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Given its movie-epic flair, “Queen of the Desert” is pretty enough to be watchable for its sweeping desert landscapes, picturesque British countryside, glorious 20th-century architecture, and classy period costumes. However, the story’s structure ultimately fails. Much of the problem comes from the acting, which is clearly a hit or miss, often the latter, and the episodic pacing that almost never engrosses the audience, even during the supposedly very emotional moments.

Based on the true story of the life of British explorer and adventurer Gertrude Bell, this underwhelming piece of cinema, surprisingly helmed by the respectable Werner Herzog, chronicles a journey through love, loss, and coping up in the eyes of a curious and adventurous woman way ahead of her time.

Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell doesn’t look desert-hardened despite the character she portrays. Her joys and pains remain quite difficult to understand even by the film’s end. There is barely any persuasive emotional depth invested on her character. While her maturity as an actress comes into place at certain times, the disappointing storytelling structure lacks both the sweep and psychological complexity the story desperately needs. The narrative remains passionless and devoid of layers that should have come from the trailblazing archaeologist and politician Bell’s many extraordinary adventures in the 1920s Middle East.

The conflicts of love and tragedy lets down as any death that comes in the story is not in any way impactful for the audience. Viewers are unable to get that crucial emotional attachment to root for the characters and their plight. All details that unfold come as they are without emotional investment of any kind for the audience to keep up with.

Robert Pattison as T.E. Lawrence is completely disappointing, rendering no depth to his persona to impose himself as Lawrence of Arabia. The emptiness in his character becomes the most dominant element in his role, especially whenever he utters his lines. Peter O’Toole could have probably cringed if he’s still alive and saw this unfortunate portrayal of his iconic character.

James Franco as Henry Cadogan adds a bit of spice to the bland sketches of male roles presented throughout the tale, but the film’s storytelling betrays his fate in the narrative that he is still unable to garner any form of convincing impact in the story.


‘Queen of the Desert’ Film Review: Beautifully Empty
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[Total: 1    Average: 4/5]

Inside Out movie review

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“Inside Out” is a powerfully moving animated piece about the importance of sadness in human life. Daring to explore the existential crises of the human mind and the emotions that affect one’s life, this formidably ingenious film works like a thesis or research project. With a material that strikes as a reflection on the power of emotions, it targets the family audience, particularly those with ages ranging from pre-teen to adult.

Packaged as a movie set inside someone’s head and how the mind and the emotions work together, the story presents a strikingly endearing take on a young girl’s growing pains as she encounters wave after wave of personal and familial problems. While traversing the bumpy road ahead of her, she also finds herself struggling to come to terms with puberty.

The narrative revolves around Riley, a sweet girl from Minnesota who gets uprooted from her Midwest life after her family’s financial struggle leads them to San Francisco. With the loss of the comfort of her childhood home, the company of her dearest friends, and the camaraderie of her hockey team, turmoil ensues inside her mind’s “Headquarters,” the control center where her emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger live and help her through her everyday life. When Joy, her main and most important emotion, accidentally gets lost with Sadness, the arduous journey to get back to the Headquarters coincides with Riley’s progressing depressive state while navigating her new city.

The tale begins a bit too verbose for the youngest viewers, but the gorgeous imagery and colors often help keep most people’s eyes glued to the screen. This poignant entry to the Pixar catalog hits an elusive sweet spot with its fiercely sweet approach to animated filmmaking. In portraying both the intelligence and the fragility of a child’s mind, it encourages viewers to talk more openly about their feelings — although its theme’s complexity may be lost on the younger viewers. It plays around the intricacies of human decisions, actions, and motivations and turns the unexplainable into a stuff of grand drama.

As an ambitious motion picture, its epic journey across a fantastic landscape delivers such an empathetic answer to the question “What is going on inside one’s head?” What remains consistent in the film is its impressive level of intellectual-emotional exploration. Ticking so many boxes without feeling contrived, the level of conceptual cleverness and visual design utilized in the story creates tender magic on the big screen. It challenges the viewers to dream, play around the profundity of the subconscious, and understand life’s highs and lows better. With its deeply thoughtful insights on how sadness is as much a part of life as joy, it suggests that true happiness doesn’t just involve the feeling of perpetual joy, but rather a balance of all emotions that make one human. It effectively hits the viewer by mapping the human mind to a much broader palette and putting the workings of the human psyche front and center.

This feature’s computer-generated pixels and keen attention to detail meet the challenge to surprise and delight. It offers thrilling audacity to its audience with how it dares to convert abstract elements into luminously beautiful and dynamic visuals. It handles its intricate material with striking balance through a satisfying presentation of the human psyche. Using its own madcap, non-preachy way, the dazzling wit of its storytelling becomes a means of answering the intangible aspects of human emotions and visiting one’s subconscious — without bordering on the too serious, goofy, or irreverent. The picture’s colorful imagery and inventive situations offer an emotional roller-coaster ride to connect to the viewers and keep their attention.

More than its clear technical achievement, this ambitious candy-colored adventure offers a brilliant piece of writing that takes the idea of emotions to a whole different level. Crafty, playful, thought-provoking, and mood-moving all at once, both its humor and pathos promote the exploration of some of the most basic human emotions and how they work together to make people who they are. With jokes that are as funny as they are imaginative, it approaches the happy and the meaningfully sad by entertainingly penetrating the mind with bursts of imagination. It packs an emotional punch through tender wisdom and emotional punches. It also provides a nuanced yet elegant depiction of depression, as well as how interactions and memories affect human behavior.

This existential picture is an emotionally mature yet genuinely funny cinematic treat. Coming from a material that is very difficult to pull off, it maintains a believable humanity, while being intellectually engrossing and heartwarming at the same time. Interestingly, it succeeds where a lot of heavy, serious, and thematically complex live-action movies have failed.

As a brisk and effortlessly charming affair, it doesn’t just connect human emotions to people’s manner of processing ideas, it also turns them into engaging characters that wrap lessons in behavioral science into an ambitious and visually dazzling head trip.

Bold, sweet, funny, and heartbreakingly sad in various scenes, this wonderful piece of family entertainment boasts a wealth of spectacular voice talents including Amy Poehler as Joy, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, Mindy Kaling as Disgust, Bill Hader as Fear, and Lewis Black as Anger. As an ensemble, they are able to combine simplicity with the extraordinary, as well as the daring with the sophisticated. Its marvelous mounting of the human mind makes its patrons feel like visiting a laboratory that is crossed with a rainbow.

A worthwhile way to spend cash while consuming emotions in cinematic form, this significant contribution to pop culture by the people behind Pixar is another outstanding addition to the studio’s library. It offers a universality that makes it an instant classic. Its moving storytelling deeply touches through a fireworks display of fizzing ideas, as if it is designed to alternate on triggering the tear ducts and the facial muscles. It is easy to love this type of film when watching it for the first time, but it will prove even more enjoyable after repeated viewings.

‘Inside Out’ Film Review: Happy + Sad
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[Total: 0    Average: 0/5]

Paper Towns movie review

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Average

“Paper Towns” offers a lukewarm teen dramedy that romanticizes a type of a geeky schoolboy’s lost-and-found teenage daydream tale. Packaged to appeal primarily to pre-teens, it maintains a consistently wholesome voice that greatly downplays the darker side of growing up. Although the paper-thin presentation doesn’t turn out as deeply moving as it intends to be, it occasionally manages to remain grounded with charming supporting details that can still warrant a slight recommendation.

Adapted from the bestselling young adult novel by author John Green, also the man behind the book “The Fault in Our Stars,” this coming-of-age tale looks at young, unrequited love, friendship, independence, adventure, breaking rules, seizing the day, and letting go through the eyes of a regular teenager who is in love with the mystery girl next door. The funny, frisky teen narrative centers on Quentin and his enigmatic neighbor Margo. After taking Quentin in a series of risk-taking tasks around their Orlando hometown for the whole night, Margo suddenly ends up gone the next day, only leaving behind some cryptic clues for Quentin to decipher. This leads Quentin and his closest friends in an exhilarating adventure to track down the missing Margo, the popular girl who loves mysteries too much that she eventually ends up being one herself.

This formulaic teen romance and melodrama directed by Jake Schreier may not be the most poignant nor groundbreaking in the way it handles its light and noble intentions, but it makes the clear choice of presenting the messiness of ordinary life to make its target audience identify more with the story. It focuses on the more literal than the more existential views about growing up, and along the way, make the simple pleasures of understanding true friendship as profound as finding genuine love in unexpected ways.

As this motion picture gets manicured to primarily appeal to the book’s teen fans, it makes the storytelling slightly too romanticized that the progression of the tale comes across as a little too polished and scripted. Despite a few resonant moments, the material gets weighed down by the meandering exercise in artifice and gloss in favor of the often too clean lines of fantasy and romance, rendering more contrivances in its make-believe world as the story moves on. With such issues, the gauzy plot’s series of behavioral puzzles find it difficult to provide authentic beats of awakening to really strike serious emotional chords, especially come resolution time. These make the picture a glazed down and a serenely bland adaptation piece that practically works better on paper than on screen.

It is worth noting that the characters didn’t opt for the unreasonably glamorous looks that many actors tend to prioritize in their on-screen performances for such a gloss-filled movie. Generally, each cast member possesses that everyday appearance that adds a more identifiable charm to the proceedings. However, this doesn’t make the actors free from the paper-thin characterizations from the script. Amidst the charming young cast’s attempt to help compensate on the shortcomings of the storytelling through a good number of likeable performances, their cardboard characters are still often too mundane to merit significant personal and social impact.

Nat Wolff as Quentin Jacobsen keeps up with the stereotype geek-and-goody high schooler character frequently featured in this type of coming-of-age spin. Overall, he delivers the needs of the story as a passionate young adult in search for his childhood sweetheart. His co-star Cara Delevingne as Margo Roth Spiegelman lives up to the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” archetype, but her monotone take on her role ultimately falls short in putting layers of depth to her character’s more mysterious demeanor. Interestingly, the supporting characters end up more charming than the two young leads in most scenes. The more compelling friendship between the three high school boys Quentin, Radar, the role played by Justice Smith, and Ben, the role played by Austin Abrams, offers more chemistry as screen buddies compared to the main characters Quentin and Margo.

‘Paper Towns’ Film Review: Paper-thin wholesome
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[Total: 0    Average: 0/5]

Magic Mike XXL movie review

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Average

For the most part, “Magic Mike XXL” keeps its commitment to entertain. As a sequel that capitalizes on beefy charm and well-oiled performances, the franchise delivers another movie that is all too eager to please its target market. This raunchy road flick dives into some quick thrills that are not quite as psychologically curious as the original stripper opus “Magic Mike.” Shapeless but generally enjoyable, it renders an easy-going experience throughout, courtesy of its goofily gleeful male comrades who are clearly oozing with sex appeal, especially whenever they are on the limelight. Viewers are supposed to come for the stripping galore, stay for the laughs and giggles, but leave the demanding storytelling expectations behind.

The narrative picks up three years after the legendary headliner Mike bowed out of the stripper life, while still at the top of his game. Something rekindles his passion for it that he joins the rest of what’s left of the Kings of Tampa on the road for one last blowout performance at the male-stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. While on their way, the guys learn some new moves, as well as shake off the past and build new relationships in between unlikely turn of events. They meet new acquaintances and old friends, specifically during their whistle stops in Jacksonville and Savannah, allowing the viewers to take a tour of the best stripping venues around the southern states.

This follow-up to the 2012 hit utilizes the road-trip template to promote an amusement park-ride sort of experience for its intended demographic. Although it delivers the fantasy goods of formidable male bodies moving in provocative ways, the mediocre, a bit too cautious script, which puts irony to the fact that the movie explores the idea of taking risks, really pulls down the story. The already contrived tale gets stretched even thinner that the narrative really lacks much storytelling weight. The barebones plot barely bothers to scratch beneath the skin that there is a dire need for improved narrative thrust, especially by the time the bland and ultimately lame resolution gets revealed. The all-tease, no release type of ending doesn’t really arrive anywhere that it makes the mindless worship of male bodies in motion eventually nose-dive towards tedium.

For its strengths, this Gregory Jacobs-helmed buddy road comedy, which is undeniably tossed out for public consumption, proves how carnal pleasures can be served hot so the audience can enjoy some quick thrills and squeals. With admirable testosterone frequently on display, the rowdy picture deviates from the conventional movie masculinity where male characters are expected to rip out the big screen with stereotypical machismo. It has its own gung-ho way of celebrating masculinity, as well as celebrating female sexual desire, in flashy ways. The fun dance moves of barely dressed men simulating sexual acts are filled with an energetic dose of movie lust. They rightfully blend giddy aesthetics with gratuitous man-candy sexuality. Through the years, Hollywood has clearly spent much time objectifying women. So perhaps, in this film, it’s about time to return the favor to the ladies in such dazzling fashion.

Mike and his posse consistently sizzle throughout the movie’s running time. As usual, Channing Tatum’s dancing charm seems second nature in his role as Magic Mike. The rest of the virile boys including Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie, Matt Bomer as Ken, Kevin Nash as Tarzan, and Adam Rodriguez as Tito successfully coast through their own outrageously fun dance moves, which are often highlighted by pelvic thrusts and sticky looks. They are able to carry the need for a light, playful, and fun-filled presentation meant to tickle and titillate without having to border towards the seriously offensive. However, taking the characterization a couple of steps deeper would have placed more value to their campy roles.

‘Magic Mike XXL’ Film Review: Beefy magic
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[Total: 0    Average: 0/5]

Entourage movie review

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Average

“Entourage” is a breezy romp clearly targeted for the fans of the bromantic HBO series of the same title. Lazily entertaining and good-looking with an amped up gloss, its lavish amount of flash celebrates excess and male privilege in Hollywood. Although it pays decent fan service with distinct traces of what made the TV series a hit in its own right, the material doesn’t provide enough cinematic storytelling values to sustain the expectations for the film medium.

Functioning like a frat party involving Hollywood personalities, this theatrical version brings back the series’ original cast as A-list star Vince Chase demands for his directorial debut as part of the new movie deal offered to him. In between the personal issues and relationship woes of Vince’s crew, the agent-turned-studio boss Ari Gold is back in business and very soon finds himself in a very risky situation when Vince and his wolfpack ask for more money to finish the project. The movie’s financier assigns his son to evaluate the production, which soon jeopardizes not only the financing, but also the upcoming theatrical release of the project.

This poorly plotted motion picture proves that what works on the small screen may turn out quite cheap, lacking, or even desperate on the big screen. While it is predominantly fine for such a material to not take itself too seriously, the story flow trips over a lot of half-baked issues. The deficient script skips over whole chunks of vital narrative elements just to keep up with the required testosterone-fueled fun. With its situational comedy unable to sustain its storyline or its characters within a reliable cinematic framework, the storytelling simply presents a two-hour episode of its TV counterpart, which evidently shows that what gets forgiven on TV becomes glaringly apparent and quite impossible to overlook in film format.

On the good side, the vicarious pleasure crafted by director Doug Ellin genuinely offers patrons with that same jaunty style found in the series. But despite sticking to the winning formula that mostly kept TV fans entertained for a good number of seasons, the ambition of this bro-mage of a movie still fails the franchise’s own conceptual ambition for a successful form of filmed entertainment meant for the big screen.

Highlighting celebrity worship, narcissism, and sexual objectification, this cash grab picture remains negligently fatuous for the most part. Often times, it turns out empty and self-centered and its problematic dramatic arc remains stuck in an inconsequential rut where a circle of guy friends try to have sex and ultimately party hard all the time. Its sexist ways make things feel very low-grade through the casually misogynistic treatment of its woman characters — even with scenes showcasing MMA fighter Ronda Rousy inside the ring.

The movie’s ritzy cinematography and production design simply map out an “oh-yeah celebration” of idealized consumption through the ostentatiously savvy sights of mansions, convertibles, Los Angeles landmarks, and women in bikinis. Even though these posh elements offer a decently watchable form of diversion, the movie’s shallow treatment and overarching moodiness fundamentally rely on familiar jokes and celebrity cameos — including those of Mark Wahlberg, Liam Neeson, Jessica Alba, Armie Hammer, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson — to provide brief amusement every now and then. The presentation generally satisfies its devoted fans by providing them brainless delight and comfort at the presence of the utterly familiar ragtag team. However, it makes no effort to seriously engage the uninitiated.

With its fan service gliding with confidence, this big-screen incarnation delivers plenty of inside jokes and mundane treats geared toward its followers. No matter how ridiculous and over-the-top things get on screen, its silly fun promotes escapist entertainment to keep that guiltily pleasurable relationship with its devotees. But beyond the fizz aimed at its built-in audience, this missed opportunity wastes the potential of a frat boy-bachelor party flick that can compellingly touch on the politics of Tinsel Town. It is very unlikely to make new fans and the more demanding viewers would probably remain unmoved by its aimless and vapid intentions.

The cast’s easy camaraderie aptly depicts the strong bond that made the series a commercial success. The actors led by Adrian Grenier as Vince and his company composed of Kevin Connolly as Eric, Kevin Dillon as Johnny, and Jerry Ferrara as Turtle seem pretty comfortable in the skin of their shallow characters as a pack of bratty wolves crying to the moon about their capricious place in Hollywood. But without any character change, without any arc and dependable conflict in its narrative, these guys offer nothing but mindless fun.

Jeremy Piven renders an energetic performance as the devil to be loved Ari Gold. The supporting roles turn out as a mixed bag. Haley Joel Osment is a hit-and-miss as Travis McCredle. Billy Bob Thornton as Larsen McCredle pleasingly owns the screen in almost every appearance. Rex Lee as Lloyd simply provides some comic relief as required by the lame script. A number of woman roles are merely left out as objectified characters.

This movie is packaged more like “a very special episode” of the series, offering too little for anyone who is not a die-hard fan. Its plain, unadulterated fun exploring the ego, money, power, and success involved in the movie business doesn’t cover any new ground. Its concept suggests mocking or even satirizing the industry, but what it turns out to be is practically the very material intended for such mockery. If this picture is geared towards promoting the industry’s superficiality, then it literally turns out to be its very own product.

‘Entourage’ Film Review: The narcissistic, sexist fun in Hollywood
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[Total: 1    Average: 5/5]

The Voices movie review

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Average

“The Voices” is a disturbingly comedic piece that offers a risky mix of macabre madness, melancholy, and morbidity. Crossbreeding humor with horror in its own quirky manner, this genre mash-up exploring mental disorder and serial murder jumps between the fun and the unsettling.

This stylishly grisly feature presents a surreal portrait of an American psycho. The story revolves around the dark inner life of Jerry, a seemingly normal, hardworking factory worker who tries to impress his colleagues in his newfound work. Although seemingly living a typical bachelor’s life, his mental issues slowly manifest through his verbal discussions with his dog Bosco and his cat Mr. Whiskers. Recent company events lead him to pursue his attractive English co-worker Fiona, which triggers a killing spree done in insanely bizarre and idiosyncratic ways. As the body count increases, so do Jerry’s grotesque conversations with unlikely voices.

This thoroughly twisted motion picture provides a gripping look at mental illness without resorting to the typical elements found in many slasher materials. The production’s attention to details contributes much to the film’s zany stylization. Its demented sense of humor blends well with the bleak and disarming dread in Jerry’s life, which kind of helps align the audience with this weird murderer character’s sense of menace. Its wildly uneven tone maintains a creepy air while delivering severe shifts in moments of joy, sorrow, and gore in various scenes.

While reveling in its collision of moods and ideas, the film playfully dances around bright kitsch and pop sensibilities. The storytelling presents a dark comedy with a delightfully strange amalgam of flights of fancy and sheer madness. Its pink-hued small-town setting promotes fun scenerios where talking animals and fridge-bound heads offer wacky jaunts into lunacy, clearly providing a comparative look at Jerry’s visually dull reality. The visceral gore found in the tale works great with ghoulish humor, often mixing homicide moments with utter hilarity.

With Marjane Satrapi at helm, the presentation’s wildly uneven ability to go back and forth between comedic simplicity and ghastly absurdity clearly aims to disrupt the viewers’ sane minds. The dramatic sequences interestingly wander around how a mentally ill individual’s mind can possibly work in figurative ways.

This tonally wild indie picture has its odd share of laughs and shocks. No matter how subjective the impressions for the film gets — depending on people’s personal tastes and preferences — some may find this warped comedy nearly too horrifying to be funny. But even though the concept feels a bit strained at some point, the dynamics of the storytelling allows for a shift in gear as the tale progresses, or at least just before reaching absolute terror or annoyance in the affected scenes. These make the picture a workable psychological thriller and dark comedy that fittingly turns out comically offbeat come resolution time.

The director’s treatment yields a delicate balance to make the viewers care about a sick man trying to avoid the sinister’s path, and at the same time, make the same people worry about a serial killer’s descent into madness.

Ryan Reynolds in the lead role works as a deranged killer on the loose. His remarkable range in portraying a small-town worker suffering from schizophrenia promotes an uneasy balance between his character’s sense of bloody mayhem and his nice-guy demeanor. His comic chops combined with his cry-baby-to-butcher appeal creates an oddball performance that generally serves as an off-kilter treat, especially for black comedy fans. His voice performances both as his main character’s dog and cat are quite notable as well.

The supporting roles including those of Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, and Jacki Weaver effectively tie with Reynold’s sick sense of humor. They are able to hold together the needed vulnerability and awkwardness to maintain the story’s disturbing charm.

For the most part, the film remains unpredictable. However, some crucial scenes, especially those at the latter part of the story, turn out otherwise.

The film’s compassionate portrayal of a serial killer lingers around the thin line separating the silly and the stylistic. Without being absolutely profound in intersecting horror and comedy in the material’s loopy turn of events, some of its murderous impulses suffer from intermittent insensitivity. But one thing’s for sure — its tongue-in-cheek narrative makes it a point that its premise will stick to the viewers’ heads even after the credits roll.

‘The Voices’ Film Review: Quirky morbidity
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[Total: 1    Average: 5/5]

Spy movie review

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Average

“Spy” takes a deliriously funny girl-power angle to its espionage movie package. Exceeding expectations, it charms with its no-holds-barred spoofs that are finely crafted into its action and comic elements. Its physical comedy turns out robust and intense without resorting to typically overused farcical treats. Its greatest strength comes from its rightful dose of empowering action and embarrassing incidents rendered in equal measure. All these turn out quite likeable through its potently funny lead actress who finally lands a role very much worthy of her talent.

This spoof sub-genre offering tells the tale of the deskbound CIA analyst Susan Cooper. After a tragic loss, she finds herself working undercover to avenge her partner who falls off the grid while trying to prevent an impending global terrorist act by a deadly arms dealer. So from being the insecure unsung hero on a dead-end desk job, she suddenly undertakes one of the agency’s most dangerous missions and eventually transforms herself into the most reliable spies ever to grace the CIA. Putting herself more and more at risk in every appearance of an annoying top agent whose compromised status prevents him from taking the mission, Susan further proves she is more than just a desperate choice and an unlikely replacement. She shows how much of a top-notch agent she can be through her quick-witted decisions and natural fighting skills.

This entertaining parody tastefully dismantles the genre it belongs to. The smart script utilizes neat plot twists while doing some wonderfully seditious feminist undertakings in its own comic ways. There are enough twists to make its spy-spoof parts engaging.

Working as a clear takedown of Hollywood’s “007” franchise right from its opening credits, this action-comedy flick puts a feminist twist to the story and makes the details work on a ridiculously straightforward level. It instinctively promotes its spy thriller side by not skimping on the action. Lighting, camerawork, and set pieces complement the acting performances. What makes the tale more interesting is how it succeeds in presenting its kick-ass lead female character beyond the Hollywood female stereotype. Its off-the-wall humor also becomes a breather as it consistently shows the women in awesome action and comedy, while the presence of males in various mission-oriented scenes always makes things worse on screen.

Writer-director Paul Feig has a full grasp of a material that could have possibly ended up in the dumb-movie route in the wrong hands. He is able to draw the best out of his characters in a narrative that bathes in many ridiculous plot points. His storytelling remains committed to the flavor he wants for the film and ends up delivering scores of laughs throughout.

