Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cinema One Originals: Bendor


Director: Ralston Jover
With: Vivian Velez

'Cinema One Originals' entries this year reek promise as they provided kick ass teasers for each film. Deglamorized Vivian Velez is a standout in these teasers as she was shown with convincing facial expressions and strong delivery of her lines.

I was able to see 'Bendor' last night in the same theater with the lead actress herself, Vivian Velez. I watched it in Glorietta where plenty of stars or what we call artista can be seen everywhere. From mainstream actors to indie veterans to the men behind cameras, they're all present. It's an exciting experience as everyone seemed so energetic. This was my first time to attend a premiere night for a Cinema One Original film so I was extra enthusiastic about the whole thing. Bendor seemed like the most reassuring film among the entries so I was lucky to catch it after my office shift.

'Bendor' appears to be a thrilling mystery crime film about a vendor around the area of Quiapo church, where Vivian Velez plays as a vendor in a matriarchal family trying to survive the dangerous and poverty-filled jungle of Quiapo by selling candles, fruits and vegetables while organizing illegal abortions. But as encouraging and interesting as that sound, the film leaves its viewers hanging in a story that could have been beautiful. It's obviously trying to focus on a single story but it's consistently distracted with Ralston Jover's aim to be deep and artsy. The movie practically begs its audience to wonder but it just ends up being pretentious. With bloated unnecessary scenes, dialogues and ploys, one can cut the film in 20 minutes while getting its point across to its viewers.  There are also several symbolisms and underlying meanings that weren't justified well. Frankly, it's very disappointing, especially Quiapo is a perfect setting for a riveting film and the concept of a Quiapo vendor who runs abortion has a lot of potential. But Jover has a different approach.

I sensed the awkwardness in the theater when the movie ended. Hesitant claps, people rushing to the exit. Luckily for Miss Velez, she's really good in this and her performance is something this film should be proud of. They squeezed her acting talent well. The last scene of 'Bendor' showed Velez' excellence in acting but even that scene is just pointless and just screams 'Hey, let's give Vivian an emotional scene so she can win Best Actress'.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

OCTOBER 2013: Stuck in Love, Ruby Sparks, Now You See Me & Man on Wire

Stuck in Love

Director: Josh Boone
With: Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins, Nat Wolff, Jennifer Connelly, Logan Lerman, Liana Liberato, Kristin Bell

I watched Stuck in Love purely on friend's recommendation. It was a lazy Saturday and this film made me lazier than I was. There is nothing remarkable about this film except probably for its soundtrack. I'm probably being too harsh right now, sorry. Stuck in Love is not that bad, but it's a film where everything has already been done before in other romantic comedies, and they're done better and more compelling than this.

Stuck in Love is a love story combo of one family that consists of novelists. Thus, having "Every life needs a rewrite" as its tagline. Bill Borgens (Greg Kinnear), a famous novelist is a divorced man who still loves his ex-wife Erica, (Jennifer Connelly) and hasn't moved on from their separation. He keeps on sneaking through the window of Erica in her new house with her new and younger husband. Their children are Samantha (Lily Collins) and Rusty (Nat Wolff). Writers themselves, both have different writing styles and preferences. Samantha took their parents breakup hard that she stopped recognizing Erica as her mother. Her outlook in life, especially in love, was badly affected by their parents breakup. As she explained herself to his brother "If love is setting a table for someone who's not coming home, then I'll pass." Meanwhile, Rusty is the complete opposite. He's a hopeless romantic who has never had a romantic relationship before. Throughout the movie, these characters find "love". That's when Lou (Logan Lerman) and Kate (Liana Liberato) enter the picture as Samantha and Rusty's love interest.

I don't like each character's storyarc. They're predictable and pretty maudlin. Bill won't move on but has a fuck buddy, Erica made bad decisions in her life, Samantha is a raging bitch to her mother and talks a lot of crap with condescension, and Rusty is dull. There's nothing new about Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connnelly's performance. It made me question why would they accept the roles that they had for this film. But they're alright. Lily Collins, I thought, over acted her character. She's kind of annoying in this. I don't know if it's just her character or her, but she's just annoying. :/ The bright  spots in this film are Lerman, Liberato and Kristin Bell who served as the fuck buddy to Bill. Oh, and how can I forget the inclusion of Stephen King? LOL that's the only unpredictable thing that happened in the film. It's actually one of the most surprising things I've ever seen in any movie. I may not watch anything with Lily Collins again because of this. I'll give Josh Boone, the writer and director of this film a chance, because his next film is the film adaptation of The Fault in our Stars. But I heard from a friend, that the book stinks too so...

