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Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)

December 4, 2010


I was not really planning to watch "Skyline". One day though, I overheard a reviewer on the radio describing it is an alien invasion film with a nice twist at the ending. I am a sucker for a good twist so I watch, without reading anything about it first.


"Skyline" actually begins quite well, with some blue lights falling on the city. Staring into the blue light apparently mesmerizes people who eventually get sucked into it. However, as the octopus-shaped alien with the long tentacles made its appearance, and later a different alien monster with two legs terrorized the streets, this movie turned into a typical chase and kill off the victims one by one type of film.


The alien seemed indestructible from anything the humans throw at them, from bullets to entire aircraft! However in a moment of cinematic illogicality, in the climactic fight towards the end, our hero Jarrod (Eric Balfour) dares to try killing one by hitting it with a hollow block and punching it with his bare fists! And for some strange reason, the aliens took their sweet time when it came to our heroine Elaine (Scottie Thompson), unlike the swift way they killed their other human victims.


This is a movie with less than 90 minutes of running time, yet it really felt so long. The whole thing was repetitive, irrational, and maddening. The characters were all annoying, and the generally unknown actors who portrayed them were so hammy in their acting. Now as for that supposed nice "twist" at the end, as the scene shifts to the insides of the alien monster. I don't know. It was not much of a twist for me at all. It was predicable, as it was corny and unreasonable. Watch at your own risk. This type of film can actually be fun for some people.

The Next Three Days

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

November 30, 2010


In "The Next Three Days," the ideal life of a college professor (Russell Crowe) and his wife (Elizabeth Banks) and their young son is suddenly disrupted by the wife's arrest and incarceration for murdering her boss. Out of desperation to keep his family together, Crowe thinks up and executes a most elaborate scheme to spring his wife from jail and escape out of the country.


Written and directed by the award-winning writer Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby" and "Crash"), this movie is a slow boil. The first half is very quiet. We do not really know what the wife did or not do right away. One scene she is arrested, then she is already in jail. The audience is kept thinking to piece things together as the scenes unfold, as details were not spoon-fed.


Then as Crowe initiates his plot, the movie is transformed into an exciting, suspensefully-edited series of events. The scenes shift from Crowe to the police on his trail in an effectively nail-biting fashion. All the while at this point, we still do not know whether the wife was guilty or not. All we have is Crowe's faith in her innocence. The audience is kept in a moral dilemma. Will Crowe succeed to give his wife her freedom? Should we really root for them to escape?


But ultimately the thing that brings this movie down for me is its preposterousness. Here we have Crowe who is a just mild-mannered professor in the beginning, not some special ops guy (like Liam Neeson in "Taken"). And mind you, this is supposed to be a prison in Pittsburgh, a major city of the United States, not one from any random Third World country. Can ordinary people like him, like us, really resort to these extreme measures outside the law in order to free someone you love from prison?


OK, it is just a movie, but in family dramas like this, I believe some measure of believability and grounding in reality is necessary to make the audience care for the characters.

Little Women (Repertory Philippines)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

November 28, 2010


In a year dominated by local productions of very female-oriented musicals: "Legally Blonde," "Xanadu," "A Little Night Music," and "Sleeping Beauty," Repertory Philippines ends its current season with yet another estrogen-charged production, the musical version of the Louisa Mae Alcott classic, "Little Women." This musical had its Broadway run back in 2005


It was not really in my plans to watch this, but my daughter wanted to. I had read a junior version of this book back when I was a child. I knew the story would be very long and old-fashioned, and I was already hearing the possible maudlin songs they might be singing to tell this story. However, there were very good initial reviews though, and knowing it would be directed by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo with the full orchestra conducted by Gerald Salonga, so we went ahead and watched it this afternoon.


This 1869 novel has survived as a classic of literature, and this means the story has stood the test of time. Jo March is the headstrong second child of a family of four girls and she has burning passion to write and see the world. The story tells of her relationships with her sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy, and their mother, whom they lovingly call Marmee. It would also tell about the men in her life, Laurie and Prof. Bhaer. The book of this musical (by Allan Knee) effectively tells its story.