The cast members help elevate this motion picture above the average comedy level. They seem pretty game for anything that they commit themselves to the ridiculous material and they end up owning most scenes, if not all scenes, they are in.

Melissa McCarthy as Susan Cooper anchors the material with empowering charisma and talent that she may just have worked in her first starring franchise. This motion picture is likely to end up as a box office hit with the usually supporting or co-headlining actress McCarthy now getting the main role she deserves in this full-throttle star vehicle. Her versatile take on her character sustains the comic showcase the story needs. In this movie, the viewers are asked to laugh with her, not at her.

Rose Byrne consistently works as a hilariously scene-stealing villain. Jude Law offers a campy-style acting that fits the bill. Jason Statham delights with his tough-man persona, which is clearly utilized for comic effects. The rest of the supporting performances turns out as acting gems that make the story even more deliriously fun from beginning to end.

‘Spy’ Film Review: Delirious spy fun
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[Total: 2    Average: 3.5/5]

San Andreas movie review

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Average

“San Andreas” is predictable fun that hits the disaster territory. It is a heaving mess of a tale with senses-shattering effects to keep many eyes glued to the screen. Its fault is in its storytelling choices, which lack convincing depth and plotting.

This disaster movie presents the classic case of scale and spectacle over story. Its crumbling down California and Nevada sequences showcase pretty competent effects, but its narrative elements render nothing but cracks and crevices throughout. With no emotional weight for the most part, this predictable flick is best watched for its special effects showcase more than anything else.

The story revolves around a heroic public servant whose hang-ups with his dysfunctional family let him feel like it’s the end of the world — until a real worldwide disaster of epic proportions strikes. Every bit of the tale is based on the long overused disaster flick formula. There’s this heroic guy who can’t save his marriage as his ex-wife moves in with her flashy new beau; there’s that haunting past about the loving father failing to save his daughter’s life; there’s that romantic spark between two teens who eventually struggle to survive like the rest of the people around them; there are these scientist partners who stumble into a discovery of the worst type of earthquake to ever hit the world; and there are some heroic and not so heroic casualties that clearly add to the high body count from the seemingly never-ending shaking of the tectonic plates.

This earthquake flick directed by Brad Peyton opens up with great promise. The helicopter-saving-the hanging car sequence works well in its creative build to really kick-start things, as if all the energy in the movie’s need for mood and atmosphere gets focused in it. But as soon as the earthquake issues begin to dominate the tale, the ground opens up to a sadly familiar wasteland that swallows whole the potential for a good film. In no time, this plot-driven picture quickly degenerates from blissfully promising to fatally frustrating.

The cinematic offering’s template is so familiar that characters and plot points can be easily replaced by those from older disaster movies, with the latest possibly being the Roland Emmerich behemoth “2012.” The formula is so clear that this motion picture seems like “2012” reincarnated — only with a different family on the spotlight, but same everything: a family with relationship problems; a sidekick dying but still saving someone during the process; the smartest scientist in the world alongside media people warning everyone about the impending doom; the stepfather being a jerk as soon as the earthquake happens; and the hero of the story getting all the luck in the world by getting all-access rides via a helicopter, a plane, a truck, and a motorboat, inclusive of each split-second maneuvering to escape just about every falling building and other structural debris behind him.

While it is true that there are some engrossing moments in between the chaos of digitally produced action set pieces, it really doesn’t matter how impressively the buildings collapse if the suspension of disbelief is lacking. With the narrative’s loopholes and the endless list of forced details in the script, the viewers passively take the survival and non-survival scenarios as overdone and anything-but-realistic, which shall eventually lead to the material’s old-school commercial values largely slipping away from their memory.

In impressively blending practical shots and CG techniques for such a decently budgeted disaster blockbuster, the relentlessly over-the-top fun works more like disaster porn. Outstanding action with heart-stopping stunts abound. But amidst the fair amount of individually working destruction scenes, the picture ironically offers minimal tension because the story completely drives away from the sentimentality, emotionality, and/or profundity of the proceedings. The money’s worth is clearly geared towards watching the thrilling audio-visual flair, but a fair amount of storytelling wit could have saved the narrative. The special effects look sturdy; the relationships look weak.

What saves this movie from getting buried into the planet’s core is the charisma of its lead character Chief Ray Gaines played by the impossibly charismatic former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Even with the weak dialogue plaguing the screenplay, he is still able to swing in to the rescue while delivering plenty of muscular thrills for the not so demanding audience. With a wry smile, a squint, or a jaw-dropped expression, he often owns the screen to present a Rock-buster picture where the rock-solid hero is always ready to save everyone he could. Overall, the woody characterizations in this movie, which also stars Carla Gugino as Ray’s estranged wife Emma, Alexandra Daddario as Ray’s daughter Blake, Paul Giamatti as the scientist Lawrence, Ioan Gruffudd as Emma’s new lover Daniel, Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Blake’s love interest Ben, and Art Parkinson as Ben’s brother Ollie, are generally able to carry their roles into either the conventionally likeable or acceptable route until each character falls right through the script holes.

This movie’s epicenter is found in the middle of action and mayhem. Its magnitude reaches the top of the scale of mainstream formula. Its intensity boasts digital destruction with characters and plot being less than structurally sound. It is disappointing to know how it is being marketed as an earnest human drama that offers some informative details about what to do during an earthquake — a worthwhile and timely endeavor indeed. However, it merely allows the viewers to spend two hours admiring the work of visual and sound effects artists and technicians.

‘San Andreas’ Film Review: Epicenter disaster
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[Total: 1    Average: 5/5]

Mad Max: Fury Road movie review

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Average

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is supercharged with its own dose of resonant mythmaking. This action spectacle is not without flaws, but whatever narrative heft it lacks miraculously loses its ground in the storytelling — thanks to its adrenaline pill’s maximum overdrive of fun and pleasure. It proves a significant point that when done with the careful combination of heart, effort, and talent, a glorious symphony of violence, action, and manic flair can overcome the need for perfect story. The spectacle ends up so engrossing that it easily overshadows the questionable parts of the tale.

This “Mad Max” flick has more than just “What a lovely day” can offer.

This exhilarating piece of post-apocalyptic popcorn is loaded with fine madness in every nook and cranny of it. Early on, it readily gears up for a desert adventure full of mind-blowing action sequences to rival just about any other awesome action sequence ever to grace the big screen. Add up the subversive wit, propulsive momentum, feminist roar, and hilarious sexual politics and you get a full-throttle action flick that is inexplicably kick ass in every way.

Milking on the franchise for the fourth time after three decades, this “Mad Max” reboot, still helmed by the ultimate “Mad Max” hero George Miller, works as a road movie centering on the escape of an unlikely group from the greedy men in control of human’s basic resources. This leads to a feature film-long chase where a cult of manipulators and the manipulated do everything they can to catch the ragtag team led by Furiosa and Max.

This motion picture makes a stark statement about humanity’s violent tendencies. Imagine how these maniacs survived the world’s end and how they would probably blow it up again if they get the chance to take whatever’s left. Another interesting point in this film is how it becomes a testosterone and estrogen mash up. Max, Furiosa, and the rest of the escape group develop interactions and varying human relationships more than gender, culture, and beliefs and beyond what their wild society defines and dictates.

Plot, subtlety, logic, and character development get tossed out the window at the expense of staging a triumph of kinetic action in this motion picture. Interestingly, it succeeds in doing that as its hyper-accelerated rush of oil-fisted explosiveness spot-on hits that elusive nerve for insane entertainment to tickle the fanboys and the fangirls.

As an epitome of a badass thrill ride, this scrap-metal demolition derby makes it a point that the action never stops — unless a few good seconds of breathing time should be counted as such. The well-thought-of audio-visual frivolities are a lot of fun. They turn out as pure guilty pleasure from start to finish. The practical effects and stunts are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Knowing how much of the sets and props are real and completely functional, including the fire-wielding guitar and the speaker truck housing it, adds to that already bone-jarring, visceral impact of this limitlessly inventive masterpiece.

The spectacle promotes gloriously crackling entertainment envisioned by such a brilliant maestro. Full of relentless imagination aptly realized on screen, this two hours worth of rolling thunder is clearly targeted for action junkies. The presentation suggests that this picture is deliberately meant as an overdose of monumental thrills. An incredible array of physical objects moves through its cinematic space in unique ways that each frame can work as awesome wallpaper. Moreover, it lays out all the crazy on screen all at once without losing focus. Everything is an orgy of the loud, the louder, and the loudest.

From the cinematography to the production design, this towering, weird-ass heavy metal of a film suddenly redefines the action template. It sets a new gold standard for action cinema. Its action pieces make many other blockbusters, superhero flicks, and special effects-savvy offerings look like they were rough tests and B-movie projects.

Displaying a perfect balance of practical and CG effects, what primarily sets this movie apart from its contemporaries is how much it feels homegrown and handmade while still maximizing the benefit of digital wizardry. Its revved up vision showcases such a gloriously twisted design fitting its theme, story, and even its social context. It doesn’t try hard to incorporate its key messages and it just fits enough to make a hyper-accelerated rush of weirdness and insanity rightfully orchestrated to both entertain and tickle social values.

This gorgeously rendered warfare of a flick injects ferocious fuel into the franchise to fire up its sequel cylinders. If this is bait for another trilogy, looks like a good number of old and new patrons will be willing to line up for more adventures with George Miller and his team.

More than just its technical brilliance, the acting performances led by Ton Hardy as Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa deliver a significant contribution in achieving the film’s revolutionary effect. While subjective, the ironically toned down madness of Max in the story works well with how he shares the stage with the equally toned down yet equally kick-ass Furiosa. Together, they shine amidst all the crazy elements around. They complement the insanity of their surroundings.

The way the rest of the characters are made to behave on screen promotes a strange kind of flavor for the storytelling, regardless of their level of acting skills. Miller really makes the ensemble work — making perfection even out of the imperfections. Supporting roles including those of Nicholas Hoult as Nux, Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe, Josh Helman as Slit, Nathan Jones as Rictus Erectus, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Courtney Eaton, and Abbey Lee as The Wives keep up with the needs of the narrative accordingly.

“Fury Road” is beautifully strange, violent, and thrilling. It may be flawed in terms of character development and plot details, but it is undeniably a flawless piece of crazy entertainment. Its whirlwind of fire accelerates to breathtaking heights that nothing else matters.

So buckle up because this is one hell of a ride. It’s mad as hell, but it’s one wild ride worth taking.

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Film Review: Mad symphony + feminine fury
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Crossing Over movie review

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Average

Forced, heavy-handed, and overdone, “Crossing Over” gets so wrapped up in its quest for topical resonance that it forgets some of the basics of telling a good narrative. From its paint-by-the-number quality to the banality of presenting its subject matter, this misconceived immigration drama turns out as an incompetent way of mounting a multi-character piece.

Amidst the fact that this seemingly well-intentioned drama tackles realistic issues about U.S. immigration policies, the provocative points about the country’s attitude towards migrants, and the possible horrors of getting naturalized, it lacks the needed subtlety and eloquence for it to succeed. Too many of the hurdles in the story feel like a product of a writer’s imagination than being real-life experiences. Its message gets undermined by its cardboard characters and clunky script.

While the film certainly offers some viable stance for more people to relate to it, its crisscrossing stories, heavy ironies, and even heavier moralizing just don’t work. It turns out more like a muddle of good liberal intentions that get loosely anchored to a mass of pure Hollywood triteness.

“Crossing Over” is a blend of thriller and social drama utilized in a hokum kind of way. Being a politically-minded ensemble piece, its multi-character canvas about immigrants of varying nationalities struggling to achieve legal status in America really falters with the wobbly screenplay and loose direction. The storytelling gets unbalanced with its competing storylines. Its lapses into sentimentality are overkill.

The story is improperly fleshed out through stereotypical characters and overly structured sub-stories that keep crossing and bumping into each other, primarily dictating a general air of dull preachiness. It mainly strains with too many characters, too many story strands, and too much of an effort to cover all the bases. The characters are stretched thin with only the most overstuffed dialogue to express themselves. The focus on these immigrant dreamers runs into thematic banality because the film’s treatment is filled with much crass manipulation.

The camera work, editing, and the entire means of storytelling have that very amateurish feel to it. Scenes are very choppy. It’s like entire reels have been cut for whatever weird reason. Tied together with endless, flattening shots of American homes, highways, and establishments, it may be sporadically provocative given its theme and subject matter, but it is also often convoluted and dull with random undercooked messages and ideas showcased every now and then.

As a contrived saga with subplots showcasing immigration woes of all sorts, its markedly unimaginative sense of cinematic storytelling often offers boring moments with little new or insightful to add to the debate about the underlying politics and promise of the relatively unlimited opportunities in the U.S.A. — as mentioned by the judge during the oath-taking ceremony for the newly naturalized Americans.

Even with its unsuccessful mounting, director Wayne Kramer deserves credit for taking on the touchy subject. The presented issues don’t seem pretentious, just the didactic but ineffective way of telling the story. Somehow in some way, it is still an interesting failure as a movie that at least strives to be about something thematically relevant, even though it entangles itself too much that it fails to become a good cinematic offer.

The lack of subtlety in its multi-stranded storytelling makes the movie an overwrought harangue about the gates of illegal immigration. It spoils the supposed empathy for its subject and theme. The surfeit of coincidences weaving the characters together tries to keep the action unified as an anthropological melodrama. However, its intensity doesn’t live up to its very intentions as the sledgehammer approach becomes mostly off-putting and risible on screen.

The film has a few moments of poignancy and engaging acting, especially with the outstanding performance of Summer Bishil as Taslima Jahangir. Her acting moment is just bull’s-eye to the heart’s core — a very impressive scene that stands out from a movie filled with utter mediocrity.

This would have been a perfectly serviceable film. Yet, it merely provides hysterical little bits of what is already given. Viewers get what the filmmakers are trying to say about immigration and nationalism, but everything is laid down in an overly substantial form that seems mistreated to deliver more yawns than moral, political, and intellectual stimulation. And even with famed names as Harrison Ford as Max Brogan, Ashley Judd as Denise Frankel, Jim Sturgess as Gavin Kossef, Cliff Curtis as Hamid Baraheri, Ray Liotta as Cole Frankel, among other names, this issue-oriented movie remains a disappointment.

This illegal immigration drama is timely and well-intentioned; however, it is too contrived and schematic to generate good enough credibility for its subject matter. It is a serious film that offers some pretty good performances, but the sheer number of characters in the narrative dilutes their power. All these leave the movie in a bit of a mess in its own game of sex, violence, betrayal, and diminished nobility of the tradition of naturalized citizenship. From a purely cinematic point of view, “Crossing Over” is a bit too interlocking and hampered by its wayward and overreaching direction and overstuffed script.

‘Crossing Over’ Film Review: Interlocking stories, struggles, and immigration
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Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs movie review

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Average

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” the first spin-off in the “X-Men” character flicks, is a considerably reliable, action-packed first attempt for an “X-Men” origin story. It largely succeeds on having Hugh Jackman back with his adamantium claws, with his charisma breathing the fire into  this superhero movie. For its scale and ambition, this motioni picture promotes heart and action through its own Shakespearean-style tragedy. However, amidst the strength of its regenerative charm as one of the “X-Men” pop culture favorites, the rather pedestrian and superficial parts of the script, the extravagantly loopy plotlines, and some by-the-number action spots weaken the film.

This film is not great. It is not bad neither. It still feels very much like every other mediocre comic-book adaptation. Some genuine archetypes and myths find their way into the mix, but the overflow of half-baked ideas adds to the clutter. It marries action and melodrama in a superficially cinematic way that half of it works while the other half becomes a major drawback for not having that much-needed deft for the material.

On the surface, director Gavin Hood mounts an action-packed adventure featuring Wolverine’s back story. Wolverine’s appeal proves strong with his mystery and origins uncovered for the thrills. The opening sequence looks promising. The emotional exploration on the relationship between Logan and his brother Victor is surrounded with superb action set pieces and a few complex character interactions.

With Hugh Jackman back with his adamantium claws as Wolverine, he uplifts the weaker parts of the film into a pretty watchable fare. He captures the essence of the lead character. This origins story would collapse under the weight of its unpolished parts if not for his considerable acting prowess, as well as his effective acting dynamics with Liev Schreiber. They know how to give good growls as Logan/Wolverine and Victor/Sabretooth. How Logan and Victor grew up as brothers provides the essence to the story. From there, things pick up toward the inner conflicts of Logan’s character.

Taylor Kitsch as Remy LeBeau/Gambit turns out as a pretty good addition to the movie. Amidst being a secondary character with very short screen time, he makes a lasting impression without upstaging the main characters. Overall, the ensemble cast uncompromisingly plays for keeps: Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox; Danny Huston as William Stryker; Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool; Kevin Durand as Frederick Dukes/The Blob; Will i Am as John Wraith; Dominic Monaghan as Chris Bradley/Bolt; Daniel Henney as David North/Agent Zero; Scott Adkins as Weapon XI; and Tim Pocock as Scott Summers. The script may be convoluted at times, but the characters generally deliver enough direction to the narrative’s entertainment and emotional requirements.

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is interesting enough to keep Fox and Marvel’s planned series of “X-Men” origin stories. For this offering, it is by no means perfect, but it is still an entertaining enough effort to please many of the “X-Men” followers, It condenses such a complicated origin story into a watchable fast-paced action flick; thus, leaving the door open for another “X-Men” prequel in the future.

‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ Film Review: Adamantium thrill and tragedy
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2012 movie review, film poster

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Average

“2012” doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, but it is still one hell of a fun ride. It is everything you could possibly expect from a blockbuster disaster movie: an irresistibly visual spectacle that is perversely entertaining. The people behind these films really seem to live up to the idea that: “You don’t get off a roller-coaster and complain about the lack of storytelling.”

This popcorn flick is totally not credible when it comes to its showcase of unequivocally cheesy, ridiculous story; yet, it is hugely engaging with its mind-boggling visual effects.

The story is your basic end-of-the-world chaos narrative. It’s your usual Hollywood cash cow with the doomsday premise offered for mere escapism. They sure do blow up things real good. In fact, its graceless mess may kind of insult the intelligence of the logic-demanding crowd, but for some reason, it still leaves most people thrilled.

It is everything you can expect from such an apocalyptic movie material. The special effects are topnotch in making the film an intensely gripping experience where the protagonists are expected to flee and escape the most horrific events happening around them every single time. The main premise offers the usual mix of a flawed relationship in a typical American family, a responsible and all-good scientist, and a devoted and principled U.S. president — all struggling to make it through the last days of Earth.

The narrative is a chock full of cliches. Everything is too predictable that it’s really just a matter of enjoying the movie’s audio-visual flair — and nothing more. Nevertheless, some philosophical and emotional elements of redemption and the concept of survival of the fittest at least become apparent in some scenes — for a bit of spark about people’s existentialist notions of the world.

Formulaic and frenzied, this flick is undoubtedly a spectacular but ultimately silly blast from Master of Disaster Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow”). In his tradition of catastrophic flicks, he offers another look at the end of the world in “2012.” This time around, it is the End of Days based on the idea that the Mayan calendar’s last day is said to be Dec 21, 2012. In the film, the earth’s crusts are shifting, causing earthquakes and volcano eruptions on a global scale, followed by inescapable tsunamis.

This motion picture follows the family’s journey towards their destination, en route to China, where the governments of the world have some sort of solution to the impending doom of the world through giant ships reminiscent of the bible’s Noah’s Ark, which convincingly shows the film as another Noah’s Ark story interpreted in a 21st Century setting.

“2012” heavily invests in cinematic time and popcorn. Its unrelenting pace, almighty effects, and sheer tongue-in-cheekiness make it consumingly enjoyable for its willing audience.

Emmerich provides rollickingly good visual thrills throughout. However, the movie lacks a strong script to support its massive scope and inflated length and turn it into a disaster classic in cinema history. It gets tad monotonous by the middle part and it further loses momentum by the last act. Things get too corny by the end that what keeps it really worth watching is indeed the fantastical, mind blowing visual feast it showcases from start to end.

This end-of-the-world story throws in bits and pieces from other disaster movies — with its familiar plot tapping into virtually every disaster flick ever produced.

Despite the consistently breathtaking sound and visual effects, the film’s acting performances are just a mixed bag. More often than not, actors including John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, and Woody Harrelson live up to the nonsensical script’s requirements, but there are instances that they really find themselves dwarfed by the demands for CGI flair. It gets clear that it is quite a job to act in front of chroma screens and other movie-making machines, while pretending to be already seeing the apocalyptic mess described in the script in detail. At least, most actors are still able to keep some humanistic touches in their scenes to deliver that incredible sense of urgency brought about by the world’s end and that emotional struggle of trying to survive annihilation. They strive to keep up with some inane and mostly cliched dialogue.

Watch this movie for its effects. Take them for what they are and leave logic behind.

‘2012’ Film Review: A spectacular disaster
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popular Chinese restaurants in Henderson, Nevada near Las Vegas

There is a fast-growing demand for Asian cuisine in the United States. One of the most popular is Chinese cuisine, which is readily apparent with the number of Chinese restaurants available in different states.

Henderson, Nevada is primarily a residential and commercial area that is just a few miles from the Las Vegas Strip. Living up to the Vegas signature offering of awesome buffets and delectable dining spots, the popular Chinese restaurants in Henderson offer a variety of famous house specials, combo meals, mixed vegetables, noodles, rice, and of course, the Chinese restaurant trademark fortune cookies.

From a local’s point of view, which ones are the most popular Chinese restaurants among Henderson residents?

P. F. Chang’s China Bistro

Serving a mixture of traditional and new variations of Chinese food, P. F. Chang’s China Bistro offers a unique combination of Chinese dishes, desserts, and fine wines all served in a stylish, high-energy bistro. There is a children’s menu and high chairs are available upon request. Customers can also dine on the patio or request to reserve a private room.

This dining spot boasts of using only the freshest, highest quality ingredients in every dish. It has a variety for any guest’s preferences from raw food to cooked meat to vegetarian meals. All entrees are served with a choice of either steamed brown or white rice. For starters there are soups, salads, sides, lunch bowls, noodles, rice and desserts. They also offer a good variety of specialty hot teas.

China A Go Go

China A Go Go has a great selection of traditional Chinese dishes at reasonable prices and very large servings. A top favorite is the wonton soup full of veggies, wontons, sliced pork, chicken, and shrimp.

This Chinese restaurant provides fast delivery within a three-mile radius in any of its three locations in the Henderson area. The service is always fast and friendly. The menu constantly expands to suit the diverse tastes of the diners.

Panda Express

With more than 1,000 branches throughout the U.S., Panda Express is one of the fastest growing Chinese restaurant chains in the country — Henderson is definitely part of the list. Award-winning designers and architects provide every Panda Express a unique and inviting look as each location radiates a dynamic background matching the unique taste of the meals being served.

In this Nevadan valley, the Orange Chicken is one of the most popular dishes. The large number of combo plates available offer each diner a choice between two or three entrees and a choice between noodles or rice for their meal orders.

Popular Chinese Restaurants in Henderson, Nevada
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Shutterfly movie review

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Average

Like it or hate it, then get haunted about the truth behind it.

Adding to Martin Scorcese’s brilliant filmography, “Shutter Island” carefully infuses the director’s artistic filmmaking style with a few commercial compromises. In so doing, he accomplishes his intention of building a disturbing atmosphere that lets the general viewer either go sane or insane, while deeply thinking: “What in the world actually happened?” In this key aspect, “Shutter Island” effectively captures its audience with a valuable concern over its distinctive and provocative subject matter. He mounts the Dennis Lehane novel of the same title into one motion picture opus.

There are a few miscalculations every now and then, including some continuity problems. Yet, these small technical and creative issues don’t greatly affect the bigger picture. Overall, the weaker parts are overcome by the film’s cinematic brilliance. Scorcese’s shots look very carefully planned. Without wasting any element in each scene, he provides significant value to every shot he makes.

