Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cirque du Freak The Vampire's Assistant

I wouldn’t spend a lifetime of immortality unless the company I'm with is in the caliber of, say Edward Cullen. Well, Josh Hutcherson may do too although he seems too short for those times when you want a tall strong gentleman to sweep you off your feet and drive you into the sunset! In “Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”, Darren (Chris Massoglia) consents to becoming a vampire to save his best friend Steve (the cuddly Hutcherson) from imminent death (he got bitten by a poisonous spider). This seemed like a horrendous idea - and on film, it translates into being unremarkable.

Once Darren's "remains" were buried, he joins a traveling circus of freaks who's headed by a good "vampire" (John C. Reilly) who takes him under his wings. But things turn complicated when even darker forces (those who feed and kill people) go after Darren - with the help of Steve who becomes a vampire himself! Darren's family becomes pawn - and I suddenly realized I didn't care! Next time, Edward Cullen. Ho hum!

Josh Hutcherson grows up!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Solomon Kane - Redemption from the Devil

I like the medieval times, though I am not exactly sure this covers that period. But this was the time of barbarians, warriors in armors, and sorcery. Solomon Kane, a soldier of fortune, is turning over a new leaf, after having sold his soul to the devil.

To find redemption, he has to save a damsel whose family got butchered by the men of Malachi, the devil's minion. In the process he finds his way home.

James Purefoy has mastered the art of playing such characters and he sure makes a dashing, albeit grungy and reluctant hero. I almost didn't recognize Jason Flemyng too. "Solomon Kane's" story is a bit wobbly and vacillates in its resolve to place the power of the devil - is it all too powerful to turn men into monsters? Or is their transformation merely superficial? They sure were easily subdued by people less mightier than Kane.

Regardless of its flaws, it was an entertaining movie. I half expected a dragon to turn up anytime.

"George and the Dragon" gets a new costume.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Blind Side - And How Sandra Bullock is Queen Again

Before last year's "The Proposal", Sandra Bullock was on a fast slide to oblivion. Of course, there's also the horrible "All About Steve" but when you have "The Proposal" and "The Blind Side" on your buffet table, the debacle of "All About Steve" is easy to forgive.

"The Blind Side" chronicles the real story of an All-American family who takes under their wings a neglected teenage boy. Here's the catch: he is black and is humongous! Sandra Bullock plays Leigh Ann Tuohy, the sassy cheerleading coach who felt compelled to "adopt" Michael Oher (Quenton Aaron, who stands 6 foot 8 inches!). Bullock displays consistent characterization that's easy to empathize with (and that isn't an easy task - not when your family is a group of beautiful, rich, successful people.) The film is rich with insightful moments that tug the heart. My favorite was when Michael was saying goodbye to Leigh Ann as he was starting college.

Sure, the movie maybe schmaltzy at times, but I didn't mind. Take a box of tissue with you, dears!

Bullock - Box office and critical supremacy regained in one year!

The Hurt Locker - Ravages of War

The Bravo Company is bracing for their last 38 days before their Iraqi tour of duty ends. But they get a new commander - Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) who's famed for having disarmed 873 bombs. Despite his legendary acumen, James seems reckless; something that might endanger his men!

Director Kathryn Bigelow (Avatar director James Cameron's ex-wife) delivers a riveting piece of cinema that shakes your consciousness about the gravity of war, and the mind set that separates real heroes from adventure-seeking psychos. As soldiers go home with a morsel of sanity in the grave, some of these souls carry with them mementos of rampage and death.

With just "Avatar" getting in the way for Oscar gold, Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" is poised for more cinematic glory. It is already a classic in my book!

Disarming bombs for breakfast!

Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes appear in eventful cameos.

Iraq is a safe place for no one. This is the place to test the saying that "Everyone is afraid of something!"

Jeremy Renner wants peace!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Paano Na Kaya - Turning the Tables on Love

I am not exactly a fan of Kim Chiu or Gerald Anderson, but I like them both. They epitomize youthful exuberance, ambition and early success, and there’s nothing sweeter than seeing them grow before your eyes. They have evolved from hopeful reality TV stars into some of the biggest names in the business.

