Celebrating Chinese New Year has somewhat become part of Filipino tradition. So much so that Filipinos are even the first ones in the supermarkets buying round fruits to bring their homes good luck when this day arrives, even partaking of tikoy (glutinous rice) to promote unity among family members and friends.
I was very excited when I learned that James Dashner’s The Maze Runner trilogy was going to get the film treatment, more so when I discovered that they were casting some of my favorite young actors like Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones, Phineas and Ferb) and Kaya Scodelario (Skins UK, Now is Good). After watching the movie, though, I felt that there was a lot that was missing. The film didn’t quite deliver on the hype it built up in the months leading up to the release.
Thomas (O’Brien) wakes up in with no memory in the company of a bunch of boys living in The Glade. The place operates with each of the Gladers performing specific tasks like a small community. But unlike any regular place, the Glade is surrounded by secrets, mainly as it is connected to a giant maze, in which mechanical monsters called Grievers reside. When the first and only girl is sent to the Glade shortly after Thomas, he feels a connection to the newcomer, and senses that there is a higher purpose to their arrival.
The Maze Runner was a well written book but since it is part of a trilogy, it only manages to tell the first part of the story. The film made sure to stay faithful to the book for the most part and interpreted the book in such an amazing way that each detail seemed to be lifted from the literature, from the Glade to the Maze. Kudos to the CGI team as it was obvious the majority of the movie was shot on green/blue screen.
What I felt that was lacking from the movie was the connection between the characters and the characters’ connection to the audience. In the book, there was a great relationship built between Thomas and the Gladers, particularly Newt, Minho, and Chuck but in the movie, it seemed that all the focus was on Thomas and all the rest of the characters were just gravy. It was such a shame that the characters were not given a bigger chance to shine because the teen that they cast as Minho (Ki Hong Lee) was really very charismatic as a a hero and embodied his literary counterpart really well. As for Newt, my favorite book character, I felt like his film version got the shot end of the stick because the script did not allow for Brodie-Sangster to display the levelheadedness and bravery of the character that made Newt special. Chuck, in my honest opinion was a miscast because Blake Cooper looked to be too old to be that vulnerable. Chuck needed to be smaller and more innocent looking. In the book, he followed Thomas around everywhere and idolized him but in the film, aside from one moment, there was nothing significant that connected them, which made Thomas’s devastation in the end a bit of a overreaction.
I think Gally’s character was the most watered down among all the Gladers. He was neither a bully or a leader and made for an uncertain villain.
While I believe that the proper editing of the source material is essential in making for a successful film adaptation, the filmmakers just simplified most of the events in the book yet failed to establish the essence behind them. Because of this, it lost much of the impact of what the maze truly stood for.
All in all, The Maze Runner relied too heavily on the effects to provide the adventure part of the story and forgot that it had a cast of really strong young actors at its disposal too. I hope filmmakers does better in the Scorch Trials because as it stands, the Maze Runner was a pretty underwhelming beginning to a supposedly action filled trilogy. And with the amount of movies vying for the same market, the sequel should step up its game or become one of those generic movies that everyone just forgot.
I must admit that when I heard that the studios were breaking down Mockingjay, the final installment in the Hunger Games trilogy into two movies, I was a bit skeptical as to how it was going to be done. Mockingjay was not longer than Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and did not have that much of material to spread into two films. Still, because Lionsgate did such a great job with the Catching Fire movie, I was compelled to check out the first part of the finale.
After the Quarter Quell ended with the rebels extracting Katniss and some of their allies from the games, Katniss wakes up in District 13, a district that many have believed to be decimated by the first war. She learns that after her act of defiance at the games, the Capitol retaliated by bombing District 12 and the remaining survivors are at being harbored by President Coin, the leader of 13. Because of her strong connection with the people in the districts, Katniss is asked to become the symbol of the revolution as the Mockingjay. Still worried about Peeta, who was left at the Capitol along with Joanna and Annie, Katniss strikes a deal to lead the revolution in exchange for Peeta’s safe return. But knowing President Snow, he does everything in his power to keep the rebellion from gaining control and if he has to kill a couple of thousand people to do it, so be it.
Catching Fire was leaps and bounds better than The Hunger Games but Mockingjay Part 1 had a different appeal. It was great in the sense that it felt like as the franchise progresses, the filmmaking evolves along with it. Whereas in the first movie, there was still a hint of innocence in some of the characters, that innocence and optimism that was tested to its limits in the second movie, and the third installment makes no bones about its quiet maturity.