Synopsis

Set in the 1950s, “Shutter Island” explores the story of U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels who gets assigned to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a female patient from Ashecliffe Hospital in the barren and remote Shutter Island. A former soldier with a violent past from his experiences in World War II, he also bears the trauma of being unable to save his wife and children from a fatal end. He dedicates himself with his work as a straight-up honest law enforcer and investigator. He knows there are concerns to deal with and issues to address in Shutter Island and he is determined to uncover the alleged illegal acts and inhuman experimentations on the criminally insane people inside the fortress-like asylum.

DVD and Blu-ray Releases

Like the usual technical specifications, Paramount’s “Shutter Island” DVD and Blu-ray copies are both in widescreen format with aspect ratio of 2:35:1. Aside from the Dolby mixes, subtitles and dubbed options are available in English, French, and Spanish (the Blu-ray copy also offers an additional Portuguese option). The DVD has an Enhanced Wide Screen Letterbox feature for TVs utilizing a 16:9 aspect ratio.

The “Shutter Island” DVD doesn’t have any special features in it. Clearly, the producers are turning their attention on the Blu-ray market as only the Blu-ray copy has special features. This direction obviously paves the way of the changing market as how the studios intend it. Or perhaps, the corporate minds are just seeking for more opportunities for profit by releasing another DVD with special features in a few months or so.

The DVD is not recommendable because it lacks pretty much everything else people want to see in a DVD. It is a given that the movie itself is the ultimate consideration when deciding to buy a home video copy of it. However, given such a lame packaging for a powerful, thinking man’s film created by a master filmmaker, it is such a disappointment to not even include a simple commentary track from Scorcese and other significant people from the production. This type of film targets a DVD audience who are very curious and interested about behind-the-scene information and filmmaker insights. For years, the DVD audience has been spoiled with interesting special features that even the not so marketable and the lamest movies get descent DVD sales against pirated copies through them.

The “Shutter Island” Blu-ray has the HD featurettes: Behind the Shutters (behind-the-scene video where the cast and director reveal secret clues hidden throughout Shutter Island); and Into the Lighthouse (Leonardo DiCaprio and Michelle Williams describe the depths they traveled to portray their characters and the history of the real-life mental hospital that inspired the story).

“Shutter Island” greatly benefits the HD charm of Blu-ray. Robert Richardson’s (The Aviator, Kill Bill) ace cinematography pops off the screen in 1080p resolution and MPEG-4 AVC video codec. The visuals impressively provide atmospheric textures, lighting, and dense coloring in a palette that jumps in between mysterious realism and hallucinatory complexity.

With a sound design and audio mix generally keeping up with the masterful visuals, the Blu-ray’s first-rate sound in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 matches the film’s sinister atmosphere, brilliant music, and the audaciously crisp dialogue.

The one disappointing aspect of the “Shutter Island” Blu-ray is that it features too little supplemental content. While the two featurettes are valuable and well-made, there are no commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and other significant special features the general audience would normally seek for.

With the scant special features, it’s almost clear that, like the initial DVD release, there may be another profitable Blu-ray release to come which may then be branded as something like: “Shutter Island” Blu-ray Special Edition.

‘Shutter Island’ Blu-ray and DVD Review: Even Viewers Turn Psychological
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Alice in Wonderland movie review

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Average

“Alice” falls down a deep hole and is unable to get out.

In this 2010 cinematic rendition of the Lewis Carroll classic, Tim Burton’s individual stamp of masterful storytelling doesn’t register. With its wavering tone that is as uncertain as Alice’s decision-making in the narrative, Burton and company should really dig a lot deeper if they eventually decide to make a sequel out of it.

Stylish but dispirited, style over substance, “Alice in Wonderland” is a pretty disappointment. It has great visuals but lacks storytelling value. Clearly a feast for the eyes but not for the heart, it is teeming with marvelous sights but hollow at its core. Overwhelming visuals but underwhelming storytelling. Great canvas but not a great film.

This Disney movie is not the masterpiece people hoped for. It looks more like a coffeetable book showcasing CGI grandeur. It is definitely not within the caliber of Burton opuses such as “Edward Scissorhands” and “Big Fish.”

A Burton interpretation of this tale is quite intriguing and exciting. But shockingly, things just don’t work. The movie lacks the energy and emotional power to breathe life beyond the vision inside the filmmaker’s head. This director who apparently takes the producer role as well loses his authentic knack for effective storytelling. His expressionist signature turns out to be the only aspect he keeps in this motion-picture project.

With its visual splendor, this movie is still a technical feat, mainly for its visual effects, production design, and art direction.

Ken Ralston’s visual effects are pleasantly surreal. Character designs showcase such creative wizardry. Robert Stromberg’s production design is fun and dazzling. The amazing offbeat aesthetics as individual pieces are whimsically great in their own dark and bizarre fashion. Danny Elfman’s musical score offers some magical parts, but the elements don’t transcend to wonderful heights. Chris Lebenzon’s cutting is considerably fine, but it doesn’t reflect the supposed marriage of a Burton vision and a Carroll story. Dariusz Wolski’s photography is wonderfully magical. However, all these still fail to cover up the screenplay’s loopholes. Although the script has its moments, things don’t fall into one coherent piece. Empty, atmospheric, and lacking soul, some individual pieces actually work at times, but things never really work as a whole. The dialogue can’t live up to the film’s superficial narrative flow.

The film falls short in driving the character arcs. The acting is sometimes spot on, but sometimes out of range. Overall, the characters don’t have that firm grip to let the audience relate to and sympathize with them. From frequent Burton collaborators Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, to first-time Burton collaborators Mia Wasikowska as Alice and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, the acting performances provide characters that work more on solo flights.

For its 3D version, unlike in the 3D epic “Avatar,” this motion picture doesn’t offer an immersive 3D experience. Instead of rendering awe-inspiring 3D images, the movie’s shallow visual feast looks lame. The three-dimensional depth looks fake, perhaps because of the post-3D conversion process employed in the picture. Clearly, the technical requirements for filming in 3D are not entirely the same as the conventional filmmaking process done in 2D. The 3D here doesn’t look absorbing enough to recreate a new mythmaking factor for the film. Moreover, the movie lacks that captivating 3D spirit, perhaps because the envisioned film came out from ideas pegged in 2D format. 3D requires a specific sub-culture when it comes to utilizing the immersive qualities of the format, which means its own set of storytelling standards that may or may not entirely work with a 2D-envisioned film.

‘Alice in Wonderland’ (2010) Film Review: Overwhelming visuals, underwhelming storytelling
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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movie review

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Average

Catch colorful candies and marshmallows from the sky. Play around ice cream snowballs. Hop around nacho cheese fountains. Slide onto a giant gumball hill. Go gaga with a palace of Jell-O. Get endless supply of jellybeans. After which, there comes the massive pancakes, tornadoes of pasta, pools of nacho cheese, hailstorm of jellybeans, ice cream blizzard, pizza flurries, and deadly gummy bears… Then suddenly, it’s raining steak and gumballs! It’s “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”

This eye-popping and mouth-watering piece of motion picture cooks up a veritable buffet of the bland and the bizarre, the sweet and the sour, and all other possible tastes that can be generously offered on screen. It serves up a riot of glee, color, and absurdity.

The story is engagingly ridiculous. It’s fun… and it works.

With a solid gag ratio and an entertainingly colorful animated visuals, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” serves as a commentary on the potential perils of genetically engineered food and the downside of “overabundance.” Using its light and fun approach, it makes a social point about how people today have too much of what they need. In its subtext it questions the contemporary world’s a culture of excess where wastefulness seems next to coolness.

This impressive cinematic offering from Sony Pictures is a downright odd family flick featuring exuberant animation, quirky humor, and plucky characters. It aptly utilizes slick and solid slapstick, while maintaining technical sophistication and engaging storytelling throughout. This animated venture from writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller gives justice to their source material, the popular children’s book of the same title by Judi and Ron Barrett. They amusingly expand the book for the big screen.

The filmmakers know how to play with their food. They capitalize well on the universal compulsion for stomach-filling delight. As a computer-animated 3D extravaganza, this film provides awesome food fights and pleasurable food trips. It also provides whimsical details through increasingly surreal weather activities that would suggest some call to action and a hunger for more even when everything is too much already — just like how capitalism and consumerism in the real world become an alarming concern for every nation.

From the gloriously surreal buffet of predatory giant chickens to the psychopathic gummy bears fighting to death, things turn out weirdly wonderful on screen. While contemplating, it seems like “mutated food” in the real world isn’t very far anymore from the already existing reality of junk food and fast food stuff.

This movie works fine in 3D. Technically, this 3D food adventure makes good use of the format. But in any case, a conventional 2D counterpart is of good value as well. In fact, for its veritable feast of audio-visual splendor and its relevant social messages, this picture turns out as a good DVD collectible for the family.

The sophisticated presentation doesn’t overwhelm the storytelling. Scenes don’t look pretentious and they don’t sweat the message. As a computer-animated flick, it is bright, cheery, and at times flat-out hilarious in providing winsome sight gags involving giant food, references to disaster film cliches (including “Independence Day” and “Twilight Zone”), and endearing characters that vividly come to life. The running gags are pretty neat cliches as well. The storytelling promotes a pretty charming kind of slapstick that works well for the tale’s intended commercial value.

As a family-friendly movie, it provides a frenetically tasty offer. Indeed, it is insanely funny and at times wonderfully weird. Things work well with the gastronomically hilarious pace and tone of the comedy. It is visually inventive and can be swallowed very easily while serving some serious food for the thought on the side.

Unlike most children’s flicks that are often insipid and lowbrow, this quick-witted film doesn’t insult its audiences intellect. It is light on its feet, silly, and surprisingly enjoyable — not to mention, a little trippy. It bursts with random sight gags that boast intricate design and goofy humor. It has some grown-up gags to keep the adults amused as well.

The characters are likable amidst the fact that in terms of character development, they don’t render something of the caliber of Pixar’s “Up.” But still, this movie really assures the audience of a tasty adventure treat.

As a hyperbolic expose of human greed, abusive behavior, and environmental destruction, this food revolting spin of the 30-page children’s book into a 90-minute bountiful big-screen buffet is something that the general viewer won’t regret sinking his or her teeth onto. Its delicious and imaginative concept takes flight as a family delight. While it rains big food, it also rains big laughs and sheer fun.

‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ Film Review: Slick and solid family slapstick
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3D movies are actually older than most people think. Way before the latest 3D craze of our times, a number of 3D flicks during the 80’s were already hitting the box office. In fact, the 50’s and even decades earlier all became witnesses to a number of 3D movie offerings. The catch of these older movies (mainly using the anaglyph-style 3D via those red and blue glasses) was how they tend to amaze the viewers with that so-called “jump of the screen” effects.

Now, in the era of IMAX 3D, Real 3D, and Dolby Digital 3D, this best 3D movies list rekindles the long-gone hype of what 3D technology can offer to the big screen.

Since the resurgence of 3D movies from the mid-2000’s to March 2010, I have been personally hoping to catch the old 3D movies of yesteryears, then have them compared with what the modern times offer. But for now, these films from the new era of 3D filmmaking (using 3D stereoscopic technology) are my best picks for the Top 5 Best 3D Movies List as of March 2010:

1. “Avatar”
Year: 2009
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Giovanni Ribisi, and Michelle Rodriguez
Plot: After the sudden death of his twin brother, the paraplegic war veteran Jake takes his place in a mission to infiltrate the Na’vi, a humanoid race from the distant world Pandora, through the use of an avatar. In exchange for the spinal surgery to fix his legs, he submits to the instructions of the military authorities and corporate executives, only to find himself torn between the greed of his own race and the need and value of an alien civilization that he begins to embrace.

This bold 3D eco-opus examining technological wonders and morality is totally jaw-dropping in stereoscopic 3D. Period.

2. “U2 3D”
Year: 2007
Director: Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington
Cast: U2 as themselves (Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., and The Edge)
Plot: With everything entirely shot with more than a dozen 3D cameras, U2 3D offers a groundbreaking concert movie featuring the legendary band U2’s 2006 “Vertigo” tour.

This rock documentary provides a perfect marriage of surround sound and 3D visuals that it felt like attending a real concert. At the IMAX theater, I and the rest of the viewers were standing, singing, holding up concert stuff, and jumping from our places with an energy like that from a real concert.

3. “Deep Sea 3D”
Year: 2006
Director: John Hall
Voice Narration: Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp
Plot: As a 3D nature documentary exploring the awe-inspiring depths of the oceans around the world and their marvelous creatures, this film becomes a spectacular journey around the homes of the many aquatic wonders of the planet.

This visually enticing 40-minute film offers a worthwhile 3D experience. It is breathtaking, educational, and so full of life. From the stunning and colorful species to the grotesque and weird sea creatures, it allows the audience to really feel the valuable presence of all these life forms and how significant they are in a world that humans should fairly share with them. How engrossing this short but meaningful movie is? Many of us inside the theater ended up personally touching mid air for several times to feel those majestic fishes that were seemingly right in front of us.

4. “Coraline”
Year: 2009
Director: Henry Selick
Voice Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Keith David, and Ian McShane
Plot: Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, this 3D stop-motion animation project offer tells the story of the little girl Coraline who moves to an old house and discovers an alternate version of her life there. Feeling bored and neglected by her parents, she finds solace on the parallel reality of this other version of her world (where everybody has buttons instead of eyes). She initially finds it way much better than her real life. However, her adventure gradually turns into danger and she struggles to find her way home to save her real family.

This animated offering sets a significant template on how 3D films should be. It provides great storytelling, just enough “jump-out-at-you” moments, and a fantastical vision though its dark fantasy treatment. It effectively envelops the audience with an immersive adventure the way Coraline experiences it. The 3D imagery is utilized for the best of the film instead of becoming a mere 3D cash-cow gimmick.

5. “Beowulf”
Year: 2007
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Crispin Glover, and Angelina Jolie
Plot: The Danish king Hrothgar succumbs to the havoc initiated by the monstrous troll Grendel. He offers rewards for his death and the great warrior Beowulf lives up to the task. He soon becomes king. However, his darkest secret gets back at him decades after when Grendel’s evil mother, whom Beowulf had a life-enduring bargain with before, brings to his kingdom its worst nightmare.

Zemeckis’ foray into the world of actor-based computer animation turns this classic literary tale into a different kind of sensory experience in 3D animation format. It blends CGI, motion capture, and 3D sterescopic technologies to bring a level of 3D appeal that has become a pioneer for its time.

Top 5 Best 3D Movies List 2010
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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus movie review

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Average

“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is primarily a visual spectacle. While the film is not entirely successful, it certainly qualifies as a glorious mess of exploring an imaginative world. It has a vaudevillian spirit. It flirts with acid-laced visuals and spins circles around the viewers’ heads. The dizzy spell of visual fantasy and the rickety plotting both impresses and bores.

This send-off film for the late Heath Ledger (technically speaking, though personally, I think it’s his Joker in “The Dark Knight” that is his real great send-off) is a highly imaginative mess shot with boldness and extravagance. It works more like a cobbled collection of ideas rather than being a precious stand-alone story.

Though the visual flair is there, things don’t really hold together well for the most part. This issue already gives consideration to the fact that Ledger only finished half of his work before his passing — and this is not to say that the other three guys who finished the work for him are of no good value. It is just that this motion picture, as a whole, clutters with a lot of artsy stuff more than than focusing on putting value to the characterizations. This cinematic offering is visually packed with grandeur, but the story mishmash makes it quite tiring to watch. There is that feeling of being overdone. At some point, it’s like eating too much of a well-garnished meal that’s out of nutritional value. The storytelling can’t keep up with the too many trippy elements that are packed together as a full-length piece. It fits more like a series of eye-popping music videos spliced together into a single movie.

When looking at the film separately as scenes of fantastical spins, things work generally fine. The anachronistic artistry of director Terry Gilliam makes visually splendid slices of brilliant madness in the presentation. Rife with hyperbolic displays, the movie grounds in a fantasy world rendered through an enigmatic odyssey of graphic invention. But amidst these separate scenes working together individually, the point of the matter is that a film should put its various elements as a whole body of work. So in this case, “Parnassus” meanders around confused rhythms that make the narrative  more like rambling chunks of effects-filled magic that are often self-indulgent and gambling. Though it promises something fanciful every now and then, this doesn’t really quite add up to one grand showcase of cinematic consistency. It teases with magnificently tantalizing moments, but the resulting offering looks more like an outlandish juggling act that both dazzles and bums.

As a big-budget pageantry of shifting CGI canvas and frenetic elements, the big-deal effects overpowers the story instead of just serving to spice up and back up the storytelling. It looks overburdened with ideas, visions, and concepts, while becoming disappointingly moody at times. Things are insisted with too brute force and sense of urgency that they are more off-putting than entrancing, more exhausting than exhilarating.

“Parnassus” is like a crammed artist’s mind traversing a shaky framework. Sometimes, the magic works and it is blissful in its own right. But most of the time, it piles on glitter, grunge, and some mumbo-jumbo puffs. It really needs a more coherent storytelling to pack every idea about art and imagination as insinuated in its theme. It seems to have passionate intentions about the contradictions of good and evil as played out in the hearts and minds of its characters. It is an ardent morality tale about the consequences of making deals with the devil. It provides a thematically potent sympathy moving freely around the people’s subconscious. It feels through the artist’s life journey of pleasure and pain.

Heath Ledger’s Tony boosts the film’s value in his fine performance. It is a chance to see him acting one last time before resting for good. On a lighter note, he will always be remembered with the great characters in his filmography. The film is appropriately labeled as coming from Heath Ledger and friends.

Talented as he is, evidently with the number of good films under his belt, Christopher Plummer as Doctor Parnassus unfortunately lacks the intensity to make his character work. His Imaginarium overpowers the film’s crucial element of characterization, although this issue is more a concern with the direction than what the actor can really deliver for what he is told to do. In fact, Lily Cole as Valentina, Andrew Garfield as Anton, and Verne Troyer as Percy have better characterizations than him. Despite the very tricky material, these three, along with Tom Waits who provides a fine enough performance as Mr. Nick, put some good values to the story to let the audience willingly ride along further the Imaginarium path.

The retrofitting of Ledger’s generally role works well on its own. Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law as the Imaginarium Tony guys even make more sense than what the clunks of the story make for the film’s entirety.

Abandoning oneself to the occasionally uneven but visually stimulating images is the best way to enjoy this motion picture. For those willing, it is a hollow, shambling, lovable mess of a movie to watch with popcorn and soda.

‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ Film Review: Trippy imaginarium
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Adventureland movie review

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Average

“Adventureland” is a sweet, insightful, and heartfelt coming-of-age tale with loads of sensitivity and a genuine heart. It is a smart and perceptive tale about college kids in their so-called crappy jobs and how they struggle to learn more about life and love.

This motion picture presents the hearts of teens and young adults with that fluttering up and down motion, which is kind of similar to riding a roller-coaster. This refreshing retro drama-comedy explores the joyride of the young adults’ present angst and their preparations for their future.

The film’s strength lies in the power of its well-delivered performances, beautifully written script, and carefully crafted characters — each of whom is sincerely flawed yet purely compelling. The characters are genuinely tarnished and appealing as they seize those uncertain feelings teens get as young adults. Full of humor and nostalgia as a period story resonating with a universal touch on sex talks, drugs, awkward situations, goofs, intrigues, and humor, it does a pretty good job in capturing the teens and their times. From the way kids generally behave in their 80’s American culture to the ups-and-downs of late ’80s rock, it provides a sort of noteworthy melancholy of a classic young adult novel made for the big screen. Its heart and soul are deeply invested in its shaky, awkward, sweet, funny, and tender drama with an indie-art touch. It manages a certain combination of the maturity, absurdity, and anguish of young adulthood; thus, crafting a refreshing take on “the teen turmoil issues” where the uncertainty and inherent fear of an idealist become intensely charged with personal feelings, doubts, and dreams.

“Adventureland” is the sort of film that seems like a derivative of countless teen-oriented coming-of-age offerings. But what makes it stand out is its thorough exploration of the familiar territory with an effectively loose and scruffy appeal. Director Greg Mottola puts plenty of heart to this tale. The narrative clearly puts that feeling of “already seen and heard before,” and makes it genuinely integral to the story. This movie prove that rehashed stories with predictable structure simply need authentic touches to be mounted well.

The heart of the film lies on the emotional microcosm of the local amusement park, a place happily rambling along with its share of laughs and lust. Set in 1987 Pittsburgh, the recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) takes a nowhere job at the nearby park Adventureland, where summer vacation leads to summer jobs, and possibly, summer love. Surprisingly, this very place becomes a perfect course to get the young adults prepared for the real world outside the realms of childhood and teenage life.

Filled with likable actors and 1980’s pop songs, this cinematic piece entertains without pretending to be more than a tribute to doing odd jobs, meeting unlikely friends, trying anything fun, wild and exciting, and hanging out without the concern for adult responsibilities. It becomes a sweet and irreverent tale about characters with real hearts under goofy shirts.

Credible performances from the ensemble cast make effective use of music and moments to enrich their eclectic roles. Eisenberg has the ability to endearingly convey gawkiness and mortification, along with his quirky, intellectual, twenty-something virgin character, to deliver what makes the story come full circle — his sincerity, his high virtue and worst defect. His life experiences with a bunch of his kind at the amusement park find prime solace in Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart). Stewart shines in a raw and tender performance that bursts with charisma. Here, innocent fun, true friendship, and an added spark of love work for the story in which he and Stewart put deft touches of realism to the heartbreakingly genuine couple.

Mottola does quite a good job in weaving his characters to be unaffected by their already marked celebrity personalities — especially with the recent hype for Stewart’s Bella Swan role in “Twilight” and Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson/Deadpool role in “Wolverine.” Reynolds here as Mike Connell turns out very low key. He fits the tricky part he has to play, just like the rest of the cast members that generally work well in their specific roles — in a similar way the various jobs and people inside Adventureland work.

‘Adventureland’ Film Review: Roller-coastering towards adulthood
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Sherlock Holmes movie review 2009

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Editing
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Acting/Voice Acting
Commercial Flair
Average

“Sherlock Holmes” is a visually stylish rush of adrenaline. Irreverent yet true to the spirit of its source material, this movie is both fun and numb, enjoyable and exhausting.

With a modern slant, this Sir Arthur Conan Doyle character personified on the big screen by Robert Downey Jr. should find favor with audiences eager for mere action and effects above everything else. While flawed, it is at least, overall, an entertaining romp. Thanks to the arresting sound and visuals, this new take on the classic story of the world-famous detective is such a popcorn flick.

This cinematic adaptation retains a number of significant details from its source; though the purists may cringe with some altered elements that keep up with director Guy Ritchie’s modern-style of reimagining the legendary sleuth’s adventures. Viewers willing to accept the cliches and predictability in exchange for the stylish and moody treatment may have some good time.

“Sherlock Holmes” is more adrenaline than brainpower. The story is simply another one in a long line of interpretations of the Detective Holmes and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) tales. This time, it is utilized as a swashbuckling romp with the tried-and-tested pop culture flourishes meant for those looking for action and thrill. The obvious millions pumped into the film’s CG effects, set design, star salaries, among other investments for the sake of production value, are very much apparent throughout.

Ritchie’s version of old London is moody and atmospheric. He brings the iconic character to a new generation of movie audience through the modernized makeover filled with slow- and fast-motion visuals, choppy editing, and ramping explosion scenes. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. There are times that things just get way too much that there is no more breathing space on screen. There are moments of action, there are moments of frenzied and overlong smother.

Aside from its complete predictability, the mystery itself lacks intrigue and suspense that it merely relies on technical power and star wattage for a more palpable sense of excitement. So despite being overlong and losing much of its steam halfway through, the movie is still able to engage the audience between the cerebral character requirements and the spectacle of pop entertainment.

The acting performances of Downey and Law as the Holmes-and-Watson-duo help make up for the weak mystery. They seem to take much pleasure in portraying their roles. Downey’s inherent likeability is as quick-witted as the twists and opportunities that show off his character’s genius. His interpretation of the Holmes character does not completely deviate from the Doyle canon. With his uncanny skill at inventing his own spin to his role, he delivers a brainy and brawny detective with a slightly crazed superhero demeanor. He plays the brainiac detective like a steamed machine.

