Movie: Heneral Luna

My blog has seriously been lacking posts related to movies. Not that I haven’t been going to the cinemas but I find it do depressing that the only movies I can write about are foreign ones. There is such a dearth of decent Filipino movies that I can’t write about movies in general (or else it would be a very negative post about our local films). It’s even harder to find good historical movies. The last one about Bonifacio had noble intentions but Robin Padilla’s serious lack of acting talent was too distracting, and while the source material was rich, the movie’s plot was…blah. It had been years, even decades, since we’ve had a decent historical movie but if Heneral Luna is any indication, then we are about to experience a renaissance.

So when we started seeing those posters about Heneral Luna, the hubby and I were really excited. It is quite interesting to note as well the choice of subject: Antonio Luna. We all know about Luna’s fiery temper but he is one of those heroes who somehow get overshadowed by Rizal’s intelligence, del Pilar’s good looks, and Aguinaldo’s sly, political maneuvers. What we all know (I hope) is that he was the younger brother of Juan Luna, whose brilliance in art Antonio equalled with his mastery of the art of war and guerilla warfare. But beyond those information, we know very little of the man.

That the movie starts with a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction based on facts should not dissuade Filipinos from flocking to it – yes, certain liberties were taken, especially with the chronology of events, but on the whole, it stayed largely faithful to what our history books and biographies tell us. In fact, it was so truthful that for the first time in many years, we have an epic historical/action film that depicts one of our lesser known heroes for the man that he is, instead of glossing over his flaws and presenting him as more of a deity on a pedestal.

The first thing you notice about the movie is the lush cinematography and the painstaking attention to detail to evoke the aura of the late 19th century. The only flaw are the numerous images of the Our Lady of Fatima, which was out of place as the Marian apparitions happened more than a decade after the events of the film. Despite this not being considered a mainstream/commercial film, no expense was spared – indeed, its reported budget of Php80MM (some sources suggest as high as Php200MM) is one of the largest  budgets ever for a Filipino film.

The movie starts with an interview of the general against a backdrop of the Philippine flag. As the movie progresses, his uniform gets more tattered, bloodstained, and the actor’s face more anguished and pained. The flag hanging behind him mirrors the travails the general endures – it eventually gets riddled with bullet holes and blood spatters. The next scenes switch between Cabinet meetings and battles against the American forces, different battlefields in which Luna excels. He comes off as a man possessed, perhaps his penance for having declined joining the 1896 revolution, since he belonged to that generation of heroes who preferred to push for reforms and representation in the Spanish government. The interjections of Spanish curse words, while distracting in most movies, serve to stress the enormity of the situations in which they were used. 

It deviates from the usual storytelling from the hero’s childhood to adulthood, and instead injects “throwbacks” by way of anecdotes told by the general himself to his loyal soldiers, such as when he tells how he and Rizal almost had a duel in Europe – a reference to when they courted Nellie Boustead, a half-Filipino, half European woman who favored Rizal. Luna, presumably incensed that he was rejected, made unsavory remarks about her that eventually led Rizal to challenge him to a duel. Fortunately, their friends intervened and the duel never happened. Imagine what tragedy it would have been. His mother’s visit before his fateful journey to Nueva Ecija also gave us insights to his brilliance as a chemist and doctor, proven by his first place finish for his college paper “Two Fundamental Bodies of Chemistry,” at the Santo Tomas, his being commissioned by the Spanish to study tropical diseases, and his eventual appointment as Chief Chemist of the Municipal Laboratory of Manila (a position he won by placing first place in an examination for the post).

Even the precious few minutes devoted to his love story with Ysabel didn’t feel forced and an unnecessary accoutrement to the movie. It is a vaguely alluded to the relationship he had with Ysidra Cojuangco, a matriarch of the  Cojuangco clan. There were unverified  rumors at the time that Luna had entrusted the revolution’s funds to Ysidra, and upon his death, the money was never heard of again, and formed the foundation of the Cojuangco weath.

Perhaps the most clever tool used in the movie to cover long stretches of time in one go is a black and white montage of important events, reportedly completed within a single take: the Luna family’s traditions, the Ilustrados’ studies in Europe, Rizal’s execution, the establishment of the Sala de Armas (a fencing club) by the Luna brothers in Manila.

Luna’s death, its gruesome depiction notwithstanding, stayed true to historical accounts: the general received a telegram from Aguinaldo purportedly asking him to go to the his office in Nueva Ecija, presumably to discuss the establishment of a fort in the mountains and the use of guerilla warfare. Nearing his destination, his entourage encountered difficulties and were delayed, forcing him to proceed only with his two trusted men, Capt. Rusca and Col. Roman. On his way to Aguinaldo’s office, he encounters Pedro Janolino, the captain of the Kawit Brigade who he had earlier disarmed for insubordination. He finds out Aguinaldo had left and finds instead cabinet member Felipe Buencamino, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, who he previously had arrested along with Pedro Paterno for their pro-American leanings, seated on the president’s seat.

