Hustisya

Hustisya Poster (credits to its owner/s)Apathy. Hipocrisy. There are real demons in the society.

Hustisya, one of the five feature films under the Director’s Showcase of Cinemalaya this year, showcased the acting prowess of the Philippine superstar, Nora Aunor, as helmed by acclaimed director, Joel Lamangan. She stars as Biring, an efficient member in a human trafficking syndicate controlled by some powerful men in the society.

A middle-aged woman who revolves her life with her work in the syndicate, her best friend and her family, Biring is a one-of-a-kind character (thanks, in part to Ricky Lee’s great writing). Despite having a key role in their human trafficking operations, she seems to care about the people they victimize. Shown as religious and a devout Catholic, she seems apologetic about her own sins. However, in her line of work, she sees and hears no evil. Conscience visits her once in a while, but the system where she and everyone’s a part of keeps on dictating her what she has to do. In the end, what will really matter to her? Her family? Her money? The system? Or her soul?

The movie is a clear cut portrayal of the evils of Manila. While a very few lavish in its riches, a whole lot wallow in the mud. Life in the city is compared to how a frog preys on a mosquito. The former must wait patiently while deceiving the latter it is a part of the surrounding. When the right moment comes, the frog eats the mosquito. This is similar to life in the capital: be victimized or be the victimizer. Such analogy represents the kind of world many of us live in.

Joel Lamangan is able to capture Aunor at her sometimes antsy, sometimes cool and collected demeanor for her character. Biring’s hard to portray as she jumps over the thin line of what is good or bad. Lamangan makes sure Aunor’s able to show the ambiguity that she is. Moreover, I like how he stages Aunor’s character with what others call her money shots in the film. Thankfully, he does not only take good care of his lead star. Hustisya’s supporting cast is also made good, especially Rosanna Roces (whose portrayal of Biring’s best friend and one of the heads of the syndicate brought about amusement and wonder) and Rocco Nacino (who’s a revelation in the film as the soulless lawyer/member of the syndicate).

I am not a fan of some initial scenes where blurred shots of Nora and Manila are being screened. Moreover, a little more care could have been done not only in the camerawork, but some uneven lines in the screenplay. The pacing is a bit inconsistent, but the duration of the film surely made up for it.

Hustisya is one of those Filipino films that are really heavy to watch as it tackles real-life atrocities that real people do. This makes it hard for some people to even see. But I doubt it was filmed for everyone. What Hustisya and other movies of its kind need is the appropriate audience to look at what it tries to portray, listen to what it has to say and act upon what should be done.

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

 

P.S.

After watching the film, I realized that real justice cannot be served here in this world.

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Divergent

Divergent_film_posterDivergent was beautiful to look at with its stylistic approach in presenting a dystopian society. However, I was expecting it to be made more with substance and not just style. The writing tried to make the story deeper than it could, though its too predictable of an ending forbid it to be so.

I like how the writers made a good introduction of the Divergent story. Those people who haven’t read the book must be introduced to the plot: In the future, people living in Chicago are divided into five factions (Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Candor, Amity) which are determined based on each person’s character. The story’s heroine, Tris Prior, is a divergent: a person who doesn’t conform as he or she can think independently and does possess the virtues of not just one faction. Jeanine Matthews, leader of Erudite, wants to eradicate her type as divergents are not predictable, therefore, dangerous. It’s up to Tris, her friends and her family to stop Matthews from her evil plan.

Shailene Woodley showed promise as Tris Prior, but it’s evident that she’s no Jennifer Lawrence. Even though many of her antics and nuances are consistent with her character, I found her not tough enough for the role. Theo James on the other hand, made Four, Tris’s love interest, real on the screen. Their supporting cast was good enough, though none left a remarkable performance other than Kate Winslet, whose cool confidence made her a good fit as Jeanine Matthews.

Everyone though that Divergent would be the next Hunger Games but it simply isn’t. It may be better than other movies based on dystopian books  that are released recently but it is not as good as the aforementioned movie based on the Suzanne Collins novel. Divergent’s got commendable visual effects though its lack of action and good direction made it just a so-so of a movie. Is it a waste of the Veronica Roth story? Not really. It could just have been made a lot better.

