Finding Dory (movie review)

Finding_DoryI had high expectations for this film even during the first time it was announced that a sequel to Finding Nemo was on the works. Why wouldn’t I? Finding Nemo was a great animated movie that was critically adored because of its one-of-a-kind, well-written story, breathtaking visuals and brilliant voice work.

What I saw in almost 2 hours of its showing was a similar but ultimately a subpar plot derived from the first film. The regal blue tang fish named Dory, which was the supporting character during the Nemo film, took the role of the main protagonist in this movie. Her family wasn’t mentioned before mainly due to her forgetfulness: she couldn’t remember where she came from. But this time, because of a dream, she suddenly remembered things that would lead her back to her father and mother. Her journey to be reunited with her parents would separate her from her clown fish friend, Nemo, and his dad, Merlin. The latter two had to find her, hence the title. Such a tale of returning to where she came from had been shown despite the incredulity, or probably the silliness, of it all.

The film still had some good points, though. Cute, new characters have been introduced and they gave new life to the story of fish friends Nemo and Dory. The musical score was also good and it rendered a somewhat needed refreshing sound to an almost too familiar fish story. It also had its touching moments, as well as deep one-liners and dialogues, which would certainly mark to those who are watching.

However, one can’t simply deny the fact that there is something lacking in this movie. It won’t matter if you watch it on a 2D cinema or an IMAX theater (which I did). The visuals are good, but not that oh-so-awesome. This is such a letdown because they could have mustered more beautiful scenes considering they have mainly used the ocean and a public aquarium for its setting. A number of scenes were shot beautifully, but a lot more could have been simply made more wonderful.

I just hoped that the producers, the writers and the director have stopped with Finding Nemo because that movie was a true gem. Finding Dory can pass just as an ultimately pure imitation.

Finding Dory’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 2.5 out of 5.

Insurgent

Insurgent_posterInsurgent, the sequel to last year’s Divergent has far exceeded my expectations. As I found the first book in the Divergent series the best among the trilogy, the movie version of the second book surpasses the first movie in all aspects. It was more suspenseful, more action-filled, more faithful to the story, and more emotionally pulling. The visuals are better while the sound stands out more.

What I love about movie versions of the books that I’ve read is that the story lines that I got to read ages ago suddenly make a flashback in my mind. As great movie versions of the books that I have read unfold their scenes right before my eyes, the thoughts I had and the emotions I felt while I was reading the books where they were based come awesomely alive. This rang true with Insurgent.

The atmosphere created by a dystopian future of a city divided into different factions is still felt in this movie. Everything’s different, though, as a major shakeup is being made. Jeanine Matthews (cold-bloodedly portrayed by Kate Winslet) has succeeded to destroy the Abnegation faction and lead the Dauntless to take charge of the city. The divergent Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), her enemy # 1, is into hiding along with her boyfriend, Four (Theo James), as they, along with their friends, successfully evaded her invasion of Abnegation. Jeanine’s goal of eradicating the divergents is close to fruition. It’s up to Tris to find a way to defeat Jeanine and seek justice for those people who have been murdered including her parents and friends.

I liked every minute of watching the film. I found the actors more comfortable with their roles and it shows with their chemistry.  Shailene Woodley was so great here I can’t wait to see her in other roles. If I’ve said that she’s no Jennifer Lawrence in my review of Divergent, I can say that she’s getting there by now. Theo James still ably gave life to Four though he’s been overshadowed by the goodness that is Miles Teller. Teller is one actor that I have been loathing to see even if I have seen him in numerous movies before. But that changed with Oscar-winning film, Whiplash, where he performed impressively along with Oscar winner J.K. Simmons. That change continues with Insurgent as he effortlessly shows his butterfly tendencies in changing loyalties with factions for his role. Not used enough (or probably not given enough spotlight) in this film are  Octavia Spencer as the hospitable leader of Amity, Naomi Watts as the surprisingly young-looking leader of the Factionless and Ray Stevenson as the still assumed leader of Abnegation. I guess they’ll be given enough meat to chew on during the next Divergent movies.