Law transforms Holmes’ stalwart partner Dr. Watson from the bumbling comic relief seen in most interpretations of the material into a cool, competent sidekick character for this adaptation. He is a rare Watson who manages to be as interesting and watchable as Holmes.

Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler manages to tweak Holmes’ classic adversary into a hot and feisty action heroine.

Cunning star power further uplifts this flick as supporting and minor characters including Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood, Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade, Geraldine James as Mrs. Hudson, Kelly Reilly as Mary Morstan, and William Houston as Constable Clark make this movie offer the rollicking adventure that it is. a diverting enough night-out stint or DVD showcase, “Sherlock Holmes is a watchable and playable fare that entertainingly explores the cunning world of its lead character; however, it’s still forgettable. It’s actually a case of more adding up to less. Hopefully, the inevitable sequel will be better.

“Sherlock Holmes” is a watchable fare that entertainingly showcases the cunning world of its lead character. However, its story is still forgettable, as the sequences often turn out as a case of more adding up to less.

‘Sherlock Holmes’ (2009) Film Review: Sherlock takes a modern slant
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Avatar movie review

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Commercial Flair
Average

As a feat of fearless imagination and audacity, “Avatar” is a bold eco-opus examining the themes technological wonders and morality. It is a breathtaking flight of fancy using the typical Hollywood formula.

Engaging its audience with its titanic technical achievement, its technical brilliance, alongside its timely and significant concept, is truly worth more than a decade of risky, arduous, and passionate work.

Leading the future for its new format of big-screen entertainment, watch it in 3D to get the full experience it can offer on the big screen.

Director James Cameron impressively leads the viewers to his Pandora’s box. Predictable story, cliched dialogue, and logical lapses aside, this motion picture turns out thrilling and explosive in the right mix. It has enough soul to effectively escape into the new world of jaw-dropping spectacle. This film gets the closest any has to fulfilling the 3D format’s fundamental mission of creating a new, immersive way of looking at movies. If there’s a chance, it is highly recommended to watch it in IMAX to see it in its full visual glory.

The most-hyped movie of the year just about merits the description. Cameron’s visionary bearing for his long-awaited pet project, his first film after the equally historical 1997 hit “Titanic,” is well worth the wait.

Its awe-inspiring technical brilliance kind of overpowers the storytelling — but the said flaw doesn’t really matter with how Cameron brings to life Pandora and the Na’vi, which clearly is a quantum leap in modern filmmaking technology.

The narrative explores the sub-stories of: a buffed ex-marine in a wheelchair who gets turned into an alien warrior through his avatar (his human mind in an alien body); a free spirited princess in an indigenous alien tribe getting into a love triangle; a military industrial complex with machinery and weaponry of the 22nd Century caliber; and a potential world filled with exotic life forms and million-dollar stones.

The tale about profit and progress vs. nature’s power and infinite variety promotes a fancifully detailed vision. However, the exploration of these societal issues gets quite compromised by the rather juvenile story exposition. In terms of the intense expectations for it, amidst the very promising concept, the film still falls short in putting enough dimension to its plot, as compared to its technical magnificence as a 3D epic.

Gorgeously rendered, this 3D offering sets a new bar in computer-generated animation. With the feast of technical details on display, the viewers can easily find themselves busy marveling at everything on screen. The photorealistic 3D imagery really transports the audience into an alien world rich with imaginative vistas, creatures, and characters; even at the middle of clunky lines, awkward scenes, cliched moments, and a script that plays things very, very safe.

The film’s concept is full of potential. Its vision is full of challenge. Not everything makes sense; but in the best way possible, things are dealt with for the sake of pure Hollywood entertainment. Every time the movie runs out of credibility, especially when it comes to the plot, the eye-candy provides enough sugar rush. The screen elements break the CG barrier by combining elaborate lighting elements and complicated visual details with state-of-the-art motion-capture technology and tried-and-tested recreation of live-action parts. Meanwhile, James Horner delivers the 3D equivalent of a soundtrack. From start to end, the sound and music are in par with what the visuals offer.

Cameron and his legion of skilled craftspeople mounts a convincingly realized artificial world created from scratch to the big screen. They blur the line between reality and CGI by definitively blending animation and live-action elements. The breathtakingly beautiful CGI landscapes present a story that easily travels from the human world to the fantastical and back. Its sophisticated editing rhythms represent what one contemporary blockbuster cinema (a $400 million project) dictates. The filmmakers’ aim for sheer wonderment for this sci-fi epic with gamer-geek sensibility truly delivers for its intended purpose.

While its cinematic impact may not quite rise to the ultimate expectation of being “a master of all masterpieces,” this bold and imaginative vision gets to the level of such a descriptive phrase as a “stunning masterpiece of cinematic technology.”

The metaphorical aspects of the film, though not played out at their best, are still worth noting. When trying to go deeper than the jaw-dropping visuals, the narrative reveal issues and concerns on progress vs. environment. Value is also given to themes about: tribes and races; physicality and spirituality; love and survival; humanity and technology; pride and purpose; responsibility and morality; and war and greed.

The world of Pandora is very immersive and the Na’vi people seem to resemble the old culture of the world in the alter ego of American Indians. The marines and the scientists resemble the capitalist and fascist thinking in modern civilization. The heroes of the tale show how it is to become truly human, while being torn in between two different worlds.

It is interesting to note that unlike the overall storytelling that gets sort of overpowered by the film’s audio-visual grandeur, the well-realized culture of the Na’vi becomes comparable to a fantasy novel getting the reader engrossed to the value of its world, resources, and people — to the point that the special effects don’t exactly become a barrier to let you feel for them as they struggle against the destruction of their home by the so-called “sky people.”

This decade-in-the-making dream project of Cameron is like the “Star Wars” of this age. For all the technical virtuosity of its mythical 3D universe, the Na’vi characters seem much more expressive than most motion-capture technology creations of this generation — making it in par with the brilliance of the exemplary Gollum-Smeagel character in “Lord of The Rings.” The invented world is also comparable to the technical and thematic milestones that George Lucas and Peter Jackson made in the realms of fantasy and special effects filmmaking.

The technical wizardry is at the service of a recycled plot that still rightfully pumps blood for the purpose of cinematic immersion. The film’s digital world effectively transports the audience to a domain that doesn’t exist — and it is just impossible not to get engaged with the fantastic visuals of such painstakingly intricate details.

“Avatar” is a little hollow at the center as compared to great film concepts and scripts that have become masterpieces; but the sheer scale and ambition of its production look as tactile and as tangible, as if they are made of real materials and living tissues.

The creative epiphany in “Avatar” is the extraordinary experience that more than lives up to the hype. Despite its flaws, it is a brilliant, visual extravaganza that is simultaneously thrilling, provocative, and surprisingly moving. It ma be more impressive on a technical level than as a piece of storytelling opus, but it proves to be a successful approach in creating a good 3D film experience; thus, paving the way for it to become a 3D sci-fi classic in the history of world cinema.

This motion picture is essentially a movie that people have seen before; but it is boldly made to look like nothing anyone has seen before. The inadequacies of the story become relatively forgivable — thanks to the undeniably beautiful, engrossing, and mind-bending audio-visual epic that it is.

‘Avatar’ Film Review: What jaw-dropping 3D can be
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Average

Law Abiding Citizen is a phony social commentary that has an intriguing premise and a compromised execution. It is increasingly preposterous, but nonetheless mindlessly entertaining for its law-abiding, popcorn-consuming audience.

The narrative begins as a potboiler with a troubling character arc and some high-octane thriller moments, then it ends up as a goofy, lousy pulp with the action parts quickly tipping into lame campiness.

As a social statement, this film offers a flawed attempt in presenting high-minded brutality, while trying to hold the legal system accountable for its own shortcomings. As a slick cat and mouse picture, it seems too afraid to tackle the issues it brings up. There are plenty of loopholes in the script that further misleads its promising concept.

As a mainstream fare, it is pervasively absurd yet generally appealing for those who prefer high body count more than enduring its blatantly nonsensical plot. It abides by the rules of commercial filmmaking, and this becomes its major flaw.

This piece of crime drama and thriller has its action parts laced with shocks and twists that don’t aptly follow the laws of logic, making suspension of disbelief quite a chore. Its ludicrous plot has its moments; however, its fascinating undercurrents are much less than the off-putting parts in its reactionary revenge theme. As the logic tumbles more and more until the tale’s disappointing ending, it winds up feeling overwritten, yet underexplained.

In its exploration of the flaws of law, of right and wrong, this picture deflates the fun brought by its interesting tagline “How can you stop a man who’s already behind bars?” by making it a complicated, ragged movie lacking story credibility. It seems more of a pretentious cash cow material that tries to inject something meaningful about America’s justice system — unfortunately with an awkward turnout.

This is the kind of movie that thrills as long as it doesn’t make one think. With an implausible plot already given from the very beginning, provisions for compelling arguments as the story progresses simply lose their edge by the end of the movie.

From the script being backed up by the debate about the ethical challenges of practicing and upholding law to the poor plotting and pacing throughout, things get really trammeled by the endless bullets, deaths, explosions, and play safe ending. Things don’t live up to the expectations from Gerard Butler’s words “It’s gonna be biblical!”

This crime drama about outrage and vengeance has jerky narrative shifts with occasional splashes of gore and action courtesy of its brainiac turned psychopath character. From here, thrills just keep coming at a relentless pace that leaves little time to ponder on them. Nevertheless, it is still able to generate some considerable suspense and a sense of dread as an implausible thriller with a few horror elements in the guise as social criticism.

Director F. Gary Gray attempts to provide a visual look that creates the required cold, thrilling atmosphere. What keeps the story hanging on, aside from the movie’s basic atmosphere, are some strong performances, regardless of the need for more character depth.

Gerard Butler as Clyde Shelton elevates the picture’s ridiculous thriller appeal into something watchable. His sharp and invigorating performance as a psycho on a killing spree while behind bars is generally entertaining. He is able to hold some interest for the story as he outwits the authorities — until he loses it by the contrived ending.

Jamie Foxx as the district attorney Nick Rice looks bored throughout. He delivers some effective moments that provide the needed emotional investment for his character. However, he still lacks that needed bravura to really elevate his character. Viola Davis as the frustrated Philadelphia mayor looks pretty sharp on screen. Annie Corley as Judge Laura Burch also works fine. Leslie Bibb as Nick’s staff Sarah Lowell provides enough intensity.

‘Law Abiding Citizen’ Film Review: Law-abiding popcorn flick
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[Total: 1    Average: 2/5]

Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs movie review

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Looks like the “Ice Age” series is not yet too close to extinction. Since the trailers of this third franchise offer, there is no doubt that “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” still provides that appealing energy based on the material’s already established charm.

As an adventure-packed ride, this animation provides an astoundingly eye-catching animation built on the fun foundation given by the old characters. Some scenes may feel repetitive, but for the needed surface-level fluff, this kiddie flick generally works. For the most part, this movie utilizes well-paced comic moments.

The story revolves around the discovery of a crack in the ice which grants the characters access to a more primitive age that features tropical weather, green grass, extensive foliage, and dangerous giants. This takes the central characters away from their wintry, ice-packed habitat to the cavernous underground world of danger where carnivorous dinosaurs roam. On a mission to rescue Sid, the old gang travels into a mysterious underground realm where they encounter a whole new world of flora and fauna.

This third  “Ice Age” installment doesn’t overdo its stereoscopic 3D part. The DVD version may not have the same flair as its 3D counterpart, but judging from what the theatrical version shows, this motion picture really keeps up with the franchise’s signature fun and colorful visuals.

A lot of entertaining elements can induce laughter to the willing audience. The novelty in its extra dimension and eye-candy visuals, as well as the overall comic fun rendered by its characters enhance its storytelling spectacle.

Director Carlos Saldanha and co-director Mike Thurmeier envision nifty camera tricks, funny character antics, and charmingly mounted moments to keep up with the film’s box office requirements. Scenes like the laughing gas adventure and even the overly familiar trailers of Scrat’s initial meeting with Scratte, as well as Sid’s milking of a bull, all provide good laughs for the general audience. Scrat’s dialogue-free scenes are punctuated by music and all things heart-shaped work as usual. His pursuit of the elusive acorn is as fervent as his quest to win the eye-fluttering Scratte, which alters his nut hunting priority.

Amidst the sureshot enjoyment, it is still clearly not of top-caliber level when compared to the best Pixar animated classics. This animated feature merely relies on formulaic elements to make it a fun family ride. Moreover, the playful bantering between the characters could have been more creatively done. There are some forced dialogues and some phoned-in voice acting around. Nevertheless, this sequel from the popular animated movie is clearly targeted at the kiddie crowd. It still works as an entertainment pastime for the family.

As expected, “Ice Age 3” promotes a cutesy end to both the old and new characters’ sub-stories. Aside from the old gang, it features some snappy new characters including Buck and the loads of dinosaurs around.

Parenthood becomes the hot topic for Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) as they await the birth of their mini-mammoth. There is something lacking on their side of the story in terms of characterization; but when their baby comes out, things just become totally adorable with the cute little mammoth out.

The goofy sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) turns out as a pretty convincing friend who feels abandoned, then adopts three baby dinosaurs like a new surrogate mother.

The flurry and scurry squirrel Scrat (Chris Wedge) is still awesome with his wanderings, which are motivated by the iconic acorn as usual. But this time, he gets company in trying to nab that ever-elusive nut through his newfound hottie frenemy who is conveniently named Scratte (Karen Disher).

The saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) doesn’t quite render enough emotional attachment here. His issues of growing too soft when hanging with his tamed pals and his goal to leave the herd to prove himself don’t quite get that much message across.

The twin opossums Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck) generally work with their pratfalls and fart jokes amidst their stereotypical antics.

The relentless, vine-swinging, and dino-hunting weasel Buck (Simon Pegg) is a comical and lively one-eyed warrior who guides the “Ice Age” friends through the underground prehistoric habitat of the hungry dinosaurs — in order to save Sid. With his conventional but steadily working jokes, he puts fun in the adventure of the characters as they traverse the Chasm of Death, the Plates of Woe, and the treacherous Lava Falls.

Overall, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” brings visual cuteness, action, and frivolity for the audience to enjoy. It puts the usual requirements on moral elements for the typical family movie getaway, with the story centering around the importance of family and friends. The movie is a surefire hit with the kids. The 3D version in the theaters definitely has an additional appeal, but even a DVD version can still work as a great addition to your family-friendly movie collection.

‘Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs’ Film Review: Dino-ice adventure
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Average

Pixar’s “Up” is a symphonic balance of touching silence, witty dialogue and cinematic flight of fancy.

This animated picture further strengthens its impressive track record of making noteworthy animated films. It provides a symphonic balance of touching silence and witty dialogue where the flight of fancy is carefully crafted through wildly creative fantasy, inner childhood, and rediscovery.

As an emotional and heartfelt story with various levels of relationships and sense of belongingness, this high-altitude exploration about love and loss and letting go makes a beautifully balanced effort, propelling the viewers up, up, and away with its colorful balloons of cinematic adventure.

This family film doesn’t pander. The audience’s suspension of disbelief, especially for some of its preposterous elements, never insists itself as a negative issue. In fact, the cleverness and originality the film exudes through it becomes considerably boundless. Highly supported by visual wonder and worthwhile story investment, the theme of this exquisitely cinematic work tweaks the common elements of a grownup tale and rejuvenates the storytelling with much spark and pop.

From belly-laugh humor to tear-in-the-eye despair, it never becomes anything less than incredibly touching and entertaining. Alternately funny and touching, and exciting often all at once, this tale about unfulfilled dreams and fulfilling promises is punctuated by gentle whimsy and tender human values. Through its intimate character study about rediscovering the soul, or surviving the worst and making the most of it, the film’s creative synergy of sharp, funny, and tear-jerking elements delivers both a thrillingly fantastic adventure and a devastatingly poignant piece of realism.

What makes “Up” more special is how its animation efforts are utilized for maximum value. It combines the basic filmmaking requirement of imaginative and sincere storytelling with dazzling and dreamlike visuals on a level that can work best on animated films. It creates an experience that is a special characteristic of animation: at once utterly convincing and completely impossible, but all in all, lovingly acceptable for its kind of medium.

This swashbuckling romp starts slow and classy. Then it picks up helium and soars into a continent-hopping adventure and an understated, nuanced psychodrama with an end as inspiring as its title. For children, it’s an adventure movie; for adults, it’s an adventure on a whole different level.

“Up” is a breezy kid’s fun yarn embedded in a sentimental grownup tale with serious consideration on love, death, and lives left behind. The “visual wow factor” can resonate more powerfully to the kids while the amusing brilliance as a sweet, gentle, and imaginative tale about grief and regret, purposes lost and rediscovered can resound more to the adults.

The opening sequence sits in silence, telling the story of young Carl and Ellie filled with emotions and alleviated by Michael Giacchino’s magnificent music transporting the viewers to a make-believe place. Tears fall at the end of this beginning to cast a spell over the willing audience. It hits the right notes as the musical score becomes practically a character in the film itself. The contemplative montage taking Carl from childhood to widowhood truly makes imaginations take flight. Director Pete Docter and co-director Bob Peterson, along with all the talented people from Pixar, create such a palpable story while maintaining itself as a piece of expertly-rendered and artful type of entertainment.

Colors match the emotions seen on screen. Shapes and sizes in every frame promote such valuable storytelling subtexts like: the character design of Carl being very edgy while the designs of Ellie and Russel being full of curves.

The various characters balance the thrills and tenderness to make a truly beautiful and compelling work. The gruffy old widower Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Ed Asner) ties thousands of balloons to his home and sets out to fulfill the lifelong dream initiated by his already departed wife Ellie (with the young Ellie heard in the film voiced by Elie Docter) to see the wilds of South America. Right after lifting off, however, he learns he isn’t alone on his journey, since Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai), a wilderness explorer 70 years his junior, becomes a stow away on the trip. As he finds himself reluctantly sharing his ride with the short-attention-spanned kid, he embraces the jungle adventure with more and more characters coming their way including the colorful, sweet-toothed bird Kevin, the talking dog Dug (voiced by Bob Peterson), and his childhood idol, the adventurer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer) with his pack of dogs led by Alpha (voiced by Bob Peterson).

“Up” has a genuine warmth of a true classic. It orchestrates itself into one truly unforgettable piece of animated film for all ages.

‘Up’ Film Review: Pixar goes up, up, and away
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District 9 movie review

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Average
 

“District 9” is a hybrid of a film: it is a Hollywood material that looks like a successful anti-Hollywood venture and a brilliant social commentary.

Produced by the people behind “LOTR” including its helmer Peter Jackson, this motion picture delivers its universal message about ethnic tolerance through the tale of a doomed extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth, mainly in a South African ghetto, until these beings suddenly find a kindred spirit in a government agent exposed to their biotechnology.

This sharp-edged, down and dirty science-fiction work incorporates a great deal of big-budget elements in a part-fake documentary, part-body horror, and part-robot flick. As a comparably smaller offer than the usual Hollywood sci-fi offering, it is still utterly reminiscent of the failed alien and mechanical warrior sequels of similar franchises like “Terminator,” “Aliens vs. Predator,” “Transformers,” and “G. I. Joe.”

Director Neill Blomkamp packs this gritty sci-fi tale with compellingly bold and imaginative pop elements. People have seen too many alien invasion flicks before, but nothing anything quite like “District 9” has come before it, especially in terms of its carefully merged dramatic story, biting satire, low-key CG inventiveness, tightness of editing, and carefully rendered set details. The special effects don’t overwhelm the harrowing story, which helps make the storytelling more emotional. The gross and the drama, together with the big guns, chases, and explosions, remain appropriate to the storyline. Thus, paving the way to a fresh franchise potential.

The good thing about “District 9” is that it’s both intelligent and entertaining. There is clearly no need to dumb out the audience just to be able to get that combination of funny, violently gross, and wildly enthralling speculative movie that exude genuine emotional resonance.

This motion picture is unlike any of those mostly seen in Hollywood’s sci-fi canon. It is not targeted for those who don’t find psychological and physical gore favorable as they would probably feel a little uneasy in a couple of scenes. Some may find certain shots kind of stressful to watch. But sitting through it has its price — a fresh and thought-provoking, if not groundbreaking story, making a good point about racial prejudice and posing a number of serious questions about the state of humanity.

“District 9” is a superb realization of a poignant satire, irony, humor, violence, and drama that is not afraid to examine the essence of what it actually means (and what it might cost) to be human. It is an edgy, provocative commentary on the human condition. It has a heart and soul to its piece. It keeps up with its own technical challenges. As a sci-fi actioner that entertains mercilessly, it opens up a certain compassion and humanity to its audience. It is a swift and subtle movie that trusts its viewers to do some of the work — and it’s quite effective at that. It serves as a pop allegory for the racial tension of apartheid, issues on mass immigration, and man’s inhumane ways to both humans and non-humans.

A modestly budgeted project with an actual idea in its head, this cinematic offering aptly combines breathless action, political satire, and poignant drama that can generally hold the viewers’ attention from start to finish.

This piece of cinema proves that sci-fi flicks don’t always need star-studded or mega-budgeted requirements to be visually intense, remarkably executed, and thoroughly entertaining. Its relatively unknown cast works very well. Lead character Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe puts the right dose of pathos for the film through grit, charm, naivete, and humor.

People have seen many aliens coming to earth in movies. Many have seen the finest use of computer-generated imagery on the big screen; but it’s rare to see an intriguing, sci-fi fable that is consistently gripping. This makes “District 9” an original classic in its own right.

‘District 9’ Film Review: Thinking man’s sci-fi
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Watchmen movie review

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Average

“Watchmen” is visually brilliant but flawed in certain ways. Nevertheless, this eye-poppingly faithful adaptation is a carefully crafted as a lavish cult movie. It spins a comic deemed unfilmable into a blockbuster epic for the specific admirers of the superhero genre and the fan base of the groundbreaking book from writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons. Grappling with the graphic novel’s multi-layered storyline, this dystopian film utilizes a deeply dark heart unmasking the world’s harsh realities.

“Watchmen” is no doubt a love letter to those who have been waiting for the film for the last two decades. The success of the acclaimed 1980’s graphic novel about moral relativity, the futility of life, the violent nature of man, and the deconstruction of the concepts of humanity and heroism have pushed this film into monumental anticipation. Director Zack Snyder brings the superhero-noir murder mystery to life through the aesthetic pleasure of reproducing the key scenes with storyboard-like fidelity. As a deconstructionist superhero flick, it generally works in making fans thrilled with its visual experimentation, radical mythology, psychologically rich idealism, and grand indulgence.

Overall, the mood and tone of the film is what most fans could hope for. As the cinematic version of one of the world’s most celebrated graphic novel, this sprawling motion picture stays faithful to the book. It trims and reshapes it to its prime essentials. It may not include every nuance in the graphic novel, but it gets to capture the basic requirements of the filmmaking medium. However, the overflowing technical energy leads to a power lost in terms of characterization and emotional engagement to the story. The technical brilliance upstages the other aspects of the film a bit too much.

The filmmakers lose sight of what could make a film effective more than just the faithful rendition and the audio-visual flair. The film lacks the emotional attachment for the audience to relate to the characters and the world they live in. While it is true that the fans who are clearly familiar with the characters and their alternate universe would find the film readily understood on screen, non-fans would find the non-superficial facets of the narrative a bit confusing. Indeed, this proves that a great source material, a respectful translation from graphic novel to film, a big budget, and an overflowing visual power are not enough to make a film live up to the greatest expectations for it.

Having such a complex narrative structure, it is quite understandable that this picture is weaved with less back stories and plotting compared to its book source. For cinematic purposes, significant changes are made in the script and what has actually worked out during the course of production. For some, especially to those who are not knowledgeable with the crucial details from the original material may find it a little difficult to get that same appeal the excited fans get. It could be a slightly different experience for anyone who does not know the book, especially since the interaction between the characters and their multi-layered sub-stories remain integral points to understanding the story. So, those who are not literally immersed in the 80’s era, the Cold War, and the book’s astonishing vision would find it a bit more difficult to get a full grasp of the story’s core.