The feel of the movie in itself was more serious, darker and more intense, and in this sense, it was more in line with the grittier depiction of war in Suzanne Collins’ book. As homes are destroyed, families divided and the people in the districts becoming more oppressed, Mockingjay makes no apologies about raising the stakes with powerful performances by its lead stars coupled with excellent filmmaking from Francis Lawrence, who also helmed Catching Fire. I think having the same director who understood the essence of the source material was a great asset in the filmmaking process as Lawrence was able to bring vision and consistency to the remainder of the franchise, same as what David Yates did for the Harry Potter movies.
While there were times that I thought Jennifer Lawrence was over-emoting as Katniss, I must admit that in the moments where she needed to shine as the leader of the rebellion, she did so with such intensity that no one would wonder why she is one of the youngest Oscar winners. I’m glad Phillip Seymour Hoffman was able to complete this installment before he died because he brought so much to the table as Plutarch Heavensensbee, the gamemaster, who knew how to play everyone. And the best part was he did it with such ease that it felt so natural. On the other hand, Elizabeth Banks was the perfect comic relief, yet, she provided a sense of wistfulness to the movie which was refreshing given the heavy content of the film. Woody Harrelson just kills it everytime and I’m interested how Josh Hutcherson tackles Peeta going to pieces in the next installment.
Among the great strengths of the movie was great character development – Gale was obviously being set up for what will happen in the final movie and while there was nothing much for his character in this installment, Liam Hemsworth delivered a moving performance (well, as much as the material would allow). I felt like Julianne Moore was not the best choice for the role of President Coin. She’s probably one of the best actresses in Hollywood and I love her but I felt like someone with a sterner look and a more rigid approach would have suited the role better.
The film had great buildup to the revolution. There were lots of cool scenes leading up to the attacks and I especially loved the tree climbing lumberjacks in District 7 and Les Miserable-lesque attack on the dam that supplies electricity to the Capitol. The scoring also helped set the mood of the story, and helped build the suspense when it was needed.
As expected, Mockingjay wrung out every part of the material that could be fleshed out and milked the source material for even the most minute detail, even those that the book did not expound on. It’s a good thing for fans of the book as Mockingjay followed the material quite faithfully. In doing two movies, there is little room for omission and plenty of space for embellishment so fans will have to see for themselves what will happen in the last film.
All in all, I think The Hunger Games franchise just keeps getting better with each installment and Mockingjay is so far the strongest film in the set. It’s a good indication for what’s to come and I hope that the final movie does not disappoint seeing as how the momentum is at its peak.
In 2010, The Guardian, The New York Times and Le Spegel simultaneously released a story on the Afghan war logs and credited their source as Wikileaks, a website responsible for releasing vital information provided by unnamed sources. The website is founded by the eccentric activist Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a handful of volunteers, including his partner Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl), a computer hacker from Berlin. The story was devoted 14 pages in The Guardian, 12 in the Times, and major coverage by Le Spiegel, and became a major sensation because it entailed the biggest leakage of US military documents in American history. The story catapulted Wikileaks as a legitimate news source when it released the logs without edits but also called to question the ethics behind the move as it imperiled the lives of hundreds American sources in war zones in Afghanistan.
Even before the movie was made, the subject of Wikileaks was already a very controversial one because on the one hand, the site aims to give the public access to free information about corruption and oppression in the world. It was founded to bring down tyranny using information as a tool. However, on the other hand, its refusal to edit information and publish the leaked documents as is including data like addresses and contact numbers of the officials involved in the controversy has been called to question for endangering the individuals and subjecting them to public outrage.
As a former journalist, the dilemmas in the movie proved to be truly engaging. Weighing Wikileaks’ actions against the Journalism Code or the Canons of Journalism was truly baffling. Professional journalists seek vital information and sources of news but as members of the fourth estate, they also serve as gatekeepers of this information, and as such bear the responsibility of crafting the stories that hold merit to the public without endangering the sources of their information or those who may be affected by it. Wikileaks practices journalism to a certain extent — in protecting its sources, and in verifying the validity of the documents that they release on the website. But the handling of the information between the major news networks and the website differs by a wide margin. While The Guardian, Le Spiegel and Times, redacted sensitive information such as the names of government informants in war torn areas, Wikileaks pushed ahead and released over 250,000 war logs to prove that it had no bias and stayed true to its original principles. This resulted in a major catastrophe within the US military and their allies when the information was fully released.