So their boobtube success finally translates into another movie together! Did we like it? Did we feel we got our P160’s worth? To be honest, I wasn’t jumping with joy when I left the theater. For one, we feel that the female protagonist is a study of embarrassment and shamelessness. I shall get to that in a bit.

Bogs Marasigan (Gerald Anderson) is caught in his own carefree world of fixing beat up cars and pleasing his girlfriend Anna (Melissa Ricks). And whatever he does, he takes his bestfriend Mae Chua (Kim Chiu) along for the ride – so Mae is licensed to hover ardently like a love sick puppy! After all, that’s what bestfriends do – or is it?

But cinematic relationships are not made in heaven as when Bogs gets dumped in favor of Anna’s boss. As he grieves for his lost love, Mae offers her affection and soon declares her love to the spaced out Bogs. He accepts! He is that impressionable! And all seems well at la-la land. Suddenly, Mae gets a make over. Her spectacles disappear; her hair gets a perm, then as luck would have it, Anna returns to claim what she feels is rightfully hers. Where does this leave Mae?

From the start, I had a problem with their relationship as “bestfriends”. This was one without a sense of entitlement. The narrative offers them on a platter without historical clarity- but for a stack of photo-shopped framed photographs; no high school or college past; no childhood memories – in fact, Bogs doesn’t even know JC (Robi Domingo) who was Mae’s childhood friend (JC once said he won’t ever marry anyone else but Mae). To encapsulate this, what they have is a one-sided relationship that’s based on Mae’s infatuation - and devotion. In my book, that doesn’t constitute friendship. Thus Bogs becomes a selfish prick of epic proportions – one who’s easily swayed by words - and one who attains epiphany as he flexes his biceps at the shower!

Kim Chiu is given half a dozen highlights and though she works hard with every morsel of her emotive capacity, she, unfortunately doesn’t make the grade. She falls short and appears shrill, her characterization superficial and spare. This was evident during her confrontation with her dad (Ricky Davao) at the dinner table; then again on top of a fire truck while a raging fire blazes over (an anticlimactic, badly executed scene). Kim’s emotive sincerity feels inadequate. I would have thought she had a lot of on-the-job experience after 3-4 years of teleserye, right? But all this is probably remediable with real life experiences. She is young and obviously talented - thus has a lot of potential for growth.

Gerald Anderson, on the other hand, has never been expected to pass muster as a dramatic actor. He has a face that’s too good looking to pass for a serious actor. In fact, except for being drop dead gorgeous, nothing much is expected from Mr. Anderson except look cute doing his noodle dance. Alas, how can we be so wrong? Gerald has been turning up very credible performances. He experiments with real emotions – he even gets too eager at times - and all this is manifested on screen. Whatever excesses should have been easily reined in by an intuitive director! In retrospect, Gerald comes off better than Kim. He could have been awkward is several silly scenes – like when he literally begs in front of Anna to stay with him while the new beau (Bernard Palanca) looks on; like when he professes his real feelings on top of a fire truck. Even his scenes with Zsa zsa Padilla (the delinquent mother ) are quite affecting.

Paano Na Kaya presents us with characters that aren't quite real. Do you actually buy Kim as this business girl who can sell 1,500 shirts in a day? Not when she stutters and shrieks in front of her irate customers, then even before she closes the deal, she turns her back and accepts a phone call, all the while calling her customers “Mga intsik…” within their earshot! Plus there were awkward lines that don’t belong in highly charged dramatic moments while the leading lady is shedding buckets: “Shinota mo ang bestfriend mo!” (And you hear the whole gallery laughing!) Mae was accusing Bogs something that she should have told herself. After all, she was the one who offered herself at the time when he was most vulnerable! She was the subtle manipulator!

So - shame on you, Mae! You deserve your broken heart! Ikaw kasi, “shinota mo” ang bestfriend mo!

As we left the cinema, we heard 3 girls saying, “Ampanget!” Then one of them giggled, “Pero ang pogi ni Robi!

