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.

The Guest: Movie Review

the-guest-poster-exclusive
The Petersons are still mourning the loss of Caleb, the family’s eldest son, when a stranger arrives at their doorstep claiming to be a soldier and Caleb’s good friend. He ingratiates himself with the family and manages to get their confidence but under his good manners and southern charm lurks something dark and dangerous.

From the opening scene of the movie, I felt something familiar about the filmmaking approach. The editing felt like a throwback to the 80s, with the simple transitioning to the techno 80s scoring. I wasn’t surprised to find out that the team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett was behind this thriller which stars Dan Stevens as the mysterious stranger with an uncanny set of skills.

First off, the story was not very original. Actually, a couple of films have explored the idea of having a weird uninvited houseguest and then learning later that he is not who he claims to be. Wingard and Barrett made no secret that there was something definitely wrong about David (Stevens) from the first moment he was left alone.

For those wondering how in the heck the prim and proper Downton Abbey’s Lord Matthew Crawley fared as a disturbed, ultra violent, poseur or if he made the right choice in leaving the popular UK show at the height its glory, have no fear, Dan Stevens was able to lend credibility to his role with a quiet intensity and charm, yes, charm, that won over the audiences, even though he was kind of nuts. I liked the dimensions in his character and the contrast in his two personas.

I liked the subtlety of David’s character. For somebody who does as much as he, he hardly broke into a sweat. I also liked his relationship with Luke (Brendan Meyer), especially when he stood up for the bullied kid. Even in the end , he was in big brother mode with the younger guy and I was really sold on that.

Actually, the characters’ actions, if scrutinized further merits a lot of questions, like , why would they let a complete stranger into their home? Why would the dad, originally opposed to the idea of having David under their roof, suddenly become friends with him just because of a couple of beers, or why Luke would be more concerned about David despite what his sister suspected about him? Or why antagonize a man you suspect to be dangerous?

Personally, I would have liked for the film to simply have been about David being a psychopath and I’m not quite sure if the backstory added value to the film as a whole, but if its an excuse to bring in Lance Reddick( Agent Broiles from TV’s Fringe), I’m all for it. However, it would have been better if they explored that side of the story some more instead of taking Luke’s theories as a fact.

By the way, kudos to the guys who did the set for the dance. It was awesome. Better than any horror house I’ve ever been to and it made the final confrontation so much cooler.

All in all, I felt that a lot of elements of the film was just included to make it more complex. But while I would’ve preferred for it to be simpler, I thought the filmmakers did a kickass job with the execution. It was cool, it was sleek and it had an edginess to it that made it work. It was a great watch, all things considered.

Past Tense: Movie Review

Past-Tense-PosterI’m a big fan of Kim Chiu. I’ve seen all of her movies and watched all of her soaps, except for Past Tense. I did not quite connect to the plot as I did her other works. After I watched it, I felt like I was right in the first place. Her third movie paired up with Xian Lim did not pack quite the punch that the first two did.

Belle has spent the past 20 years in a coma after a car accident. When she wakes up, everything is different, even her face. She finds out that her survival is considered a medical miracle. In the course of figuring out what do with her life, Father Time makes an appearance and gives her the chance to redo her life before her accident in the hopes of correcting her mistakes and having the happy ending she wanted.

I would say that Past Tense was not a bad movie per se but there was something essential missing from the story to connect the audience to the characters. Kim as the young Belle was a firecracker, much like she was in Bride for Rent but it seemed at times, that she went over the top in her kikay persona. Ai Ai as older version of Belle was pretty spot on and it was fun to see how these two made an active effort to study each other’s behavior to come off as one person and make the portrayal very consistent. Xian as Babs was so-so but then again, his character was pretty much a watered down version of fat guys on film that went before him. Whereas Sam Milby was adorable in My Big Love, sad to say, Xian looked pathetic and so lacking in confidence as Babs that its really hard to take him seriously as a love interest.

