino, Mexican and American (because of her citizenship and upbringing) descent so its a bit too liberal for Americans to vote for her.

2. Phillip has a very solid fan base. While some would say he was the underdog in the finale, if one looks back at the entire run of the season, he was never once in danger of being eliminated from the show.

3. He is gorgeous. Let’s face it, American Idol is viewed by mostly young girls and these young girls — while they would admire Jessica for her talents and achievements, would still eventuallly vote for the guy who makes their little hearts go a flutter

4. Phillip is just the right age. When Cook and Archuleta faced off in the finale of Idol back in Season 7, the mom votes turned out to be the clincher for the rocker. Moms who were interviewed for the show thought that David A. had the vocal chops to make it big in the music world but felt guilty about having a crush on him because he was so young. Cook got the votes because he was legal. So is Phillip, and since he’s the only guy contestant, who would get the votes?

5. He is a charmer. Some say that Phillip will turn out to be another Kris Allen, but I strongly disagree. When Kris Allen won, it was like all the world spun out of its axis, because come on! Kris is a great guy and a good competitor but he does not have any real standout quality that would catapult him to stardom. Phillip has a great personality and an individuality that could separate him from the pack. Take note that even during the finale, he was wearing his usual long sleeved shirt on top of his regular one like it wasn’t a big deal. Typical non-conformist rebel attitude that has worked for the careers of indie rockers throughout history.Plus, his humility and aw shucks charm always sucks viewers in, myself included.

6. Leave us not forget that the dude is also very talented. He is a musician through and through and while he is not the best singer among the lot, he has the maturity to play to his strengths. He has a great sense in choosing songs and one of the factors that contributed to his victory is choosing an anthem song for his first single whereas Jessica chose a more funky R&B song that fit her voice like a glove but did not have the same impact or message that Phillip’s song had.

I believe that Jessica is awesome and is wicked talented. She is skilled beyond her years and I think that aside from being an Asian, the thing that cost her the victory was the song choice. She is still young at 16-years old and perhaps still lacks the perspective of the general impact of the songs that she will sing. After tonight, there will be a lot of people who will want to sign her up and I hope that one of them is Jimmy Iovine because he is an excellent mentor who can guide Jessica and give her a long and sustainable music career. I do believe that Jessica has the makings of the next American chart topper and Grammy superstar. A bit of polish on her performances and she’s ready to fill arenas with her performances. I think she can sell more tickets than J.Lo once she’s seasoned and ready. She has that kind of potential.

Being a Filipino, I am sad that Jessica won but in my heart of hearts, I already consider her being in the Top 2 and her awesome performances today already a victory in its own right. If those songs were not a statement, then I don’t know what is. I have high hopes for her career, and hope that she will get from the Grammy’s the trophy that she missed on Idol.

I don’t feel bad losing to Phillip. He’s a great guy and a true artist. Despite my earlier reservations (with the judges all being too easy to please), this still turned out to be a great season. I just don’t know what will happen to the next season with Aerosmith scheduled to go on tour and J.Lo planning to go on tour as well.

To cap off this entry, here’s Phillip’s moment of victory:

Safe: A Review

There are two things that audiences expect from a Jason Statham movie: 1. heart pounding action and 2. elaborate car chases that put them at the edge of their seats. On these two counts, Safe does deliver. As for whether or not the movie reaches the level of Statham’s greatest offerings, I’m not quite sure.

Ah Mei is an elementary student from China who is gifted on the subject of numbers. Her extraordinary talents catch the attention of the Chinese Triad so they take her hostage to use her as a human database for their operations in the United States. Luke Wright is a reformed hitman who ekes out a living as a mixed martial artist for the underground circuit. During a fight, he inadvertedly costs the Russian Mafia a pretty penny by knocking down and permanently injuring a rising star whom the Mafia has bet millions of dollars on. As punishment, the Mafia kills his wife and keeps him alive, but shadows his every move and kills anyone he ever gets close to.  Backed into a wall, Luke tries to kill himself but not before he spies a little girl being chased by mobsters on the subway. The girl turns out to be Ah Mei, who survives an ambush on her car by the Russians to get hold of a set of numbers she has memorized, numbers so precious that they unlock a safe with millions of dollars and an incriminating disc that could put an end to the Chinese Triad.

The plot for Safe actually has great potential with the amount of conspiracies and double crosses integrated into its main story. Aside from the gangster warfare between the Russians and the Chinese in New York, corrupt policemen also join the fray by selling their loyalty to the higherst bidder. I got a kick out of seeing Robert John Burke, who plays Bart Bass in one of my guilty pleasures Gossip Girl as Chief Wolf, one of the most bad ass cops I’ve seen on the big screen in a while. Director and screenwriter Boaz Yakin, who incidentally wrote the screenplay for Prince of Persia really dug deep into his experiences as a New Yorker to come up with such an intricate plotline.