Arguments ensued until a single shot outside prompted the already enraged Luna to investigate. This scene is perhaps the most talked about and bloody sequence in the movie, showing how the general was felled by a bolo swing from Janolino, followed by subsequent gunshot and knife wounds inflicted by members of the Kawit brigade –  most accounts agree that Luna sustained more than 40 wounds, calling his assassins cowards and murderers. Even the short quip by Aguinaldo’s mother, asking “nagalaw pa ba yan?” (Is he still moving?), is based on the most consistent eyewitness accounts. His two comrades came to his aide but were overwhelmed, with Roman being killed and Rusca severely wounded. For those familiar with Antonio’s elder brother Juan’s masterpiece, Spoliarium, the scene where his body and that of  Roman were dragged by the  Caviteños pays tribute to that painting.

CASTING

It is quite interesting that the filmmakers cast known comedians in serious roles: Leo Martinez as Pedro Paterno, Ketchup Eusebio as Janolino, and Epy Quizon as Apolinario Mabini. But perhaps this added to the charm of the movie and rendered the comedic lines more natural. Epy was a revelation, as he proved he could be a serious actor, quite like his father actually. I remember quite clearly how Dolphy made me laugh hard in his movies, but when he turns dramatic, he slays. Paulo Avelino’s random appearances as General Gregorio del Pilar drew cheers from the crowd.

To be honest, I am not quite familiar with John Arcilla’s work. I heard he’s a good actor but I don’t think I have watched him in a large role such as this and he was brilliant. There were many instances when his raging outbursts and jokes threatened to turn the movie into a comedy, but the way he delivered his lines took the film from borderline slapstick to art.

LESSONS

Despite the overwhelming evidence against Luna’s killers, no one was jailed or punished; Aguinaldo denied any involvement, though newspapers at the time, both here and in the US, largely pinned him as the mastermind behind the brutal assassination, as he felt threatened with Luna.

Photo credit: filipiknow.net

Photo credit: filipiknow.net

Even Mabini, Aguinaldo’s loyal former prime minister and advisor, embittered and disillusioned, had this to say later on (taken from Nick Joaquin’s A Question of Heroes):

“The revolution failed because it was badly directed, because its leader won his post not with praiseworthy but with blameworthy acts, because instead of employing the most useful men of the nation, he jealously discarded them. Believing that the advance of the people was no more than his own personal advance, he did not rate men according to their ability, character and patriotism but according to the degree of friendship or kinship binding him to them; and wanting to have favorites willing to sacrifice themselves for him, he showed himself lenient to  their faults. Because he disdained the people, he could not but fall like an idol of wax melting in the heat of adversity. May we never forget such a terrible lesson learned at the cost of unspeakable sufferings!”

On a sidenote, it was quite frustrating to hear moviegoers asking either why Mabini was seated the whole time or who the paralytic was – I watched the movie twice and heard seatmates ask these questions out loud. What are we teaching our kids nowadays? And those asking appear to be college students, some even look to be working professionals. One even had the gall to comment that he didn’t know that the Bonifacio brothers died such gruesome deaths.

Inadvertently, the movie brings to the fore the dubious motives and flawed character of Aguinaldo – one need only be reminded of how he usurped power from the plebeian Andres Bonifacio, then had him brutally dispatched off in the mountains of Maragondon, Cavite, which became a morbid deja vu for Luna’s murder. He declared himself president, but when tested, proved to be nothing more than a glorious clan leader. Persistent rumors also question where the $800M given to him by the Americans in Hongkong have gone, a question we will perhaps never find the answers to. His subsequent actions during the Japanese occupation further cemented his reputation as a turncoat- favoring whoever is in power to save his own skin and advance his political agenda. But perhaps, a closer look at history would prove that justice had been served: Aguinaldo lost to Quezon, one of his former majors (indeed, one of his last scenes in the movie where he was about to leave Cabanatuan before Luna arrives, shows the young Quezon greeting him, an account taken fron Quezon’s memoirs) in the presidential elections. And whatever legacy he has will forever be tainted by the murders of the Bonifacio brothers and Luna.

On the other hand, General Luna, regardless of his volatile temper that eventualy became his death warrant, would now be regarded in history as a man who strove to unify the nation, create an army capable of inflicting defeats unto its more advanced adversaries. His death now serves as a lesson that nothing can be achieved by regionalistic sentiments; and he will be forever remembered as one of the most brilliant generals the Filipinos ever had.

The movie, despite its disclaimer as a work of fiction (which on hindsight, must have been included to appease the purist who know nothing of artistic license), is a must-watch for all Filipinos. Painstaking research must have been made to ensure the accuracy of most of the events in the film, and I must commend Jerrold Tarog’s brilliant mind to put this all into one cohesive script and direct a fully entertaining and engrossing movie. It should be watched not just for its merits as a film, but more to reignite nationalism, which has now been reduced to nothing but an idea, and encourage the youth (and the old) to revisit thier history books, and learn from the mistakes we seem to be wont on repeating.

Movie: Oz the Great and Powerful


Before you dismiss this movie as yet another fairytale remake, let me tell you: it’s not. It’s actually a prequel set years before Dorothy and Toto ever got sucked by a tornado and landed on top of the wicked witch, a story not fully explored in detail in previous films or in the book (at least the first one, since I haven’t read any other Oz book).

The movie unfolds in black and white and in the old screen width ratio, a homage to the 1939 classic starring Judy Garland, with Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco), a small-time magician and womanizer from the Baum Family Circus in Kansas. One day, the circus strongman finds the music box he gave to the former’s sweetheart (apparently, Oz tells unfortunate ladies that the music box belonged to his grandmother as a means to gain their sympathy and devotion) and goes on a jealous rampage after Oz. 