Through impressive, computer-enhanced eye candy, the film’s pop-art fusion features its blood-stained smiley face well. Though it captures the look and feel of the novel, it still fails to totally engage its audience because its emotional center gets buried deep under its self-gratifying visual style. For all of the ferocious flashes of spectacular physicality, there are substantially-challenged parts that sometimes feel misapplied, overcranked, or too ramped up. Unable to measure up to the technical competence of the material, there is never enough time spent with moments of emotion and suspense to make the audience relate more with the characters’ undertakings.

“Watchmen” has moments of wonder. Not all of them work, but parts of them do. At some point, this cinematic piece feels artificially stylized — its soulless aspects hindering it from becoming great. It is bold and bloated, fascinating and flawed, stunning and scattered.

Amidst its flaws, the film is intense. It is backed up by the book’s fascinating and contemplative tale. Its philosophy and take on genre deconstruction keep up with its heavy, adult-themed plot. It has interesting social and political ideas in doing the ultimate sacrifice and making the world fall part, then putting things back together again with the Machiavellian ideology in mind. Indeed, it depicts itself as a self-styled parody of the world’s “true face” and the “big jokes” of the society.

Visually, this flick is a lavish and exciting screen translation reverential to Moore and Gibbons’ work. Filled with visceral action and powerful special effects, its dark world boasts of keen attention to physical details. The production design, art direction, and cinematography are gratifying. The rich and gorgeous palette and campy costumes are a sight to see. The original comics shines through Snyder’s approach to satisfy fans with a densely-packed motion picture experience. He puts a grimy and gritty, yet glossed pop culture feel to the picture. He tries to preserve other information by including a short “historical” opening title sequence, then he readily fills the screen with the visual treat he has become known for since he made the historical “300” in 2007. However, there is a disappointing part to it: he merely yields to his trademark shots in his Spartan opus without recreating his visionary style for an entirely new project — making them look like mere copies of his memorable “300” scenes. And so, the crucial scenes that merely feature copycat shots and elements never fully satisfy. But against considerable odds, the story’s dense and complex mythology remains.

Snyder’s direction clearly focuses on style and technique. The acting and thematic and emotional aspects of the storytelling suffer. The acting department is actually filled with talented performers. The billing for the “Watchmen” superheroes includes: Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Edward Blake/The Comedian; Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman; Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias; Malin Akerman as Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II; Jackie Earle Haley as Walter Kovacs/Rorschach; Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II; Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre; and Stephen McHattie as Hollis Mason/Nite Owl. However, this talented bunch ends up rendering some wooden performances due to the story’s hollow and disjointed characterizations.

This visually striking “Watchmen” deserves credit for what a dozen of other directors have struggled to do — and never did — for the last 20 years.

‘Watchmen’ Film Review: Deconstructing the film in reference to the graphic novel
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The Hangover movie review

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Average

“The Hangover” is a guilty pleasure comedy. Who knew a hangover could be this fun?

This guy flick about a bachelor party gone wrong is really nothing special; but the simplest reason for its comedic success is the fact that it achieves a rare balance between character and vulgarity. There is a sort of perverse brilliance, or maybe brilliant perversity, thrown by the characters against the gambling streets of Las Vegas.

Director Todd Phillips (“Starsky and Hutch,” “School for Scoundrels,” and “Old School”) is successful in promoting strong comic performances in the film. This Las Vegas-set movie centering around three groomsmen who lose their about-to-be-wed bud after their drunken misadventures proves that it’s not all about the big Hollywood names just to get the big laughs. While it would be misleading to claim this as a brilliant film, this cleverly vulgar bromantic comedy is an assured escapist offer.

The film’s stumbles and slurs become effective with a fine ensemble cast. Lewd and rude, the gags generally come from a fun script from Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. This aptly titled movie has some spirited moments of devilishly smart absurdity. It turns out to be every bit as crass, offensive, and incorrect as people would expect, but they are victimized by its bizarrely gripping comedy.

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galafianakis are a great comedic trio with each one bringing a different element to the movie. Justin Bartha as the groom-to-be Doug Billings blends his matinee idol appeal with the thoughtfully funny twist in the end. The good chemistry extends to the solid performances of the other supporting characters, including the cameos — Heather Graham as the stripper Jade, Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow, Mike Tyson as himself, among others.

What makes this flick work is how the antics seem innocently awkward rather than deliberately awkward. And that’s what makes the movie so funny. Yes, it’s not in any way pleasing the way it handles the female characters. And that’s the not so good thing about it. Yet, the jokes can really victimize the general viewer. Anyway, the audience knows that it has no other major intention but to provide dim-witted comedy with immoral, ruthless characters not to be taken too seriously.

But where exactly did the chicken inside the hotel room really come from? At least, the tiger has a pretty clear role with Mike Tyson…

‘The Hangover’ Film Review: Hanging Over a Guy Flick
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Average

The swoony supernatural romance and the neo-horror motif of “Twilight” can both amuse and bemuse — depending on the type of viewer.

From the initial fans of the book to the newly-recruited fans of the Edward-Bella love team, the teen bite of the tale clearly gets into their veins. The formula for this movie’s charm is very much apparent. It offers that dose of ordinary girl-meets-extraordinary boy who turns out as the prince charming to the damsel in distress. It has key elements for romantic spree backed up by both physical and occult-ish appeals, providing enough escapism for its target audience. All these float to the surface of what is supposedly “just another overused teen love story,” which often times would not offer a record-breaking pursuit for blockbuster appeal.

This adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling teen novel focuses on a rehashed plot that merely shows what happens to the characters in every second of screen time, leaving no much room to grow their interactions beyond the emo-romance fare. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that this type of movie doesn’t work. In fact, it is pure fantasy for girls who want to be princesses — while having their bad boys by their side. Regardless of how questionnable its values are, this is really what makes this particular movie a successful new franchise. It is able to establish the needed teen moodscape where the chemistry between the main characters offers enough smoldering desire that the teen crowd would typically love.

This kind of romance flick is clearly geared towards those who enjoy straight-up unforbidden love, angst-filled behavior, and underage rebellion on screen. With a distinctly young sense of tragedy and sparkle, the pop material turns out effective in making its willing viewers crazy over a tale centering on two star-crossed lovers trying to bridge the gap between humans and vampires.

This movie promotes a defiant human-vampire dating fantasy with some girly swirl of obsession for the main audience’s delight. Interestingly so, it doesn’t try hard to be hip for its intended crowd. It is one vampire love affair where sharp teeth, cold hands, and supernatural powers require the viewer to sit back and enjoy the camp. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t work.

The weak CGI isn’t much of an obstruction for this picture to hit big at the box office. Not even the dodgy dialogue nor the lack of a more developed storyline can hinder its success. It may be quite a chore to endure for the unwilling victims; but for its hard-core fans, it sure carries everything well.

The cool references put accessible fangs to its lucrative teen hook-ups. Watch some vampires play baseball, drive the coolest cars, live in a classy glass mansion, climb trees taller than the penthouse of a city skyscraper, and glitter under sunlight. Indeed, it is the kind of vampire flick that can get its pop culture-stricken patrons excited and addicted. It turns out as a blatant attempt to cash in to the devotion of its die-hard followers with a door naturally left open for the next installment..

Director Catherine Hardwicke, along with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, recreates a world where the heroine becomes obsessed with surrender and submission to a man who is constantly tempted to kill her. Now, that is one sucked-up subtext about culture and society that may be worth a psychological study.

This movie is like a vegetarian diet in the vampire movie canon. For those uninitiated and for those outsiders from the movie’s intended demographic, this kind of pop treat is plainly overused, dopey, and melodramatic. The jumble of cuts and pastes from the book, along with the music video bits, the often second-rate visual effects make the movie a hackneyed teenybopper show of synthetic affection.

As a vampire tale, the type of angst it plays around with remains too dull throughout its running tale that its own fangs turn out questionable, especially in the action side of things. There is a lot of build-ups but not much of resolution. The hokey dialogue may just be too much to bear. Unless one can get past the sloppiness and shallowness, there is no way to get really sucked in.

As a fantasy romance involving a self-loathing vampire and his sweet-blooded human beloved, its theme works well with the rising and falling teenage hormonal requirements. Focusing on the palpable chemistry of the main pair Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen to mesmerize the fans, they work well with playing around sidelong glances, twitchy rule-breaking escapades, and head-spinning rushes of the moment — which highlights their intangible yearning and romantic affection for each other. Amidst the overacting parts at times, their on-screen romantic charm really does it all for the movie.

The story best utilizes its principal tandem with such brooding romanticism. Stewart as the introvert Bella is somebody most teens could relate to as an average type with some fairly likeable attributes, a glum expression, and a risky attitude. Pattinson as the 100-ish pale guy with overly red lips and living on a deer blood diet is totally a hit for giggling fans who are completely fascinated with his furrowed eyebrows, crooked smiles, and cool hairstyles.

The members of the supporting cast, though at times looking too superficial for their pale vampire demeanor, generally deliver for the movie’s intentions: Bella’s father and mother Billy Burke as Charlie Swan and Sarah Clarke as Reneee Dwyer; the Cullen clan including Peter Facinelli as Dr. Carlisle Cullen, Ashley Greene as Alice Cullen, Elizabeth Reaser as Esme Cullen, Kellan Lutz as Emmet Cullen, Jackson Rathbone as Jasper Hale, and Nikki Reed as Rosalie Hale; the vampire antagonists including Cam Gigandet as James, Rachelle Lefevre as Victoria, and Edi Gathegi as Laurent; and Bella’s new school pals and family friends: Christian Serratos as Angela, Anna Kendrick as Jessica Stanley, Michael Welch as Mike Newton, Justin Chon as Eric Yorkie, Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black, and Gil Birmingham as Billy Black.

This movie knows what it is meant for. Either one likes it or hates it. It has a sweetly idealistic charm on its own. It pleases its devoted fans, but does little for the uninitiated.

‘Twilight’ Film Review: That willing teen bite
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Deep Sea 3D movie review

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If you have that fancy for scuba diving and underwater magic without getting wet, then the jaw-dropping experience of submerging into the coolest underground deserts and forests in “Deep Sea 3D” should be worth your while. Clocking in at around 40 minutes, this 3D offering showcases how the sights and sounds of the “real deep sea” becomes “cinematic magic.”

“Deep Sea 3D” is a real marvel in 3D filmmaking. The IMAX experience lets you sink way down for that amazing acquaintance with the grandeur of the deep seas and the spectacular IMAX 3D underwater cinematography. Indeed, with 3D images so crisp and engrossing, this movie takes you to another world that is filled with an array of both familiar and unfamiliar sea creatures. IMAX provides this privilege by transporting exotic sea creatures literally to your noses, ready to be touched by your own hands through the magic of cinema. Young and adults alike tend to share awe and delight in trying to feel those luminous moon jellyfish and shimmering glassy minnows upfront.

The fascinating tour of the oceans and the bizarre-looking life forms around the globe allows you to spend every moment “oohing” and “aahing” at the amazing life under the sea. You may find yourself gasping for air as the scenes keep enveloping you with that fascinating up-close-and-personal experience with some of the ocean’s irreplaceable treasures — both gently and wildly swaying down the deep blue seas.

This film may not provide the conventional thrills of a full-length narrative, but it is surprising how this documentary makes the ocean seem so intimately real that you really feel like swimming alongside the splendid coral reefs, friendly sharks, colorful school of fishes, deadly squids, thinking starfish, comic shrimps, character crabs, and monstrous octopus — all drifting to and from the currents of sheer underwater beauty.

“Deep Sea 3D” magically goes down the ocean floor with its gorgeous cinematography that in some ways, you can actually overlook the loose ends in the film’s structure. You start flowing in harmony with the underwater life forms. You start agreeing with the importance of symbiotic relationships among various species. You get more concerned about the violence humans do against nature. You become more conscious of the sad state in which humans leave the oceans and why humans should not upset nature’s delicate balance. This short film creates a vision of nature that many humans, at some point, would get to appreciate and would soon want to conserve and save the ocean’s natural resources.

More than its documentary thread, this motion picture’s beautiful underwater footage become its ultimate source of artistic leap. The visuals wrap themselves around a magical treat that entertains the eyes and touches the heart.

IMAX films like this may be expensive to produce, but this particular one is well worth it. With the charming and magical appeal of this short documentary in the company of the voices of Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, and most especially, the company of the many wonderful creatures of the sea world, this project shows the great potential of the relatively young IMAX 3D technology in the movie industry. The technology is clearly evolving and getting better. Although there are some minor annoyances and occasional drifts in the storytelling, this film is still one of the more solidly entertaining documentaries filmed in IMAX to date.

‘Deep Sea 3’ Film Review: Underwater magic at the movie theater
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This concert documentary offers an immersive experience simulating a front-row view and beyond of a U2 concert.

“U2 3D” is a spectacular, musically and visually superb experience simulating a front row view and beyond of a U2 concert, probably the closest you can get to the real thing at this point of time.

This concert film features cutting-edge technology that gives the viewers a better-than-front-row seat experiences as it establishes an uncommonly intimate and occasionally surreal bond between the legendary band and the audience.

Every development in the history of cinema has always been about making the experience more realistic, fun, and amazing. And for over a quarter-century, U2 has been recognized not only for their musical innovation, but for their incomparable gift on reaching to millions of fans through new technology; while keeping up with the band’s decades-spanning catalog of great music.

As the next best thing to attending a real concert with a ticket costing about ten or even a hundred times less, this 85 minutes of closely replicating the feeling of a live gig through 3D glory makes a solid rock experience that’s still quite new to the general film audience. Now, if you could just pipe in the smell of sweat, cigarette, pot, and beer, it would then be like going to a real concert with the bonus of meeting and seeing Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., and The Edge performing upfront. Then, you go behind them or on top of them at the most impossible angles.

From the breathtaking close-ups and panoramas to the convincing nature of the latest 3D technology, you get to watch the band members playing from a vantage point 4 feet above their heads. You get to see them face to face while reaching out to the crowd. And you get to see a wave of rocking concert-goers moving in unison inside a massive stadium lit by thousands of cellphones. Add up the 3D shots of multiple band members at the same frame with the final cut with as many as five 3D layers: this dazzling concert film exudes the true spirit of a U2 show.

The 3D visuals and multi-layering effects envelop you with a drift that fuses with the band’s surround-sound rapture. With a sound quality that is no less than impeccable, it creates a full-scale sensory high with the pleasure of its showmanship.

The immersive marvel of the music and sound mix are electrifying. Truly, it transforms a great rock spectacle into something intimate as you become similarly immersed like the crowds filling the South American stadiums of U2’s 2007 Vertigo Tour as they go absolutely mad for U2 music. Their wildly infectious enthusiasm is very much apparent with their hands waving to the every beat. Indeed, marrying advanced 3D imagery and 5.1 Surround Sound with the unique excitement of a live U2 concert makes “U2 3D” such an incredible performance captured in a medium that attains unique aesthetics of immediacy and humanity from the powerful rock quartet. And all these make this 3D film the next best thing to actually being in a live concert as of today.

Directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, “U2 3D” makes the project more than just a nifty 3D experiment. It elevates itself into a rock solid redefinition of 3D live-action filmmaking. For now, it captures the premier band’s live shows in a way that no other medium could. And it boasts of a truly immersive experience that shows the undubbed and purely live recording performances of one of the greatest rock bands, together with several of the greatest rock audiences of the world.

Shot on a number of stage acts of U2 shows mainly in Latin America, the production employs the greatest number of 3D cameras ever used for a single project. It is the first digital 3D, multi-camera, and real-time production reflecting the band’s longstanding embrace to technology. Produced by 3ality Digital Entertainment, the film comprises footages from seven different concert performances. A massive undertaking, the filmmakers create live-motion collages emphasizing constant, overlapping, and evanescent dissolves as the curving runways allow Bono, Adam, Larry, and The Edge to move far out into the crowd and make more accessible angles for their various movements.

The 3D effects inclusive of the new trick of layering the visuals to simulate shifting your focus from foreground to background is successful in making you feel that Bono and the crew are within arm’s reach. While also offering plenty of footages of the rapturous crowd in a sight of a hundred thousand stoked fans, you get so close that you swoop towards Bono’s face and his outstretched hand surging through the screen and seizing your own. And to keep the 3D engagement for more than an hour of fun movie experience, the filmmakers also add animated versions of U2’s backdrop videos while capturing the ecstatic joy of a massive rock show (most notably a series of icons suggesting that the world’s major religions are one and presenting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

In some ways, this 3D concert film is considerably superior to a real concert. This may vary in many aspects and points of view of people. But what mainly makes this a better option is how the sound is perfected in post-production that what you hear from your seat is the best surround sound you can really get. Moreover, you get even closer to the band and even get on stage and beyond as the 3D images bring you to the most impossible angles and the best view of the performers that even the most pricey concert ticket wouldn’t be able to provide. Furthermore, you don’t have to put up with the rowdy drunks who may block your view or you can simply avoid hysterically sweaty and smoking crowds. For those safety points, there would also be less probability of mobs, stampedes, fights, and annoying crowd members in dope and alcohol. And amidst all these, “U2 3D” makes you feel like you’re there in the crowd. And at the same time, you’re as close as you can get to being on stage with U2.

Personally, the strangers on my left while watching the film at IMAX were really enjoying the concert experience with their waving hands holding on to their lit toys and cellphones. And they were standing and moving to every beat while the visuals allow every person watching to see the band floating above the fans and riding their energy. And I found myself singing and shouting like I would probably do in a concert as well!

“U2 3D” is a world-class live act in its finest as of its release. Taking viewers in an extraordinary cinematic journey beyond the traditional concert film experience, it has a top potential in revolutionizing digital 3D technology. The 3D format may go a long way just like how technology has developed the 2D film as of today. And with the living legend U2 pioneering on this new kind of film experience, the epic nature of the U2 songs and stage acts blend them perfectly to this larger-than-life treatment for a band composed of masterful rock performers in their top form.

‘U2 3D’ Film Review: A concert experience for the price of an IMAX ticket
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The Bucket List movie review

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A dramedy working on a very simple premise and favoring humor and poignant conversations over weepy developments, “The Bucket List” is a heartfelt, wickedly funny film about two dying men who travel the world to discover the joy in their lives.

Choosing to treat its serious theme on the lighter side may not inspire thorough philosophical introspection about mortality, but it can mildly make you re-examine your life priorities. And the film is undoubtedly elevated by the performances of two acting powerhouses: the angry and antic Jack Nicholson as Edward Cole and the laid back and serene Morgan Freeman as Carter Chambers.

This motion picture fills its bucket with enormous skill and presence through its two leads. It generates both humor and drama about two terminally ill men who heads off outdoors to go for a trip around the world and explore a wish list of to-do’s before they die. They go on a round-the-world junket towards their dream places including the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Mount Everest and the Great Wall of China. They indulge and splurge with an Abercrombie and Kent luxury travel with “Hemingway-style” tents complete with lush carpets, flush toilets and lavish beds. They go sky diving in Perris Valley in Los Angeles. And they experience the best cars to ever drive including a 600-horsepower NASCAR-style race car in the California Speedway in Fontana.

Director Rob Reiner is often successful in eliminating the too sweet taste of sentimentality by allowing the two acting heavyweights to coast through their characters without having to do much heavy hitting. Their companionable roles transcend the typical material into a reasonably entertaining venture. Their gracefully charismatic portrayals celebrate an enthralling character study about the universal things that really matter in life. Their poignant exchanges elevate the film to the point that you would probably ignore the contrivances of the film and just go with the flow as the two actors squeeze the right emotions for the film. Indeed, their excellent chemistry, along with the dialogue that is hilarious even while it borders on the heartbreaking, goes a long way towards a decent and reasonable entertainment.

The film is treated very lightly, which is effectively carried out by the inimitable techniques of Nicholson and Freeman. Nicholson’s Edward Cole proudly wears a billionaire hospital owner character who is filled with sarcasm and cynicism. Freeman’s Carter Chambers accentuates his knack for worldly, wise, and good-natured characters offering homespun bits of wisdom at every turn. Sean Hayes as Thomas adds a dose of fun to the interactions of Edward and Carter. From the comedy parts to the strikingly dramatic moments (mainly the scenes of Edward and Carter, Carter and his wife Virginia played by Beverly Todd, and Edward and his estranged daughter and granddaughter), the film becomes meaningful and affecting.

“The Bucket List” flows naturally. It becomes a sort of an escapist movie minus the ultimate happy ending. Amidst the deaths, it does not exude itself as a tragic film. There are the expected mortality issues, and yet, what really fills the story is the human companionship that makes life worth living. Despite some emotional dips and loads of schmaltz especially by its end, this is an enthralling actor’s movie.

‘The Bucket List’ Film Review: Filling the Bucket
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Batanes movie review

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“Batanes” is essentially a heartwarming study of a relationship between two cultures. With the tagline “Love knows no borders,” this flawed but poignant love story explores life and love between different places and cultures. It explores the loss of one’s will to live because of a love lost, as well as the discovery of new love at an unexpected time. The storytelling may not always be consistent and the technical aspects may be a bit rough at times, but the slice-of-life take on the material allows the film to rise a bit on top of the tides.

“Batanes” establishes an intimate portrait of a woman’s relationship with the sea after her husband’s tragic passing. Set in the vast landscapes, rough seas, and ever-changing weather of Luzon’s northernmost paradise island of Batanes, this picturesque romantic story represents the struggle of emotions from the whirlwind romance between the city girl Pam (Iza Calzado) and the Ivatan Rico (Joem Bascon), the simple but happy life they started to embraced in the island, the loss of life and love from the hands of the angry sea, and a new love bestowed in the most unexpected times of mourning.

It is interesting to follow the story of romantic love struggling through the giant sea waves, then bumping into huge, dangerous rocks, if not travailing the serene waves of the waters in a sunny day. Like the relatively unpredictable weather in Batanes, things seem so unexpected, uncontrollable, and at some point, unfair. And as the story progresses, it effectively shows that above all, love is universal and emotions find no boundaries, no language, and no cultural borders in the midst of the most dangerous storms and currents.

“Batanes” is a joint venture of Ignite Media and GMA Films and written and co-directed by Adolf Alix Jr. and Dave Hukom. The story is pretty simple, but it works for the level it has chosen to take. The build up of the story passionately affects the audience for both the painful and happy moments of the main character Pam. This becomes the film’s main source of strength.

The story begins with Pam’s newfound love and her embracing of the Ivatan way of life. Like any other person used to urban living, she struggles to adjust to the slower pace of provincial life. She gets rewarded well — with a simple, rural family and a peaceful married life where the sea and weather conditions turn out as the only violent elements around. As Pam’s Ivatan husband Rico shares with her how the powerful and temperamental sea becomes a jealous lover demanding respect and attention, Pam later finds out what Rico initially meant when she goes head to head with the strength of the mighty waters after Rico’s death — in the hands of the sea he respects and admires. During her mourning, she sails off to an island and gets stranded in a storm. There, she finds a man lying on the sand. She saves the heartbroken Taiwanese fisherman Kao (Ken Zhu) and brings him to the village. In no time, without any intention of getting things complicated, she starts getting drawn to him, as how he gets drawn to her as well. And despite the language and cultural differences, a new love blooms in the harshest times and amidst their own losses.

Iza Calzado exceptionally plays the main character Pam. Taiwanese star and F4 member Ken Zhu effectively plays the Taiwanese fisherman Kao. Newcomer Joem Bascon renders a compelling performance as Pam’s husband Rico. The film boasts a powerhouse ensemble with Bembol Roco, Daria Ramirez, Julio Diaz, Sid Lucero, Coco Martin, Mike Tan, and Glaiza de Castro.

Love is indeed at the center of this moving and powerful film about the relationship between two cultures. It is a moving story of love crossing the boundaries of language and culture.

‘Batanes’ Film Review: Crossing borders
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For “Ocean’s Thirteen,” watching the inventive and spontaneous bunch of professional men pulling off an impossible heist for the third time, is a guilty pleasure to watch.