Even though there are many action scenes that are deemed to be generic, they are still awesome as they remained just true to the spirit of the book. I mean, you can’t just pull out one too many great action sequences if they’re unnecessary, right? Anyway, the visuals are also impressive but they become more impressive because of the sound editing and sound mixing done to complement the scenes. Speaking of the scenes, there is not one boring moment in each and one of them. Thanks to the caring hands of director Robert Schwentke and  editors Nancy Richardson and Stuart Levy. Even though non-readers of the book where the movie was based might not get everything that is being said or done in it, they’ll still surely appreciate what was being screened from start to finish.

Insurgent’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 4 out of 5.

Feng Shui 2

Feng-Shui-2-Movie-PosterIf there’s a rare opportunity that I get to spend time watching a movie with a lot of moviegoers, it is during the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). I rarely want to watch with many, many people inside the movie theater because I don’t want distractions while watching. Much more when the people who are watching with you are really noisy and unintentionally funny. However, I actually liked it while me and my family are watching Chito S. Rono’s Feng Shui 2.

Ten years after the first Feng Shui film haunted the Philippine audience, the “promised” sequel finally  arrived this year as one of the eight film entries in MMFF 2014. Still helmed by acclaimed movie director, Chito Rono, Feng Shui 2 pitted brilliant actors Coco Martin and Cherry Pie Picache with the remaining cast of the first film Kris Aquino and Jonee Gamboa. As soon as I heard that the well-loved horror film from a decade ago would have a sequel, I immediately put it on top of my must-watch movies this time of the year. After watching some great things and not so good ones in the film, I could say that I actually enjoyed it.

Now, what everybody should understand is horror movies are tricky. The types of thrill or suspense they give the audiences are based not only on the type of horror movie they are (i.e. ghost or supernatural movie, gory movie, horror/comedy movie, war movie, etc.) but also on the assembly of the cast and crew that they have.  Feng Shui 2 is backed up by a great cast and production team (Star Cinema, no less) and one should have a feeling that after buying the movie ticket that they are in for a great ride. Did I get to have a great ride after watching the movie? In a word: yes.

Even though Kris Aquino said that this film is not a sequel to the original, Feng Shui 2 is undoubtedly a sequel (she insisted it is only a continuation of the story; hence, a sequel). Anyway, flashbacks of scenes from the original were shown at the start: Aquino as Joy losing her family and eventually destroying the bagua. A new family was then shown to fall victim to the bagua’s horrifying curse and what I got was an immediate feel of rising tension in my bloodstream, which is, of course, a good thing when you’re watching a horror movie. Most of the first half of the film is about Lester (Coco Martin), a 32-year-old hustler who lives with his mother in a dilapidated house along the river. One assignment that he had was to retrieve a bagua from a fall victim. Unbeknownst to him, looking at the mirror of the bagua belies a curse that could kill everyone who looks at it after him. To his horror, he found death around the people he knows and loves comes by one after another. One fateful day, he met Joy, now a very successful real estate agent, who realized the ghost behind the bagua was coming after her again. With the help of Lily (Cherry Pie Picache), a survivor of the bagua curse, and Hsui Liao (Jonee Gamboa), a Taoist priest, will they ever save themselves from the curse of Lotus Feet, the ghost haunting the bagua?

Early on, the signature touches that Chito Rono gives to his horror movies are evident in this film: a creepy atmosphere, a set of strongly written characters and a definitive setting. I liked how he playfully toyed with colors, set up most of the scenes and stylishly showed the contrasts of being lucky and unlucky in the film. Unsurprisingly, there were solid scream-worthy or shout-inducing scenes thanks to great editing and camerawork. Evidently rising up to his role in the film, Coco Martin is impressive as Lester (though some of his speech sounds while shouting in one scene troubled me; excuse me, that’s me as a speech pathologist speaking hehe). Leveling to Martin’s brilliance is Cherry Pie Picache who in her relatively short stint in the film made a greater impression than Aquino. But not to worry, Aquino did well in the film (and this is a relief), much like the rest of the cast that includes Carmi Martin, Rez Cortez, Beauty Gonzalez, Ian Veneracion and Ian de Leon.