Forced to escape on a hot-air balloon, the unlucky Oz gets swept by a tornado and lands in Oz – with the screen expanding to its now standard width, and bright color exploding right before your eyes, much like in the old film. 
Pretty much every scene from here on are displays of spectacular CGI. 
And not much else.
For one, Franco appears to be miscast as the wonderful wizard of Oz and even one of his line,
“I’m just not the man you wanted me to be,” kind of foreshadows this. Rumor has it that Johnny Depp turned down this role and so did Robert Downey, Jr, both of whom would have been perfect for the role. As it is, Franco may be a good actor but he is just not as adept at portraying larger than life characters, and cannot pull off the campiness that the movie required. 
Furthermore, the background story on why the Theodora became the evil witch is a bit forced – she had a little of good at first but in the book, she was nothing but bad. However, I kind of guessed as much. After all, while Mila Kunis is gorgeous, she doesn’t exactly look angelic and yes, I am judging the book by its cover. However, her acting comes off as a bit stunted, as if she wasn’t sure what to do next and just decided to plunge headlong into the unknown.
The only good portrayals are those of Evanora (by Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams). I have always been fans of both, back when Weisz starred in that box office bomb Chain Reaction and Williams was a sort of second-string to Katie Holmes in Dawson’s Creek and I guess, the fact that they are still very much visible in Hollywood is a testament to their talent. I can think of a handful of other actresses who would have been good witches as well, but I can’t really argue with the casting of these two (too bad because we all know it’s Evanora who gets squashed by Dorothy’s house when she arrives in Oz).
And funny enough, but the most endearing characters in the movie aren’t even real – the devoted flying monkey and the nameless China girl.

For what it’s worth, I did get a few laughs (and shed a few tears) and the little boy wanted to watch it again as soon as the end credits rolled in. As an afterthought, Hollywood may have hit a jackpot turning fairytales into movies – we all know there’s practically an unlimited source material from every corner of the world. And fairy tales seem to be the in-thing nowadays, perhaps because everyone could use some sort of escape from real life.

*All photos from Disney.

Movie: Jack the Giant Slayer


Not great but not as mediocre after all as what the critics and its quite dismal box office earnings would have me believe. Yes, it was number one in North America, with roughly $27M in its opening weekend, but that sort of pales in comparison when you factor in its huge budget of $200M. Obviously, it’s not going to recoup its budget. So any luck of it having a sequel is very slim (looking at you also, John Carter). 
The movie starts off interestingly enough, with little Jack reading through his late mom’s storybook with the help of his dad, the story of the giants and the beanstalks, who have by now faded into legend after so many years. Fast forward to ten years later, and Jack learns that the legend is true after all, and by some twist of fate, their princess got carried off into the clouds literally when the beanstalks suddenly sprouted in and around Jack’s house. There are little twists here and there, most obvious of which is the princess’ addition, and Jack gets some help in the form of Elmont, the leader of the king’s army. 
Doesn’t this giant remind you of Voldemort, you know, before Fiennes took on the role?

Acting-wise, I have to give kudos to the cast for acting seriously enough to make the story believable and yet, not looking stupid enough as what we have with other comedies. And while it’s not a movie that you just have to see, it’s an entertaining one that didn’t make me feel cheated of my hard-earned money. 

Back-track a bit. Wait? Did I just say comedy?
Honestly, I am confused what this movie is. True, it’s an adventure movie and there’s a spattering of funny scenes (I smile even now, thinking of Ewan McGregor stuffed in a bun together with pigs, left to roast in a fiery oven), and the characters are engaging enough (I never really paid much attention to Nicholas Hoult in X-Men First Class; only now do I realize he’s kind of cute, with his lopsided grin and agreeable expression).
The problem is I can’t really make up my mind whether it’s supposed to be a comedy or a drama, or a suspense/thriller. I can’t even decide if it’s for kids or for adults, never mind that the rating clearly says it’s PG-13. I guess that’s where the problem of this movie lies. The production should have decided whether or not they were aiming for kids or not, and from there, decided what tone and storyline they wanted to pursue.
But for what it’s worth – I did enjoy it. And that alone is reason enough for me to recommend this movie. 

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

A word of advice: if you’re looking for a good story and good acting, you won’t find it here. But you will be entertained and certainly kept awake by all the gore in this film.

An updated version of the classic children’s tale, the movie picks up some fifteen years later, with Hansel and Gretel now all grown up and making a living as witch hunters. When children start disappearing in a sleepy town in Germany, the siblings are hired by the mayor to rescue the kids and find out who has been kidnapping them. Their mission takes them back to their childhood home, the candy house, and ultimately, leads them to the truth about what really happened that night in the woods, and why their parents disappeared that night. 
The story soon becomes one cliche after another, delivered through what I’m sure were supposedly witty lines peppered with the f* word (really, this word existed in 19th century Germany?) such as “you’ve got to be f* kidding me” and punctuated with blood and gut spatter every five minutes or so.

Those spatters are perhaps the most fun thing about this movie. Story-wise, this movie is about as shallow as Underworld and Twilight, but the 3D is good. In fact, I think this is one of the best 3D renditions I have ever watched, with each scene seamless and looking like you can reach out and touch the characters on screen. Several times, hubby and I felt like ducking for cover. 

