Movie Review: August – September 2013

Published Setyembre 5, 2013 by putrizk

 

On the Job (OTJ)

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Inspired by true events, On the Job (OTJ) gives an extensive depiction of how some jailed members were being released from prison every now and then as they’re assigned with the task of killing people under orders from the wealthy and influential. The film is an ambitious, serious crime drama for adults, one that manages to entertain without sacrificing its depth. It is a breath of fresh air in the increasingly stagnant environment of the Pinoy mainstream.

The specific gunmen happens to be Tatang (Joel Torre) and his protege Daniel (Gerald Anderson) who is being groomed to be his replacement once he retires. Tatang takes and trains Daniel under his wing as they do their assignments. On the flipside, there’s NBI official Francis Coronel, Jr. (Piolo Pascual) who was tasked to take over these said cases, as well as police office Acosta (Joey Marquez).  Once their paths crossed provides conflict in the movie.

The film begins with a killing and never lets up on the intensity, every scene bearing a palpable sense of danger: whether it be the overt threat of bullets flying in the air, or the more subtle dread of being discovered that dominates most of the characters. We get to know them more instead of simply just following what they do. This is one of the things I like about the film in terms of characterization, we get a glimpse of their individual lives as opposed to just going right at the center of the conflict.

The local cut is a little different from what was shown internationally. This version includes a couple of scenes that look into the home life of SPO1 Acosta, an extra sex scene, and an additional final scene. These additions, though generally well done, fit kind of awkwardly into the narrative, and only provide marginal benefit. But the story remains intact, and despite the diversion, it’s still a propulsive piece of entertainment that also serves as a rather dark examination of the intractability of corruption in our society. Given everything that’s actually happening in the country right now, one can somehow juxtapose this with the events in the film too. This will probably make the experience more insightful for others in terms of understanding the events or the aftermath of it. Films that make a statement is a hit or miss for me, but I like that this one doesn’t spoonfeed it to the audience.

Joel Torre has long been one of the finest actors in this country, but few films have provided the actor with a role meaty enough to really make use of his talents. But On The Job exploits every last bit of the actor’s inherent gravity, Torre exuding a world-weariness that goes well beyond his years. Gerald Anderson proves to be a bit of a revelation in this movie. Anderson’s greatest acting achievement prior to this is a television stint as mentally challenged Budoy, but this character suits him like a glove and challenges his acting chops for the better. The young actor displays a strangely charming nihilism in his performance, a heady mix of attitude and naiveté that is worth exploring further. Joey Marquez is perfect in his role as an honest cop, alternating between bursts of weary humor and righteous anger. Piolo Pascual is a bit outclassed by his co-stars, but he delivers on his end as well.

On the Job is such a breath of fresh air in terms of current Philippine cinema effectively combining style and substance in a savvy manner. I might as well say it’s one (if not the) movie event of the year. ts pleasures are complex and heady, built on an expertly constructed sense of atmosphere, incredible production values and a story that bucks the expectations of its viewers.

 

The Colony

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Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), Bill Paxton (Aliens) and Kevin Zegers (Dawn of the Dead), headline an all-star cast in this savage and unrelenting thriller about mankind’s greatest enemy: himself. As an endless winter engulfs Earth, humans struggle to survive in remote underground outposts. When Colony 7 receives a distress call from a nearby settlement, Sam (Zegers) and Briggs (Fishburne) race through the snow on a dangerous rescue mission. What they find at the desolate base could mean mankind’s salvation-or its total annihilation. Terrifying discoveries will unfold that will change the rules of survival forever.

The movie takes place in a future where Earth has been ravaged by a second ice age. The survivors of humanity have moved into underground colonies, living off meager resources and fearing the slightest indication of sickness. Colony 7 receives a distress call from nearby Colony 5. The leader of the colony, Briggs (Laurence Fishburne), along with his trusted friend Sam (Kevin Zegers), hikes over to Colony 5 to help out. There, they discover a grave threat to their survival, as well as hope for their future salvation.

What’s most appealing about The Colony — aside from its refreshingly earnest tone — is how it aims to cut across several genres at once. The central idea, that the last pockets of humanity may find a way to survive a new ice age, is simple but effective sci-fi material; once we get to the actual plot (the distant Colony 5 has gone silent!) the movie switches over to an adventure story with a few decent splashes of action, and then to a basic but appealing horror story about the obvious dangers of feral subhumans.

