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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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[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
Rianne's Score (Click post title for review)
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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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