Oh, and Gemma Arterton is pretty. I am developing a serious girl crush on her, ever since she played Io in Clash of the Titans; or did Prince of Persia come before that? Oh wait, she was a Bond girl first. And she actually looked like she believed herself to be a bad-ass witch hunter. 

Which cannot be said of Jeremy Renner. I know he’s a talented actor, as his fame rests solely on his acting chops, but his movies of late are uninspired and he often looked like he was slumbering his way through his role. If I hadn’t watched him in all his big-budget movies (Avengers, Bourne, Mission Impossible) after The Hurt Locker, I probably would be quite satisfied with his acting (or indifferent, at least). But I had, and his expression/acting is the same in each of these movies.
And Famke Janssen as the grand evil witch didn’t exactly send me scurrying away and I doubt if I’ll have nightmares about her. In fact, she just looked like an older Jean Grey possessed by the Phoenix, with veins popping and all. 
Once again, we are left with a movie which could have been good what with its fairytale background, but the messed up script and bland performances from the cast shoots down its chances before it can even take off the ground.

I would still recommend this though, in 3D, if only for the seamless effects and pump-up action scenes.

Movie: Les Miserables (2012)

A word of warning: if you are planning to watch this movie, bring lots of tissue. I do cry easily but this movie had me sniffing within five minutes, with Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean finally getting paroled after enduring nineteen years (!) in prison  for stealing a loaf of bread for his dying nephew. And the tears continued well after the end credits that I ended up with a big headache.

The film is very much faithful to the original show, even going so far as to have the original Jean Valjean (Colm Wilkinson) from the 1985 production to play the kindly bishop of Digne. And as with all other film adaptations of theater productions, Les Miserables enjoys the full benefit of having a larger and more realistic setting. 

However, at almost three hours long, only the first hour and the last five minutes or so got me excited and tuned in. The first act had me glued to my seat – starting with the opening song “Look Down” to Fantine’s (portrayed by Anne Hathaway) death and Jean Valjean rescuing Cosette from the Thenardiers. The rest felt like a drag and there were moments when I kept looking at my watch and thinking, would it be so bad of me to leave  a few minutes before the movie ends?


For sure, the acting of Hathaway and Jackman were superb, as with most of the supporting cast (yes, even Russell Crowe, though his singing was generally panned by critics). But I wasn’t too pleased with the singing overall. I was actually disappointed with Jackman’s voice as I was expecting it to be powerful and riveting. He wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t help but fear his voice would break anytime and his falsetto can be off putting at times. Hathaway’s version of “I Dreamed A Dream” is worth every hype and has almost guaranteed her that Oscar statue, but still, it lacked that punch for me.

Surprisingly,  Samantha Bark’s version of the heartbreaking “On My Own” and “A Little Fall of Rain” failed to incite in me the same emotions I felt when I heard her sing it during the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables. While the quality of her voice is the same, she sings it at a note or so lower for the movie and in my opinion, that’s what deprived the songs of their power. 
 
Perhaps the best singing came from Eddie Redmayne’s Marius Pontmercy and Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette, although their love story seems so trivial in the movie.  How their love blossomed isn’t established well and feels like an overly dramatic case of infatuation. Eponine’s unrequited love for Marius becomes even more tragic and heartbreaking when pitted against this. 
Lost in the seriousness of the film is the portrayal of the Thenardiers (played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen) as comedic relief. The movie has too serious a theme to have such flamboyant and comedic scenes that you begin to question their existence in the story, and their talents are ultimately wasted – a pity, as we all know Bonham Carter can act her way out of practically anything. 
 
A plus point though is that the movie, despite having Hollywood written all over it, did not hide or alter the obvious religious overtones, and indeed, the end scene had Jean Valjean dying in a convent and his spirit being welcomed by the spirit of the bishop of Digne standing in what I can only assume to be a Catholic church. Neither did the film omit the use of religious symbols such as the rosary. Then again, they would have had to pretty much alter the story itself if they did away with these references to religion.

Overall though, the movie succeeds in making Les Miserables and its songs even more popular and reaching a wider audience, but somehow, in the transition from book to theater to film, the substance of the story is lost and we are left with a good movie that could have been great.



Movie: Snow White and the Huntsman

While this movie is far from perfect, Snow White and the Huntsman  is, the best Snow White adaptation I have watched so far.
WHY IS IT GOOD?
In one word (or make it two): Charlize Theron.  Her portrayal of Ravenna truly stole the show. Even in her most evil moment, you can see the internal turmoil inside her, with subtle movements and twitches of Theron’s facial muscles. The evil queen was portrayed as a flawed character, someone with a traumatic past that led to her being evil. She summarizes that men only use women and when they are no longer beautiful, they turn to other women. She doesn’t care much for anyone other than to rule as a queen and maintain her power by draining young women of their youth; and only her brother draws any emotion from her, as shown in the scene when he dies and she tearfully says, “I’m sorry” for not being able to save him.
The evil queen Ravenna on her wedding day