The inhabitants of the colonies seem far better organized and armed than their foe. The danger that the threat represents is never very convincing, the film relying on gore and really awkward staging to make any of it effective. The tone of the film, the special effects, and the rather expeditious pacing are indicative of the professionalism that can pop up in even the most generic-looking of sci-fi flicks.

The supporting members of the cast outshine the leads of the film. Kevin Zegers just isn’t a very compelling presence on screen, the actor lacking any sort of distinctive feature, physical or otherwise. He just seems like he could be replaced by any number of other young male actors. Meanwhile, Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton get juicier roles, and are able to spin some drama out of the hackneyed material.

In other words, not much in The Colony is amazingly novel, but as a gritty collection of disparate genre parts that are presented with a noted lack of snark or irony, well, it’s just a fun little flick. Fans of Fishburne will enjoy his heroic swagger, Mr. Paxton gets to have some fun playing against type as a rotten bastard, and even the young Mr. Zegers acquits himself well. The Colony looks pretty good for what it is, but there’s just no going beneath that alluring, post-apocalyptic surface.

Lovelace

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For a brief, demented period in the early 1970s, hardcore pornography became fashionable among America’s professional middle classes, and was predicted to be the next big thing in popular culture. The central exhibit for this claim was Deep Throat, and its star, the 22-year-old Linda Lovelace, playing a young woman dedicated to fellatio after discovering that her clitoris was in her throat, became an icon.

Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) is just your average, Catholic-raised, sexually repressed young woman. That is, until she meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), a shady, small-time club owner with an excess of charm. Traynor introduces her to a more liberated lifestyle, and eventually takes her away from her conservative household and marries her. When Traynor gets into a financial bind, he convinces Linda to do a pornographic film. That movie, Deep Throat, became a mainstream hit, dominating the national conversation upon its release, and rocketing Boreman (now under the name Lovelace) to celebrity.

With Lovelace, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman give a dramatic sense of how one young woman can let her life spin out of control. Ultimately, Lovelace let herself be put at the center of the furor that was Deep Throat without having any sense of the impact it would have on her own life and the lives of the people she cared about. The film replays some of the events of the first half, revealing the much darker truth that lies beneath the shiny veneer of the sexual revolution narrative.

Lovelace is no Boogie Nights, as it doesn’t have the directorial nor the visual power of the major 1996 film about the 1970s world of porn. Despite some terrible storytelling choices, the actors are all very good, and Sharon Stone in particular is effective (and wholly unrecognizable) as Lovelace’s mother who gives her advice, based on prejudice and self-hate, that tragically prolongs the suffering.

The film gains much from a solid cast. The appropriately cast Amanda Seyfried easily expresses both sides of the story. A terrifying Peter Sarsgaard uses all his best tricks to bring to life the accounts of just how monstrous Traynor could be. The one misstep in casting is James Franco as Hugh Hefner. Franco simply looks far too young to be the Hefner of that era, and at this point, it’s difficult to see past the actor.

Linda Lovelace was the “poster girl of the sexual revolution,” but we have learned little more about her in this film, despite the documentary pedigree of its filmmakers, and Lovelace, while not exactly hollow, just doesn’t rise to the occasion. Lovelace edits a bit too much. It ends up oversimplifying the story of Linda Boreman, defining her completely with two events that she struggled to escape for much of her life.

Streetdance: All Stars

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Streetdance: All Stars sees two young friends recruiting a dance crew and staging a talent show in a bid to save their much loved youth club from demolition. But it’s not all plain sailing.

Jared (Akai Osei-Mansfield) just wants to dance, but his parents want him to focus on getting into a very exclusive private school. When the youth center that he hangs out at is threatened with closure, Jared cajoles the caretaker into putting on a talent show to save the place. Jared recruits Ethan (Theo Stevenson), a precocious troublemaker with serious hustling skills. Together, they put together a dance crew from the other kids that hang out at the center. The thing is, none of them are streetdancers. Jared has to pull them all together, find their strengths, and fund a way to translate their talents into a cohesive streetdance routine.

The movie dumbs things down even further, presumably because the cast is much younger than usual. The movie talks down to its intended audience, painting everything in a much broader brush than usual. The villain of the movie, for example, is a sniveling weasel who never gets a moment of humanity in the whole picture. Whatever else might be said about films of its ilk, the dancing can never be called “standard.” The movie ought to get some credit for its somewhat elaborate fantasy dance sequences, but even then the lackluster filmmaking gets in the way of the ideas.