Ruby Sparks

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
With: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan

Adorable, quirky, unpredictable and sometimes crazy, you can say all of these qualities to Ruby Sparks -- the character and the film itself. See? A rom-com can be unpredictable and compelling! And it doesn't have to be realistic. As Paul Dano's character said in this film, "falling in love is an act of magic." And speaking of Paul Dano, I was reluctant in watching this film because it involves him. This is a romantic film and I doubted if him and rom-com is a good mix. Good thing is I gave it a chance as I find it good and Paul Dano didn't bother me in this film. No Dano screeches thank goodness! Also, thanks to Zoe Kazan's character and screenplay. Yup! Kazan wrote the screenplay for this and I bet that she wrote the main character Ruby Sparks, for herself or should I say, for both her and Dano as they are real life couples. Whether that's true or not, she's perfect for the role of Ruby, a fictional girl that Paul Dano's character created through his imagination he didn't intend to write for a novel. He saw her from a dream which inspired him to write and apparently, the girl in his mind came to life. At first, he was terrified that he's having insane delusions but he eventually come to terms with the fact that Ruby is real and whatever he writes about her come true.

It's kind of ironic because Ruby Sparks is a surrealist tale, but its lesson suggests that reality is more important in a romantic relationship and the concept one have for their ideal love ends up being a disappointment. The film implies through its main character that  changing the person you love instead of appreciating them for what they are could lead to a disaster and when that happens, that's only when people learn. I'm getting too cheesy now but this is really what the film is all about and don't be fooled by the cheesiness because I think the story itself is something fresh and come on, we need to watch movies like this every once in a while. :3

There are so many thing to like about this film including its beautiful score. It's one of the reasons why it kept me watching despite being skeptic about the whole thing. It has a whimsical vibe to it that's so pleasant to the ears. It suits the character Ruby Sparks so much. Then I learned that Nick Urata from Devotchka composed it. No wonder I love it. His soundtracks for Little Miss Sunshine and I Love You Phillip Morris are some of my favorites, and his work for this film just proved that he's one of the best compositors there is.

Films like Ruby Sparks give me hope for romantic comedy films. I refuse to believe that rom-com flicks are a thing of the 90s. New breed writers like Zoe Kazan is a proof that rom coms are still effective in this generation. I wish Zoe Kazan would write more because her quirky style in Ruby Sparks emanates her talent as a writer and she should use more of her wits in creating more films like this. It may be too mushy for some but there's a reason why this film gained a lot of fans. For one, I watched this because two or more of my friends recommended this to me and that says a lot. After watching it, I understand why they're raving about this film, and I think that the screenplay is one of the reasons why many people think it's good. Kazan matched the sentimentality of the film with witty script, interesting twists, somber climax and pleasant ending. Just proves that our imaginations can conceive beautiful stories like Ruby Sparks.

Now You See Me

Director: Louis Leterrier
With: Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

Making a film purely for mindblowing entertainment purposes is one thing, but making its audience feel stupid because of it is another. At the beginning of the film, I already feel like Now You See Me is going to be a little shallow yet I know that it would be promising because the first few scenes were fast and attention grabbing. There are some points where it actually convinced me that this could be a smart film. But then as it progressed, I realized it's just purely for entertainment. It's true, the film is really captivating especially with a cast that is so charming. It's like watching a real magic show except you know to yourself that you're a fool to be mind blown by their tricks when you're actually watching an edited craft. But it's not about that, I enjoyed the film despite knowing that the magic catered in the film are impossible. Plus, I don't believe in magic anyway and all of them are not real. Case in point, they're highly enjoyable. The fight scenes, the tricks, I loved them! But it's in the end where they finally unraveled the twist that hit the nail of the head for me and definitely not in a good way. The twist of this film is so shortsighted that I think it's insulting. It wasted the great energy and entertainment that I got from it. That's my only problem with the film and I'm actually looking forward to its sequel!