The movie was based on the book written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg after his falling out with Assange over the handling of the Afghan logs and it was only natural for Assange to debunk Berg’s claims. While the movie focused on the dynamics between the two characters (Cumberbatch was spectacular as the weird, often obsessive activist Assange), I was more fascinated in the evolution of the site from breaking small stories to taking down billion dollar financial institutions and an entire dictatorship. I was inspired by what difference conviction and determination can make against those who abuse their power. At the end of the day, it was a matter of trust. Berg trusted in Assange’s ideals and up to a certain point agreed wholeheartedly with what he stood for when no one else believed in him. Its wonderful to see passion like these two shared with their cause, especially in a world of people who couldn’t care less about issues that do not impact them directly. No matter how Assange was depicted in the film, I believe that he was truly a visionary. Not many people could accomplish what he did with the limited resources that he had. And he made it happen. No many people have this gift.
While the relationship of Assange and Berg did not exactly end amicably, I was not really surprised because when two people care about their cause as much as these two, there is bound to be conflict. Still, it gave me a new respect for these two. Imagine, building Wikileaks with just two people, processing all of the information and making a difference in the world by building a network of sources whose identities are protected by layers and layers of code. I admire the principles of Wikileaks even if I don’t totally condone the manner in which they release the information.
All in all, I think The Fifth Estate is a great movie to open society’s eyes to the power of information, and the best lesson in media ethics as one could probably get. An insightful piece of cinema, it inspires people to take action and underscores each person’s responsibility to society. Change is possible and while Wikileaks may not have brought about the holistic change that Assange dreamed for the world, the site did manage to make a difference for a short period in time. And that’s always a good start to start a revolution.
The last Filipino movie I watched — indie filmmaker Lav Diaz’s Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What Was Before) was probably one of the heaviest, most thought provoking and artistic movies I’ve seen locally. It was widely acclaimed by critics, won the 2014 Locarno Film Festival, and spanned 5 hours and 38 minutes. At the end of it, I was still reeling with the depth of the movie so I decided the next Pinoy movie I will watch should counter balance all the thinking I did with Diaz’s film. Luckily, I had a copy of Diary ng Panget (Diary of an Ugly Girl) in my TBW pile. Its a light romantic comedy about a bunch of teens falling in love so what better departure from the arts could I have than this?
Eya (Nadine Lustre) is an orphan who goes to school on scholarship at Wilford Academy, a school for the rich and privileged. To say that she sticks out like a sore thumb in a school of beautiful people is an understatement because not only is she riddled with acne but she is also dirt poor. Luckily, she makes friends with Chad (Andre Paras), a popular and sensitive jock and his dream girl Lorie (Yassi Pressman), a half British half Pinoy beauty who has been in love with heartthrob Cross Sanford (James Reid) since grade school. When she is kicked out of the house by her aunt as soon as she turned 18, she finds work at the Sanford house as Cross’ personal maid and she finds out that behind his beautiful face likes a monster, who turns away anyone who attempts to get close.
Diary ng Panget is a movie adapted from wattpad, a portal for aspiring writers to have an avenue to publish their works online for free. As a matter of fact, the author Denny R. is only currently 20 years old (She was younger when publisher PSICOM picked up her novel for publishing). On the positive side, it was a great move for the studios to pick up a book written by a young author to make a film for young people. It was like getting a direct link to their target market and in this aspect, Diary ng Panget did not disappoint. The jokes were actually quite funny and the characters’ antics were really relatable to young people. For older audiences, some of the scenes may actually remind them of their exploits when they were younger so its a win-win across the board.
In terms of the casting, Viva Films took a risk in giving big breaks to a new and improved James Reid (who won in the Philippine version of Big Brother Teen Edition several years back), and newcomer Nadine Lustre and it was a gamble that paid off because these two have nice chemistry. Nadine looks like a girl next door and James is hunky so they really complemented each other. As for supporting characters Andre Paras and Yassi Pressman, who are also relatively new to the industry, their acting still needs some work but they were likeable and charming and basically, that’s all their roles ever asked of them so there’s great potential here for a new loveteam.