The fight choreography, which I read was one of Statham’s main criteria for choosing movies to star in, was also top notch, ranging from hand to hand combat, grapling, stunts, gunbattles and all sorts of ass-kickery. However, I confess that I fell asleep during the earlier parts of the movie while the conflicts were still being established. I just felt that the transitioning was lacking in coherence, especially when the film was going back and forth between China and the US , and between scenes featuring Ah Mei and Luke.

As a result, the movie read like a two-act play, wherein the first part was dull and boring and relied mainly on lengthy dialogues and negotiations. During the second act, however, the filmmakers pushed the pedal to the action and held nothing back in establishing that Safe is indeed an action movie and that there should be no doubt that they know what they are doing.

All in all, there was really nothing safe about the movie. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I loved it. I just felt that there was something missing but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, as yet.

Gossip Girl 5: Finale Review

Be warned. Some spoilers ahead!

Fans have seen a lot happen this season. The development of the Dan-Blair arc, Blair’s love trifecta featuring Dan, Chuck and Prince Louis fighting over the Queen B, her marriage (and divorce), Serena being Gossip Girl, the resurfacing of familiar faces (read: villains) like Georgina Sparks, Diana Payne, Jack Bass, William van der Woodsen, and even the long deceased Bart Bass.

I must admit that this season had a lot of highs and lows. Highs: Blair’s whirlwind Princess stint, Chuck’s grand sacrifice, and as a Dair shipper, the budding of the romance between Lonely Boy and Queen B. Also, there was a throwback to previous seasons with the gang teaming up to discover Diana’s real secret, which turned out to be Bart Bass alive and in hiding.

Lows: when Blair finally chooses Dan, they seemed to have gotten boring like the fight suddenly went out of these individually feisty characters. The Serena as Gossip Girl angle was kind of lame, as well as the fake Charlie Rhodes arc. It never really got my vote. Also, Dan’s long and unruly hair is a bit of a turnoff no matter how smart he is.

Anyways,  there was a real buzz over the finale espcially with the promo promising that Blair will finally choose between her two remaining love interests. She being with Dan at the time and with no real reason for them to break up (except perhaps Serena seducing Dan out of spite), I would have thought that the decision would have had to be long and agonizing for the Upper East Side princess but as it turned out, the episode, which should have been charged with a lot of “moments” that would keep viewers guessing and excited for the next season, actually turned out to be a dud.

BEHIND THE SCENES. Leighton Meester (left) and Penn Badgely (right) share a light moment with designer Vera Wang who designed the wedding gown for Blair Waldorf’s nuptials with Prince Louis.

Here’s why. The Dair pairing was severed abruptly like the writers did not care what would happen to Dan, making Blair appear selfish (which she sometimes is) but makes no sense at all. I do understand that Chuck is her soulmate and all but I would have thought that she, being friends with Dan prior to their relationship would not forget Dan’s kindness and loyalty enough to explain to him why she would choose Chuck.  Second, Serena’s character is really going downhill. She casts Dan aside countless times but when he suddenly falls for another girl, she is in love with him again? And this petty jealousy actually extends to her demolition job on her half sister Lola, who accidentally steals the thunder from her as UES’s It Girl. At the end of the episode, we find herself back to her old ways, whoring herself out for coke. Duh, what’s new? Nate is improving a bit, and at least now, he is portrayed as something other than a boy toy who’s only in the show because he’s pretty. Although old habits die hard and he still trusts his friends too much that he inadvertedly drops major secrets without knowing it. Its kind of funny, really. Plus, Dan going to Georgina to seek revenge at the end of the episode was also kind of cliche. Really, Georgina? Throughout the season, its as if she’s become the go to villain of the writers to cause mischief among the lives of Manhattan’s elite. Bart Bass’s treachery is nothing new and I think the final season of Gossip Girl will just be a rehash of the time when Chuck was left with his father’s company.

Anyhow,  the only bright cloud I see is the re-emergence of Jack Bass, my favorite anti-hero of the series. I would have preferred Blair to be on her own for the bit just to find herself before she committed to a guy and get herself back together first after all that has happened to her. The writers, I believe chickened out of the Dair ship and changed their minds as soon as they put Penn Badgely and Leighton Meester’s characters together. Their biggest mistake, in my opinion was really not committing to the storyline, or maybe they ran out of room to write — who knows?

All in all, this may yet be the worst finale for the show in its entire five seasons. Previously, viewers were always treated with cliffhangers, but this time around, there was really nothing new, nothing fresh and nothing to look forward to. This is particularly bad timing for the show which has fought tooth and nail to have a last and final season.  If this is an indication of the next season, then I’m guessing that more viewers will lose interest in the show, no matter how many ships it sets sail (Dair, Chair, Derena, Serenate, Nola…) and this is just too bad because the show really has potential.