The twist is too contrived, in my opinion, that I feel like the reason they've chosen that twist is that the film is about magic and it would be lame if they went the safe route. But I don't think it paid off. [spoiler]Basically, the twist is that Mark Ruffalo's character, the FBI luring for the magicians who committed crimes, is actually the one who designed the plots or the crimes for them.[/spoiler] Well, he has his personal motives in doing so but I still find it flimsy, especially looking back to what he did as an FBI with all the chasing and the pain that it took him. It's just so weak.

In the meantime, I have to commend the cast for ensuring that an almost impossible story is brought to life with so much energy, charisma and enthusiasm. From the four horsemen of magic consisting of Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco, to the FBIs Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent, to the seniors Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, each of them contributed to the entertainment it has achieved. They did not fall short in mixing the fun and thrill, and to be quite honest, I expected these from them. Ruffalo and Harrelson are some of the most humorous actors, in my opinion and they showed their unfaltering sense of humor in this film. Jesse Eisenberg and Melanie Laurent are both charming and their quirks are always a joy to watch. Dave Franco and Isla Fisher served as the eye candies for everyone, and the veterans Freeman and Caine delivered quite well too. Let's just leave it at that.

Man on Wire

Director: James Marsh
With: Phillippe Petit, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Jean-Francois Heckel, Jim Moore, Mark Lewis, Annie Allix

There are only few films that I watched that made me feel lucky for seeing it and Man on Wire is one of them. Man on Wire is a documentary about Phillippe Petit, a high-wire walker with an unusual dream of performing on wire between New York's Twin Towers. It is about making an almost impossible dream into reality and it didn't stop there, as it also tackled Petit's journey and the relationships built in the process. Presented in a heist style, the film consists of footage of Petit's preparations, beginnings and interviews of the people involved in Petit's life. It also features Michael Nyman's exquisite score which adds up to the depth of the scenes.

This documentary has all the qualities I like in a film. It's fascinating, dramatic, poignant and exhilarating as well. All interviewees in this film, especially Petit, are great storytellers. Petit provided intricate details from his beginnings to achieving his dream. He's so engaging that he'd make you root for him, relate to him and basically, just listen to his amazing story. Every aspect of his story is so likable. I am drawn to everything that he says despite his heavy French accent and the fact that his second language is English. He's very detailed and energetic in sharing his story. The same thing I can say about how he fulfilled his dream. He's very passionate. But his journey is just equally interesting with the story of his life and relationships.

When Petit was younger, he met Annie, a woman he described as someone who understands him the best. Annie was there for support and encouragement during Petit's practices, and the time when he's still developing his dream. There were even some raw footage of Petit carrying Annie on his back while balancing on wires. You can just tell by these videos how much trust and interest Annie commit to Petit. He's also accompanied by Jean Louis, Jean Francois and Jim in his journey. Together, they worked in secret in making Petit's goals to walk on wire in high structures like Notre Dame and Sydney Harbor Bridge. But their friendship was really tested in their goal of conquering the Twin Towers. What's compelling in this is that they're doing something that's illegal. People can't just assemble wires and ropes in between structures without the authority's permission and I doubt anyone would permit them to do such a dangerous act. But that's what they like about it, the danger of doing something illegal without the action being horrible. They're doing it for show and self gratification. For Petit, it's 'magical', and I agree with him, it's indeed magical.

Petit's journey is simply incredible. I felt his excitement to reach his dream despite the danger involved in the process. He's prepared to die and he even expressed that dying in the exercise of his passion would be a beautiful thing. But he's currently still alive and kicking. The moment he found out that there are twin towers being built in New York City, he focused all of his energy into doing his goal. You can tell that he's giddy about the news. He's inspiring and his journey to reaching his goal wasn't easy just like every person's ultimate dream. He and his friends spent a lot of time in planning, preparing and all. Some of his closest friends were even hesitant to continue as they think it's impossible, some even quit, the danger and the circumstances suggest that it's absurd. Even some of his friends went to say that it's kind of demonic. But some sticked to him and they pursued it anyway. The support that they gave to Petit was touching.

The hours before he walked between the Twin Tower is one of the most exciting and thrilling thing I've ever seen. Not only because the events are true but they're really on the brink of failing and being caught during the course. But how they pushed through with their plan was impressive. Petit reached his ultimate dream. He spent almost an hour providing a show like fireworks in the sky as the busy streets of New York looked up to his amazing circus show. Petit finally walked between the Twin Towers, and the glory of the film didn't end there. In fact, the aftermath is what really moved me. Petit's fame made him alive. But his relationships with Annie and his friends who helped him in reaching his dream ended. It's a bittersweet story that I don't know if I should feel happy or heartbroken. There are so many lessons, emotions and realizations one can get from this film and it just proves why I'm very enthusiastic about it.