She was right! If Star Cinema needs a 3rd body to cook up a triangle that can match up with Gerald’s boyish charms, Robi Domingo perfectly fits the bill! He registers handsomely and his features complement that of Kim’s. Robi looks ill at ease, even awkward in some of his scenes, but remember how bad Kim was when she did her first sitcom (“Aalog Alog”)?

Move over Kimerald, here comes Kimbi?

Greed and Humanity's Obsession with Excesses

Flint Lockwood, a mumbling nerdy inventor unknowingly succeeds in inventing a Food Replicator that turns water into food. Soon, the whole world sits up to watch food falling from the skies. Everyone is excited. I was thinking of Africa! After all, this may eventually end world hunger, won't it? But little did they realize that this was formula for disaster, and temporary weather girl Sam (voiced by Anna Faris) is on the scene to report everything.

"Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs" is a gut-wrenching examination of man's obsession with excesses. Imagine the possibilities: crispy pata, heavenly scoops of ice cream, luscious cherries, chocolate cookies and cheesecakes, caviar - falling from the skies! Bon appetit!

It's raining cheeseburgers!

Your backyard struggles to accommodate giant pieces of donuts, drumsticks, mallows, etc.

Eiffel Tower becomes a sandwich!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Two Part Harmony in Repertory Philippines' Duets

Peter Quilter's Duets runs like a chamber play - small cast of 2, sparse set design, costume changes that are written almost as part of the performance - with 4 acts and 4 unrelated stories, running like vignettes of encounters.

Ms. Joy Virata is adorable as the whip-smart - and drunk! - Shelly who's about to separate from her husband Bobby (Miguel Faustmann) in the idyllic beaches of Boracay (subbing for Spain). Over vodka and a stack of skyflakes, the bickering couple discuss their impending separation and examine a marriage once filled with the frivolity of youth. Virata also essays the role of Angela who's getting cold feet minutes before she was to walk down the aisle - her third marriage! It didn't help that the elements seemed to contribute to her indecision - a coffee-smudged bridal gown, runny mascara, disheveled hair, and the pesky rains!

Though we had trouble with the age requirement of some of the roles, Joy Virata and Miguel Faustmann performed with a lot of spunk. The latter played to the crowd with his characterization of the effete Barrie with whom bestfriend Janet (Virata) is infatuated. People were talking about Barrie as we eased out of the theater, but it was his performance for the role of Bobby (the separating hubby) that we found affecting. Ms. Virata on the other hand was elegant and evocative in her parts. The duo enjoyed an easy rapport. Though there was part of me that somehow sought the gravitas of any of the vignettes presented from last year's "The Male Voice" (a brilliant play filled with real stories played out as heart-numbing monologues), we still had a pleasant time at the theater!

There are flaws in the material (a blind date that happens at the guy's apartment - while the woman is supposed to be prissy; a featherweight conversation that leaves me unconvinced how a woman can fall in love with her gay bestfriend, etc.) The blind date portion was pretty predictable without much in the way of surprises. And despite the age of the material (which premiered in the last 3 years or so), the scenarios felt a little dated.

Light weight fun, fantastic performances. You just wish it had a little more verve and offered a little more variation in way of presentation than how it was written. Nevertheless, it was money well spent! Duets is having its last weekend run at Greenbelt's OnStage - January 28-30, 2010. Google Repertory Philippines for details.

Doomed Messages in "The Messenger"

There are those whose job is to deliver news of the death of enlisted soldiers to their next of kin (NOK) - and I don't pity them.

In "The Messenger", war vet Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is suddenly assigned to perform such duty just a few months shy from completing his tour of duty. And he is under the direct stewardship of Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) who is morose and detached from any emotional ties. But try as he might, Will feels compelled to do more than what he is ordered to do. As a child, he was exposed to a drunk driver - his father! As an adult, he feels the need to reach out!

