Avengers Age of Ultron: Movie Review

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-PosterEver since the epic Avengers movie helmed by director Josh Whedon, which was by far, the best movie released by Marvel Studios IMHO, it comes as no surprise that fans of all ages have been waiting with bated breath for the sequel. This time around, however, instead of squaring off directly with Thanos as the Avengers aftercredit implied, the second film focused on the Ultron project, one of Tony Stark’s pet projects to beef up the Earth’s defenses against future threats.

After the Avengers successfully recovered Loki’s scepter from Hydra, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) convinces his buddy Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to unravel its secrets in the hopes of harnessing its power for his Ultron project. Unknown to Tony, his compulsion was due to the influence of Wanda Maximoff, a woman with a unique gift for for warping reality. Wanda, along with her twin brother Pietro (who has the gift of extraordinary speed) are results of Hydra’s experiments (They joined the group because of a grudge against Tony Stark and the Avengers). Unfortunately, Stark’s good intentions backfire and Ultron literally takes a life of  his own. Now, the Avengers are left to deal with a super powerful self righteous AI set on annhilating the human race.

Avengers: Age of Ultron takes a very different approach from the first movie, despite having the same director. While the first movie was all about building rapport among a group of strong characters, the second movie seemed hell bent on destroying that rapport to build the tension for the future films. Whereas the first movie was all about comic book fun, the sequel took on a more serious route, delving into the characters’ deep seated internal issues, giving the viewers a glimpse into what makes them tick.

Its fairly difficult to balance out the star power in this movie, better yet juggle the entire thing with a very complicated plot that unfolded layer by layer. There was the part about Ultron, there was the introduction of new characters to the Avengers universe — Vision (Paul Bettany), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The film also had the task of setting up elements that would connect Age of Ultron to the next movies in the franchise. Scarlet Witch will appear in Captain America: Civil War. As will Tony Stark, while the Infinity Stones storyline could very well introduce a Guardians of the Galaxy crossover.

Some of the audience may get confused because the Maximoffs (Marvel fans know Pietro and Wanda as Magneto’s children) were represented not as mutants but rather as Hydra experiements nor were they referred to using their superhero names (this was due to licensing issues) but credit should be given to the casting of these new characters — I admit I had reservations about Aaron Taylor Johnson after Godzilla but he proved me wrong. The old cast also delivered on what the script called for. There was no competition for the spotlight. And that’s very cool especially this time around, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) were given their fair share of limelight despite not having superpowers.

In terms of the story, there was a lot of drama involving the perception of what is right and doing what is right. The parallelisms between Stark and Ultron was one of the major conflicts of the film. Same thing with Thor and the Cap, which was further illustrated by Cap’s almost successful try to lift Mjolnir. In essence, it challenged audiences to look at the Avengers using a different lens — one the considers their flaws and imperfections. What’s good about the approach used by the movie was that it did not go overboard like they did with Man of Steel, so it didn’t bore the younger audiences to death.

What I’m trying to say is that filmmakers did a marvelous job of balancing out all of these considerations to make a movie that works. Its totally crazy — the amount of character build up, the set up for the Avengers expansion team, the battle scenes (my favorite was Hulk vs Iron Man), and of course, the ultimate signature scene with the Avengers theme music. Considering, the final battle scene was almost identical to the New York scene in the first movie, except instead of being swarmed by Chitauri, they were being overwhelmed by hundreds of Ultron mini mes. And yet, despite or because of the familiarity, it felt right.

My mind was totally blown by the amount of fan service this movie provided. I was feeling totally overwhelmed while watching the film, as a matter of fact, there were tons of easter eggs littered all over the movie which could keep fans busy (and happy) for days, weeks, months and maybe years ahead. And the best part about it is that all of the openings the film provided will be continued in future Marvel releases and its awesome.