My personal favorite among the March sisters was Beth. Her character was supposed to be the weakest in terms of health, but she has her own inner strength. I felt this unique characteristic was very well-captured and touchingly portrayed by the young actress who played her in this production, Cara Barredo. In fact in the whole show, only two songs really caught my attention, and these were both by Beth: "Off to Massachusetts" (duet with Mr. Lawrence) and "Some Things Are Meant to Be" (sung with Jo).


Ms. Pinky Marquez commanded such a presence as Marmee March, but it was particularly her amazingly strong singing that stood out well above the others. Her performance of her two featured solo songs ("Here Alone" and "Days of Plenty") are flawless. Caisa Borromeo did very well as the main character Jo. Her standout number was "Astonishing" which ended the first act. Kelly Lati did what she could do with the annoyingly petulant character of Amy. She did do better here than her lackluster Wendla in "Spring Awakening." Lora Nicolas did not have much to do as Meg, but her soprano was clearly appreciated in the song "More Than I Am." Ms. Joy Virata played the stuffy Aunt March as only she can.


As for the men characters: Jeff Arcilla (as Prof. Bhaer) was not so convincing in the first half, but his awkwardness actually became charming in the second half, and we got to hear his strong singing voice as well. Jaime Barcelon (as Laurie) felt miscast with his effeminate actuations and uneven singing voice. Jack Salud was efficient as usual in his role as Mr. Brooke, but he looked a bit too mature as the suitor and later husband of Meg. Miguel Faustmann was very much at home with his stodgy Mr. Laurence.


So, now that I have seen it, this show WAS as long (two acts of almost one and half hours each!) and as old-fashioned as I remember the book, yes. Most of the songs (music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein) were sappy and not particularly memorable. While everything is all prim and proper, this may not be to everyone's liking, especially those who look for a lot more fast-paced humor and action in their musical theater. Yet, having said that, this musical version of "Little Women" is still worth watching, for those who love the classic spirit of the book, and mostly because of the Filipino talent that brings it to life.

Let Me In

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (1)

Novemer 23, 2010


Something good that came out of that terrible traffic jam that paralyzed Quezon City yesterday night was that it gave me the opportunity to watch a movie that I had been itching to catch since it opened more than a week ago. This was "Let Me In," the American version of an acclaimed Swedish film entitled "Let the Right One In." This was directed by "Cloverfield" director, Matt Reeves.


The story is the same, of course. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a lonely 12- year old boy, is constantly picked on by bullies in school. He strikes a friendship with his similarly lonely new neighbor, a strange 12-year old girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz), who does not wear shoes in the snow and loves puzzles. As their friendship develops, a series of unexplained bloody murders were taking place in the neighborhood. To tell you more will be spoiling the story for those who have not seen the original film.


As I have also seen the original Swedish version (you can read my full review of that one by clicking  HERE), I could not help but compare the two. All the salient points of the story are there. The suspenseful story-telling was still evident even if I already knew what was going to happen. The actors who played the two kids were very effective in essaying their parts in both movies. The main differences lie in the direction and treatment of the scenes and the characterization.


The setting is transported from Sweden to Los Alamos, New Mexico, as the characters all become Americans. The Swedish film was much colder and relentlessly bleak. The American version is predictably more noisy and garish in production value. While the Swedish film shows Oskar and Eli as friends, the American version pushes it further to budding romantic love between Owen and Abby. (This is not necessarily a bad thing, though). The American version uses some terrible CG effects to emphasize evil (you'll know what I mean when you see it), while things were simpler and suggestive (rather than blatant) in the Swedish version.


I think you can watch either film if you want to see this unconventional story unfold. You now have a choice of either subtle or direct styles of exposition. Or like me, you can watch and enjoy both, as they are both watchable (if you enjoy this genre of film) in their own ways.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

November 18, 2010

The last book in the Harry Potter saga has been split into two parts. At first, maybe people would think it is to squeeze some more financial mileage out of the series. On the other hand, having watched this installment, there is simply too much complex storytelling involved in this book to cram it into only one two and half hour movie.