And little did I realize that part of this duty involves the procedural do's & don't's that hardly make sense: you cannot show emotion, you cannot touch the next-of-kin; no physical contact; no pats or condoling embraces; stuff that segregates humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Ben Foster finally acquires gravitas. He was initially tentative but grew into the character of Will Montgomery. In this movie, Foster joins the big leagues of real actors. So does Woody Harrelson snagged a supporting actor nomination for his multi-layered Tony Stone. His moment comes after Will relates an anecdote of why he didn't deserve to be called a hero (a gritty account of how he escaped death while a comrade was blown to pieces).

Soundbites from Harrelson's character: "We had R&R with Filipino hookers - and we were on-call!" Ouch!

"I look best when I brood," Ben postures.

Grey Gardens - Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange Scorch in Fact-Based Drama

The aristocratic Beales have fallen on hard times, and their fortunes have turned around from being Park Avenue debutants to eccentrics living in squalor. They live at their rundown estate in Long Island. Though this may seem like a regular story in this age of recession, Edie (Drew Barrymore) and Edie (JessicaLange) Beale are no ordinary citizens. They are first cousin and aunt of American royalty Jackie Onassis Kennedy. As their fortunes dwindled, they withdraw from New York society, taking shelter at their East Hampton summer home, "Grey Gardens." As their wealth and contact with the outside world fizzled, so did their grasp on reality. They were reintroduced to the world when international tabloids learned of a health department raid on their home, and Jackie O swooped in to save her relatives.

Drew Barrymore makes the performance of her lifetime and Jessica Lange is stunning. I know I have the documentary somewhere - The Beales of Grey Gardens, so I'm gonna watch this too. I loved the musical numbers that featured duets by Jessica Lange and Broadway star (and Emmy nominee) Malcolm Gets (he portrayed Gould, Edie's musical boytoy).

Lange already won her Emmy for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, while Drew got her Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) for the same category. Well deserved recognitions.

Younger Edie eternally covers her hair with a veil. She suffers from alopecia.

Broadway star Malcolm Gets.

The beautiful set of the Broadway play "The Story of My Life" starring Malcolm Gets. Just wanted to share this.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Old Dogs Never Say Die

Dan (Robin Williams) is shaken upon learning that he fathered twins from former lover Vicki (Kelly Preston). Moreover, he must take care of them while Vicki serves a prison sentence (she trespassed)! Along with the ride is his bestfriend and business partner Charlie (the pudgy yet adorable John Travolta) who's in the middle of a lucrative deal that would turn their business global and take them to Tokyo. Amidst these predicaments are silly expectations of romance, babysitting disasters, and errr... closing the car trunk on a hand model's hand (the hilarious Rita Wilson)!

There's not a lot of pleasure to be had in this Walt Becker movie - in fact, "Old Dogs" feels, well, "old" - like you've seen it before and you're just going for the ride, but it sure beats paying P160 to agonize while watching Pinoy indie movies (I've had the misfortune to watch 3 bad ones - "Puntod", "Chub Chaser", "Fidel" for January alone - and there's 1 more week to complete this list!) Shivers!

John Travolta - back when his name was synonymous with "Perfect" - which became a title for his movie with Jamie Lee Curtis!

Dax Shepard is child-safety engineer (sans the degree) in "Old Dogs"!

Megafault is Catastrophic

I found this on my shelf and 2 things immediately struck me: 1. the recent death of 32 year old screen darling Brittany Murphy; 2. the catastrophic aftermath of a fatal earthquake in poverty-stricken Haiti. Though the movie is a major turkey and offered no educational insight into the disaster (everything is elementary science), it made me painfully aware of how fragile our Earth is.

Spoilers here! But Eriq Lasalle's heroism seemed avoidable. And I was wondering what exactly Murphy's character (she was a seismologist) did to help, other than point out into maps. I was half wishing that the earth would swallow all the bad and pretentious indie filmmakers so I didn't have to pay P160 every time they come out with films on commercial screens. It will absolutely save me thousands of pesos for the year 2010.

She sang for us in "Happy Feet"; she cried in "8 Mile"; she giggled in "Clueless". May she rest in peace.

Justin Hartley cools down.