However, a Filipino scary movie (heck, let’s make that a Filipino movie) without loopholes is pretty hard to come by. Feng Shui 2 is a good horror movie as it fulfills many standards being looked into a horror film, but it isn’t lacking with holes in its plot. For one, the immediacy of deaths of the characters was baffling. Moreover, the ways these characters died were somehow forced to fit in whatever Zodiac year they were born in no matter how senseless they might be. Meanwhile, the supposed fun of guessing how the characters would die was taken out here as opposed to the original. Items or objects that would link the characters to their possible way of death were either easy to guess or obviously presented. In short, it was highly predictable. Nevertheless, thanks to Rono and his editors, the movie’s consistency of good story-telling bypasses all these shortcomings.

Combine a great cast to a great director with a consistent albeit far-fetched story and what you have is still a pretty solid movie. Add to that screaming males and females, both old and young in the audience and what you have is a good movie experience.

Feng Shui 2’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 4 out of 5

Mockingjay Part 1 (Movie Review)

Mockingjay Part 1Even before watching the movie, I already had doubts that Mockingjay Part 1 would be a good one. I really have reservations about movies being divided into two parts mainly because the studios wanted to earn more money. I have read the book and I can say that the whole story can be put up into just one whole movie. It’s unfair that the quality of movies like this would suffer just because it has been cut. Now let’s see if I am right with what I am saying.

I was somehow right, but also wrong in some ways.

It’s amazing how the director, Francis Lawrence, and the screenwriters, Danny Strong and Peter Craig, were able to turn the first half of the book of Suzanne Collins into a two-hour movie. You’d sense, though, that the script was really stretched out especially at the start but when the pace of the movie was established, you’d just carry on watching. The movie had its big moments and these moments were carried out well. The excellent camerawork was really something to commend on because it turned seemingly normal scenes into something exciting and thrilling.

Jennifer Lawrence once again impresses in this penultimate installment of The Hunger Games movie series. In spite of the havoc brought about by the leaked nude pictures scandal, she maintains to be likeable. More importantly, she delivers in the film as Katniss Everdeen, the face of the rebellion of the thirteen districts against the anarchic system of the Capitol. Katniss was asked to lead the propaganda against the Capitol, and even though she hesitated at first, she eventually agreed after seeing the destruction made by President Snow (aptly played coldly by Donald Sutherland) and his government. If Jennifer Lawrence was likeable, her partner, Josh Hutcherson was not… at least in the movie as Peeta Mellark. As one of the captives in Capitol after the Quarter Quell, Peeta was being forced to feed lies to the people of the districts and counter what Katniss was telling the citizens. Even though Hutcherson had fewer scenes in this movie compared to the previous movies, he made sure that his scenes, especially the final ones, were truly remarkable. Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, Katniss’s best friend and one of the top soldiers in District 13 was effective, though I hope he’d do better in the last film as his character plays a really big part in the Mockingjay book. The supporting cast that includes Woody Harrelson (reprising his role as Haymicht), Elizabeth Banks (as Effie Trinket) and Julianne Moore (as the rebellion forces’ leader, President Alma Coin) was a pro in their roles.

Aside from the formidable cast, the movie’s biggest draw is its smart political overtones. Panem is at war, and the movie has shown how players in the warring governments do their work of planning and strategizing to gain victory. It’s been shown how propaganda works: the smarter the propaganda is, the better it serves its function. Moreover, the movie exposes that truth about war: it sacrifices a lot of people. It is never the best option to end conflicts as many, many people will die and be killed along the way. If there came a point when declaring one is the only option left (as presented in the movie), offering oneself for the greater good is justified. You’d just hope you’re on the right side.