This Part 1 is already a very full two and half hours. The drama begins even before the opening credits roll. The special effects have reached a new high point with the trick of using polyjuice potion to create multiple Harry's. The frenetic escape of Harry in Hagrid's motor sidecar is an achievement in action editing. The trio's brave and ingenious penetration of the Ministry of Magic to get the locket horcrux is very exciting and tension-filled.


Momentum dips a bit in the midsection as our trio scour the English wilderness for a way to destroy the horcrux. This prolonged section, which some may find boring, dealt more with the personal relationships and loyalty of the three friends as they are left to their own devices to figure out how best to achieve their quest. While quiet recellections and conversations dominated this segment, it is also marked by the creepiness of Bathilda Bagshot, manaical bloodthrist of Bellatrix Lestrange and the touching nobility of Dobby, the ex-house-elf of the Malfoys. Watch out too for a most unexpected dance scene which will surely make you smile, if not actually chuckle!


In the third section, we learn what the "deathly hallows" are referred to in the title as our trio learns it from the visibly disturbed Xenophilius Lovegood, Luna's dad. But the main highlight here is a most amazing animated short featurette called "The Tale of Three Brothers" as narrated by Hermione. This Part 1 ends very well with a sky-splitting final cliffhanger scene featuring "The One Who Would Not Be Named".


Its been repeatedly mentioned how the main actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have all grown up in front of our eyes as this movie series unfolded over the past nine years. Rupert and Emma are both taller than Daniel already! Acting-wise, everyone had likewise improved very much. They all even show some skin here. Yes, even Hermione! The support from the esteemed gallery of British actors and actresses serve the film very well indeed. We saw everyone from all the previous films it seems, except for Maggie Smith.


The direction of David Yates is excellent as he did in the last two films. Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves got just the proper mix of action, drama and humor needed to make the saga work on screen. This may just be a set-up installment, however, it stands very strong on its own merits. As the last scene faded to black, the audience will definitely develop the resolve to watch out for the concluding part to be released next summer, and all be witnesses to the epic Battle of Hogwarts.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (My Review of the Book and the Film)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)

November 14, 2010

It took time for me to get into the story of this novel. The beginning section about an old man receiving dried flowers every year is very puzzling, and I had to read it over many times to try to get it. I decided to just let it go and read on, and then the story really gets more interesting.


I think this is the first novel from Sweden that I have read, and so the Swedish names and places used were new and charming. The style of exposition of Mr. Larsson is different and nonlinear, so it does take getting used to as you progress through the book.


At first, you might balk at prolonged descriptions of people, places, businesses and technologie. Sex is also treated very casually here, as Swedes are traditionally known for. But beleive me, once you catch the drift of Larsson's style, it would be difficult to let go up to the very end.


The title refers to the mysterious Lisbeth Salander, a misanthropic young orphan with an unusual talent and tenacity in investigative work. However, the actual lead character of the story is journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who was hired to ghost write the memoirs of the elderly industrialist Henrik Vanger. However, we will learn that Mr. Vanger also wanted Blomkvist to solve a family mystery that has possessed him for over twenty years. And it is with this investigation that our titular Lisbeth gets into the action.


Without going into much detail, the investigation will take an incredible turn into the violent, gruesome and lurid. I personally felt this part went way over the top, but hey, maybe that is why this book stood out and became a best seller. I admit I went absorbedly along this dark ride. I brought this book along to read throughout my vacation in New England. But I simply could not put the book down, so I finished it while still on the plane going there! I cannot wait to read the next adventures of Lisbeth Salander.




Usually I like to read the book first before watching the movie. In this case, reading the book first made watching the movie easier, but also made the experience a bit disappointing.


The title of this Swedish film is Män som hatar kvinnor which translates as Men Who Hate Women. I liked the way the screenplay adapted the book onto the big screen. This movie ran for over two hours, so that most of the important events in the novel are all accounted for. There were some details which were altered for cinematic purposes, but that was also OK, since it fits right into the story without altering major plot points.