The usual suspects known for delivering their witty lines in effective, nonchalant ways, as well as doing impossible tasks in various capacities, are back with sophisticated humor, peppered ironies, comedic suspense, and contagious energy that has marked the franchise since “Ocean’s Eleven.”

Centering the saga on male camaraderie, team loyalty, and cool professionalism, it has clear personal motivations: brotherhood in the middle of revenge. The clan is reunited again to avenge their mentor from the moral crime of his swindler x-partner.

This star-driven genre flick maintains the grace and manners the franchise is known for. The gentleman heistmeister Danny Ocean (George Clooney), along with his best dressed tactician and sidekick Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and the rest of his wild bunch, return to Las Vegas. They recapture much of the spirit of “Ocean’s Eleven” by pulling off another con to get even with the egomaniacal Vegas kingpin Willie Bank (Al Pacino) who double-crosses one of the original eleven Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould). Without being exploitative of the original film’s reputation, this motion picture’s familiarity and interconnections become a confection of silly gags and great visuals adhering to a clear and simple premise — all spiced up with a complicatedly breezy plotting.

“Ocean’s Thirteen” looks fresh and sharp amidst the touches of that formulaic Hollywood style. Making up a true fun escapist heist movie, its smart one-liners and cool references to its previous chapters, and even to the stars’ off-screen personas, put the right chips on for a good deal.

“Ocean’s” helmer Steven Soderbergh proves his bravura wits as he engages the audience with grand visual and aural pleasure. The technical and scientific aspects of the heist are so complex that they may be hard to follow, but Soderbergh knows his way around. He has a firm grasp of technical devices to elevate the story with his splendidly staged scenes, fast tempo, and stunning framing. They all work together to keep up with the textual properties missing in the raw material. Indeed, his masterful direction and the lensing by Peter Andrews, along with the contributions by the rest of the equally-delivering staff, crew, and cast, make the film awesome to watch.

Credit is due to the clever script from writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, also the ones behind the poker drama “Rounders.” The film consists of hundreds of brief scenes where the new heist is for the sake of friendship, not money. The cool and witty lines build a sleek narrative momentum throughout the film.

Each of the well-crafted characters deliver lines with relaxed wit, which makes the screenplay work for its best purpose. Danny and Rusty have the biggest parts in the screenplay, while the rest of the gang in smaller but still well-written parts often operate individually in their own fun times.

The physicality of “Ocean’s Thirteen” relies on elaborate play on light and color. The whole film boosts of a rich and diverse color palette. The stylistic flourishes and ostentatious interior design of Bank’s spanking new high-rise casino named appropriately as The Bank boasts bright and hot colors, mainly sumptuous golds and reds. Shot on a lavish set built on Warner Brothers’ biggest soundstage to date, the lurid colors, sterling sets, fabulous costumes, and illustrious props really keep up with the demands of an eye-catching Vegas. Add up The Bank’s impeccable CGI work, the absurd but nonetheless amazing twisting structure dominating the Vegas skyline yields to the film’s grand production demands.

The bright and warm colors of the casino spots render effectively opposite the blues and grays of the exterior scenes. The”Ocean’s” troupe aptly maintains that “cool men in cool clothes” look wherever they are. Production designer Philip Messina and costume designer Louise Frogley should be given due credit to their enormous contributions to the movie’s physicality. So goes with cinematographer Andrews, editor Stephen Mirrione, and composer David Holmes — all complementing each other’s work for the good of the final picture.

‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ Film Review: The odds of guilty pleasure
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A romantic drama set in the gambling world of Las Vegas, “Lucky You” tells the story of Huck Cheever (Eric Bana), a happy-go-lucky bachelor whose life revolves around the green felt poker tables. In between his games, he also confronts his personal conflicts including his problematic relationship with his father.

The film gives a gist of how poker works. It makes the game look generally interesting and less “sinful.” However, for somebody who is not knowledgeable in playing poker at all, it’s hard to catch up with the basic mechanics of the game while watching the film. It straightforwardly shows the grueling world of gambling and betting as the various characters inside this realm create a whole new world of their own. While within the high-stakes back-drop of Las Vegas, they bring us a gist of stories about human relationships, inhabiting a number of snapshots of personal dramas that unfold in every laying out of the cards.

The front story is clear — Huck is a hotshot poker player whose emotions at the table often gets the better of him, amidst his really exceptional skills, especially when he goes heads up with his estranged father, a living legend in the poker world and a two-time world champion L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall). While living a life without clear direction, he meets the struggling singer Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore). From then on, he finds himself keeping up with something more than just poker.

The boy-meets-girl premise clearly features a romantic story in the making. Within the film’s physicality lies a character-driven story based on the usual formula for a Hollywood narrative.

Huck deals with life through his instincts. This enables him to take advantage of his opponents at the poker table. Meanwhile, Billie uses intuition to see the truth and sympathize with what she sees around. As they fall in love, the turn of events shows how their instincts play big parts in their lives. However, their biggest difference becomes more apparent: Huck is a very talented man who uses his instincts to win the games while expertly avoiding emotional connections and long-term commitments at the same time; while Billie lacks talent but she uses her instincts to open her heart while becoming emotionally connected for the sake of what is right and what is good. These two people who are clearly looking for better lives try to gamble for love in a narrative filled with drama, humor, and metaphors.

The characters inhabit certain personalities while following the tried and tested mainstream formula of the main character overcoming adversity and succeeding in the end for that feel good effect. At some point, the film tries to cut the predictable formula by turning a bit away from its predictable twists; however, the mere breaking of it turns out quite syrupy and formulaic still.

With “L.A. Confidential,” “Wonder Boys,” “8 Mile,” and “In Her Shoes” under his belt, director Curtis Hanson tries to keep the story character-driven. Working with scriptwriter Eric Roth (the man behind the Academy Award winning script of “Forrest Gump”), he tends to make the general interior scenes within the poker tables and well-lit hotels and casinos interesting enough for both the big-time and real-life gamblers and those curious ones who are not that familiar with the gamblers’ domain.

‘Lucky You’ Film Review: A poker life
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Provocative and absorbing but without any pronouncement, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is a thinking person’s demon possession film. This hybrid of horror and courtroom drama approaches its compelling subject matter with metaphysical horror within a courtroom procedure format. It presents both the scientific and religious sides of the controversial exorcism case of a 19-year old German girl battling a terribly neurotic or psychotic disorder or a dreadful possession of six demons. It discusses the intersection of faith and science and makes both a person’s mundane and spiritual foundations shake.

This relatively gore-free film is an intelligent inquiry about the limitations of belief and faith in defense to a more scientific interpretation of things. Though the marketing of the film obviously tried to ride on with the prominence of Linda Blaire’s “Exorcist” films, it is not exactly a rip-off. Its flashback style gives justification to the courtroom set, which paves way to a more solid ground of putting arguments in their own places. This validates the aim to make the audience think and really use their heads in coming up with their own judgments concerning faith and spirituality vs. objective truth and secularism.

This psychological thriller presents both the scientific and supernatural insights in the case of Emily Rose, which is based on the true-story of the life of Anneliese Michel. Overall, it is more psychological than the horror an audience expects for an exorcism movie. Unlike the usual demonic-possession movies wallowing in the gore of green vomit, 360 degrees head turn, and levitations, this film stays in the natural world with its own kind of realistic sense of gore and trauma. But still, the subtle but striking supernatural and horror elements presented here tend to give goosebumps of another level.

The story evolves around a negligent homicide case involving Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) who has performed an exorcism to the late Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). Ironically, the church chooses hotshot criminal attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), an agnostic and ambitious lawyer, to take on as the defense attorney. On the other side of the courtroom is the prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), a devout Protestant.

Jennifer Carpenter’s incredible performance is the film’s major asset. Seeing Emily possessed as she shouts latin words in demonic voices, scratches walls with her nails, twitches robotically and falls to the ground so realistically, is absolutely terrifying. From her physical features to her acting chops, she turns out perfect for the role. Her twitching and snappy moves when possessed or when having unusual epileptic attacks, the way the doctor and the prosecutor see it, require great physical skills and are considerably stunts of great proportion — and they all turn out so creepy.

The subtle parallelism of Emily’s experiences to the physical manifestations of the dark forces on defense lawyer Linney as Bruner makes an effective ground on inquisitive prodding of objectivity, insanity, and spirituality. It adds cinematic dimension to the film without going too much. Her ending speech is commendable. Its content could have been a melodramatic monologue without Linney’s acting prowess. Wilkinson gives a dignified performance as the embattled priest. He plays the character well as he exudes his faith in God in battling the dark, powerful forces surrounding Emily Rose even until the court trial. However, Scott’s interpretation of his role as the prosecutor makes him more like an antagonist. He could have performed the role more objectively and not in a too antagonistic way. Emily’s family and close friend Jason effectively stays on the background, yielding to the story’s focus on the trial and the real reason for Emily’s death. The internal struggle of each character shakes the viewers’ own physical and supernatural struggles as human beings.

“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is not for those who want gore “Linda Blaire-style.” The type of scare it brings doesn’t rely on horror stingers and music and physical gore. Its utilization of silence speaks much more. The devil’s presence is simply a shadowy figure in a robe. The scare factor includes simple movements of door, flickering lights, breaking glass, and animals going crazy over fear of the devilish presence. The most scenes that rely on some visual effects just include the slight morphing of images and human faces.

Playing around basic lighting and camerawork, the juxtaposition of shots of Emily during the build-up of the possession and exorcism scenes where the demons manifest themselves in Emily’s physical body and mention their names turn out very engaging both cinematically and spiritually — minimalist, yet striking.

As a cinematic presentation, it could have added some dramatic license to the storytelling, but the good thing about the film is that it presents the two opposing sides quite well. It makes the audience think about the possibility of a demon possession but leaves room for one’s own judgment, whether it’s really a spiritual or a physical battle. And yet, it doesn’t end there. This motion picture imparts an engaging issue about life and spirituality for the audience to think about.

‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ Film Review: Courtroom psychological horror
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The Pacifier movie review

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Average

“The Pacifier” utilizes that same old story of a tough guy tasked to take care of a bunch of rebellious kids. Flawed as it is, this feel-good movie still delivers an easy, goodwill charm for its target audience.

This comedy offering tries to capitalize on Vin Diesel’s action-star appeal for its first part. After some serious action scenes, the plot readily shifts to a comedy as Navy SEAL Shane Wolfe (Vin Diesel) fails on a mission to protect a key government scientist. In his attempt to redeem himself by taking care of the scientist’s children, the turn of events reveals that the scientist’s wife (Faith Ford) tries to discover the secret plans of her late husband in a foreign land, which would further complicate things for the family. Meanwhile, Shane uses his military experiences and skills for his newfound assignment — babysit the Plummer kids, and at the same time work as a family driver and body guard. In no time, he realizes that what has become his greatest challenge turns out to be caring for the rebel teen Zoe (Brittany Snow), the insightful dreamer Seth (Max Thieriot), the Ninja wannabe Lulu (Morgan York), the weirdo toddler Peter and the cute baby Tyler.

The movie’s main source of comedy is how Shane applies his military persona into the domestic battlefield and the irony of him physically losing over the typical gags on changing a baby’s diaper, dealing with a girl’s rebel side, yielding to a little boy’s bizzare ways, and trying to fit in the needs of the rest of the little Plummer brats. He extends his unlikely tasks to even teaching a lesson to a bullying high school vice principal and directing the musical play “The Sound of Music.”

The narative requires extreme characterizations without putting a heavy load on the plot.

Most characters, though igniting audience laughs and chuckles every once in a while, turn out overacting and unrealistic.

The predictable script relies pretty much on corny gags. The subplot involving the search for the dead scientist’s secret experiment, which, in the wrong hands, could spell great disaster, is not given much attention. This could have been a good source for suspense and creativity in the storytelling. Nevertheless, this movie’s mainstream formula actually works for its generic family fare requirement. Its insights on family dynamics still bring some effective weight to the presentation. Its escapist feel makes it a considerably effective material for the not so demanding viewers who simply want to kill some time inside the moviehouse.

He may not be the pioneer in this career shift from action to comedy by “big men,” but Vin Diesel pulls off a decent comedic performance in this family flick. Interestingly, he doesn’t need a lot of effort to get that needed charm for the narrative’s comic side. Humanizing his action skills from bloated action blockbusters to the movie’s flipside requirements becomes easily acceptable — in the funny side of things.

Alhough this light and glossy picture is a completely recycled piece, it promotes more than a couple of laughs, most of which are reminiscent of the “Home Alone” stints.

‘The Pacifier’ Film Review: Pacifying the action into comedy
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Star Wars Episode 3 Revenge of the Sith movie review

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Average

“Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” provides closure to finally weave the two “Star War” trilogies.

This film serves as the final chapter to the culturally historical galactic empire saga from the real master behind the force George Lucas, along with his dedicated behind-the-scene heroes from the “Star Wars” of the 1970s and 1980s (“Star Wars Episode IV: A new Hope” in 1977, “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” in 1980 and “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” in 1983) to the prequels made two decades after (“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” in 1999, “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” in 2002, and finally, “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” in 2005).

As the classic franchise’s concluding motion picture offer, “Revenge of the Sith” features a lot of foreshadowing and connections to keep in touch with what the trilogy from the past has become known for. George Lucas also plays a cameo role as the blue-skinned Baron Papanoida, which is shown at the opera scene.

From the use of the 1980s-style transition effects to the standard opening credits about “the galaxy far, far away,” its original appeal is well-kept. Loose ends get tied up with modern imagery without losing the original “Star Wars” look and feel.

The opening sequence is a jaw-dropping collage of moving ships in battle, starting off with a long shot filled with lightsabers and machines. The sound elements in weapons, moving aircrafts, and holograms are never left out by the powerful visual effects. Even the scoring further validates how John Williams really imprinted his signature in the “Star Wars” music.

The political intrigues exposed in this epic motion picture exudes some satirical tones.

The problem with a hard-core effects-filled film is that at some point, it becomes a victim of losing its own touch on the true dramatic display of human emotions. The good, kind-hearted, and well-brought up Anakin lacks the hesitation and moving and striking moments as he struggles and consumes himself into the Dark Side. The film relies too much on visual and physical cues on Anakin more than giving valuable acting moments that can better manifest his real emotions on screen. A much better characterization and acting performance could have justified his slaughtering of the young and old Jedis alike, and all his other abrupt change of actions after embracing the Dark Side.

Even the great love between him and Padmé does not render enough motivation. It is not thoroughly expressed. There are no tear-jerking moments amidst the gravity of the tragedies that happen to the main characters. Even with the death of Padmé or the pain of Obi-Wan losing a brother and apprentice are just mere visual feasts: splendid costumes; cool lightsaber fight scenes; impressive CGIs; opulent production design; and impressively challenging cinematography. Personally, I like how C3PO’s entirely metallic body looks like a walking golden mirror on screen without reflection issues out of all those present lights, cameras, and other production equipment.

“Revenge of the Sith” lacks the deeper and more consistent motivation for Anakin to take the fall into the Dark Side. While there is that need to validate his undying love for Padmé, the treatment offers no much heart to capture the very emotions of love, fear, and confusion. R2D2’s fun role actually provides a more effective characterization compared to the supposed heaviness and emotional struggle Anakin offers.

In this installment, it is quite disappointing to see the warrior-type Padmé of “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” suddenly belittled into an almost useless character. Other than her pregnancy, her characterization mostly leaves her a damsel in distress that is way out of her character from the previous installments. She may be pregnant, but this doesn’t mean she can’t be a much more interesting female character the way Anakin or Obi-Wan can face a hell of Droids with their lightsabers no matter how impossible their stunts would get. Padmé is full of grief with what happens to Anakin, but this doesn’t mean she can no longer kill even a single Droid or escape a simple danger the way she used to in the former “Star Wars” episodes. At the very least, she can simply make a stand at the Senate or say any striking word as a Senator witnessing an intergalactic chaos. Frustratingly, she has been turned into a weakling of a character throughout the story — a supposedly strong woman unable to fight for her love and for her world. In terms of gender sensitivity, a bit more redemption for her character could have meant a lot in the story.

As expected, the fight scenes offer the best highlights in the film, primarily the lightsaber battles between the various evil Darths. The final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin in a volcanic planet is choreographed well. This, along with a couple of other action scenes, makes this “Star Wars” movie something worth checking out.

‘Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’ Film Review: The real force behind the ‘Star Wars’
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top 50 best movies of 2005, Batman Begins ranks number 1

This “Top 50 Best Movies of 2005 List” is a tough mix of cinematic offers that earned their ranks as the best of 2005. It’s not all about the big budget and bankable stars. These things actually count in the overall charm of a film, but they aren’t the only reasons why people love watching movies.

Top 50 Best Movies of 2005 List

Ranking is based on a number of factors including quality of storytelling, thematic and technical achievements, critics’ ratings, awards, popularity, and box office and DVD statistics.

1. Batman Begins

Christopher Nolan effectively explores the origins of Bruce Wayne’s emergence as Batman. This story successfully goes back to the roots of the character, portraying a confused and angry Wayne who rises to redeem himself and defend Gotham.

2. Brokeback Mountain

Ang Lee’s unmissable and unforgettable LGBT film Brokeback Mountain hits a bull’s eye. This landmark motion picture for Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal is such a defiantly erotic love story.

3. Crash

It’s the Academy Award Winner for Best Motion Picture in 2005. Paul Haggis keeps up with the high expectations for this cinematic masterpiece as he weaves no fewer than nine sets of characters into a suffocating tangle of ham-fisted ironies and acceptable coincidences.

4. Walk the Line

This James Mangold film turns out as one of the most nominated works during its time at the Oscars. Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix give their finest performances as June Carter and Johnny Cash here.

5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Tim Burton breathes new life to Roald Dahl’s 1964 tale and transforms it into a new celluloid confectionery. His interpretation is a gothic and yet colorful fantasy filled with the signature eccentricity as an auteur.

6. Sin City

Based on three of Frank Miller’s graphic novels, Robert Rodriguez collaborates with Miller’s genius to come up with this stylized, sexually charged, and blood-soaked treat that is especially meant for the fans of the source material.

7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

This fourth film in the franchise has enough sights and sounds to stir the audience’s enchanted imaginations. Mike Newell gives this realm of fantasy adventure a dark, more human look with due respect to what has already been established by its predecessors.

8. Corpse Bride

Tim Burton presents a morbid and romantic trip in between the cold dwelling of the living and the colorful underground world of the dead in this stop-motion animation classic. It is a darkly enchanting tale about the celebration of love told in a quirky, gothic, and ironic style.

9. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

The legendary six-film saga by George Lucas comes full circle with a Vader and Kenobi face off, as played by Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor. Despite the mix reactions, its iconic power lives on.

10. North Country

This Niki Caro drama starred by Charlize Theron is a powerful and compelling story about a 1989 American mining community where chauvinistic values are too common in the workplace.

11. Match Point

Woody Allen showcases another auteur work in this philosophical film about class and infidelity.

12. Cinderella Man

As an entertaining and uplifting piece, Russell Crowe reunites well with Ron Howard in this heartwarming and powerful underdog story.

13. Capote

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s unforgettable performance as Truman Capote leads him to a number of acting awards. This motion picture also tops the Oscar list of the best films of 2005.

14. Pride and Prejudice

Set in a post-18th century class-conscious England, Keira Knightly earns acting recognitions for her role as Elizabeth Bennet in this classic tale of love and misunderstanding.

15. Syriana

This political drama manages to turn one of the most controversial topics in the world into a challenging, thought-provoking human story about the world’s grandest schemes, powerful companies, and most dangerous people.

16. The Constant Gardener

Rachel Weisz gets an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress in this film by Fernando Meirelles, also the brilliant helmer of City of God.

17. King Kong

This film proves to be an enduring part of film history and legacy as Peter Jackson pays homage to the original 1933 King Kong and its actress Fay Wray.

18. Munich

Steven Spielberg wins the Academy Award for Best Director in this mournful masterpiece. It engages in its revenge plot about the aftermath of eleven Israeli athletes getting massacred in the 1972 Olympics.

19. Good Night, and Good Luck

George Clooney directs this small-budgeted picture about a historic battle between a legendary newsman and an intrigue-stricken senator. The film earns half a dozen Oscar nominations including the calls for Best Director and Best Motion Picture of the Year.

20. Ocean’s Thirteen

The inventive and spontaneous bunch of professional men pulling off an impossible heist for the third time still remains as a guilty pleasure to watch. Helmer Steven Soderbergh lives up to the expectations with his bunch of A-listers including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Al Pacino on board.

21. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

At first, it may seem like a typical adaptation riding on the popularity of the bestselling novel by Anne Brashares. It actually turns out to be more than just a teenybopper flick. It is a heartwarming episodic film that aptly fits its target market.

22. Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

This fantasy-adventure treat caught the Academy Awards’ attention for its technical artistry. It has also launched new Hollywood faces through the characters of this C. S. Lewis classic.

23. Mr. and Mrs. Smith

This romantic comedy disguised as an action movie is a fun material with truthful bits about relationships and marriage. Here, new real-life couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt prove their on-screen charisma with their action-packed ride.

24. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

This dark, eclectic, trippy, and know-it-all comedy-thriller is a bold and breathless showcase of entertaining action and spot-on performances topped by Robert Downey Jr.

25. In Her Shoes

Starring Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz, this chick flick has enough depth to keep up with its interestingly profound and complex story about family, friendly, and romantic relationships.

26. The Legend of Zorro

This visually purist, action-filled flick showcades a touch of technical grandeur, while exploring an intimate family portrait in the eyes of Zorro and Elena, as played by Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

27. Memoirs of a Geisha

With three Oscar wins under its belt, this epic spectacle starring Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, and Li Gong presents a romantic look of Japanese culture, particularly of geisha life, in a western illustration.

28. War of the Worlds

Steven Spielberg’s contemporary retelling of the 1898 classic novel by H. G. Wells features a sci-fi adventure thriller about a Martian invasion, as seen through the eyes of an American family led by Tom Cruise.

29. Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

This Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Feature provides a magical fusion of deadpan comedy and gothic horror for its willing audience.

30. Hustle and Flow

This redemptive story about a Memphis hustler struggling to find his voice gets Oscar nods with a Best Actor nomination for Terrence Howard and the Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures – Original Song win for It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp.

31. Transamerica

In his stunning feature debut, writer-director Duncan Tucker mounts a touching drama about an average, conservative woman who turns out not a woman after all.

32. A History of Violence

As a revelatory work about the nature and consequences of physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual violence, this film gets Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published and Best Supporting Actor for William Hurt.

33. Mrs. Henderson Presents

Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins shine in this warm, witty period piece about a widowed society woman in the 1930’s. Dench earns an Oscar Nomination for this multi-genre piece.

34. The New World

This is Terrence Malick’s fourth film in 32 years. This Academy Award-nominated work keeps him in the position of being the least prolific but definitely one of the most interesting directors in the business today.

35. Assault on Precinct 13

A remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 crackerjack B-movie thriller, this dark and gritty picture is well worth a look.

36. The Squid and the Whale

With an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen under its belt, this cinematic piece depicts its deep-seated conflict with a piercingly honest, moving, and frequently hilarious drama with topnotch performances.

37. Junebug

Amy Adams garners an Academy Award for her supporting role in this wise and effectively bittersweet comedy about the Southern homecoming of a guy, played by Alessandro Nivola, to his parents’ place in North Carolina.

38. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This light and funny adaptation of Douglas Adams’ novel is an enjoyable, mind-boggling sci-fi romp poised to reaching a broad audience with its silly and spirited tour of space.

39. The Jacket

Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley puts life to this intense psychological thriller about a Gulf War veteran who finds himself trapped inside another terrifying scenario.

40. Kung Fu Hustle

Set in a chaotic pre-revolutionary China, actor-director Stephen Chow puts enough humor and action to this Asian hit.

41. The Great Raid

Mainly set in Cabanutan, Philippines, this movie based on the books The Great Raid on Cabanatuan and Ghost Soldiers promotes a touching rendition of the incredible story of one of America’s most successful POW rescue in history.