There are some bright spots – namely the dream-sequence dance numbers that suddenly take the film into surrealism just to show off the talented dancers in the cast. The strangest example of this is a John Barrowman tap number that is unrelated to anything going on in the film’s reality. It’s as if the filmmakers suddenly realised who they had cast as Amy’s father and constructed a scene at the last minute (Kimberly Walsh, however, gets no such chance to show off her dancing prowess). As weird as these moments are, however, it enlivens the film at points where you may have mentally checked out.

Streetdance: All Stars exists in a genre of already lowered standards, but even then it comes off as terribly lazy in comparison. One would think, for example, that the film would take the opportunity to explore what it’s like for a younger person to discover dancing for the first time. Very young kids might find some enjoyment in All Stars, but it’s corny, light-entertainment cinema at its most irritating. It benefits from an assembly of young talent and reliable Brit stars, but the uninspired story will likely remove any interest you could have had in its central message.

 

The Diplomat Hotel

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This film is such a baffling entry. The mainstream has never suffered from a lack of horror flicks, and though a lot of it is pretty bad, there is often room in there for original visions. But even that can’t be said of The Diplomat Hotel; a poorly made, muddled mess of a film that seems to just peter out.

Diplomat Hotel didn’t simply want to scare- it meant to dig, to investigate and to wander more as to why a dark journey ended sadly, tragically, dramatically.

Years ago, TV reporter Victoria (Gretchen Barretto) had an on air breakdown after witnessing a horrible event. Now, after a stint in a hospital, she’s trying to get back on television. The higher ups at the network aren’t quite ready to fully reinstate her. She’s handed a fluff piece about a hotel in Baguio with a supposedly dark past. She heads there with a small crew and a person with a connection to the hotel. Once there, they encounter all sorts of strange phenomena as they slowly explore the darkness that envelops the place.

The film didn’t reveal in DEFENSE. Didn’t explain why. Didn’t turn in many circles of explanations and ‘wonders’. It had no pretense. It simply SHOWED. In place of story development, the film offers an excess of histrionics, drowning out the lack of narrative with the shrillness of its own wailing. A subpar production package further drags the film down. The film benefits from a telegenic location with a real life reputation for paranormal activity, but shoddy production keeps it from being utilized to its fullest potential.

Mon Confiado offered another new acting style and dimension in this movie. Sarah Gaulger was a refreshing talent here, and she delivered.Abe Pagtama surely did a lot of justice in his brief appearance at the start of the film.Art Acuna was so intense and aggravating.Nico Antonio acted it out with ‘angst’.But it was Gretchen Barretto who stood out. She was perfect for the role. She acted in subtlety, with great depth and precision. Indeed, fascinating.

In the end, The Diplomat Hotel suffers from all the same faults that plague the local mainstream horror pictures. But it also adds weak production values into the mix, and acting that really doesn’t belong outside of a teleserye.

Elysium

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In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a man-made space station called Elysium while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth. The only man with the chance to bring equality to these worlds is Max, an ordinary guy in desperate need to get to Elysium. With his life hanging in the balance, he reluctantly takes on a dangerous mission that could save his life and the lives of millions on Earth.

This heist transforms into something much headier about halfway through, integrating the political machinations of those in power at Elysium, and the revolutionary hopes of those still left on Earth. But the concepts don’t always mix very well, and some of them seem to exist only to push forward ideology at the expense of cohesion and story.

The film presents these concepts as truth without fully setting up a framework where it all makes sense. If Elysium is meant to be a metaphor, it is a clumsy one; the analogy painted in broad strokes that oversimplify the argument. It makes these incredibly emotional pleas against an army of straw men.

Elysium fails to treat these obstacles that immigrants face well, and thus misses a huge opportunity to provide insight to America’s current debate over immigration reform and what to do with the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country. Blomkamp tried to make immigration strictly an issue of class warfare, and subsequently failed to give any explanation for what caused the borders to close, what makes the Elysians want to keep them closed, and what could possibly come of a world where they aren’t closed.

A compelling lead performance from Matt Damon anchors the melodrama in some semblance of reality. Fun supporting turns from Jolie Foster, Diego Luna and Sharlto Copley liven up the details.

For Elysium, Blomkamp seemed to take the praise as an invitation to go all Occupy Wall Street on us. If you want an entertaining movie, see something else. If you want a meaningful discussion on immigration reform, go read something. Whatever you do, stay as far away as you can from Jodie Foster and that weird accent! Elysium had managed to put all that inside a story that actually made sense, it would be an easy recommendation.