In fact, Theron was so good the movie should have been named after her character. While I love Winona Ryder, the actress originally envisioned for this role, I cannot imagine anyone acting better than Theron.
One other good thing about SWTH was that it gave practically everyone a back story. We all know the fairy tale: good queen dies, king remarries, new queen is an evil witch and wants to kill the little princess. In the fairy tale (and I had to look it up on my unabridged Grimm’s fairy tales book collecting dust somewhere in our house), the queen resorts to three methods: a tight corset which prevents Snow White from breathing, a poisoned comb, and finally, the poisoned apple. She is ultimately defeated when, after her third attempt, she discovers that Snow White still lives and still more beautiful than her, the new bride of the prince from a neighboring kingdom. Her jealousy got too overwhelming and she dies at the wedding after being forced to wear metal shoes and dancing til she died. 
But in this movie, there was a reason for the queen’s deadly obsession with vanity and she was not as cold-hearted nor one-sided as in the fairy tale, and showed genuine care and sorrow when her brother Finn dies. 
Sam Claflin as Snow White’s childhood friend William, reminded me of Michael from the Canadian production of Nikita (the one that starred Peta Wilson) and in a good way: he’s handsome, strong and totally in control in the few scenes he was in. Or maybe it was just the hair (they don’t look alike at all). Chris Hemsworth’s Eric the Huntsman, while quite convincing as a mighty hunter, was more distracting with his thick accent and I can’t shake the feeling that he was almost always on the verge of breaking into a fit of giggles (the way he looked like in Thor; incidentally, Viggo Mortensen turned down the role of the huntsmen which would have been perfect for his rugged good looks and gruff acting). But both of them are prettier men than their leading lady. 
The Huntsman?

Or William, the Duke’s son?
MINUS POINTS
Sadly, the biggest and most glaring mistake about this movie was its titular character. Kristen Stewart’s acting had never gotten any raves, and this movie is no upgrade. She manifests only two facial expressions: that of an open-mouthed damsel in distress and wide-eyed surprise. Plus, it was quite hard to believe that a mirror that judges physical beauty would choose Stewart over Theron, who, at 39 years old compared to Stewart’s 22, doesn’t even enjoy the advantages of youth.  
The film also deviates from one of the main points of the fairytale: the true love between Snow White and her prince. In this version, Snow White is caught in a love triangle between Eric and William, and in one of the pivotal scenes of the movie, it seems that it was Eric’s kiss that wakes her up. It gives you the feeling that the handsome prince was discarded unceremoniously in favor of Thor, err, the huntsman, with a storyline that was so pathetic and unimportant it would have been better if he had been written out of the script totally.
However, viewers are not treated to any certain fate in the love department, even with that last scene where the huntsman and the princess share a lingering look and a smile – which opens up the speculation on there being a sequel (yaiks, Snow White as a franchise???).
Production-wise, this movie felt like a mash-up of Lord of the Rings (specifically that horseback riding scene that was reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings, where Frodo and Arwen were chased by the wraiths into Rivendell) and several other epic/fantasy films all rolled into one. The muted palette of the first half established the desolate kingdom as compared to the lush enchanted forest, the sanctuary of the fairies. However, the movie quite lost its footing in the last and the most crucial part – the battle to reclaim the kingdom. Here, Snow White was transformed into a Joan of Arc-lie warrior (literally overnight – how, I wonder, when she has been kept in a tower for over a decade) and the battle that ensued felt pushed, unnecessary, and quite a pain to watch.

Also, one of the biggest draws of the film – new characters and back stories – eventually also became one of its weakest points. While it attempted to explain the reasons why each character turned out the way they did, it failed to follow through on those back stories and the movie fell flat in the end. 

LAST WORD.
This movie and the Snow White adaptation that came out earlier this year (Mirror, Mirror) seems more about the evil queen than Snow White herself. In fact, the queens are both bigger stars than the ones playing Snow White (hello, both have Oscars under their belts).
Is this a must-see movie? No. But if you want to see top-notch acting from Theron and ogle the pretty boys fawning over Stewart’s supposed fairest in the land looks, then by all means, go.

Movie: Dark Shadows

If there was one man I was excited to see as a vampire, it was Johnny Depp so I started counting the days from when I first heard he was doing Dark Shadows, and with my all-time favorites Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green, no less.

Alas, I was in for a disappointment. While I can usually appreciate Tim Burton’s interpretation of the macabre tales he is so keen on filming, this was a straight miss.
Dark Shadows was originally a drama series in the 60s; that formula worked well and there was no need to suddenly turn it into a gothic comedy. And in doing so, he wasted the acting talents of Michelle, Eva and Johnny. And I have to admit he also did a disservice to his partner Helena Bonham-Carter, who, crazy she might seem, we have to admit is a brilliant actress. Those actors could have brought their acting chops and redeemed this film from the campiness everyone was already predicting it would be.
I’m not saying they don’t have comedic timing; they do, and they managed to elicit laughs from the predominantly silent audience. If anything, it was the cast’ great acting that salvaged this movie – they made it quite believable despite the absurdity of making a tragic vampire’s life comedic. I couldn’t help but smile when Depp tried to pry open a television to figure out the sorcery of Karen Carpenter singing from inside a box and I laughed out loud when he saw the McDonald’s neon sign and thought of Mephistopheles (the demon).
And one question that burns my mind is why does Burton insist on making Depp look like a caricature in all of their collaborations? Depp would have been an even more striking and menacing vampire had he shown up with an unmade face. I would have given anything for a Johnny made up like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt from their Interview with a Vampire movie in the 90’s. Vampires are supposed to be beautiful, but Burton had given me a fanged-clown. And I almost winced when I saw Depp with all that muck on his face, parading under an umbrella.
Now, if Johnny had looked like this in the movie, I would willingly offer my neck.