42. The Exorcism of Emily Rose

This film is a hybrid of horror and courtroom drama and it approaches its compelling subject matter with an effective form of metaphysical horror.

43. Valiant

Inspired by the true-to-life story of World War II carrier pigeons trained to carry vital information for the allied forces across the English Channel, this animated offering accommodates both kids and their adult companions for a fun movie time together.

44. Sky High

Like how Hogwarts is portrayed as a secret school for kids with magical powers, there is also the heroic world of Sky High, which works like an amalgam of The Incredibles and X-men via Harry Potter.

45. Wolf Creek

It is one of the most brutally realistic horror movies to dte — and it is based on true events about an Australian Outback vacation gone fatal.

46. Wedding Crashers

Regardless of its flaws, the Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn tandem in this escapist flick is still such a comedic riot.

47. The Pacifier

It has that same old story about the tough guy who needs to take care of a bunch of menacing kids, but the actually formula works in this family movie.

48. Blade Trinity

This third offer from the Blade franchise offers a music video-style smash in between chasing and wrestling scenes for the action fans to enjoy.

49. The Transporter 2

Transporter 2 succeeds in maintaining the action-flick formula: the good guy chases the bad guys and vice versa. Deadpan Jason Statham delivers well through his silent charisma as Frank Martin, while Alessandro Gassman works as a sexy villain.

50. Ong-bak

This is a movie that amazes and defies the Hollywood cheats of stunt doubles and CGI creations. It shows the real thing of what one Muay Thai expert can do without using the usual movie tricks.

Top 50 Best Movies of 2005
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Bikini Open movie review

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Average

“Bikini Open” puts a number of serious issues into the limelight by twisting them into comic fun — the murky side of pageantry, TV, advertising, and media as a whole, in between the struggle for ratings, mileage, and fame. Using HD camera blown up to 35mm film, this tightly budgeted cinematic offering turns out as a good watch.

This commercial fare works with a satirical vibe. Its premise remains culturally correct and aptly representing the larger scale of realism.

The film’s non-linear format provides a fitting treatment and motivation for the characters. The narrative flow makes a valuable distinction in presenting the visuals from each segment, which includes the documentary-style part, the bikini pageant part, and the main story part. The presentation showcases stylistic and dynamic shots and angles with apt colors, grain, and overall look in all the right places. It effectively sets a clear difference in its storytelling flair compared to the overused formula utilized in most mainstream flicks with similar concept, theme, or story.

Cherry Pie Picache plays the role of a shrewd broadcast journalist pressured by ratings. Working as a typical media personality with that familiarly local female anchor tone, she is determined to maintain her industry position by covering a bikini contest in the most sensationalized manner possible. She runs through the most petty fights from backstage and even reveals the contestants’ lives in the most private parts of their homes.

This motion picture explores the ambition, exploitation, and cruelty of the media and the powerful and influential people controlling it. The rich ones get things done their way. They are the perpetrators of the so-called “glitz and glamour” driving the craziest dreamers to do anything, at times even the most risky things. Meanwhile, people in the lower financial demographics find their own escape from oppression through media feeding their ego with false hopes.

With a well-written script coupled by fine direction and decent editing, the film provides a good tone for the narrative. It successfully showcases the various reasons for joining the bikini contest, as well as the various reasons for watching bikini contests.

The cinematic material parades a bikini contest situated in a comedy bar. The exposition of how the gay hosts enliven the bar with witty words and antics, plus the diversity of their audience, sets a culture of its own while inside this “gimik spot.” Although the place is quite small, the film actually shows an entire Philippines inside the said comedy bar. Whether in front of the stage or at the backstage, those involved in the comedy bar, those involved in the bikini contest, and those spectators enjoying the sight of flesh offer a slice-of-life look at the different types of people in the country.

The story depicts how media manipulates and exploits. It denotes the truth behind what really happens inside a comedy bar as each host enjoys the opportunity to hold the powerful mic and have some fun for themselves and their customers. Within that smoke-filled room of nicotine inhalers and alcohol gulpers, the bright and colorful lights suggest how the music can get the audience into the “beat” and “heat” as the almost skyclad young hopefuls ramp their way in front of them.

Some acting performances deliver well for their characters, while others don’t live up to the best expectations. Some scenes, including that of Ricky Davao while trying to spoof a computer school sponsorship for the contest, suffer from out-of-sync audio. Yet as a whole, amidst some acting and technical flaws, the film still stands as a watchable satiric fare.

In deviating from the overused storytelling style within the sphere of Philippine filmmaking, which was especially rampant in local movies that proliferated during the 1990s, “Bikini Open” lives up to the risk of somewhat trying to break free from the long recycled and often exploitative system in the country’s commercially available sexy movies.

‘Bikini Open’ Film Review: On spoofs and bikinis
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Average

Comic, satirical, and mocking in its style, “La Visa Loca” offers a dose of laughs and slaps for the Filipino viewers, whether they are on the nationalistic or pragmatic side of things.

This film explores the decision-making process in cases that involve one’s mind, heart, pride, idealism, and most of all, economic stability. Crafted in a light and subtle way, the story works on a simple premise, which clearly promotes a social commentary on how a number of Filipinos become fanatics of the relatively elusive U.S. visa. It has a distinct statement over the madness for that “greener pasture” in the land of Uncle John.

The film has an interesting opening credits, which tastefully depicts how Filipino hopefuls pray for the precious stamp of approval at the U.S. embassy.

The cinematography, music, and editing generally complement one another. Metaphors here and there present the film’s satirical side. These include the scenes of a hardworking carnival mermaid and the parodied rituals and various types of fanaticism in the Philippines — the myths during the Holy Week and other religious and cultural beliefs, the Filipinos’ colonial mentality, among others. The irony in banning the eating of pork in opened beerhouses during the Holy Week says a lot about the narrative. Many speaking lines hit on small unresolved issues such as the banning of the use of the Filipino translations of penis and vagina in broadcast media. All these clearly give a social commentary on the Filipino mentality.

Filled with gray characters that are finely stitched into an ensemble, the story unfolds in a light and entertaining way amidst the heavy issues inside it. Meily turns the characters’ flaws into comic fun without losing focus. Most of the major roles casually deliver the needed narrative punches. The father-and-son relationship between actors Johnny Delgado and Robin Padilla gets carefully molded along the way to validate the film’s end. At some point, the emotions become overwhelming; the situation renders its own kind of redemption. Meanwhile, even with nothing much to say, the short but poignant mother-and-son look between Evangeline Pascual and Padilla gives enough connection without becoming too melodramatic and overacting.

Paul Holme delivers substantial flair as the “Planet Strange” host Nigel Adams. With the things that happened to him in the tale, he gives enough credibility to his lines, particularly the wake up call to the Filipinos’ bad habits and colonial mentality, as well as certain citizens’ opportunistic attitude towards tourists.

Johnny Delgado as a DOM type justifies his very character. The story says he is neither good nor bad, as he falls into the errs of being human — a victim of sacrifices getting left with even more sacrifices to come.

Robin’s acting is mostly commendable. He serves as a personification of an ordinary Filipino trying to live up to the American Dream, while suffering from disillusionment in his own country. Yet, he offers an attempt to live up to a certain redemption of the Filipinos’ image and pride. He makes his own sacrifice for his country, and at the same time, just like his father, he makes a sacrifice to attain his dream.

Ruffa Mae Quinto’s charisma adds to her character, but the so-so acting doesn’t add much to the story.

The passion chorus adds a venue for style — in par with the Filipino elements such as the Kristos and the faith healers. Collectively, these serve as a counterpart for voiceover by singing out loud the comments for Padilla’s character. Although the film can stand without such, they add heart to the presentation.

The cameo roles seem to extend the fun the production had during the shoot. Some of them are seen in the credits. The audience see actors and actresses Earl Ignacio, Bearwin Meily, Raymart Santiago, Eddie Gutierrez, Ricky Davao, and Evangeline Pascual, directors Andoy Ranay, Khryss Adalia, Quark Henares, and even Mark Meily himself, cinematographers Jorg Schifferer and Lee Meily, and even Unitel producer Tony Gloria. With all these cameos, the film lives up to the mood and mockery its theme clearly suggests.

In terms of gender sensitivity, it is quite disappointing to know that Padilla’s character as the personification of a Filipino trying to redeem his race remains the typical womanizer without any good change by the end — as if saying that all Filipinos play around the women in their lives. Further validating this concern are the portrayals of major female roles in the film — Pascual as an irresponsible mother and Quinto as a pathetic single mother who gets some help from an ex-boyfriend. So goes with that woman quarreling with Mark Meily (in cameo) involving that Las Piñas-Caloocan issue inside a cab. As a film trying to make a statement for a hopeful change in the country’s questionable mindset and attitude, it seriously lacks storytelling sensitivity to gender concerns.

The ending is quite predictable. Nevertheless, it remains valid for the story’s needs. The film’s style, look, and temperament are often times appealing. As a comedy carrying a load of heavy issues with it, it is expressively fun, witty, and meaty. In between its imperfect moments, it provides some carefully orchestrated elements meant to strike the emotions of the general audience.

‘La Visa Loca’ Film Review: Visa fanaticism
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Average

 

 

Behind its eerie theme, Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” presents a morbid and romantic trip between the cold dwelling place of the living and the colorful nderground world of the dead. Fun, genial, expressive, and charming, this semi-musical stop-motion piece is set at death’s door, saluting the liberating power of true love and sacrifice.

The story revolves around a young groom-to-be who mistakenly weds a girl from the grave and complicates his upcoming marriate to the womaan he loves.

The directors paint death as a more colorful plane of existence compared to life, as literally shown on the visuals — a bitterly cold presentation of the world of the living as compared to the colorful and musically vivid world of the rotting flesh. It turns out there is more life at the dead’s company.

The engaging story, the expressionistic visuals, and the heart for the very statement it wants to insinuate make an overall witty animated tale. It is whimsical yet eerie, funny but melancholic. On a light, side-splitting note, it promotes a necrophiliac entertainment which can find a good place at the hearts of people who like watching a pile of bones set in an ironic and animated space, whether or not it is the Halloween season.

Tim Burton, along with co-director Mike Johnson, ventures into the world of stop-motion animation for this motion picture, rendering that tedious job of hand-manipulating characters that move incrementally to be shot frame by frame.

So how tedious can this work be? A film is a moving picture. Each frame is shot. Each shot becomes 1 frame. From 1 frame to another, the movements are incrementally shown over a certain period of time. For a TV show, there are generally 30 fps (frames per second). In film, the standard is 24fps. Taking it from here, one can just imagine the challenge of shooting each frame of “Corpse Bride” with 24 shots to be done for a 1-second clip of the film, 48 shots for a 2-second clip, and so on. Each frame is carefully shot with human hands, rightfully moving the different parts of the body of each character for 1 frame, then move all the body parts very incrementally to shoot the next frame and make sure everything complements the previous movement of one particular character. Each frame requires very dexterous hands moving the subject creatively and effectively. According to IMDB.com, instead of film cameras, tthe filmmakers used 31 commercial digital still photography cameras, particularly the Canon EOS-1D MARK 2 SLR, interestingly with Nikon lenses.

The musical score by Danny Elfman, just like Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter who are Burton’s frequent collaborators, makes a delightful mix of flight of fancy for the film. A stylistic and touching moment to create a more human tone on the love story is shown in many ways as the accurately presented piano scene of Victor and the Corpse Bride. Overall, the musical parts are very flourishing. As usual, Burton’s team makes up a new world out of the dark and expressionistic style Burton is known for.

The story is not as refined as the usual art-house works. But this film makes a poetic form out of what it has. Its minor flaws are easily overlooked as the eyes roll over its Burtonesque-style of storytelling. Its imaginatively done puppetry promotes a dark and grand fairy tale brimming with quirky characters and gothic sets.

“Corpse Bride” is a darkly enchanting tale about the celebration of love that is told in a quirky, gothic, and ironic style. It has the courage to address issues about love and sacrifice and life and death in a shadowy, poetic, and creatively bizarre way.

‘Corpse Bride’ Film Review: A charming grave fairy tale
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If you think Hogwarts is the only secret school for extraordinary kids, well there’s also the heroic children’s world of “Sky High.” This film is a hybrid superhero flick: “The Incredibles” meets the “X-Men” via “Harry Potter.” It may be a Disney flick with a big celebration of superhero cliches; but it is entertaining enough for its target market. As a derivative, it never claims to be genuinely superior to its more successful blockbuster sources. Despite having a mediocre and formulaic script, it still turns out as an engaging family movie.

Exploring the lives of emerging superheroes during the time called “coming of age,” it is a lightweight adventure that dwells into the themes of puberty, popularity and family acceptance (living up to the issues of celebrity parents or parents who excel at their chosen professions and expect their children to excel in the same field as well).

The story builds up at a secret school up in the clouds named Sky High, an elite school for kids with superhero parents and superpowers themselves. The freshmen group rides a bus towards the campus and gets a sight of cool gadgetry and awe-inspiring superskills amidst some parental battles, peer pressure,and teenage love moments.

Living their high-school life in a cloud-floating campus, the teens are at the peak of discovering their superpowers. These include a rock monster, an acid spitter, a glow in the dark boy, a vegetation commander, a beautiful and popular senior technopath, two bullying boys with superspeed and superelasticity, a snooty cheerleader, a dangerous rebel with flammable arms, animal-morphing, beach ball-morphing, and puddle-morphing kids, and lots of other teens with superpowers. Further exaggerations are seen with their professors such as the forgotten-sidekick and formerly known All-American Boy who is now the dorky mad science teacher with a gigantic brain.

Living up to the people’s expectations, Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is pressured by the fact that his father, the Commander (Kurt Russell), and his mother, Jetstream (Kelly Preston), are the world`s most legendary superheroes. At Sky High, the freshies are divided into two classes by a cruel gym teacher (reminds us of Hogwarts’ Sorting Hat): the Heroes and the Sidekicks/Hero Support. Initially, the mundane Will joins the ranks of the Sidekicks as a late bloomer who apparently shows no signs of special powers inherited from his parents. Upon hitting the peak of his superhero puberty, he finally inherits his dad’s colossal strength and even his mom’s ability to fly. His outcast days are over as part of the Sidekick class whose gifts aren’t adequately impressive, as far as the school standards are concerned. As the inevitable villain plot endangers Will’s parents and the whole Sky High, he and his teenage superfriends (a group of freshmen sidekicks plus his former arch-rival Warren Peace (Steven Strait), take the hero’s path to save Sky High.

The movie kicks off with bright, comic-strip panels and tries to wrap up in the same way. It is a combination of mild teen melodrama, quirky characters, and superhero fantasy revolving around the tragedies of high-school life. The discrimination within the superhero hierarchy (heroes and sidekicks) involves both emotional and practical concerns. It manages to put some undertones in putting catchphrases such as “hero support.”

Scene transitions feature the classic use of tilted camera shots and contemporary B-movie style CGIs to heighten the movie in a not so distracting fashion. Effects are seemingly spent within a limited budget — having no big-time intro and finish to boast of. Ironically, this works for the movie’s advantage as there is no much distraction from the plot mechanics. The superhero costumes are deliberately “action-figurey.” The script is completely dependent on formula, superhero conventions, and standard teen movie cliches. Yet, its undemanding tone gets a certain charisma for the enjoyment of its targeted young viewers.

“Sky High” is classic Disney filmmaking. It crosses the superhero saga with a kiddie-flick charisma designed to bring delight to the young. This is a bright, fanciful, and warm-hearted flick fitting a family day.

‘Sky High’ Film Review: Soaring high school heroes and sidekicks
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Ong-bak movie review

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Average

“Ong-Bak” amazes and defies the Hollywood cheats of stunt doubles, using CGI and animation, and working on strings while shooting on chroma to let the characters’ actions fly and soar high. This action fare shows the real deal — what a martial arts expert can really do without resorting to any of cinema’s magic tricks.

The film presents the art of Muay Thai in a contemporary scene. Yet, it carries on the Thai people’s culture and traditions, as inspired by their ancient fighting spirit. Muay Thai transforms the human body into a multifaceted weapon for close-combat fighting. The way it is presented on screen allows it to work as a newbie’s primer on techniques to hit people with the elbows, arms, knees, and feet through conceivably defensive stances. Moreover, this motion picture exposes the deep spiritual training involved in the serious practice of Muay Thai.

More than anything else, what strikes most in this movie is not the story, script, or acting — it is clearly the symphony of flying bodies, breaking bones, and elaborately staged chasing scenes. Ting (Tony Jaa) defies gravity and challenges physics with his authentic Muay Thai moves. He leaps over cars, two intersecting bicycles, market stalls, and he even jumps on top of people’s heads. He slides under a moving truck and runs and escapes through a large coil of barbed wire.

Ting keeps the hype strong throughout the film’s running time. All his fight scenes are simply jawdropping. They are all spectacular enough that viewers would probably ignore any possible flaw in the film. His very impressive stunts put life to a considerably lifeless or less of a life story, which unimpressively utilizes the overused plot of a hero finishing a mission. Things could have been really dragging early on, but seeing Ting outrunning gangs in strictly designed obstacle courses placed in everyday Bangkok’s busy streets is really quite a treat.

The story is very simple. There are no much complications on the storyline and the ultimate goal to finish the main character’s mission is very clear. There is no time for romance or any fuss about the material world — just bring back the statue using the art of Muay Thai.

The opening sequence of the tree-climbing contest sets the pace of this Asian action flick. It fills every frame with impressive camera movements that take advantage of all those kick-ass stunts.

The take-off of the story happens when the ancient Buddhist statue Ong-Bak gets stolen. The town’s hero Ting is bound to bring back Ong-Bak’s head. He maintains a clear heart and mind to not fight for the reason of vengeance, money, or personal gain, but only to retrieve the sacred statue. He vows to become a monk upon the statue’s return to his town.

The attempt to promote the metaphor of being a god and stealing the head of a town’s god through the local crime and drug lord generally works for the story. The idea that he has the money and power to control and dictate who he wants dead and who he wants alive validates his dialogue of being the true evil of a god himself.

The reddish colorgrading works for the film’s overall visual requirements. The dynamic camerawork remains raw in the final presentation with the exception of the use of basic slow-motion and fast-motion effects. Car mounts are used for the elaborate chasing scenes.

There is clearly no budget alloted for hard-core visual effects, but a big portion of the budget gets into the burning of cars, falling three-wheeled Thai vehicles, destroying market stalls, pounding bottles, chairs, and tables, and even lamps and appliances. A huge chunk of the budget may have also been used in making a number of giant statue heads, which are mostly shot underwater and in a cave.

The rawness of what’s captured during the principal photography fits the action-packed sequences. However, some scenes suffer from too choppy editing that if not for the extraordinarily striking moves of the main character, audience engagement would readily spiral down the drain.

The question of using guns against Ting, like in the cave sequence, remains a bit of a pitfall in the story’s realistic treatment. This is obviously incorporated into the plot to control and contain the action scenes in favor of hand-to-hand combat.

One interesting fight scene that is definitely worth mentioning features Ting catching fire on his legs, then he attacks his opponents with his blazing legs.

Martial arts enthusiasts can get a lot from Jaa’s moves. With the greatly impressive action amidst the not so compelling story, the authentic fight scenes really make this movie worth the price of admission.

“Ong-Bak” is a breath of fresh air from the usual Hollywood action flicks, which are merely reliant on quick editing, stunt doubles, and special effects. Watch it for the action. It’s worth it.

‘Ong-Bak’ Film Review: No doubles, no strings, no CGIs
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[Total: 1    Average: 2/5]

Ring of Nibelungs movie review

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Average

Benefiting from the epic success of the “Lord of the Rings” in terms of theme and source material, “Ring of Nibelungs” offers a dose of swords, kingdom, ice, magic, and dragon amidst the conflicts of love and greed.

The film’s tone combines that of “LOTR” and “Asterix and Obelix,” primarily rendering a mythical and historical look that settles in the vastness of the cold countries of the north.

With the sight of the film’s poster, which quotes the movie as Tolkien’s inspiration for LOTR, it suggests that the story revolves around the character of Brunhild. However, in the film, Siegfried clearly has the most exposure.

In “LOTR,” the plot revolves around a magic ring that grants the power to rule the world towards destruction. In “Ring of the Nibelungs,” the plot revolves around the greed that blinds humans and leads them to their own destruction. Clearly capitalizing on the tested market of the former, this film’s narrative is still able to capture its market. Amidst the bulky material, the story’s focus remains strong. Amidst its huge scale and scope, it is able to turn the story into a generally entertaining mainstream fare.

The tale begins with a brief background about the Norse gods including Odin, the god of wisdom and war and the chief of the gods. After which, the narrative focuses more on the human characters from the legend. From here, the plot moves on to the story of Siegfried (Benno Furmann), a conquered kingdom’s heir who grew up with the blacksmith Eyvind (Max von Sydow). When a meteor crashes into the Earth, he goes his way for it. There, he falls in love with the Norse warrior queen Brunhild (Kristanna Loken). With the gods, they become destined to be reunited through their love. Siegfried uses the metal on the meteor site to forge his great sword. As he journeys his way towards Iceland to reunite with his Valkyrie love, he slays the dragon Fafnir for the Burgunds. Since then, he has been revered as the dragon slayer who is now invincible through the dragon’s blood (but similar to Achilles having a certain weak spot on his back).

Siegfried ignores the curse that lies on the treasure and the Ring of the Nibelungs, which was initially stolen from the Nibelungs by Fafnir. This later costs his life and his love for Brunhild. The treasure brought by Siegfried to Burgund leads to betrayal, deception, and greed: King Gunther (Samuel West) of Burgund envies the strength and heroic stance of Siegfried and he agrees to have him killed; Kriemhild (Alicia Witt), King Gunther’s sister, agrees to use magic to steal Siegfried’s heart for her own; Hagen (Julian Sands), King Gunther’s trusted advisor, kills Siegfried to get the treasure and its power solely for himself; and the other people of Burgund blind themselves to the lust for gold when Hagen promises them part of the treasure if they would go by his side. Upon avenging the death of Siegfried by Odin’s estranged daughter Brunhild, she reunites with Siegfried by killing herself beside his cold body.

For a film, it is not the happy ending people usually prefer to see — but it is a rather good and faithful ending for such a tragic-stricken material.

Looking into a broader perspective of how a woman in the character of Brunhild gets portrayed here, there is that irony on her great strength and warrior stance vis-a-vis her femininity, faith, intelligence, and love. The honeymoon scene of Brunhild and Gunther is such a comic scene, one of the rarest type of honeymoon that can probably be seen on screen: the seemingly unbeatable wife pinning down the husband like a mortal enemy ready to be killed.

Furmann’s facial features show great resemblance to Jennifer Lopez. On a more serious note, he is effective enough for the character of Siegfried. Only that, the young Siegfried child actor during the first few scenes of the movie leaves no much resemblance to the adult Siegfried. Loken looks great as the warrior queen of Iceland. West’s face looks too bulky at certain angles, but his acting for the King Gunther role generally works. Sands’ dark and gothic features offer a fine conviction for his dark and evil character.

Brunhild’s crown, braids, and fur coat and cape seem inspired by Freya, the goddess of love and war and the wife of Odin. The production design, especially with the jewels and costumes, promotes a visual feast of Nordic grandeur. However, the dragon Fafnir’s design looks unimpressive.

Although it becomes a bit of an issue that the epic musical score sounds very similar to that of “LOTR,” overall, the “Ring of the Nibelungs” soundtrack turns out effectively haunting and compliments most parts of the story well — except for the music at the end part that is not enthralling enough for the movie’s ending.

‘Ring of Nibelungs’ Film Review: Another ring tale
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Kingdom of Heaven movie review

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Average

Ridley Scott makes another epic — this time, streamlined in the middle of the conflicting religious beliefs of the Christians and the Muslims. A fiction inspired by historical accounts, “Kingdom of Heaven” renders a cinematic vision of the Crusades of the 12th Century.