The Woman in Black: A Belated Review

In Daniel Radcliffe’s first movie outing after the Harry Potter movie franchise, he takes on the role of young solicitor Arthur Kipps, a widowed father of a little boy named Joseph.  Kipps, whose career is on the rocks after his wife died of childbirth, is given a final chance by his firm to work on the estate of a certain Mrs. Alice Drablow. Among Drablow’s properti es is a haunted mansion at the end of the marshes called Eel Marsh, where a vengeful spirit of a woman in black reportedly appears. But from the moment Arthur sets foot on the town, he is given the cold shoulder by the locals, pushing him to delve into the mysterious estate all the more. As he tries to find out the history of the house’s former occupants,  the woman in black haunts him, and child suicides begin anew in a town that has already  lost countless children to the ghost.

This horror did great in the box office a couple of months back, and for good reason. Adopted from a book with the same title written by Susan Hill, the movie, set in the early 1900s was everything that a supernatural horror should be. It mainly focused on its lead character, with most of the scenes featuring Radcliffe alone in the haunted mansion, but the manner in which the spookiness (which was the general tone of the movie) was executed, was perfection.

The movie proceeds at a very leisurely pace, taking its time to develop the story, and giving moments to each important scene. However, the pacing does not leave room for doubt that there is going to be a major revelation to watch out for as the film progresses. It sort of felt like The Others because viewers are given a sense that there is something going on beyond what is happening and this gives them something to look forward to. The pacing also leaves the viewers room to speculate and form their own theories about the suicides while getting scared sh*tless with the ghoul’s surprise appearances.

But what really sealed the deal for me was the small details like the props they used to accentuate the general feel of creepiness at the house. The strange looking toys and the wind up dolls at the nursery while the wind raged on outside was sheer genius. It was very subtle but effective, which just goes to show that movies don’t always have to be razzle dazzle and CGI. I can hardly remember being this scared watching a horror movie, as I’ve gotten used to the tricks that filmmakers pull to scare up a scream from unsuspecting audiences.

GETTING CHUMMY? The Woman in Black looks over the shoulder of an unsuspecting Arthur Kipps, while he tries to solve the mystery behind the hauntings.

While there may be some inconsistencies in the movie (in terms of the state of Nathaniel’s corpse in one scene), these are quite minor and and forgivable and does not negate the merit of the film’s overall result. The ending is also one of the selling points of the movie as it may be interpreted differently by different viewers. I, for one, was suckered into watching the movie because a friend was unsure of how to the take the ending. I would like to believe that it was happy.

The Woman in Black was a great watch. Not only does one get his fill of scares but it is also a thinking movie that gets the brain cells going. All in all, as  mystery enveloped in a horror, this was a great feature from director James Watkins. Now, I shall try to get a hold of the literature to see if it creeps me out even more.

Unknown: A Belated Review

This movie has been in my TBW (to be watched) pile for quite some time now but I haven’t really gotten around to watching it until today. What seemed like Taken 2.0 in the beginning turned out to be a  mile a minute thrill ride featuring a conspiracy that crosses continents and is nothing less than one would expect from the actor who played Bryan Mills, Qui Gon Jin and Zeus himself — Liam Neeson.

Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) arrives in Berlin with his wife Liz (January Jones) for the first time to speak before a biotechnology conference sponsored by Saudi Prince Shada. After they arrive at the hotel, he realizes that he left his briefcase, which contains his passport and other documents at the airport so he rushes to retrieve it. Unfortunately, he gets into a car accident and wakes up at a hospital without any idea of what happened. When he begins to remember who he is, he finds his wife together with a man (Aidan Quinn) who is claiming to be the true Martin Harris. With the help of the taxi driver who saved his life (Diane Kruger), he tries to piece together the mystery behind the curious incident as the people he begins to meet along the way are picked off one by one by hired assassins.

Unknown was great in the sense that it had a great plot to begin with, although it was a bit reminiscent of The Net (Sandra Bullock) involving identity theft, with some elements of Mission Impossible with the imminent threat against the lead characters. But it was still original in its pacing and presentation, helped along by the setting (Berlin), which gave the movie a unique feel because it was in Europe.

There was great action throughout the movie and cool car chases that involved a lot of high end European taxis (Mercedes, I think) and several assassins that were surprisingly bested by a scientist (Neeson) and an illegal immigrant (Kruger). At some point of the movie, I was beginning to ask myself how they were able to manage evading the hit squad by just their wits, and excellent driving skills (Neeson was driving like Statham in The Transporter) but this issue was cleared towards the end of the movie.

Unknown may be a little less cool than Taken (which I believe is Neeson’s best movie) but it was great nonetheless. I could just kick myself for waiting so long to see but now that I have, I am glad to give it my seal of approval.