This is a clown make-up gone really bad.

I have a similar complaint with Green, who has always been one of the prettiest actresses around, in my opinion. Why make her look like a trying hard prostitute with garish blond wig and blood-red lips (although I have to admit, she still looked gorgeous)? And come to think of it, she would also have been a perfect Josette/Victoria.

The story could have used a lot of help too.
Set in the 1970’s, the movie tells the story of Barnabas “Barnaby” Collins (Depp), a wealthy 18th century businessman from Maine, who spurned the witch Angelique Bouchard (Green) and was cursed to become a vampire. Fast forward to 1970, and Barnaby is accidentally released from his coffin and sets about to rescue his dysfunctional descendants and revive the family business. Unfortunately, Angelique is still very much around and immediately sets about ruining Barnaby’s plans, all while trying to rekindle their former affair. Mix in Victoria (played by Australian actress Bella Heathcoat), a reincarnation of Barnaby’s great love from the 18th century, Josette, who jumped off a cliff after falling under a curse from Angelique.
All the formulaic ingredients for a tragic love story was already present in the original story: a dashing male protagonist, a beautiful fiancée, a vengeful scorned woman, and a dash of the supernatural. Alas, what the movie failed to do was to establish early on what the curse actually was. Angelique supposedly cursed Barnabas to vampirism, but also put a curse on his family – but as with the TV series, movie viewers also don’t get any answers as to what this curse was.
And it didn’t shed much light on how Angelique was able to survive more than 200 years. She was a witch, but she was human after all. In the TV series, Angelique was killed by Barnabas soon after they were married and he found out about her witchcraft – she turned into a succubus and a ghost in later storylines.
Oh, and the ending? It was a very different ending from the series, although if teenage fans of the Twilight series are watching this movie, they would probably give a thumbs-up. In the movie, Victoria killed herself jumping off the same cliff that Josette fell from, but rescued and turned into a vampire in the last minute by Barnabas; in the series, she died off-screen and Barnabas develops a relationship with Dr. Julia Hoffman (Bonham-Carter) and Josette remained, well, a ghost.
My verdict? If not for the lush imagery and my love for Johnny, Michelle, and Eva, and my principle that it’s no use crying over spilled milk, this would have been a total waste of my hard earned money. But if you can avoid this movie, then do so. You can just wait for it when it gets shown on cable.
*All images taken from Google.

Movie: Mirror Mirror

Snow White was never my favourite Disney princess (or fairy tale, for that matter) – even as a small girl, I preferred my heroines to be self-sufficient and not the stereotypical damsels-in-distress. Plus, I think Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and Belle (Cinderella) were much prettier. But with two Hollywood movies about the “fairest of them all” to be shown almost back to back, how can I resist? 
Mirror Mirror, starring Lily Collins as Snow White and Julia Roberts as Queen Clementianna (or the Evil Queen), was quite smart in being shown first. After all, it already lost the battle for the title when Universal registered their movie first (apparently, only one movie can have “Snow White” in their title). Plus, given that the plot of the other movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, seems darker and much more intriguing, well, people are bound to flock to that and disregard this one if Huntsman came out first. 
So, what’s up with Mirror? Well, consider this one the musical/comedy version of the fairy tale. While I would have liked a true-to-the-fairytale version, of course, Hollywood had to switch it up a little, to justify the remake:
  • The King was merely trapped in a spell which transformed him into a beast terrorizing the forests near his kingdom 
  • Snow White was a feisty, young heiress. But at least, they got the physical description down pat. Collins could not have been prettier and more perfect as the dainty Snow White.

  • The Queen was a manipulative be-yotch who was more into facials and corsets than magic potions 
  •  The seven dwarves were actually seven high way robbers who used to be residents of the kingdom (one, a pub owner, another, a professor) until the evil queen had them banished due to their, uh, unsightly appearance 
  • The Prince was more of the prince-in-distress who needed rescuing more often than the princess which I actually found quite funny. And I have to agree with Julia Roberts: I couldn’t focus on the scene when Armie Hammer is standing there in nothing but his undergarments.

That part about Snow White being a feisty girl capable of wielding a sword and fighting her way to get her kingdom back makes me wonder though, if it was an afterthought, after its producers heard that the other Snow White movie will have a kick-ass warrior-like princess. 
The movie got many laughs from the audience, myself included, such as when the dwarves were robbing the prince and his assistant, the dwarves looking googly-eyed at Snow White, the corset-fitting with the Queen… And that scene when the Queen mistakenly uses the puppy love potion on the prince ? Hilarious. 
Visually, the movie is picture perfect, something that I’ve expected knowing the director Tarsem Singh, was the same one who directed Immortals (one of the last year’s most underrated movies and one of the most visually arresting movies I have seen). Everything was just so vivid and alive. 
Still, there were moments when I get that feeling of why am I even watching this movie? After the end credits rolled and a surprise Bollywood-inspired dance sequence from the cast, I almost couldn’t quite make up my mind if I was cheated of my Php220 ticket price. 
Almost. But in the end, I decided it was still a fun movie to watch, something that doesn’t make you think or feel too much. And I can’t wait to watch the other Snow White movie.

Movie: Hunger Games

In one sentence: Good, but fell short of my expectations.