Divergent’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 3 out of 5

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain American posterCaptain America is definitely one of the best superhero movie sequels out there. Smartly written, action-packed and well-directed, The Winter Soldier proves once again Marvel’s ability to make great sequels out of their superhero movies. I honestly didn’t know what the movie was about before watching yet I had high hopes for it because I loved the first Captain America movie. I was pleasantly surprised because The Winter Soldier exceeded my expectations.

Great, great action scenes. No other superhero movie has impressed me this much in terms of hand-to-hand combat. It also succeeded in delivering scenes with an array of gadgets, weapons and advanced vehicles. These scenes comprise a lot of time and they were actually fun to watch because they were clearly captured, thanks to great editing and camerawork.

Major requirements for superhero movies are stunningly good visual effects and pretty excellent sound effects. Captain America: The Winter Soldier has both. Yet, what made this movie really stand out from the other superhero movies is its minimal use of CGI effects. The audience would get to appreciate all the combat scenes where incredible stunts were made and awesome fight choreography was played out.  What stood out were scenes of great, great action.

Smart script. The story of the Winter Soldier is a solid one. The audiences may not be familiar with the plot, but it’ll eventually unfold on their eyes as the movie progresses. It’s great how the script tied in Captain America’s real relation to the so-called Winter Soldier character to the remarkable threat the terrorist group called HYDRA is posing to America’s pseudo-homeland security agency called SHIELD. The former subplot played out just right and didn’t appear too shallow or cheesy at all. The HYDRA subplot actually covers the first subplot but the focus there is how the said terrorist organization has come to infiltrate SHIELD, thereby compromising it and its operations.

Good performances. Every lead and supporting actor in the movie delivered well during the whole movie feature. Chris Evans proves once again why he’s a good fit to be this generation’s Captain America. He has not only given what he’s asked to do as both the patriotic superhero captain and the good, old friend of his current nemesis, but he’s also able to show the development of his character woth his solid performance. Also delivering exciting performances are Sebastian Stan (as the Winter Soldier), Scarlett Johansson (as Black Widow), and Anthony Mackie (as Falcon). Not to forget Samuel L. Jackson (as Nick Fury) and Robert Redford (as Alexander Pierce) who are as great as ever.

Good editing and directing. A bit predictable at times, this movie is nevertheless as suspenseful and exciting as it could get. The great story-telling Anthony and Joe Russo, the movie’s directors, did have made the audience care about what’s really happening in the story. And this made every scene as exciting as the other.

As I have said, I am extremely satisfied with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And this made me anticipate the next Marvel movies that are coming out soon. Here’s hoping they’re as good, if not better, than this Captain America movie.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 4.5 out of 5

10,000 Hours

10,000 Hours movie posterI had high hopes for this film before watching it because it bested the other Metro Manila Film Festival entries in the Best Picture category and won almost all the major awards including Best Actor for Robin Padilla, Best Supporting Actor for Pen Medina and Best Director for Joyce Bernal during the MMFF Awards.

The film started out good. Robin Padilla as Senator Gabriel Alcaraz (a character that is loosely based on Sen. Panfilo Lacson) made the audience feel right away that he is showing something new in this movie. His subdued, restrained performance meant he’s really serious about his character. Moreover, the scenes during the first arc of the story (the escape of Sen. Alcaraz) are impressive. During those initial scenes, the movie’s editing kept the pace of the story good, its camerawork captured what needed to be captured and its musical score really heightened the suspense. It is a letdown then that the story became dragging in the middle part (when the story focused on the implications of Sen. Alcaraz and his whereabouts). I am not undermining the character’s experiences during this time but the once suspenseful action thriller became heavy drama in a glance. Some of the dramatic scenes are appropriate, but some are just so exhausting to watch. But what’s more exhausting is waiting for any real action during this middle part. It became really frustrating that no grand musical score or some side stories or beautiful cinematography could ever patch up for it. It made me want to call the film 100,000 Hours instead. Anyway, once the movie began its final story arc, it somehow went back to how it was in the beginning. But it couldn’t resolve the gravity of dullness it just had.

Anyway, I won’t take away too much of what the movie has brought fine. Joyce Bernal is a good director, and who would have thought she could make a good and decent suspense/action film? Meanwwhile, the movie’s cinematographer is able to capture its two settings well: the liveliness of Manila and the beauty and feel of Amsterdam, albeit limited in scope of the area. The musical score has already been mentioned but I’ll say again how great it was. Moreover, the movie’s got a good cast. Aside from Robin Padilla, veterans Pen Medina (as an old friend of Sen. Alcaraz) and Mylene Dizon (as Sen. Alcaraz’s wife) and novices Cholo Barretto (as the senator’s son) and Bela Padilla (as a newscaster) pulled off remarkable performances.