The movie’s good but it lacked in one department where it should have really excelled: action. As a consequence of the trimming of the story to pave way for a two-part movie, the action scenes were sorely lacking. No good action scenes could justify the shortness of the action, considering this as a war movie. Producers should really think about giving up quality over the quantity of money that they’ll be earning. Shame on them.

Mockingjay Part 1’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 3.5 out of 5

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno

Rurouni_Kenshin,_Kyoto_Inferno_film_posterRurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno is a good sequel to 2012’s Rurouni Kenshin. Having the same director and actors who reprise their roles, Kyoto Inferno still has those edgy, power-packed action scenes and the exciting plot twists that reminded me of what Samurai X (the anime the movie was based on) has been. The movie continued where the first movie left off: the peace the Japanese people were having under the Meiji government was interrupted when a great threat suddenly appeared to cause havoc in Japan. 

Oh how I missed the fancy characters that helped defined a part of my growing up years! After watching just a few scenes with the characters onscreen, I started to be hooked. Two of these characters were Kenshin Himura, the legendary assassin named Battousai who vowed never to kill again, and Makoto Shishio, the ruthless assassin who came up next after Battousai retired and who’s considered the great threat to the Meiji government. These characters were deftly acted on by Takeru Satoh (as Kenshin) and Tatsuya Fujiwara (as Shishio). I continue to like how Takeru moves like the legendary samurai and somehow, I find Tatsuya’s subdued performance in his vicious killer role something of an indicator as to how he will fare in the next Rurouni Kenshin movie. 

Ah, yes, the next movie in line is going to come out next month! And I think this is planned for a very good reason. Probably a lot of viewers of the film will find Kyoto Inferno lacking, as the storyline is cut off to pave way for the third movie. Kyoto Inferno’s got good action and all but I won’t hide my disappointment because it lacked what I was imagining it to be. No real great face-offs transpired in the movie and what the viewers were left off is foreshadow of what’s to come out next month. Besides, I found some scenes too much staged and choreographed. As a result, the acting of some supporting actors and extras hired to be on the backdrop seemed to be very unnatural. 

But, let’s not undermine the goodness we’ve seen on the film. 

Kyoto Inferno was filled with beautiful sceneries to show the viewers how beautiful Japan was during the mid-19th century, the start of the Meiji period. Rough neighborhoods, lively markets, rowdy streets and spirited dojos were just some of the settings brought out alive by the production team. The pacing of the film was just quite right as what story the movie needed to tell was for the most part, successfully told. Meanwhile, aside from Takeru and Tatsuya, Muneta Aoki, Tao Tshuchiya and Ryunosuke Kamiki played their parts, respectively, as Sagara Sanosuke, Makimachi Misao and Seta Sojiro all too well. It’s fun watching them as they’re really into their characters every time they’re seen. 

September can’t come sooner to finish the saga of the famed samurai with the X scar. We can just hope that the third movie will be the best of the three. 

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 4 out of 5

 

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn_of_the_Planet_of_the_ApesDawn of the Planet of the Apes is fascinatingly awesome.

The movie continues several years after the conclusion of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The smart, genetically-evolved apes led by Caesar went to the jungle and made their own colony. They grew in number and many of them were trained to fight to survive. Meanwhile, a few of the remaining people living in a fortified complex in what remains of the San Francisco City ventured into the jungle to fix the dam that provides power. One of them encountered two of the apes and shot one by accident. Caesar and the rest of the apes appeared before these people and warned them about the implications of going to their territory. Will this start the war between the humans (who have dwindled in number because of the virus tested to the apes more than a decade ago) and the smart, strong and talking apes?

The movie was full of surprises. If you think you knew what’s about to happen, think again. The struggles humans face in the movie’s virus-stricken world made it a lot harder for them to live. The sharing of work was still there, but their activities were certainly limited. This was in contrast to what the apes were up to. They’d been hunting, training hard and educating the young. Both humans and apes found each other a threat, and it’s up to a few good people to stop the impending war between them.