Probably one of the most awaited and hyped films this year, The Hunger Games had all the elements needed for a blockbuster down pat: a gorgeous set of lead characters, led by Oscar-nominated Jennifer Lawrence (I still can’t separate her from her role as Mystique in last summer’s Xmen: First Class), Liam Hemsworth (or more famous as Miley Cyrus’ boyfriend) and Josh Hutcherson (Zathura, Journey to the Center of the Earth, among other films), an equally gorgeous set of supporting characters led by Lenny Kravitz (seriously, they should have put him in more scenes), a good story (based on the bestselling Hunger Games trilogy), and a capable team of writers which includes the author herself, Suzanne Collins, which practically guaranteed that the movie will be as faithful to the book as possible.
Katniss and Gale

Katniss and Peeta
 
Initially, Lawrence got flak for being too fat to play the role of Katniss. I tend to agree. But then, she also has that quiet charm about her. She’s not exceptionally pretty but there is something intriguing about her beauty that makes you want to keep looking at her. And I think she pulled off the role quite well, although her acting did not really stand out. Honestly though, I felt that this wasn’t really due to Lawrence’s acting chops, but that she wasn’t given much opportunity to shine. True, the books were a rich source but what could have been emotionally charged scenes were too abrupt to make any impact.  
As for Hutcherson, he churned out quite an honest portrayal but comparing the Peeta I know from the books to the Peeta on-screen, I just wish they’d given him more compelling dialogue. I was expecting to be moved by the Katniss/Peeta affair but I was not.
I really can’t put my finger to it why the movie seems off somehow. The director smartly opted not to use too much special effects and it helped to emphasize the stark atmosphere in Panem and allowed the audience to focus more on the emotional struggles of each character, and the political undertones the story so smoothly inserted there. But what probably contributed to the detachment I felt watching the film was the combination of the dizzying use of handheld cameras zooming in and panning out practically on anything and everywhere and the almost hour-long prelude before the actual hunger games. I appreciate that the director, Gary Ross, used handheld cameras to give the viewers a sense of unity with Katniss, as if you’re seeing it through her point of view. However, as part of the audience, I found this rather dizzying and not exactly friendly to people suffering from motion sickness. Plus, there were too many abrupt scenes, like the director didn’t know when to yell cut and the actors and cameramen just got bored and moved on to the next one.
Another gripe I have is that there were some scenes or circumstances which were not explored more, or depicted better in the film, such as giving more background and emotion into the friendship between Katniss (Lawrence) and Gale (Hemsworth), and the dynamics between Haymitch and his two mentees. However, I appreciated this approach when the time for the bloodbath came – in the hopes of getting a PG-13 rating, the director opted to do away with the gory and bloody details of teenagers brutally killing each other. I don’t have a queasy stomach but there is always something unsettling seeing young people, practically kids, being violent.
And even without a musical score playing in every crucial scene, the movie was not without its tearjerker moments: I cried buckets as Prim walked slowly to the podium after her name was drawn, while Katniss stood transfixed, amazed at the incredible bad luck of Prim having been selected even though her name was entered only once, and when she finally woke up and volunteered to take her sister’s place. I cried even harder as Katniss held and sang for the dying Rue in her arms.
I did notice that they changed the story of how Katniss got the mockingjay pin which she wore in the arena, although I feel quite certain that an alternative but equally powerful history will be provided in later instalments of the franchise.
Overall, what had always kept me riveted to the Hunger Games were its political underpinnings, causing the successive tragedies that happened to the characters. These were all subtly intertwined with the romantic story of the star-crossed lovers from District 12 although if you analyze it long enough, the romantic aspect is actually just a by-product. This truth was not lost in the screen adaptation. And while the setting of Hunger Games is far into the future, the situation could very well be found today. The slums in the districts, the inequitable distribution of wealth between the citizens of the ruling Capitol and the dirt poor and deplorable conditions of the districts… these are all things we know and see daily. The Hunger Games is, ultimately, not a love story, or an action/adventure one, but a sort of social criticism. 
* Photos from google images