The premise of the movie was pretty cool but I felt like since it was already unique in its premise, it should have stuck its guns and done away with having the makeover before the girl falls in love with the guy. I mean, if Belle already realized that she felt something for Babs, then that should have been it, not that he had to develop a six pack to show her what she’s been missing. Belle was not shallow. She was honest but she was not shallow because from the start, she valued her friendship with Babs and that was clear.

Complicated as the story was, I think the problem in developing the love story was with the blending of Babs and Belle. There was really no lead up to that big moment so it was natural for it to be awkward. There was really just friendship between the two and except for his one gesture, Babs did not communicate his intent for Belle to be more than a friend in all of their scenes together. What he did to work out, etc was all done behind Belle’s back and it led to a certain detachment unlike in the first two movies where there was time to bond and develop the two characters as a unit.

There was also the issue of abrupt resolutions that felt forced to meet the requisite happy ending. Really, all of the family issues, friendship issues and love issues was resolved in the space of one night?

All in all, I was disappointed that Star Cinema only relied on star power to sell this movie. Rather than quality, even for a simple love story, it was subpar for a studio offering. Sad to say, for a film that was premised on the fantastic, there was no magic in this one. It felt rushed, and released for the sake of meeting a deadline. For all the charm it promised, it was a dud.

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.

The ABCs of Death 2: Movie Review

Abcs_of_death_2_theatrical26 new directors from around the world are once again given the unique opportunity to be part of the second set of this horror anthology which deals with the concept of death. The first one had a lot of promising shorts. As a matter of fact, this was the movie where I was first introduced to Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the geniuses behind You’re Next.

There were some good films in the sequel too, but overall, I would say The ABCs of Death 2 was more weird than scary.

Unlike in my first review of the original movie, I’m just going to talk about the standouts in this round.

B is for Badger by Julian Barratt

A documentary style short about a douchebag wildlife show host who gets his comeuppance when he becomes the victim of a giant badger his team is doing a feature on.

I really liked this because it was very simple, it was able to make good use of its time to establish the characters and the story so the audience was able to respond appropriately to the ending.

E is for Equlibrium by Alejandro Brugues

Two guys stuck on an island find a beautiful girl who washes ashore. However, their friendship is tested when they start to develop feelings towards the stranger.

With  no dialogue and just some island music as background, director Alejandro Brugues was able to tell the story of a bromance that ends in horror but the twist in how it happens.

H is for Head Games by Bill Plympton

An animated (and literal) take on the title.

While the short was quite literal, I appreciate the artwork and the hard work that went with developing this idea.

I is for Invincible by Erik Matti

Four children try to kill their mother to get their inheritance but the old woman cannot be killed because she carries the stone of immortality that she needs one of her offspring to accept before she can die.

Director Erik Matti used the Filipino folklore on a mythical monster called aswang as inspiration for this tale and while there was little time to tell his story, I think he was able to communicate the gist of the tale to the audience.

J is for Jesus by Dennison Ramalho

A gay man is kidnapped by religious fanatics and tortured into denouncing his “evil” ways. His dead lover comes to his aid.

The short is unique because its not just a horror, its a social commentary on religion, acceptance and tolerance. It was able to communicate the hatred and apathy of people towards members of the LGBT community which is a horror in itself.

K is for Knell by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper

A mysterious black ink turns people into killers.

I loved the genuine feel of horror in the shots used in this short. Its style was reminiscent of Pulse and Cloverfield but it maintained its uniqueness with its hanging ending.

M is for Masticate by Robert Boocheck

A man in dirty underwear runs amuck in the streets of London.

This is one of my favorites because its just so fun to watch an overweight guy in slow motion attacking random people in the street. The cinematography was good, as was the editing and the story was really good for a short film.

Q is for Questionnaire by Rodney Ascher

A man answers a set of questions to test his intelligence only to receive a horrific prize.

I liked this short because of its unique balance of calmness and frenzy intersped with each other. Director Rodney Ascher was able to interpose two separate segments of the story together flawlessly. Great editing and storytelling.

R is four Roulette by Marven Kren

A couple and another man are forced to play a game of Russian Roulette in a basement for an unknown reason.