All in all, the best part about Avengers: Age of Ultron was the possibilities it presented. Its biggest success was in exciting fans about what’s to come. It offered a perfect transition and tied the worlds together in a seamless fashion. Sure, it was a lot to take in, but it was cool, it was pretty wholesome save for the explosions and back to back fight scenes (loved the quip about language as a nod to younger moviegoers). True, I still liked the first one better. But the sequel was a whole different animal. It was awesome it its own right. Now, to process all the nuggets this bad boy hinted at. Oh, and by the way, don’t believe rumors that this film doesn’t have an aftercredit. It totally does. Think Infinity Gauntlet. What a perfect way to geek out.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: Movie Review

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day  movie posterAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a mouthful for a title. Truth is, I had to refer to IMDB a couple of times to make sure that I got the title right because it was just so long. But my only complaint about the movie ends there. I absolutely loved every minute of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day — every cheesy over the top second of it. This movie is indeed proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) is the middle child in a family of six. Things haven’t exactly been the same since since his baby brother Trevor was born. He feels different from the rest of his family, because things always work out for them — his aerospace engineer dad (Steve Carell), his powerhouse career woman mom (Jennifer Garner), his popular big brother Anthony (Dylan Minette), his actress sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey), even little Trevor (Elise and Zoey Vargas). He feels like they lead a charmed life, as opposed to his cursed one, so on his 12th birthday, he makes a secret wish that they would get to understand what a terrible, horrible, no good, very dad day (a.k.a. his everyday life) felt like and a series of unfortunate events ensue.

If there ever was a movie that would absolutely guarantee that your bad day would turn around, it would be this one. Typical of a Disney family movie, it starts out with a simple yet fantastic premise, but one with an underlying depth that connects deeply with the audience. Such is the magic of Disney and this film delivers the good vibes in spades. Screenwriter Rob Lieber did a great job in adopting the Judith Viorst children’s book to the big screen, updating the material to a suit modern audience. There was great dialogue and flow to the film as it transitions from the misfortunes of one family member to another. Credit also to director Miguel Arteta for nailing the execution.

The cast was absolute perfection. Steve Carell was funny and dorky without being too slapstick, Jen was adorable, and even the kids worked out and portrayed the reality of siblings in a typical household. The timing was spot on and the cast had great chemistry as a unit and even as standalones. What I loved about the characters, was mainly their loyalty to each other — that despite constant insults and ribbings, at the core of all things, they loved their family more than anything and when push comes to a shove, they had each other’s backs.

All in all, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was a total exaggeration of a simple premise — a bad day, which everyone has once in a while. While the execution was outrageous (in a good way), it was totally relatable and hilarious and leaves audiences with an exhilarating feeling of embarking on a great adventure with the Coopers. Despite all of the negatives in the title, the film inspired a lot of positive feelings, and a message that despite the bad things that happen, there can always be something good to come out it. And sometimes, it takes a bad day to make us appreciate the good ones even more.

Para sa Hopeless Romantic (For the Hopeless Romantic): Book Review

When I heard that Star Cinema and Viva Films will adapt the wattpad-turned besteselling Marcello Santos III novel Para sa Hopeless Romantic starring teen stars Nadine Lustre and James Reid, along with new loveteam Julia Barreto and Iñigo Pascual, I was intrigued. True, Jadine’s first two movies Diary ng Panget and Talk Back and You’re Dead, both based on wattpad fiction did not blow me away. But I was entertained because I liked seeing these two together. This time, I wanted to make sure that there was a good story involved behind the movie so I got an hold of Santos’s novel before the movie’s release.

Para sa Hopeless Romantic is a Filipino novel that revolves around the love story of six people, all in various states of being in love. Becca, the main character, an embittered college student still trying to move on from the betrayal of her first and only love by writing short stories with tragic endings; Nikko, her ex-boyfriend who wants a second chance with her because he hasn’t really fallen out of love with her; Ryan and Maria, two characters out of Becca’s short story — friends who have romantic feelings for each other but are too afraid to act on them; Jackie, Becca’s best friend and confidante, who is pining for Matt, Becca’s boss, and Faye, Nikko’s girlfriend of three years whom he dumps because is still in love with Becca.