Balian (Orlando Bloom), the young, grieving blacksmith from a small village in France, finally yields to the invitation of his estranged father, Baron Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), to go to the Holy Land of Jerusalem. With the hope of relieving his and his dead wife’s sins, he finally convinces himself to lead the way towards salvation there so that his wife may go to heaven after committing suicide. As his father’s heir, Balian rises to protect his people from the Muslim invaders. From a blacksmith on a soul-searching journey, he becomes the defender of Jerusalem — carrying with him his father’s guiding legacy and ideals of promoting peace and getting hold of the kingdom of heaven.

This motion picture starts with vast coldness. But as Balian reaches Jerusalem, lives a new life as a knight, and becomes the dedicated leader of his people, the film’s richness in color and texture starts complementing the film’s change in mood, the exposition of the characters, and the progress of the story. Scott’s directorial treatment often features playful shots utilized in effective places. He primarily combines panoramic and close-ups shots, jarring camera movements, blades and arrows flying in mid air and meeting blood or snow, and smoke effects in this religious epic fare. Though situated in an epoch of staged battles and slow-motion movements, the storytelling doesn’t turn out as remote and distant as the exotic locales the story depicts.

Characterizations are given some emotional investment through tight shots. The confrontation scenes allow the audience to get nearer the characters and see their reactions through effective close-ups. The intimacy on the shots gets further amplified with the fight scenes seizing moments for each dying man. The overall visual treatment promotes not just the opportunity for sheer grandeur and lush cinematography for a period epic, it also opens up the storytelling to the more human side of the tale. The many lingering shots help the audience digest the emotions involved in the scenes.

This motion picture’s musical score seems pegged from its epic film counterparts such as “Alexander,” “Troy,” and even “Lord of the Rings” (“LOTR”). But its distinct combination of Christian- and Muslim-inspired tunes renders good timing and personality to the material, which is in par with the story’s visual and emotional requirements. This also gives its space of separation from its epic pegs. The orchestral soundtrack particularly puts atmospheric grandeur to the many battle scenes.

“Sometimes, you should choose to do the lesser evil to do the greater good.” This is the idea behind a striking dialogue between Sibylla (Eva Green) and Balian during a time of crucial decision-making — whether he marries her or not — after he kills her wicked and arrogant husband Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) who happens to be the heir to the throne after the leprosy-stricken King Baldwin (Edward Norton) dies. The idea of doing one evil for the sake of the greater good opens up some conflicting ideas to rattle the minds of the audience, especially in a Christian world were murder is absolutely a sin.

The relationship between Balian and Sybilla is one of the movie’s weaker points. It gets developed in an uneven manner. It is as if it starts out as a given aspect in the main storyline, but during the latter part of the story, the issue becomes precariously injected without concern by putting cutaway shots of Sybilla in between the battle scenes without any useful sway.

He may be wearing a mask the entire time, but Edward Norton shines in his sensitive portrayal of the leprosy-stricken King of Jerusalem. Neeson, Green, and other supporting cast members render fine acting performances. However, for the main actor Bloom, his portrayal turns out mostly two-dimensional, and as if he has not left his Legolas role in “LOTR.” His performance lacks dramatic breadth. More often than not, he tends to recite his dialogue like in an acting class — while practicing for a monologue.

The story never loses its focus. It clearly concentrates on Balian, and Scott never completely fails the audience with his main character, even though Bloom is not able to deliver very well on the acting department. It’s quite a disappointment though that Sybilla gets forced with such a presence by the latter part of the picture, as if she is a useless or an unfitting garnishing on a delectable plate.

The issue between the conflicting religious beliefs of the Christians and the Muslims, which are carefully presented in the story with respect and in good faith, make their own marks in the story. Even if this tale is set centuries ago, modern viewers can easily relate to it.

Even with its flaws, “Kingdom of Heaven” remains as an entertaining mainstream offering with its grand cinematography, production design, and sound design. Its confrontational parts, intimate moments, and battle scenes are directed with engaging style. This motion picture runs nearly 2.5 hours, but the pacing doesn’t drag. Those who prefer consuming cinematic luxury on screen should find this film most enjoyable.

‘Kingdom of Heaven’ Film Review: War and religion
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Can This Be Love movie review

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Average

“Can This Be Love” is a simple love story captalizing on the charm of one of the most popular love teams in the country — Hero Angeles and Sandara Park. In this movie, they are two very different people who prove that love can bloom amidst cultural differences. In a larger scope, it offers a gist of the economic issues that push the young Filipinos to find the greener pasture elsewhere in the globe.

This film has a very traditional love story featuring a foreigner who finds it hard to adjust life in another country and gets branded as a weirdo along the way and a Filipino working student who struggles to finish school.

The story exposes the lives of the University Belt (U-belt) students. Ryan (Hero Angeles) is a Nursing student who does part-time work as a term paper typist. Like the mentality of most people today, he has a clear goal to leave the country to work abroad and become financially stable. Meanwhile, Daisy (Sandara Park) is a Korean exchange student who comes to the Philippines to study English. One day, Ryan gets to work on the worst term paper ever written entitled “What is Wrong With Filipinos?” Ryan gets pissed with both the countless grammatical errors and the nasty words used against Filipinos by an annoying Korean stranger. It turns out that the Korean he hates so much is the same girl he starts texting quite dearly after a cellphone-buying negotiation.

The ironic thing for the two is that their sweet friendship starts blossoming while they are textmates, then the aggravation for the term paper issue increases further — until he discovers that the girl who has become his dear textmate and the owner of the rude term paper is the Korean girl Daisy. From here, their cultural differences and the language barrier they have to contend with pave way to their bonding, their realizations, and their more open and mature minds.

The romantic scenes clearly feed the fans with the “kilig moments” they often seek for. The song-and-dance numbers rendered as comic relief to the story reflect the vibe of 1980s movies.

The many close-up shots give ample facial expressions on screen, which helps carry a more intimate feel to the scenes. However, the editing is not always seamless. At times, the scenes drag, especially when the characters’ lines become too verbose.

Supporting actor Roderick Paulate is worth mentioning, as he keeps the momentum in the story through his powerful delivery of comic lines.

At times, the make-up of actresses’ Park and Roxanne Guinoo get too heavy and quite distracting on screen. Even the make-up of actor Angeles end up too heavy for a guy’s make-up on screen. There’s too much lipstick and foundation, which at times are not even on his face and neck.

A number of sponsors have very noticeable appearances throughout the movie. Most are Park’s various endorsements, followed by those from Angeles, Guinoo, and Joross Gamboa. Amidst adding such elaborate advertising details, the production ignores the flaws in simple plot details such as Daisy’s really bulky pieces of luggage being easily transported to the cab, as if they don’t have anything inside.

The idea of coming up with scrapbooks for the time lapse of the future years in the lives of Ryan and Daisy turns out appealing to its target market. However, this doesn’t visually empower the main conflict of the narrative. There is also no clear climax in the story, amidst being a movie set up with a very mainstream structure. The ending feeds the viewers with the finished product right away with no hurdles or struggles to spice up the storytelling for a sweeter, more fulfilling end.

‘Can This Be Love’ Film Review: The U-belt flick
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Average

Following the footsteps of a number of successful Asian horror flicks, Regal Films revives “Bahay ni Lola” with the attempt to further break into the horror genre trend. This sequel is targeted for those who prefer getting the creepy chills inside the dark and cold moviehouse. Unfortunately, it isn’t very scary. In fact, its comic side becomes a more appealing aspect of the presentation.

In this second installment, everything is contrived and way too predictable. The attempt to scare doesn’t really work.

This mainstream fare offers nothing new or interesting for the general audience. Even in its final moments, the story lacks a decent twist or a solid ending. The characters’ emotional parts are questionable, especially upon reaching the resolution time. Turn of events would most likely not affect the viewers’ mood and mindset in any way.

On the technical side, the cinematography generally lives up to the needs of this genre flick. Except for the smoke effect that makes some scenes look fake, the presentable visuals becomes the film’s “bit of saving grace.” Amidst the use of many horror stereotypes, at least, the production design adds a bit of horror atmosphere to the scenes.

This movie couldn’t stand on its own ground even with the typical horror elements utilized in the scenes, which include the white-painted scary faces and uncombed hair, the gory shots of blood and insects, the dark and shadowy lighting, and the generic horror sound design and music. The shock factor is almost nonexistent throughout.

Actors have no venue to showcase top-notch skills on the acting department. There ar inconsistencies in Dingdong Dantes’ character — the sense of mystery and fear his role needs is actually nowhere to be found. Most horror elements are poorly copied from contemporary Asian horror flicks such as “The Ring” and “The Grudge.”

There seems to be no much effort to develop the story. More work on the script could have tracked the film a bit more forward.

Scare and suspense are often lacking in this movie. The comedic aspects, as rendered by the likes of John Lapus and Chokoleit, almost always upstage the scare factor of this B-movie horror flick. With poor vision and execution, the comic relief part really surfaces more than the supposedly scary moments.

‘Bahay ni Lola 2’ Film Review: More comedy than horror
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[Total: 1    Average: 3/5]


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Average

I made this article two days after watching the film, just to make sure I’ll be more on the critical side. I need to avoid the too emotional insights after having to sit through the very tiring chore of watching a very disappointing film. This is pretty challenging to do for me as a production person who is from the same circle because I am aware that people who would most likely be part of the film, those who are somehow related to it, or those who may actually like it may end up seriously reacting against my review.

These are my opinions — insights and convictions from somebody who watched the film. Whether they’re in line with another person’s point of view or not, the point of the matter is: “Everyone is entitled to her or his own opinion.”

This movie is just but awful and I don’t exactly know how and where to start this review.

Saying it with a heavy heart due to my frustration — this is certainly one of the worst commercial films I have ever seen in my entire life.

I’m taking the route of discussing more of the technical and thematic aspects of the presentation.

It is entirely frustrating that nobody from the production, or perhaps it’s just utterly tolerated, that Jodi Sta. Maria who plays a single mother making a documentary about miracles doesn’t even know how to use a video camera and record with it. A number of shots with her shooting a priest, a lady, and a few others are shot with the camera turned off — and clearly with the red notification light off. While this isn’t that much of a big deal since viewers not familiar with camera operation wouldn’t notice anyway, what becomes more annoying is how she points the camera lens to the neck, chin, or chest of her subjects. Actually, it is not entirely the actress’ fault, since even the edited cuts that establish her shooting her subject from nearby would show up on the next shot from the camera’s LCD screen as a long shot. In short, the way she handles the camera in her scenes doesn’t match the edited shots that show the supposed camera footage on screen.

Such simple things to work on for such a commercial film production with big on-screen and off-screen names, so why tolerate?

The cinematography is completely disappointing. The colorgrading doesn’t provide visual continuity in certain scenes. There are a number of seriously overexposed and underexposed shots. It is quite noticeable that constantly, the upper right part of the screen, especially the shots with considerably bright light sources, are all overexposed and far from the exposure of the other parts of the frame. Whether it’s a technical problem on the camera or the lenses, the lab processing of the films, or whatever caused these issues, there is really no excuse for such a very problematic theatrical presentation — the moviegoers are paying for their tickets! At some point while watching, I tried to contemplate if it’s a problem with the projector, but I really don’t think so. Besides, the trailers shown were all good.

Apart from the overexposed shots almost seen in the entire film’s upper right side, it is such a dismay to see almost all the establishing shots — including those at the hospital scene, school and CAT scenes, Spanish era scenes, and a number of others — are underexposed. They are too dark and grainy with less details and really poor lighting in ways that are obviously not intentional. Moreover, some shots including those in the procession of the “poon” (saint) and a shot at the church showing some lit candles have too much glare that are way too disturbing.

The camerawork from the framing of shots to the choice of angles, as well as the editing, are equally disappointing. In one scene where Joyce Jimenez smokes inside her room upon learning she would soon die of leukemia, the shots clearly disobey the concept of perspectives. The juxtaposition of shots is very confusing. So there’s this long shot of Jimenez alone on her bed with the camera positioned on the left side of the room. Then, the next shot turns out as a medium close-up of her, but this time, the camera is situated somewhere on the right side of the room — without respect to the established scene’s framing and line of sight. This makes the already poorly chopped edit even more confusing, especially in terms of applying film language and providing a clear geographical reference and continuity to the scenes.

Shots don’t convey conviction on what the story is trying to say and most don’t look seamless in the edit. Some shots even look like rough cuts. For one, a school scene suffers from akwardly handled camerawork. The headroom and framing are problematic at times, especially by the middle and latter parts of the movie. For instance, Jean Garcia’s framing starts from her eyebrows or even her eye or nose already, which may be due to the production’s non-conformity to the cinema crop requirement for the film’s theatrical release version. Again, a problem with the projector may be considered, but since the said issue dosn’t always show up in the presentation, it is not due to the projector.

The movie’s ADR work is completely bothersome. It is often distracting, especially every time an actor or actress utters his or her lines out of sync — when post recording should have ideally corrected such issues already. This problem gets worse when watching the part of the picture where the last word heard from the dialogue would only show the immobile lips of the actor or actress.

The scene of Joyce walking by her knees at the aisle of the church is intended as a great acting moment for her, but poor dubbing ruins it. Her cries are totally out of sync.

The voice used to dub the part of the male doctor sounds more like Aga Muhlach. There’s actually no problem with the fact that he sounds like the renowned actor, but the problem arises when his line delivery turns out very unconvincing for a doctor character.

The production design for the Spanish era is convincing. The tribal people wearing G-strings deliver commendable portrayals. They contribute to the realism, as well as the mood and feel of being part of both the Spanish and tribal periods, in the story.

This motion picture’s story has potential, but unfortunately, its storytelling turns out as a complete disgrace to mainstream cinema — every single aspect of the production is poorly executed. Everything is wasted. The idea of miracles unfolding in the tale and the mystery behind the so-called miracles are quite interesting. Even building up the mysticism and mysterious elements in the material could have been a fine track to explore in the narrative. The emotionality involved in life and death may offer a lot of opportunities for effective storytelling. The “Birhen ng Manaoag” alone, through its rich spiritualist notions on the Filipinos with strong faith or the Filipinos’ fascination with supernatural phenomena and myth-making, can open up many possibilities for a compelling script. Further development of the story could have led to an intense or thought-provoking cinematic piece. Indeed, this movie is a complete waste of potential.

‘Birhen ng Manaoag’ Film Review: Just awful
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[Total: 0    Average: 0/5]

Let the Love Begin movie review

Direction
Story & Screenplay
Cinematography
Production Design
Sound & Music
Editing
VFX/Animation (if any)
Acting/Voice Acting
Average

“Let the Love Begin” is GMA Films’ comeback movie after a four-year hiatus. The film outfit’s last movie before it was the 2000 film “Death Row.” Prior to this, they produced a few other projects including “Jose Rizal,” “Sa Pusod ng Dagat,” and “Muro Ami” — all of which were given due credit by a number of award-giving bodies. But this time, GMA Films comes back with a light love story that is quite different from its usual roster of cinematic offerings.

“Let the Love Begin” hangs on such a simple premise that is pretty much scripted into contrivance throughout. The story spans a very long time frame and the way the scenes unfold on screen doesn’t employ much credibility. Except for the fresh faces, everything looks recycled. It’s the same old story, same elements, same formula. The movie presents generic dialogue with highlights including a dramatic scene with rain effect. The conflict involves parents who are against their children’s romantic engagements. Not to say that these would automatically render any movie worthless, but the fact that it doesn’t add any new flavor or statement to at least put a bit more flair to the storytelling, this overused love story really looks worn out — it is as if it merely relies on its bankable stars to get an audience. Perhaps…

The narrative traces the main characters’ lives from their high school years to their careers in the corporate world. Its straightforward love story features the usual poor boy meets rich girl tale. Eric (Richard Gutierrez), a brainy orphan raised by his grandmother (Gloria Romero), works as a janitor in a school where he attends night classes. Meanwhile, Pia (Angel Locsin) radiates an Elle-type of character in “Legally Blonde” less Elle’s intellect. Rich, spoiled, and more interested in gimmicks than studying, this “socialized kikay” is raised by her father (Tonton Gutierrez) and no information about her mother gets revealed in the narrative. Their romance turns out as predictable as it can get. Then, from nowhere comes the text shown on screen saying “after five years.” Time suddenly passes. No creative or thematic transitions whatsoever. This time, Eric, still nursing a wounded heart when Pia studied in the United States, is still a janitor and he is working in Pia’s company.

The movie’s second love story concerns Luigi (Mark Herras), a high-school playboy who ignores his tomboyish best friend Alex (Jennylyn Mercado). Again, time suddenly passes. No creative or thematic transition whatsoever. This time, after college, Alex blooms into an attractive young photographer and she wins the heart of the former womanizer Luigi.

This formulaic piece primarily shows a predictable series of events where slow-motion effects add that “pa-cute and pakilig factor” for the consumption of the main cast’s fans. In fact, the storytelling focuses too much on this that the script lapses and production flaws get worse as the story moves on.

The Tagaytay breather gives a light relief to the tiring and annoying elements in the movie. The “kilig factor” for the savior Eric and his beloved Pia fuel such a saccharine moment, particularly on the latter part of the narrative. To be fair to its being a clearly fan-made piece more than anything else, its mainstream ingredients are aptly engineered to make the fans swoon and scream, rooting for the love teams on screen as expected.

This fan movie is reminisent of the romantic offerings of the 1980s. It breathes life to its tired story by adding a heavy dose of crowd-pleasing commercial elements for the masses to consume.

Eveything in this picture from the story and dialogue to the camera shots and blocking work like a teenybopper TV show — only that, it’s expensively shot on 35mm film. Bit players move back and forth at the background in unrealistic ways. Blocking problems abound. There’s a man walking to his house, then he goes out, goes from one side of the frame to the opposite frame at every cue, and so on. A number of backgrounders including one inside the church look very conscious in every screen appearance. This goes to show that the production only prioritizes the main cast and those bit players serve as mere props on screen — which isn’t an ideal thing to do in a filmmaking endeavor. In terms of putting value to film language, all elements big or small in a scene should work hand in hand in setting up the frame — or at least avoid the annoyance of seeing backgrounders uselessly walking back and forth on the same shot.

Actors just provide lip service with their speaking lines. Tension-filled and dramatic scenes don’t even make the most sensitive viewer get a faster heartbeat.

This movie has nothing much to offer for the evolving taste of moviegoers. Nevertheless, in keeping with the tried-and-tested formula, this mainstream flick uses the chemistry between Gutierrez and Locsin in order to reach their targeted fans for a generic romantic ride.

‘Let the Love Begin’ Film Review: Taking the generic ride
Rianne's Score (Click post title for review)
Readers' Score (Click the stars to rate)
[Total: 0    Average: 0/5]

Dreamboy movie review, Star Cinema

Direction
Story & Screenplay
Cinematography
Production Design
Sound & Music
Editing
VFX/Animation (if any)
Acting/Voice Acting
Average

“Dreamboy” is a commercial treat targeting those who want to get a pinch of love from a feel-good romantic tale. It talks about a game of chances in love. So much risks at stake. Yet, as the cliche goes, “Love conquers all.” It turns out that the story springs up from the fact that TV networks are going gaga over reality shows’ newfound potential for better TV ratings.

The film reveals a usual girl-meets-boy premise backed up with a slightly fresh flow of storytelling. The major plotpoints kick off with the romantic meet-ups between the clueless spectator Cyd (Bea Alonzo) and the ideal guys Phillip, Eboy, and Jaime (Piolo Pascual). The movie’s massive publicity and promotions make it a point not to dwell much with this romantic comedy flick’s narrative structure so as not to break the suspense for people watching it on the big screen.

“Dreamboy” plunges into the domain of the salesgirl Cyd, an ultimate fanatic of romance novels. She is in constant search for her “dreamboy,” her soulmate, as how her pocketbooks suggest. Soon, she meets Phillip, the son of the owner of the supermart where she works. In the next few days, their encounter leads to a whirlwind romance. But it turns out their fairytale readily needs to end as complications between their economic differences confront them.

While still mending a broken heart, Cyd meets the adventurous, athletic, and “kanto boy-type” Eboy. Cyd sees uncanny resemblance between Phillip and Eboy. Eboy’s rugged personality as a guy who says and acts what he wants without much thinking takes over a new space in Cyd’s heart. As they go through several thrilling adventures together, Cyd falls for the rough guy. But just when she is ready to submit to her feelings for him, she feels betrayed upon learning about her new man’s past escapades with other women.

While trying to get over both Phillip and Eboy, Jaime pops into Cyd’s birthday bash. Though she sees some similarities and a few doubts among the three guys, she keeps her thoughts to herself. As Cyd and Jaime spend more time with each other in Jaime’s rural hometown, their love starts blossoming in par with nature’s wonders. From here, the story gets clearer as it continues to unveil the reality TV show behind the poor victim Cyd. It turns out that Cyd’s search for her dreamboy is actually a molded scenario for a TV station’s reality search.

The script dwells in the emotions presented in life’s harsh realities. The story talks about the dream of finding true love and the sincerity that pushes it forward. It starts with a rather ordinary romantic storyline, dialogue, and treatment, but it ends in a not entirely predictable way. It shows the interesting facets of Cyd’s dreamy, romantic character coming to life as his dreamboy of the moment creates a colorful world for the two of them — each time.

This rom-com offering’s production design compliments its glossy cinematography, which is, as expected, in line with the traditionally glossy Star Cinema look. Pinks and yellows work as highlights in the many scenes’ bright and pastel combinations. Targeting the hopeless romantic audience, the dreamy, fairytale-esque moments set in picturesque locations promote a feel-good effect crafted for mass consumption.

However, the production design lacks consistency. The screen is always filled with saturated elements and fillers including paintings, “kikay things,” frames, cloths, and furniture. There is no much room for vacant spaces. Overtly done to make the set a seemingly designed structure in favor of the camera, the scenes exude a contrived and somewhat fake-looking sense of space. Worse, some shocking props shown inside the room of the girly and romance-stricken Cyd are just horrible. An establishing shot of Cyd’s room before showing her on frame reveals a cloth or a sort of painting of “Che Guevarra,” plus another clearly similar shot showing a print with the appalling combination of words like “I am a Hippie.” Generally, there is nothing wrong with such elements — except if they clearly don’t coincide with the character’s established personality. In the case of Cyd’s characterization, there is no sign of a hippie Cyd. In fact, there is no single suggestion of her being a punk or a non-conformist type of lady. It’s as if these elements are simply utilized as props either because the production people personally like them or they think the colors or shapes of these props can simply fill up the vacant spaces seen on frame — without any concern on reponsible storytelling.

Throughout, the movie remains mostly cut to cut from one scene to the next. Many shots promote mass appeal. Camerawork is typical for a motion picture meant to push the button for the audience’s love story-escapism mode. The tight shots typically utilize slow-motion effects to add that generic romantic flair.

With the wide demography and mass appeal of the current “teleserye” princess Bea Alonzo and the quintesseShe exudes the modern and “non-pakipot” type of female character.ntial heartthrob Piolo Pascual, they deliver a considerably fine charisma and rapport as a screen pair.

Though Cyd is a hopeless romantic, she is a smart girl and a fighter who knows how to play the game even while in the midst of emotional conflict. She exudes the modern and “non-pakipot” type of female character. She is not a shallow character capsulized with that traditional Maria Clara stance or passive Cinderella persona. She doesn’t yield to the fall upon learning that she is a victim of a reality TV show.

The characters Phillip, Eboy, and Jaime become effective stimuli to unveil the hibernating colors in Cyd’s character. The depth of these two major characters further develops as the story pushes forward.

The voiceovers are not very catchy at first. But as the tale progresses, they become justifiable. However, some plot mechanics raise questions left unanswered in a satisfying manner by the film’s end.

Sponsors, tie-ups, and x-deals are very much apparent in the movie. More often than not, the product shots of hair and grocery products, brands of clothes, among others get too much attention on screen. Not bad if subtly, strategically, and creatively done, but the production usually goes way overboard that the said elements already feel like serious storytelling distractions.

This motion-picture project can work like an experiment for its producer — whether such premise for a reality show could actually be done and how the masses would probably take it.

‘Dreamboy’ Film Review: Magic word — reality romance
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