In the book, more pages were spent on journalist Mikael Blomkvist. The movie, on the other hand, gives practically equal, or even more, time to Lisbeth Salander, the Goth female computer hacker with a disturbed past, facial piercings and the dragon tattoo, who helps Blomkvist solve a mystery of the rich Vanger family, unsolved for more than 20 years already. Actress Noomi Rapace portrays the titular character Lisbeth bravely and with conviction.


I say I was also disappointed in a way that having read the book cannot make me a fair judge whether the movie was able to effectively build up the suspense into the revelation of what really happened. The movie is certainly not exactly how I imagined some things. For instance, I did not imagine Lisbeth's dragon tattoo to be so big! But as a whole, this film is a very faithful retelling of the book's events, no surprises anymore.


The US is coming up with an American version of this movie by next year, and no doubt I will be watching it again. Daniel Craig (as Blomkvist), Stellan Skarsgard (as Martin Vanger) and Christopher Plummer (as Henrik Vanger) all seem to fit their roles. I am just not so sure how pretty Rooney Mara (from Social Network) can pull off playing Lisbeth.


As for "The Girl Who Played With Fire", I am thinking maybe I should watch the second movie first before reading the second book, and see how that goes.

US President Bill Clinton at the Manila Hotel

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

November 10, 2010

(Photo credit:

I was not really planning to attend this speaking engagement. We just watched the Al Gore speech earlier this year (read about that one HERE). Unlike Gore's well-known environmental agenda, I was not too clear as to what Clinton's speech would be about. However, when my cousin Jerry suddenly brought it up last week and asked me if I wanted to go with him, I just said yes anyway. I guess this is really a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear an actual American President (albeit an ex) speak live, and this is too rare to pass up.


I went home by lunchtime today. My cousin picked me up by about 1:30pm. There was no traffic, so we were at the side parking of the Manila Hotel in an hour. Then it started to rain, and rain very hard! We were waiting for it to subside, but it was not. So by 3pm, we decided to bring umbrellas and brave the rain to walk to the Manila Hotel Tent City, which was the venue of the event.


We only bought General Admission tickets (P2,000 each) which were first-come-first-served seats. Since we were early, we got to sit in the front row of the Gen Ad area, right behind the P5,000 seats. The event was supposed to start by 4pm, but I guess because of the rains and the traffic it brought, everything was delayed a bit. We whiled the time people watching.


There were so many politicians there. We saw Vice President Jojo Binay, Senators Franklin Drilon, Ralph Recto, Chiz Escudero, Dick Gordon, Ernesto Maceda, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, Caloocan Mayor Recom Echeverri, and Madame Imelda Marcos. Other celebrities we identified included Karen Davila, Gary Valenciano and Ms. Rosa Rosal. We would later learn that former presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were also in attendance.




The program proper was opened by a representative from Manila Hotel. He introduced the moderator for the event, Ms. Maria Ressa. There were two local speakers to get the ball rolling. The first speaker was Ms. Gina Lopez. She was very engaging and inspiring as she spoke of her pet project, the very admirable Clean the Pasig River movement. She talked about management making a non-negotiable commitment to integrity and the common good. The second speaker was Ms. Chit Juan, the CEO of Figaro Coffee, Binalot and other local franchises. She spoke of small steps we can take in order to achieve big changes. She was also a very good speaker. Ms. Ressa then engaged the two ladies in an interesting Q&A session, before giving way to the main event.


The main speaker was introduced by a bespectacled guy named William Llamas (?). I did not get who he was, or what he represented. Mr. William Jefferson ("Bill") Clinton was met by the Filipino audience with a standing ovation when he entered the stage. He looked just like his pictures, but was visibly older already. In his introduction, he spoke of how this is his third time in Manila, all in November. First in 1994, then again in 1996. The topic of his talk was "Embracing our Common Humanity." He talked about NGOs and its vital role in helping the government solve various problems of society. The world is too unequal, unstable and unsustainable. We have to hold on with an attitude of hope and aspiration.