On the minus side, the story and the execution was riddled with plotholes and inconsistencies (which are in slumbook terms “too many to mention”). Its understandable for the source material to have this because it was written by a teenager but since the film rights were bought by professionals, scriptwriter Mel Mendoza del Rosario should have tweaked the screenplay to address these issues and not stuck to the book religiously. As a result, there were great problems with the flow of the story in terms of transitioning, impacting the effectiveness of establishing the actual love story between the lead characters. The film relied too much on the ‘kilig’ factor of the stars and forgot to infuse a certain amount of substance to make the characters memorable.
All in all, I cannot fault Diary ng Panget too much because its not the type of film that gets made for the artistry, but rather its the type of feel good rom com that pleases its audience for 110 minutes but gets forgotten after a while. I enjoyed it to a certain degree but it was frustrating because there was some potential in the movie. Working with younger people should have inspired creativity and energy to try something new. Unfortunately, filmmakers did not even make the effort of exploring the possibilities because they already trapped themselves in the mainstream formula. And its a shame.
Before the dystopian genre became all the rage for Hollywood, there was a children’s book released in 1993, written by Newberry Medal winner Lois Lowry called The Giver. Its about a world that dealt with the aftermath of war by eliminating every element that may cause conflict in the lives of the new world. I read the book a couple of years ago and thought it was shocking, haunting and brilliant, especially for a book targeted at middle schoolers. Now that it merited its own movie, I was curious how the book would translate to the big screen.
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is a teenager on the cusp of leaving his childhood in a community living peacefully in Sameness — where rules are effected to avoid conflict. Rules like never lie, precision of language, number of children allowed per family unit, taking a dose of daily injections, with all of their actions monitored by the Elders at all times. It is also a world devoid of color and strong emotions, where people go about their business like automatons. During the ceremony where the teens graduate to be members of the community, Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of Memories, a distinguished and difficult position that only ten years prior, pushed a trainee to ask for “release.” When the Giver (Jeff Bridges) starts Jonas’s training, he encourages him to forego the rules that he grew up with, and instead embrace the joy and pain that comes with receiving all of the memories of the world before them. But as he discovers the wealth of information, his education pushes him to do more to free the people from the Sameness borne from fear of uncertainty.
A lot of anticipation came with The Giver movie, mainly because it was such a well loved book. This came before The Hunger Games, Divergent, Delirium, Matched, Enders Game, Partials, and the whole host of dystopian novels targeted at young adults. One of the noticeable differences of the book from the movie was the age of its main characters. While movie Jonas was well in his teens, book Jonas was only 12, and of course, the “stirrings” he felt with his friend Fiona, who was also a 12 in the book, was hyped up in the movie version. A lot of people did not like the change but it was completely understandable for the film to age the the characters a little bit because they were going for The Hungers Game market (teens) and they had to have a charismatic cute boy and a love interest to do that. Even Game of Thrones made their characters a bit older because it would be weird to see 13 year old Robb Stark and Jon Snow wielding swords or 12 year old Sansa getting married on cable television.
But messing with the original material comes with pros and cons. And while the movie succeeded in getting its target market engaged in the story because of the teen romance angle, what was lost was the originality of the premise of children being weaned on the illusion of safety in Sameness, which was more shocking and sad. The part that really spoke to me about the book was Jonas’s youth and the responsibility that he had to bear in wanting to save his community from ignorance of the truth. It was what made The Giver so different from the others in its genre. It was the gradual loss of innocence and call to courage.
I didn’t hate The Giver, or thought it was substandard to the book. I thought it did the material enough justice, but because it came after a parade of other films with the same genre and the same audience, it felt too familiar. Because audiences were already used to kids and teens killing each other to stay alive, or being used for war, the message of the Giver seemed a bit on the mild side and Jonas’ adventure or mission seemed staid compared to the competition. Even the set designs seemed too familiar. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter that it was written first, because it was adapted later than the others, and truthfully, since its the trend in Tinseltown, these YA adaptations have been trying to outdo each other with a vengeance because they’re battling for the same audience.