Movie: Underworld Awakening

The fourth movie in the Underworld series proves to be the best in the series yet: a less convoluted plot, more action scenes, a bit of drama, and lots of Kate Beckinsale in skintight leather. And a hot new male protagonist to boot, played by Theo James.
The Story
To cut a long story short, this movie is set twelve years after Underworld Evolution, and Selene finds out Michael is dead and that she has a daughter, who is taken captive in the same facility where she had been locked in for twelve years. Much of the movie focuses on her escape, her discovery of one of the remaining vampire covens, and her attempt to rescue her hybrid daughter from the Antigen facility.
If you want a more detailed story, you can read on to the bottom of this post but beware of spoilers!
Afterthoughts
This movie has a very simple plot and doesn’t require you to think too much. It also doesn’t require you to watch the previous movies, although of course, it would be a plus if you know the back story. I found the 2nd movie a bit too ambitious, trying to be artsy with all its dark lighting cast in blue (think CSI Miami which is filmed using blue filters, except that Evolution is much, much darker and you get the picture), and it felt confused in its storytelling. So I appreciated very much that the 3rd one has a simpler storyline.
Funny thing, the hubby and I almost blurted out at the same as we were exiting the cinema:
Hubby: I was expecting the story to be a bit more complicated.
Me: That movie has a less convoluted plot than its predecessor (referring to Underworld Evolution)
So I guess it depends on your preference (although hubby has never seen the 2nd movie and could not possible compare its convoluted plot to this one).
The movie is quite lacking in memorable dialogues but one of the best lines is from Selene, as a response to her daughter’s reproach on her lack of emotion and being as cold as someone dead (although of course, she IS dead, being a vampire): “My heart is not cold; it’s broken.” I felt a bit teary eyed as she said this, saying that she fell asleep and the next day she finds out twelve years have passed and the man she loves is dead.
Action-wise, this movie is also superior to its predecessors: it’s better choreographed, has more fight scenes, and ultimately gorier than the past movies combined. I couldn’t get over all the blood spatter as Selene fights her way out of Antigen in the beginning, and during her rescue mission at the climax. I couldn’t help but wonder – did she really have to kill all those humans? I know she’s a Death Dealer and all but I used to believe she has a softer side, having been orphaned as a human.
In any case, I must say Kate has not aged a bit. Can you believe it’s been ten years since the first Underworld movie? And she’s still as fit as she was then (though hubby says he can see some wrinkles, ha!). And the only one I can think of who looks just as good, if not better, in skintight leather is Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman (Anne Hathaway had better do a good job in this summer’s Batman flick). And that’s one hell of a compliment.
As for the acting, well, this movie doesn’t require much acting – it just requires its leads to run from one action sequence to another and Kate has perfected the poker-face look of her pop-icon character. I couldn’t make up my mind whether I like Charles Dance’s portrayal of Thomas – the coven leader who cowers from the Lycans. I don’t know if I like his “weak” character or if I would have loved to see some defiance somewhere underneath his cowardly stance. Personally, I just don’t like seeing vampires who are unsure of themselves. 
Michael Corvin is largely MIA from this movie and understandably so, as Scott Speedman has not expressed interest in reprising this role. But, hot stars are a requisite of a vampire movie, so Theo James substitutes as David, the son of Thomas. I must say he is better looking vampire than Speedman was as a hybrid. 
A bit of trivia: I was a bit curious as to the actress playing Eve, India Eisley – she looked vaguely familiar, and of course, very pretty, so I looked her up a bit and found out she’s the daughter of Oliva Hussey. Now, the name might not sound familiar to most of you but I’m sure you all know Hussey: she played juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1969 film, Romeo and Juliet, arguably the best adaptation of the Shakespeare tale.
Olivia Hussey as Juliet

India Eisley
FINAL WORD
This is not the best action movie or vampire flick ever. In fact, it reminded me too much of Milla Jovovich’s B-movies: Resident Evil, Ultraviolet, etc. But, it did keep me awake the entire time and kept me interested, which is more than can be said of Jovovich’s movies. For that, I would recommend that you watch this. And if there’s another movie in the offing, I’d go watch it too.  
SPOILER – A SYNOPSIS
Set some twelve years after the events of Underworld Evolution, Selene (Beckinsale) finds herself locked in a glass prison full of cryogenic fluid at the Antigen compound. An unseen person, with whom she appears to share telepathic links with, sets her free, lowering the temperature on her cryogenic prison, allowing her to wake up and break out of the cell. She manages to slaughter most of her captors and flee the compound.
Along the way, we’re treated to flashbacks and back stories of the night she was captured: vampires and lycans have been exposed to humans and the latter have unleashed a hunt to extinguish both races. Selene and Michael Corvin, the first vampire/Lycan hybrid and her lover, plan to leave and hide together but were caught and imprisoned on the night they were about to leave.
After her escape, Selene meets another vampire, David, and finally locates the person whose visions she sees: a vampire child known only as Eve, Subject 2 (Selene is Subject 1 at the Antigen facility). An ambush by a pack of rabid lycans leaves Eve hurt and unable to heal, prompting David to take them to his coven. There, they discover that Eve has no origin bite marks and the reason she doesn’t heal as she should is because she has never taken human blood. David’s coven, particularly his father Thomas, is less than pleased at having Selene, the infamous killer of vampire elders and a traitor to vampires, and Eve in his territory. Selene soon realizes that Eve is in fact her child with Michael when she sees her eyes transform like Michael’s eyes as she was fed blood by an elder vampire.
Thomas’ agitation is aggravated by the immediate assault of lycans to retrieve Eve. David gets killed trying to protect Eve and his father surrenders Eve in an attempt to prevent the total slaughter of his coven while Selene is knocked unconscious by a lycan who is twice the twice of an ordinary lycan and superior strength and healing abilities. Selene manages to revive David by giving his a heart a couple of tugs and sending some of her Corvinus-strengthened blood into his bloodstream.
Finding a human ally in a detective who has watched his vampire wife burned by the sunlight during a house-to-house checking of the government to kill vampires and werewolves, Selene soon also finds out that Lycans have been running the Antigen company and that Eve’s genetic code is being used to make lycans immune to silver and possess instantaneous healing.
Selene then launches a one-woman assault on the facility, discovering Subject 0 – Michael, himself locked in cryogenic fluid like Selene and of course, but short on time, she just shoots through his cell, assuming that he’ll be able to free himself like she did. She manages to kill off the super lycan, who is actually the son of Antigen’s big boss and the product of an experiment, and rescue her daughter with the help of the revived David.
The last scene shows Eve seeing another point of view than that of Selene: a sign that Michael is also alive and free.