I just wished the movie is not as dragging as it is. The writing could have been improved as well. But overall, 10,000 Hours is good.

10,000 Hoursmovie rating by the pondering movie fan: 4 out of 5

Thor: The Dark World

thor-2-the-dark-world-posterThor: The Dark World is much like the first Thor movie: it is spectacular and amazing. The visual effects are well-polished, the acting is passable, the dialogues are funny and smart, the action sequences are good. However, being too much alike to the first movie and the rest of the superhero movies is where the problem is. Nothing seems new.

I fear the time when the audiences will grow weary of these superhero movies. The Avengers was more than amazing and spectacular; it was great. The first Thor and Captain America movies are really good. They are far different from each other in terms of tone and theme. Spider-Man movies define the funny, sweet, romantic superhero movie. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy broke ground with its dark theme and hyperrealism. Thor 2 might just be the start of superhero movie repeating itself.

I may not be a fan of the movie but I won’t deprive of telling you, dear readers, its good merits. The amazing visualization of various planetary bodies in the movie would make one wonder about the universe. It’s got great special effects, too, which is really a must for these kinds of movies. The main actors (Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston) and even the rest of the cast seem like enjoying themselves while playing their characters. They’ve got good chemistry and this really shows in their scenes.  The script is full of witty dialogues yet it’s a bit contrived (much like any other superhero movie actually). Its funny lines make the movie a bit fun to watch.

However, nothing really excited me that much. I hate to say that I got bored while watching but I didn’t get that great feeling that I feel every time I watch a superhero movie. I didn’t have that high of an expectation in this movie but alas, I still got disappointed. The villains in the story made me curious but that’s about it. After searching for their back stories in Marvel Encyclopedia, I already stopped wondering about them.

By the way, I hope Captain America 2 (the next Marvel superhero movie) will deliver what Thor 2 failed to give.

Thor: The Dark World’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 3 out of 5

Metro Manila

Metro_Manila_PosterIt’s surprising to know that this movie, which is titled after our country’s capital, is helmed, written and produced by Sean Ellis, a British director. The cast is all-Filipino and the setting is none other than places in the Philippines. But not only that, the United Kingdom chose this as their entry to Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language category!

What I’ve seen in this movie reflects the reality that we face in our country today. People who find it too hard to thrive in the provinces try out their luck in the metropolis without knowing the dire consequences that they could face while being in the city.

The story of Metro Manila centers on Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal) and his family who decided to escape the hardships they encounter in the northern part of the country. Hopeful yet uncertain about what lies ahead, they went to Metro Manila. It’s not long enough before they fall victims to the city’s corrupt and manipulative system. However, Oscar found hope when he landed a job as an armored truck driver/ courier. Little did he know that his life will change right after.

The movie is able to truly capture the city streets’ gripping everyday situation. I am awed to learn that the people behind the movie did not hire a Filipino writer to pen the screenplay. Instead, they wrote it in the English language and asked the Filipino actors to speak their dialogues out according to what they understood in each scene. And what came out was a brilliant and realistic script.

There are many outstanding shots in the film, whether they show squalor or splendor. The backdrop in the early part of the film ably captured the tranquil and simple life in the countryside. Meanwhile, the setting in the city totally reflected the untidy and harsh realities of the city. Such contrasting situations made a great effect not just to the eyes that see, but also the minds that ponder. The audience won’t be able to resist reflecting about what they have just watched. And it would be up to them to act upon what they have learned.

This movie is sad and tragic right from the start. There are only a few movies that I have watched that’s downright depressing and this is one of them. But it doesn’t stay that way all throughout. Glimpses of hope and promise to a life of hardships can be seen in the unfolding stories of the characters. The quick transition of their lives from a clean and simple one to a filthy and complicated one, though, has its consequences. The scenes that captured this change are praise-worthy, much like the soaring climax that ended a steady yet not boring story-telling. And wait until the satisfying end, which hits a good mark after everything that happened.