It's also commendable how director James Marsh didn't mention anything about the 9/11 attacks. Man on Wire deserves to be a story of its own, that it would be dishonorable to include a tragic story about the building where Petit's greatest dream occurred.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

OCTOBER 2013: Gravity, Coming Soon, Captain Phillips and Don Jon

October has passed and I've only added 8 to the films I've watched for the first time this year. Few compared to my last 3 months but I've watched two big films in Gravity and Captain Phillips.

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
With: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Coming Soon
Director:  Sophon Sakdapisit
With: Vorakan Rojchanawat, Sakulrath Thomas, Chantavit Dhanasevi

Around 10 years ago, I'm crazy about Asian horror films. From Ringu to The Grudge to The Eye to Shutter, and even our own horror films like Feng Shui and Sukob :3, they are all fun to watch. In 2008, Thai horror film Coming Soon was released and I just saw it this October through a stay over with friends. They always talked about how Shomba, the main ghost in the film, is scary. I can't help but associate her name to Shomba Rhimes and Shombadings though, it already has to fill that aspect that I find funny and convert it to scary.

Horror films are always allowed to expand the possibilities of natural occurrences and Coming Soon did that. The concept of the film is actually pretty fresh. It's a horror film within a horror film. However, I think the direction relied too much on the concept but didn't explore to its full potential. It has some impossible plots but I've accepted all of those. Why not? Even Sadako came out of the TV screen and managed to scare the hell out of me. The Ring is very effective because of those crazies. I wish Coming Soon just consistently pushed the boundaries of having unimaginable tricks without looking back. But for me, it was just safe and inconsistent with several frights. I love that its unpredictable though, it's just not that Oh my scary.

What I got from watching this though is something rewarding, I finally met Shomba. :3

Captain Phillips
Director: Paul Greengrass
With: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi

Don Jon
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
With: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore

Friday, November 1, 2013

Explosions in the Sky Live in Manila

from Manila Concert Scene blog
I went to the concert of Explosions in the Sky last Wednesday night at Samsung Hall in SM Aura. I didn't expect Samsung Hall to be so small! but at least it has a nice sound system perfect for EITS that makes up for its size. It's also quite saddening that EITS weren't able to fill the standing area of the scene despite it being small. PR!! But oh well...

I've been a fan of the band, I think ever since I was in college and never would have thought in a million years that I'd be able to see them in person, or hear them play live for that matter. That's why I went berserk when Anne, my office mate (who's also a fan of the band) texted me that EITS is going in Manila.

Explosions in the Sky live is almost identical with their studio recordings but what's more amazing is that I see them create the sounds I used to only listen in my iPhone, sounds that I thought was impossible to produce by real instruments. They're incredibly talented in music.

Also, prior to seeing them, I thought that the concert would be peaceful and calm, but it's actually the other way around, it's very affecting, gripping and an exhilarating experience overall. I found myself head banging to their beat several times throughout the concert.

EITS have the ability to swallow their crowd into a new dimension of magic. That's what their songs do to people. They create a story through their instruments, instead of words and we were all absorbed by it. And they're very passionate with music, you can tell by how graceful they use their instruments.

From the beginning, when one of them (Munaf) talked to the crowd in Filipino (with superb Filipino accent btw).

"Magandang Gabi"

"Salamat po *gibberish*"

*crowd laughed*

"Kami po ang Explosions in the Sky"

...and to my surprise, they played First Breath After Coma, which is a song they didn't perform in Hongkong, a few days before their concert here in Manila. And from this song to end, all I heard was pure music. They never stopped playing and they never said any word throughout their concert. Pretty impressive because they sounded so clean and the progression was neat.

Anyway, EITS concert is one for the books. They're very unique that I don't think I will attend any concert like it anytime in the near future.

Here's their Manila setlist:
First Breath After Coma

Catastrophe and the Cure

Postcard from 1952

Greet Death

Yasmin the Light

Your Hand in Mine

The Birth and Death of the Day

Let Me Back In

The Only Moment We Were Alone

And here's a 2 minute video of my favorite: Your Hand In Mine :)

Now for some pics!