 

The Mule

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Sofie (Sharon Stone) is an American TV reporter known for exposing high ranked officials on illegal immigration. However, when his brother (Billy Zane) went missing on the south border, she is forced to investigate to find her missing brother. Along the way, she soon discovers that there is a lot of secrets to be unveiled that she never expected.

The Mule adds another layer of obfuscation by making the film about an American who begins as someone who is completely unsympathetic to the plight of illegal immigrants. The film then becomes less about the issue and the people actually involved in it, and more about the personal journey of this one American.

The movie is also known as Border Run has a gripping story that would keep you interested along the way. There isn’t much action to expect in it but, still we feel the tension and excitement it offered. We see Sharon Stone here in a much better performance from her previous works plus a group of supporting cast who manages to keep the flow going on the right track. 

In fact, her search is interrupted by a short interlude that has her drinking at a bar and making out with someone. Because apparently, her missing brother can wait. This is the kind of film that requires a touch of realism to work. It is, after all, addressing real issues. But Sharon Stone isn’t the kind of actress that works well in a realistic context. There is no subtlety at all in her performance, which seems to set the tone for the rest of the film. She crafts these heightened facsimiles of emotion, letting her face contort into grotesque approximations of human expression.

The Mule might have the best of intentions, but those intentions don’t add up to much in the end. It goes about depicting the plight of illegal immigrants in the wrong way, burying the reality underneath cliché thriller elements and the personal journey of a thoroughly unlikable main character. Overall, the film is still a pretty descent film despite its flaws. It may not be a Blockbuster and memorable enough, but it has a respectable amount of tension, features an interesting storyline, and some twist to heat some things up.

 

The Frozen Ground

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The Frozen Ground is inspired by the incredible true story that follows Alaskan State Trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) as he sets out to end the murderous rampage of Robert Hansen (John Cusack), a serial killer who has gone unnoticed for 13 years. As the bodies of street girls start to pile up in Anchorage, fear strikes a chord with the public. Risking his life, Halcombe goes on a personal manhunt to find the killer before the next body surfaces. When a seventeen year old escapee (Vanessa Hudgens) reveals key information about the case, Halcombe is finally on the trail of the killer. But will he catch him in time to save the next victim?

The film begins with a bound and fearful Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) being found by the police. She tells them that Bob Hansen (John Cusack) offered her $200 for oral sex, but then abducted her, put her in chains, and repeatedly raped her in his house. But since Cindy is a prostitute, and Hansen is perceived as an upstanding citizen, the police cast doubt on her story. State Trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) is two weeks away from leaving behind law enforcement, but before he can do that, he investigates the case of a woman’s body dug up by animals. Halcombe connects this body to a series of recent disappearances, as well as the abduction of Cindy Paulson, putting him on the trail of Bob Hansen.

To say the movie scrapes the bottom of the barrel would be giving it too much credit. Director Scott Walker makes absolutely no effort to make any part of the film interesting or new. The procedural style follows the plot points and tropes of nearly every single serial killer film made in Hollywood. The killer is a mild mannered man with a dark secret. He has a basement. He kidnaps and tortures women. These are scenes shown a zillion times in cinema and it is strange that the filmmakers seem to believe that bathing the audience in a stinky mud of clichés would entertain them. It’s not that we’re perverts and want different or new twisted scenes of torture, but the film neither gets into the mind of the mad man nor keeps us guessing the identity of the killer. There is nothing exciting about watching a film where we know who the killer is and what he would do next.

The film exits the bounds of its reality as it tries to ramp up the danger for the characters. But this is really a story of an investigation, of a one man putting together an accurate profile and sorting through possible suspects. The additions just don’t fit the eventual outcome, which kind of drops all those developed subplots.

The acting is pretty solid, though often mismatched. Nicolas Cage restrains himself in the lead role, but still manages to show more spark than we usually see from him nowadays. John Cusack is even more reserved as the antagonist, playing up an obvious social anxiety that hides a deep reserve of sadism. Vanessa Hudgens is pretty showy as Cindy, a role that might have called for something a little more down-to-earth. Hudgens is fine in the end, but she seems to be the weakest link in this cast.

As far as VOD choices go there are better ones out there but there are also far worse films. With a lackluster plot that makes it hard to really care about the characters it is easy to see why The Frozen Ground did not get a wide theatrical release, despite the big name cast. Still, if you like shows like Law & Order or have a big interest in real life serial killers it would be worth a watch, otherwise I would wait and maybe it will show up on Netflix or a service of the like. The Frozen Ground forces thriller elements into what is essentially a story of a policeman connecting some dots. Maybe this just isn’t the kind of story that fits inside the framework of a Hollywood film.