The cast of the movie is great. Jake Macapagal is very believable as Oscar Ramirez, a simple and caring husband/father who would do anything for the sake of his family. Althea Vega is always into her element as Oscar’s wife, who decided to get into a dirty job to help out. My favorite scene in the film involves these two actors, and that would be the montage of Oscar having a good time with his co-workers and his wife dancing almost naked in front of lusting men. Their portrayal of the said scene will stop your heart from beating. Jake seems to be laughing heartily during the scene but after looking deeply into it, he really seems to be crying. Althea was trying hard to please and entertain her audience, but you’ll feel in her performance her character’s deep sadness. Meanwhile, the other brilliant actor in the film is John Arcilla, who intensely portrays Oscar’s partner/senior officer in their company. He breathed and looked the part he was assigned to portray. The supporting cast is also good, and they’re part of the reason why the whole movie seems real.

If there’s one recent film about the Philippine capital that you should see, it’s this movie. Who knows, maybe it’ll open up your eyes to the reality the bright lights and pleasing sounds of the metro are trying to conceal.

Metro Manila’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 4.5 out of 5

On the Job

OTJ movie poster“Wow!”

That was the expression I used after watching On the Job, the latest Filipino film to grace the silver screen. I have never watched a Filipino film that did not only make my heart race but also made me think while watching and right after watching. I might have guessed some of the plot points towards the end even before they happened, but when they did happen in the movie, I was still surprised thanks to the brilliant execution of those scenes. That’s how great the hands that made this movie were.

Top-notch directing and editing, very credible acting, excellent production design, great musical score, this movie seemed to have it all. To tell you the truth, I already had high expectations before watching because of raving reviews from critics and good word-of-mouth feedback from the people who have already watched it. It was that high that I prepared myself to be disappointed. But, no. The movie was worth the hype. On the Job delivered in a great way that acclaimed movies of many years past were not able to achieve.

The story surrounds 4 major characters: Francis Coronel, Jr. (portrayed by Piolo Pascual), an NBI agent whose lawmaker father-in-law (Michael de Mesa) supports an evil general (Leo Martinez) who’s planning to run for politics; SPO1 Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez), a capable policeman who helps Francis in his case about the general; Tatang (Joel Torre), a prisoner who is hired by cohorts of the evil general to assassinate people linking him to illegal activities, and Daniel (Gerald Anderson), the brutal yet naïve apprentice of Tatang who joins him in his assassination jobs.

It is scary to think that these things really happen in the country. Criminals get to run and be elected in the government. Prisoners get to go out of the jail and kill. Dirty policemen get to have what they want while the clean ones die young. But when you think about it, these scenarios really seem familiar. Just take into consideration the latest issue of the pork barrel scam, then you’d think that the movie’s plot doesn’t seem so unlikely. This current issue has unmasked politicians that were touted as the good ones before. It has also reminded the people that criminal masterminds tend to get special treatment and were even thought to be state witnesses that could escape punishment. Also, witnesses were barraged with different issues to taint their reputation. I don’t want to sound hopeless, but won’t you agree if I say that this world that we live in aren’t really ruled by the good ones? It’s so hard to live right if everyone seems to live in an unrighteous way. Maybe that’s the ultimate challenge for us, humans: to stand out in a tainted world.

Going back to the film, the stories mentioned above about the four people intertwined in a way that only the movie’s brilliant writers, Michiko Yamamoto and Erik Matti (also the movie’s director), could only create. Of course, the story also benefited well by its great pacing. The suspense was not always present, but during those “quiet” times, good action was still ongoing. There was no idle moments all throughout the film.

Today’s popular actors in the film actually did great. Gerald Anderson was believable as a young prisoner whose naivety and willingness to kill clouded his whole morality. Piolo Pascual embodied a character whose conscience and barely dirty hands could not afford to give up his principles in spite of familial ties. They were great, but it was the veterans Joel Torre, Leo Martinez and Joey Marquez who stood out in the film. Torre was able to turn himself into a ruthless killer-prisoner, Martinez was really irritating as the evil general while Marquez was flawless as the policeman whose integrity would make other policemen hide in shame.

Brace yourself, many praises about the film are still to come.

The shots, have you noted how they were shot? They were meticulously made in order to tell the story well. Watch out for each scene as many of them hold clues as to what’s going to happen next. Erik Matti is such a great director that he’s able to bring to life a complicated story line about the nation, its government and its people. In addition, the cinematography made the whole film seem so authentic and real.

Finally, the songs. Oh you’d just feel them at heart once they start playing. Most memorable for me was Dong Abay’s Mateo Singko. The said song was very apt for the whole concept of the film.

On the Job’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 5 out of 5