Unlike the other shorts, I did not have an trouble figuring out the title for this one. It was good because director Marven Kren was able to establish an air of suspense throughout the film and using black and white also added an air of vintage sophistication to his feature.

S is for Split by Juan Martinez Moreno

A man’s home is attacked while he is on a business trip and he frantically tries to get help for his wife and baby only to find out that the assailant is someone he knows.

I loved this film because it was able to maximize the time allotted to it, telling a complicated story and depicting a sense of heart pounding urgency by using multiple panels of sequences of events happening simultaneously. The ending is awesome.

Y is for Youth by Soichi Umezawa

A teenager fantasizes about the violent deaths of her abusive parents.

One of the weirdest horror movies in the last ABCs of Death anthology was Z is Zetsumetsu by Yoshihiro Nishimura and this year, director Soichi Umezawa proves that the Japanese are consistent in this respect. Youth was edgy, violent and surreal but in the end, it was able to deliver a good horror short, even if it was just in its lead character’s head.

Z is for Zygote by Chris Nash

A woman staves off giving birth for 13 years, waiting for her husband to come home.

This is yet another short film in my top three. It was gross, it was disturbing, and it was a successful horror not just cinematically but psychologically as well. It was well crafted from the story to the execution.

All in all, I think the ABCs of Death 2 did not quite measure up to the original because directors had more trouble creating concepts with the restriction of letters assigned to them. Many of the stories felt forced and some were not able to deliver on the limited time allotted to them. There were good films in the lot for sure, and I’m sure there will still be more to watch out for in the third installment in 2016, but for now, I’m just going to settle for giving this installment a passing mark. No more, no less.

That Thing Called Tadhana (destiny): Movie Review

tadhanaI never really connected to the term #hugotfeels, a recent expression that means connecting with a deep feeling until I watched That Thing Called Tadhana, an indie movie written and directed by Antoinette Jadaone for the Cinema One Originals competition. It was a low budget movie that even had to ask for people’s donations in the last leg of filming because the producers were asked to pay P220,000 for the rights of using the song “Where do Broken Hearts Go?” as part of the movie. The song cost was more already over the actual production of the movie but according to the filmmakers, it was totally worth it. In the end, the movie got made and lead actress Angelica Panganiban, was awarded for her performance in the movie. It was recently released in mainsteam cinema and already garnered P120 million in box office sales.

After finding out that her boyfriend of eight years cheated on her when she had already packed her bags and used her savings to surprise him in Italy, brokenhearted Mace (Angelica Panganiban) meets Anthony (JM de Guzman) at the airport when the latter tries to help her out with her excess luggage. They spend the next few hours of the flight seated next to each other and soon find themselves on an extended road trip to Sagada in an effort to heal Mace’s broken heart and forget about the ex who hurt her deeply.

I have to give credit to writer/director Antoinette Jadaone for making this movie. Simply said, it was superb. Unlike other breakup movies, it did not go overboard and simply drew from reality, making the emotions come naturally for both the actors and the viewers. The story was easy to connect to. The dialogue was great. It sounded like real things real people would say and lead actors Angelica Panganiban and JM de Guzman truly dug deep to deliver on excellent performances. It did not feel forced. It was realistic, with the exception of going on a road trip with a complete stranger (c’mon ladies, even if the guy was as hot as JM, it could still be dangerous). Even the ending felt right. It was not spoonfed and in a sense, it involved the audience in the outcome — which is always a good takeaway for the viewer.

The story was unique. Usually in Asian movies, surly successful guys fall in love with bubbly and cheerful girl next door types who are usually carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders behind their happy facade. This time, it was the sensitive, charming guy who rescues the feisty, yet broken stranger on the plane, who wore no make up, bawled for the better part of the 17 hour flight from Rome to Manila and talked about her ex every chance she got.

Angelica Panganiban deserved her award. She really gave her portrayal her all, but it was JM’s quiet presence that really got me to tear up in this movie. This guy is a charmer, true, but more than that, he’s a really good actor. I believe he should have at least gotten a nomination for his acting in Tadhana. Personally, I think these two actors were really effective because they have suffered real heartbreak in their own lives. As such, they have a strong foundation in which to source their emotions from and the movie was all the better for it.