The Giver had a lot going for it though and its best weapon was Academy Award Jeff Bridges who portrayed the titular role with a vengeance. The contrast of the depths of his emotions to the stoicism of the rest of the community was a master class in acting and his torment at the loss of his daughter was heartbreaking. The best moments of the movie were always with him in the scene. Thwaites was not bad as Jonas but he needs to polish up his acting if he wants to be more than just a pretty face in Hollywood. With the type of roles he’s landing, he shouldn’t waste the opportunity and step up his game. Of the supporting cast, Alexander Skaarsgard really stood out as Jonas’ father. Despite not knowing the gravity of what he was doing, there was a quiet battle raging in him that he struggles against and the subtlety in his acting was great. I loved the slight change in his look when he was forced to bend the rules.
All in all, The Giver was a good adaptation by director Philip Noyce. Sure, it took some liberties with the original material but not enough to destroy the essence of the literature. It took upon itself to expand on some of the events to add to the drama and the suspense and it was a good call to add some spice to the movie for people who read the book so it didn’t become too predictable.
I think that means that I have a heart. Who would have guessed? — John Cleaver
SYNOPSIS: Months after John saved five girls from the second demon/ serial killer to come to Clayton County, John Wayne Cleaver is focused on finding the third one, guided only by clues he found from Agent Forman’s cellphone. With a new outlet for his obsession, the sixteen year old sociopath finds himself not so focused on death and destruction, and even finding time and effort to connect with people, most specifically Marci Jensen, the most popular girl in school. Pretty soon, a new murderer surfaces, with an MO that bears a striking resemblance to another killer — the Handyman killer. At the same time, the girls at his local high school keep committing suicide. John realizes with each death that the murderer is drawing closer to him and that in challenging the supernatural, he has put himself, and those that he holds dear in grave danger.
I have been hooked to the John Cleaver series since I first cracked the first e-book and up until the end of the trilogy (I hear that the franchise will continue in 2015, yay!), and I remain a fan of Dan Well’s excellent writing and the steady development of his characters. In the first book I am not a Serial Killer, John was at the tentative stage of dealing with his sociopathy, recognizing the red flags in himself and trying to go against his nature. In the second book Mr. Monster, he tries to wrestle with his personal demons and literally battles against evil head on. This time around, there is a different side to John that is introduced to the book. He is still a sociopath and he still isn’t normal but he seems more in touch with his humanity.
I liked the fact that Marci is introduced as his love interest in this book because Marci has a great personality (and the exact opposite of John). She’s smart, she’s kind, she doesn’t spook easily and up to a certain degree, she understands John better than anyone. I don’t think John has enjoyed anyone’s company as much as Marci and for a while, it was good to see him connect with another person, a person who had the potential to accept him entirely. While Brooke was a pretty acceptable love interest for the first two books, I thought that Marci was a better fit for John as a friend and as a girlfriend. While it was understandable for Brooke to harbor reservations about John, she was quick to drop him like a hot potato without giving him the benefit of the doubt and this, I find unforgivable. I felt like Marci had the potential to be the Shelley to John’s Marvin (Master of Murder, Christopher Pike).
Romantic connections were not the only connections that John made in this book (are we really talking about the same person?) as he had great moments with his mother that were really touching, especially towards the end. He also had insightful conversations with a priest that gave readers a better understanding of John’s convictions. Whereas before, there was great doubt about whether John would live out his most evil fantasies, this book left no doubt which side John was choosing.
Because this was supposed to be the concluding chapter, and because the last book ended so strong with John calling out the demon Nobody, Dan Wells made sure that there was plenty of stuff going on in this book. However, for the first time in three books, he was not able to distract me with his red herrings and I was able to figure out the clues and piece them together before John actually did. It did not make the book weaker than the first two but it just felt different, still in a good way. Its true there were times I wanted to smack John because he was so clearly putting himself in danger — also for his bullheadedness in not accepting his mother’s offer to work on the case together when she finally came to terms with the demon hunting thing.
All in all, I thought that I Don’t Want to Kill You was a very strong finish to the trilogy. It was bittersweet and tragic, and filled with a lot of questions as well as answers about humanity, morality and building relationships. It also gave closure to a lot of aspects of John’s inner struggle as he recognizes the person he wishes to be. It blurred the lines between right and wrong to provoke reaction and thought from the readers. It was engaging from start to finish but while it was a great ending to cap a spectacular trilogy, it left readers (like myself) wanting more of John Cleaver and his adventures. He’s not the most likely of heroes but he has managed to shoot up to my list of favorite characters in three days time. Even if he is sometimes creepy and violent.