I can safely say that I thoroughly enjoyed Santos’s novel, so much so that I finished the book in a matter of hours (in one sitting). I liked how he established the characters, and loved that he used his old school (PUP) as a backdrop for all of their adventures. Because he knew a lot about his subjects, he was able to effectively describe the settings and moods and set the tone for the scenes in his book.

I liked that the characters had their own issues to deal with and that they weren’t exactly on the same page as the other half of their love teams straight off the bat. This makes the plot slightly more complicated while the characters seemed more human and releateable.

Marcelo understood his characters and he didn’t make them perfect. At times, Becca seemed overly dramatic but Marcelo was able to justify her actions by a substantive backstory so people won’t get too annoyed. Of the characters, Jackie reached out of the page to grab my attention. She was awesome despite being a secondary character but my favorite lines actually came from Ryan when he finally confessed his feelings for Maria through his notebook.

I liked Marcelo’s contemporary approach to writing, and his fluid storytelling style. While Ricky Lee’s Para Kay B was more serious in tone, Marcelo’s Para sa Hopeless Romantic embraced the cheesiness of falling in and out of love and all that came in between. The way the stories were interconnected makes for a sense of community among the characters and its a good thing that the readers have this one group of people to cheer for.

All in all, I think Para sa Hopeless Romantic is a good choice for a mainstream movie adaptation. Even the writing is already fit for the big screen. My favorite part of reading the book was the sense that the writer seemed to care deeply about his characters and his desire to give them their respective happily ever afters was obvious and infectious. He too, seemed to be a hopeless romantic in real life. So, was this the most original love story ever? No. But it sure as heck was entertaining and heartwarming. A great read before you go to bed or to keep you company on a long journey. Highly recommended.

Here’s the clip of the trailer if you’re interested to see what to expect on the big screen.

Insurgent: Movie Review

Insurgent Film PosterI was very impressed by the film adaptation of Divergent in 2014, that it came naturally for me to wait for the sequel with bated breath. Besides, after reading the book, I was sure that it would be just as badass as the first one.  After all, it was the most action packed of the three volumes so to say that I had great expectations about Insurgent would be an understatement.

After the attack on Abnegation and the division of Dauntless, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James) and the rest of their group seek temporary sanctuary from Amity, but they’re not fitting in as well as they should seeing as the group has their own internal issues to deal with. It doesn’t take long for Erudite to assume control within the walls, seeking out Divergents and using them for an experiment to unlock the message left for society  by the founders. As chaos ensues within and outside the walls, Tris wrestles with her own demons – dealing with the death of her parents and her friends, trying to get her act together as war looms among the factions.

Its been a while since I’ve read the book and I think it was a good thing for me because I didn’t dwell too much on the comparisons between the literature and the adaptation. I still noticed though that filmmaker Robert Schwentke (Flight Plan, R.E.D) and writers Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback took a lot of creative liberties in trimming down the Vernica Roth’s novel to accommodate the film viewers’ shorter attention span.

In a way, it was a good call because the book really delved into the backstories, but on the other hand, I felt like the filmmakers edited too much, and left too little to develop the characters and the story as a whole.

While the execution was good, I felt like the movie dwelled too much on Tris alone that the other characters served as mere backdrops for her personal battles. Don’t get me wrong. I love Shailene Woodley and believe that she is a charismatic and talented actress. I may have even mentioned in my earlier posts that I actually prefer her acting to Jennifer Lawrence (No offense, J-Law), but without a substantial establishment of her relationships with fellow Dauntless members, or Amity, or Candor, it felt like a huge disservice to the story of Insurgent, which really highlighted the roles of the characters, what drives them. The book also depicted a clear picture of the bond that was established among the Dauntless warriors and their loyalty to one another, their friendship and their fragile alliance with the Factionless.

In the movie, what’s left of Dauntless were depicted as mere warm bodies needed to win a war while the Factionless were illustrated as a bunch of thugs who enjoyed bullying people because they hated the world.

Unfortunately, it seemed like there was a rush to get from Point A to Point B of the story — as if filmmakers were excited to get to the simulation part, because it felt so proud of its technically sound CGI rendering, which I’m sure the graphics team worked hard on. Still, I felt like it took too much of the film’s time.