Hats off to Matt Reeves (whose movies include Conviction and Cloverfield) for brilliantly directing the movie. Imagine, if directing human actors on the set is hard enough, what more if they’re interspersed with visual effects to make it appear like some of the human actors are apes. The way he tells this saga about humans and apes is consistently good and really smart. He knew what to do with the story and it showed magnificently onscreen.

Andy Serkis ably reprised his role as Caesar, the leader of the genetically-evolved apes. The way he moved and emoted showed ease and control that his character possesses. Toby Kebbell almost stole the show with his portrayal of Kobo, Caesar’s brutal ape adviser. Meanwhile, Jason Clarke and Keri Russell (as Malcolm and Ellie, respectively) held well in portraying the humans who went to the jungle and created a bond with the apes.

Needless to say, this movie has superb visual effects. The apes in the film looked amazingly real. It would make people wonder how the production team was able to come up with a lot of apes interacting with humans in various scenarios. It’s like Rise of the Planet of the Apes (its superior predecessor) gone bigger and better. This movie was a testament on how well the technology used in films has advanced throughout the years.

The movie was filled with satisfying action scenes. The scenes depicting the war wrought by apes to humans were commanding of attention as they were excellently choreographed. Humans battling the apes looked good, but apes battling other apes looked better.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was outright dark right from the start. It’s got light moments and funny ones once in a while, but its atmosphere got darker as it progressed. When Kobo took power in the ape colony, the movie became hauntingly terrifying. The ante of suspense got higher and was thoroughly sustained until the end. In addition, Michael Giacchino delivered an intense musical score, making the scenes a lot more terrifying.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 5 out of 5

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men_Days_of_Future_Past_posterX-Men: Days of Future Past is the most exciting, most compelling and most beautiful X-Men movie since the first X-Men film in 2000.

As a fan of the X-Men comics, cartoons and video games, I was in such a wild ride (again) while seeing the characters that I love battling each other and manifesting their powers on the big screen. It was sort of like a dream come true! Just imagine the euphoria I would feel if this movie was several hours long!

Moving decades forward since the conclusion of the X-Men: First Class, Days of Future Past presents the greatest threat to mutants that could wipe them all out: the sentinels. As mutants seem to die one by one because of the indomitable and powerful sentinels, Professor X and the remaining members of his team take action by doing what seemed to be impossible: sending a mutant to the past. The chosen mutant, Wolverine, would be tasked to change what has been done that has led to their current predicament. Will Wolverine be successful in changing the events that coursed through time?

Bryan Singer is a perfect fit for the X-Men movies. With his delicate and classy presentation of the characters, the engaging battle scenes, from the funny and light moments to the oh-so-awesome-how-did-they-do-that action-laden sequences, you would know he really loves and cares for the whole X-Men saga. The great camerawork and editing of the scenes paved for a very engaging film. And needless to say (but still I will say it), the visual effects used are superb. I have never been so happy while watching an X-Men movie.

Both senior and younger actors really impressed with their great portrayals all throughout the film. With the calculated and careful ways of the old Professor X and Magneto made alive by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, firmness and persuasiveness of the young Magneto by Michael Fassbender, careless ladida of Quicksilver by Evan Peters, the fragile yet still fighting young Professor X by James McAvoy, the cool shifting aura of Mystique made possible by Jennifer Lawrence, the tough, charismatic presence of Wolverine by Hugh Jackman, the unyielding determination of Bolivar Trask by Peter Dinklage, the smart, funny and engaging characterization of Beast by Nicholas Hoult, the classy moves of Storm by Halle Berry, the delicateness of Blink (Fan Bingbing), the  perseverance of Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), the coolness of Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). The list of awesome characterization of the actors  just goes on and on.

Days of Future Past, though, is not just an entertaining film. It comes with a powerful message. In the film, mutants are feared because of their abilities and this is why they’re persecuted or even killed. In real life, people in all kinds of minority are persecuted because of the others’ fear of their potential: what they can do and how they can do it. This film does not merely suggest equality, but right treatment people deserve no matter what or who they may be.

X-Men: Days of Future Past’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 5 out of 5