Justin was born to be super; he played Aquaman then the villainy Green Arrow in "Smallville". Wasn't the Green Arrow a good guy in the comic world?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Legion - Rewriting Faith

Sometimes, even the most engrossing movies crumble when their basic premise is as preposterous as rewriting faith.

In "Legion", the Almighty God that we know has lost His faith on humanity. The first time this happened, He sent the floods. This time around, He sent angels and turned them executioners. Though the narrative made effective use of mood and the you-and-me-against-the-world syndrome (a group of strangers are trapped at a diner in the middle of the desert, fending for themselves against monsters), all of this is hobbled by the aforementioned pseudo-religious predicament that even involves a "child that will save the Earth" (who sent the child if God did not? - and who was the child supposed to be, the Second Christ?).

Paul Bettany (the rebellious Archangel Michael) makes for a believable angel-turned-human-turned-action star. His fight with Archangel Gabriel was edge-of-your-seat fun! But I left the theater deeply disturbed, "God lost His faith?" They must refer to another entity because the God that I know has boundless mercy, kindness and compassion. And if He wills to end humanity as we know it, why send ineffective zombies?

Paul Bettany turns wingless.

Angel Michael taking a dip.

Lucas Black learns to fight back.

Fidel - Chronicles of a Fallen Man

For the first 45 minutes, we were subjected to an endless barrage of question-and-answer - "Did he kill the Arab?"; ""I killed him!" This sentiment was irritatingly repeated ad nauseam until I was almost tempted to throw my Coca Cola at the silver screen. Almost everyone in the movie was given his 10-minute spotlight to grieve for Fidel (Lance Raymundo) - the saint who couldn't swat a fly but who bludgeoned an Arab (Jon Hall) to death. Every written character contributed to an annoyingly amateurish work that once again underscored why the digital wave isn't such a good thing.

Of course we already know 10 minutes into the movie that Fidel was raped, but whatever urgency that this brings to the narrative is diluted by the over-the-hill performances and too many scenes that didn't deserve to be mounted on screen. As the movie comes to an end, what was meant as an explosive scene - where Von Arroyo goes ballistic from out of the blue - only highlighted the glaring hilarious excesses of a storyteller who's tentative of where his story was headed!

Heto pa: The morons (who represented the government) mouthed diplomatic jargons - and i was reduced to fits of laughter. Honey, the international community does NOT care about Filipinos in Dubai death row. CNN pa?

And if you haven't noticed, Fidel actually killed his Arab employer to avenge his "deflowering" - not as a means of self defense! He acted on impulse way after the alleged crime of "rape" was committed. In fact, he was already released from his "bondage" when he suddenly attacked his employer! THAT, my dear, is not just manslaughter but MURDER!

In Fidel's case, there is the intent to do injury, the willful disregard for life; a state of mind referred to as malice aforethought!

Fidel deserves to rot in jail because he placed the law into his own hands! The death of the Arab didn't happen during Fidel's struggle to defend himself!

Hay naku!

Wasted effort!

Singing himself to sleep - in prison.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tooth Fairy Revisited

Dwayne Johnson loves to make fun of himself. Just imagine a strapping 6'3" muscular hulk wearing pink tights with fluffy feathery wings and ruffled blouse - the image readily begs humor.

In "Tooth Fairy", Johnson succeeds in entertaining an audience that doesn't expect much from what's on view at the big screen. But his self deprecating humor transcends, and we are rewarded with an escapist's night at the movies. I half expected to hate it (just like "Chipmunks"), but its winsome set of characters eventually cast their spell on me: Julie Andrews, the much missed Ashley Judd, the hilarious Billy Crystal,

"Let me contemplate in peace," says Dwayne.

Chase Ellison as the EMO son Randy. Chase is a veteran of a lot of TV shows ("7th Heaven", "Boomtown", "The Young and the Restless", "Deadwood" and some movies like Julia Roberts' "Fireflies in the Garden").

Ryan Sheckler plays Dwayne's "hockey rival" wonderboy Mick Donnelly. In real life, Sheckler is a champion skater - with sports merchandise named after him to boot!