 

Pee Mak

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The film has made headlines for being the most successful Thai movie of all time. So successful, in fact, that it’s being released commercially in pretty much every country in the region, despite having very specific cultural references that don’t travel very well.

Pee Mak takes place about a hundred years in the past. Mak (Mario Maurer) had to leave his pregnant wife Nak (Davika Hoorne) to fight in a war against foreign invaders. Mak miraculously manages to survive the frontlines and escapes to safety with four of his comrades. He returns to his village, eager to be reunited with his wife and meet his newborn child. His comrades tag along and decide to stay in the village for a while. The four begin to notice a few strange things about Mak’s bride. And they come to the startling conclusion that she might be a ghost.

Even if you do know the legend, though, you will be happy to hear that “Pee Mak” the movie and “Mae Nak” the legend are completely different things. And that’s a good thing. Coz it kept things in “Pee Mak” interesting. It has to be said: Thais definitely know how to make movies. The actors are great, the storyline is great, the direction is great, the costumes are great, the twists are great and there is just the right amount of horror, comedy and romance in it. The timing of everything was perfect, too.

The movie exhausts its plot pretty quickly, and ends up repeating itself as it tries to inflate the runtime to feature proportions. It goes a little too far in this, and ends up stretching the film to an unwieldy length. The film employs the mood and aesthetics of horror pictures, but has the rhythm of a comedy. It’s an interesting little experiment. Asian horror tends to have an overbearing melancholy to it, with its muted colors and aggressive silences. But Pee Mak fills all that in with a whole lot of silliness.

Mario Maurer is being touted as the lead of this movie, but he actually takes a bit of a backseat to the foursome of Pongsathorn Jongwilas, Nattapong Chatprong, Autturat Kongrasri and Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasook. The four carry much of the comedic work, and do a pretty fine job of it. Davika Hoorne manages to play the role of Asian horror ghost fairly well.

Pee Mak makes for a refreshing and enjoyable experience. It is never scary, but it is frequently laugh-out-loud funny and populated by characters who for the most part, we actually care about. The film is quintessentially Thai, riffing on historically significant cultural touchpoints, while shooting squarely for a modern, contemporary crowd pleaser and hitting its mark dead on. Every scene is just a little bit too long, each beat played out to death before ever moving on. Still, in an era of dreadful sameness in a lot of horror cinema, Pee Mak at least stands out for trying something a little out of the box. The series of scenes that play during the credits reveal the true potential of the movie, playing up ghost tropes for laughs in quick bursts.

 

Jobs

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It only takes one person to start a revolution. The extraordinary story of Steve Jobs, the original innovator and ground-breaking entrepreneur who let nothing stand in the way of greatness. The film tells the epic and turbulent story of Jobs as he blazed a trail that changed technology — and the world – forever.

The movie looks into the life of the late Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) starting from his days as a dropout still attending classes at Reed College in 1972. From there, the film traces his rise in the world of computing, from starting Apple Computer in his parents’ garage with Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), to his time developing the Lisa II and the Macintosh, to his ouster from the company and his eventual return.

However, as this biopic progresses, despite some fine performances, it begins to slowly descend, until about two-thirds of the way through its various problems become too much. The result is an interesting, yet lacklustre portrait of Jobs’ rise to success. The main issue with making a biopic like this is that even though it concentrates on a specific time period Jobs from his hippie college days to the launch of the iPod it feels like it only just scratches the surface.

The film just suddenly jumps ahead to find that his daughter is staying with him in his house. It also doesn’t expound on that relationship at all. The film only really sets out to his these milestones. Triumphs are bathed in golden light and sweeping music. Failures are drab and go unscored.

A clear proof the film is the casting. Across the board, performances are excellent, but particularly for Kutcher, who nails Jobs’ gait, mannerisms and speech.

Unfortunately, a lot of the dialogue Kutcher is given is in the form of inspirational monologues, which tends to grate by the end.

There’s no doubt Steve Jobs was a visionary and a genius who will be remembered for having revolutionised the way we use everything from music to phones. To its credit, the film comes pretty close in terms of looks, but resemblance is hardly an indication of accuracy or insight.

Jobs devoted much of its focus to resembling Jobs and the people around him and the events of his life. But it’s just all about the looks. Perhaps the filmmakers were influenced by its subject’s focus on design, but they forgot along the way that Jobs also valued substance in his products.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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