I loved the film’s constant reference to John Lloyd Cruz and his movies which are considered some of the best breakup movies in Philippine cinema (Note: He’s Angelica’s boyfriend in real life so at times, it feels like an inside joke, especially when she is extolling JLC’s virtues). In making constant references to its predecessors in the genre, it just felt like Tadhana deserves a spot among those movies as one of the most sincere and heartfelt love stories in this contemporary age.

Speaking of references, it did not escape my attention that Tadhana constantly cited One More Chance as having excellent cinematography — For the record, Tadhana HAD excellent cinematography. It made me want to retrace Mace and Anthony’s steps and go on the same road trip myself.

All in all, I loved That Thing Called Tadhana. For a movie that had a low budget, it spoke of quality all the way through — from the story, to cinematography, to scoring, to acting. Everything was great. It was very endearing as it was entertaining. I didn’t think I would laugh so hard at a breakup movie but I did, and I did cry a time or two. (I’m sure those who have experienced heartbreak would have to bring towels to dry their eyes). Tadhana was more than a love story, it was a life story. It was not just about moving on, it was about finding yourself before moving forward to become the great person you are destined to be. An all around source of good vibes and hugotfeels, for sure.

Taken 3: Movie Review

Taken-3-Film-PosterJust the other day, I was just saying how cool it would be to see a showdown of Keanu Reeves’ John Wick and Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills and now, I am doing this review of the third installment of Taken, the franchise that catapulted Neeson into action stardom.

We’ve seen Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent “with a particular set of skills” save his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from a powerful prostitution ring. We’ve seen him save his wife and his daughter from the relatives of said crime syndicate who wanted to get revenge on him after he decimated the members of the said group which included the infamous Marko from Tropoje. In this final installment to the franchise, Mills is framed for the death of his annoying wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and his daughter is again in danger of suffering the same fate if Bryan doesn’t find out who did it and why they wanted him to take the heat for the crime.

Despite the fact that the same team worked on this final film in the trilogy (Olivier Megaton and Luc Besson), something felt different about Taken 3 straight off the bat. First, it was less intense. The air of danger wasn’t as urgent as the first two because come on, no one would seriously think that Bryan Mills could be taken by a few patrolmen, or detectives, heck even a fleet of law enforcement officers. He took down an ENTIRE CRIME SYNDICATE SINGLEHANDEDLY. Just saying.

Perhaps, it was because the grudge that made the first two movies so successful wasn’t there anymore or perhaps it was because the third film wasn’t doing anything we haven’t seen before. But this weaker storyline truly made the movie suffer in comparison to its predecessors.

There was also a noticeably lower body count, perhaps owing to the fact that the characters were now on American soil, making it really weird if Bryan walked off scott free after all the mayhem. Oh wait, — nah. I wouldn’t want to spoil you.

tak3n-gallery2-gallery-image

FATHER AND DAUGHTER MOMENT. Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace play Bryan and Kim Mills.

On the upside, what was consistent from the first movie remained as its main strength — the chemistry between Mills and his daughter Kim. These two play off each other like a real father and daughter and each line that Neeson says pertaining to his on-screen offspring is delivered with such conviction that audiences can truly relate to his plight.

All in all, while I personally celebrated the fact that the wife was finally killed off, I think Taken 3 suffered from the fact that people had set higher expectations for Bryan Mills because of the first two movies, which was the opposite of what happened before (people having no expectation and being blown away by the first Taken). This time around, they expected Bryan Mills to be a badass and as such, he had to perform well and beyond his previous films to impress the viewers. But the tepid plot and the shallow storyline only gave him so much wiggle room. And no matter how great an actor Neeson was, the story negated what could have been a kickass conclusion to the series and in the end, it seemed more perfunctory than epic. It was’t too bad, it was just subpar in terms of the standards set by the franchise. A bit disappointed.