His speaking style was very relaxed and casual. But his speech was only read off his notes, and thus very dry. He was not spontaneous, as we know him. I must admit it was very hard to pay attention at all times. I won't blame anyone who actually dozed off in parts of the speech. His talk lasted for about an hour only. After he thanked the audience for listening, Ms. Ressa came back out to initiate the Open Forum.


Now, in the Open Forum, that was when the real Bill Clinton came out! He was brilliant and precise in his answers to Ms. Ressa's rather difficult questions.


1. Why does he think the Philippines could not reach the success of our neighbors?

He tells us not to compare ourselves with Singapore because it is small, not to China because it is too authoritarian. We hear about his experiences in Rwanda after the genocide. He told us about how these Rwandan people just let go of the past and were relentlessly working for the future.


2. What did he think of Pres. Noynoy Aquino, whom he just met before this event?

Mr. Clinton thought P-Noy was energetic and well-informed about the various topics he asked him about. He felt our President had clear ideas on where he wanted our country to go, and the energy to bring us there.


3. What did he learn during his term as the most powerful man on the planet?

Mr. Clinton impressed by saying that power taught him to be humble. He learned he is not as smart as he thought he was. We encouraged young politicians to read the essay "Politics as a Vocation" by Max Weber, to learn about the field they are getting into.


4. What was the most difficult decision he ever made as POTUS?

Mr. Clinton said that his most difficult decisions were not necessarily the unpopular ones. His decision to help Boris Yeltsin rebuild Russia was very unpopular but he knew he made the right decision then because he foresaw that it would bring about a lot of good.


Instead, he said, the most difficult judgments were those where the outcomes were not clear. He cited an incident about Saddam Hussein's attempt on Pres. George Bush, Sr. and how difficult it was to decide on how to deal with Iraq at that time. Or it can also be the compromising he needed to do with the US Congress in order to push his domestic reforms in education or economics.





It was too bad that Ms. Ressa was already told to cut the sessions already after that question. These informal off-the-cuff answers were more informative and interesting than his whole prepared speech. With that, Pres. Clinton rose and waved goodbye to the audience and left the stage.


Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

November 7, 2010


The posters and previews did not really attract me to watch this movie. However my sons made me see it with them, so I did. I am skittish about Dreamworks animated projects. I was just hoping that it would be a pleasant surprise, like "How to Train Your Dragon" or "Kung Fu Panda" were before this. We did not watch it in 3D.


It all starts with a Superman scenario when two alien babies were sent via rockets to Earth, when their planets were destroyed. One was raised in the lap of luxury and grew up to be the superhero, Metro Man. The other was raised in a prison, ostracized all his life for his big head and blue color, and grew up to be the super-villain, Megamind. As fate would have it, they became arch-nemeses. One day, one of Megamind's hare-brained schemes to destroy Metro Man actually succeeds. However, after he experiences his "success," he finds his life empty without someone to fight against.


Regarding the artwork, the characters (with no exception) were really very unattractive and unappealing, as they were drawn. I see this as a problem with all Dreamworks projects like "Dragon", "Monsters Vs. Aliens", and "Shark's Tale". The character Hal/Titan is the worst and most annoying of all (as he was intended to be). Their Metro City backdrops and special animated effects though were very well-done.


As for the celebrity voices, the best one belonged to Brad Pitt as Metro Man. It was noble yet cheesy, very on point. Will Ferrell sounded like he had a good time with Megamind, but it was just ok. Tina Fey's voice as the feisty reporter Roxanne did not really reflect her funny personality. These two could have been done just as good by any other voice talent.


Overall, this movie was satisfactory, not spectacular. As you can deduce from the short synopsis, this movie is not exactly for kids. There were stretches in the middle when my kids were restless. The success of the jokes were erratic. The script was surprisingly quite adult in its analysis of good and evil, even contemplative at times. I appreciated this and I liked the twists and turns that the story took. I am not sure though if the kids actually got what the movie was really all about behind the silly action sequences.