Still, there were standouts. Managing to break through the limited wiggle room was Miles Teller as Peter. Let me just say that this guy is so talented. When he wants people to hate him, he can make audiences curse him to the ends of the earth but when he wants to show vulnerability, he can turn on the charm that one can almost forget what despicable thing he did in the first place. Theo James needs no further effort to be cool. He just needs to appear on screen and smolder and all is well in the world. His chemistry with Shailene is one of the most consistent strengths of the franchise. While Kate Winslet stepped up her game as the villain Jeanine, Ansel Elgort got the short end of the stick with Caleb’s short presence. His arc had better development in the book and made better impact. He got robbed of opportunity, in my honest opinion.

The film also overdid the graphics in this one, no matter how well executed they were. It seemed like most of the time, the scenes were part of Tris’s simulations even when they were not. Kudos though to the action sequences. They were not just cool, they were well thought out and executed, especially the brutal hand to hand combat scenes.

All in all, I think filmmakers oversimplified Insurgent and the film was poorer for it. It relied too much on pizzazz over investing in character and story development which would have helped the franchise for the remaining two movies. It was such a waste because there was a lot of material and a lot of potential to explore but these opportunities were squandered by the decision to put style over substance. While I wouldn’t say that I hated the film, I didn’t love it either. And that’s such a shame because I should have.

Talk Back and You’re Dead: Movie Review

TBYDPosterI finally had the time to catch up on my TBW pile and this Pinoy teenybopper romance was one of the few that I failed to see in the cinema. The film is based on yet another wattpad hit of the same name and features teen hearthhrob James Reid and his love team Nadine Lustre, whom he co-starred with in Diary ng Panget. I must say that at the end of the movie, the overall emotion that lingered with me, more than anything, was confusion. I don’t think its a good thing because I really really like these kids.

Top is a bad boy and the leader of the Lucky 13 gang. After he is confronted and humiliated by Samantha, the feisty heiress of a major conglomerate while she was defending her friend, Top vows to exact revenge by making her his ‘girlfriend’. Unknown to the two, they have a shared history and their love story has been going on for a decade.

There are a lot of things I don’t get about the story. And I think that before I go on about everything that is wrong with the movie, the story is the source of everything that did not work out about the film. I have not read the book so I could not judge the literature but on screen, it seemed like a hotpot of cliches all mixed together as a means to come up with a love story that does not even make sense in the first place. The plot was so riddled with loopholes to a degree that boggles the mind — personally, I spent the better part of the film’s 120 minute run alternating between cringing and grinning like an idiot, but that’s mainly because Jadine (James and Nadine) had such good chemistry.

My first problem was the characters. Everybody was so underdeveloped and immature. Sure I’ll grant them that they’re teens and thus more likely to do stuff without thinking things through but the actions of Top and Samantha make no sense. They fall in love without finding out anything about each other. They have major fights that are rooted on not just simple issues, but really test the level of trust and yet these are resolved as easily as saying sorry. They have no respect for one another and act out in the most hurtful ways but that’s okay? The best friend falling in love with the girlfriend, the amnesia, the blindness, the fixed marriage — it seemed like a concoction of telenovela plots forced into a two hour feature.

I get that the source material is based on fiction, and that wattpad is basically an online platform to encourage young writers to explore their creativity, but in purchasing the rights to the literature, filmmakers and screenwriters should have made the call to polish the material and not just blindly base everything on the written work. I take issue with the values presented in the film, like how women should be treated. Should women really allow men (no matter how popular and hunky) to call them bitches and retards? Should they blindly follow guys just because they’re popular, and should guys really join gangs and engage in violence every time to prove their coolness? I get that this is fiction, but since the filmmakers are bringing the book to a wider audience with the target market being teens and young adults, I suppose taking creative liberties with the source material would be acceptable. Is this really what we want teens to perceive as reality? Are we condoning a culture of abuse because really, while at least Diary ng Panget had the balance of a sensitive loving guy, Talk Back had only the gang members and Samantha’s submissive father as male models.