Modern Japanese Theater: "Five Days In March" by Chelfitsch

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

November 5, 2010


Last night, November 5, at the PETA theater in QC, there was a show entitled "Five Days in March" by a Japanese group called Chelfitsch. Being a fan of Japanese culture, I decided to check it out, even if I had no idea what this was all about. Even after reading the synopsis they gave out before the show, I still had no idea what to expect!


Acocrding to their write-up, Chelfitsch is a modern phenomenon in Japanese theater, founded by director Toshiki Okada only in 1997. The strange name comes from a combination of the English words "selfish" and "childish", which is how Okada sees modern Japanese society. Therefore, Chelfitsch performances are marked by "super-colloquial dialogue" and "sloppy gestures". "Five Days in March" (Sangatsu no Itsukakann) is its signature piece, having been performed in stages worldwide, and winning various awards.


The stage was bare, only a white backdrop and nothing else. When the show began, we readily see and hear what the write-up says. The seven actors just lazily mouth their kilometric Japanese lines, seemingly to themselves, with no effort to "act" as we know it. Instead, we see them talking, while only standing in unusual awkward poses, or acting in repetitive little gestures and movements. It turns out that the use of the white backdrop is for projection of the English translation. Throughout the performance, there was only play on lights, and no other production effects.


The "story" centers on a young Japanese couple who "hook-up" after meeting in a concert at a Roponggi club. They stay together for five days of hedonism in a "love hotel" in Shibuya. There were a couple confusing side stories which did not seem related to the main story, but just there for comic relief. I have to say that watching this was not really easy since you need to be following the translation as it was being flashed overhead. Since i do not understand any Japanese, I was reading the whole time and that can be taxing.


The main story was being told in various versions and points of view by different characters. When you follow the translations, you can get confused as to who is saying what, since everything seems to be said in the third person. You just try and figure the whole thing out by yourself. In the end, it just gets too convoluted in its repetitiveness. I cannot believe that such a bare scenario like this can actually last for 1 hour and 45 minutes, with a 10 minute intermission! My favorite segment was not the main story, but actually that side story of the weird girl in the movie house. That was really funny!


OK, so I am not yet entirely sold on the Chelfitsch style of performance, but I am still glad I watched this. It is curious and interesting while it lasted. Japanese artists really push the envelope here and that it why it is acclaimed. It is performance like contemporary dance where there are no traditions nor steps to follow. It is like free-flowing and stream of consciouness in its style of story-telling. The autistic-looking actuations and movements of the actors can be quite irritating as they can quite charming. The audience interprets as he sees it. There are no correct answers here.


There is a second (and last) performance of "Five Days in March" at 7pm tonight November 6 at the PETA Theater. Tickets are at P200 each. Go and experience an unusual style of theater as only the Japanese can deliver it.


Batman: Under the Red Hood

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

November 1, 2010

Upon my friend's recommendation, I watched this latest DC Batman animated film. I am not really fond of Batman animated films. I have not even seen Batman classics like "Mask of the Phantasm". I do not know why, but they did not really catch my interest because of the heavy atmosphere in these films. So therefore, this film "Under the Red Hood" is my first full-length animated Batman film.


In "Under the Red Hood," Batman is his usual brooding, dark self. However, with this film, I got a more intimate look at his conflicted psyche and what makes him tick as a vigilante. This film served as my introduction to the new Robin, Jason Todd. The cameo by Nightwing (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) was also very good. I saw his motivation in his quest against crime. And the Joker here is an capital arch-villain in the real sense of the word, not the usual easy-to-defeat fool.


The script is very well-written. The psychology is deep and insightful. The sense of humor is wry and biting (especially the lines of the Joker in the confrontation scenes at the end). The action is relentless (although it can look like Spiderman there at times) and intense (with blood and death). The film takes great advantage of what the animated medium can offer. I should say that because of this, I think it is high time for me to go back and check out all those previous Batman animated movies I have missed.