In terms of cinematography, while the shots were good, the editing was so abrupt that the transitions negated any impact any scene might make on the general audience. The general feeling that I got was that it was so fragmented, in thought and execution.

All in all, I felt like Talk Back and You’re Dead was a waste of good talent because there was potential in James Reid, Nadine Lustre and Joseph Marco. They had the skills but they were reduced into playing unbelievable characters in the most unbelievable fashion. As a whole, this movie felt like the Frankenstein monster — with parts from separate entities stitched together to form a whole. As a result, chaos.

Feng Shui Essentials for 2015

(Photo by: Myra Abando)

(Photo by: Myra Abando)

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.

The President has even declared the day a holiday owing to the number of the Filipino Chinese community in various parts of the country.

Filipinos have embraced Chinese customs and traditions for the Lunar New Year, and for good reason. Filipinos, like the Chinese share common values like love for family, religiosity and belief in starting the year right to inspire many happy returns.

This is why Pinoys are increasingly fascinated by feng shui, which translates to wind and water – the art of harmonizing one’s life with the elements to encourage positive things in life.

2015 is the year of the wooden goat. According to Feng Shui Master Joseph Chau Kam Shing, the year is filled with both positive and negative elements so it is helpful for believers to sport lucky charms to counteract the negative forces and channel them into positive energy.

In his book Feng Shui Essentials published by the Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp., Master Chau warns people who are born in the years of the goat, ox, rat and dog to be extra careful as they are offending the Tai Suey, or the star opposite Jupiter. While some difficulties await them, all hope is not lost as there are means to protect them from the negative elements.

Those born under the dragon (wood, gold), goat (metal), ox (water, earth) and dog (water) signs are also asked to refrain from going to funerals and burials this year.

Protection
According to Master Chau, the Master Protection Pendant should be worn by those who are born in the year of the rat, horse, rabbit, and ox and people whose surname are beginning in C, M, N, K, S and Y in order to counter the negative energy surrounding them this year. He says this is one of the best all round ways to remove bad luck, conflict and accidents.

For travelers, he advised the Safety Medallion to avoid road mishaps, and avoid evil spirits.

Health
Females are in need of the Health Medallion this year because of the prevalence of the Serious Sickness Star in the Southeast. Master Chau advises women to carry the medallion in their wallets or put one in the Southeast area of their homes, bedrooms or offices.

Money
Master Chau shares a variety of charms to enhance money luck this year. First, there is the Wealth Bucket, which symbolizes steady wealth and prosperity to the bearer. This item should be placed in one’s safety box, house or office to ensure stable income.

There is also the classic Jade Pei Yau, which is considered a money catcher. This animal is said to have a voracious appetite for money and encourages money to flow freely into the home.

For those having trouble collecting a debt, the Pay Back Collection Set may prove to be helpful. As part of the Financial Acquisition of Treasure (FAT) charm, this helps people collect on debts owed to them in the past.

The Trend Eight Antique Coins, on the other hand, should be placed inside one’s wallet, checkbook, passbook or record book by people having problems collecting on debts or stating out businesses.

Romance
For couples, the Brass Happy Couple encourages partners to have a faithful and harmonious relationship while theBrass Antique Pumpkin, which has carvings depicting long life, conjugal bliss, wealth and other positive relationship traits help couples have good luck and smooth sailing relationships.

The Jade Mandarin Ducks on Plate also depict harmonious relationships which usher in prosperity.

Career, Studies
The Jade Dragonhead Fish or pendant is one the most effective lucky charms for those who are starting out in their careers or needing help with their studies. A caveat is that the jade needs to be of good quality for it to be effective. ACicada charm on the other hand, helps children concentrate on their studies.

All the charms should be energized and blessed by a qualified person so that the positive chi within the ornaments will be activated. If not, the items will not serve its purpose and will only be decorative, Master Chau concludes.

This post was also published on cineramaetcetera’s partner bog Unli in the Philippines.

The Maze Runner: Movie Review

the-maze-runner-posterI 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.