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Revolution and Romance
So, another hugely popular young adult series has come to an end. Like the "Harry Potter" and the "Twilight Saga", the "Hunger Games" franchise also chose to divide the final book, "Mockingjay", into two films. When I saw Part 1 of "Mockingjay" last year, I thought it lacked substance to stand alone on its own. However, now that I have seen Part 2, I understand why they could not have just made it as one single big movie.
After the long introduction to the action that is Part 1, Part 2 begins where it left off. Katniss is dead set on killing President Snow. Peeta is slowly recovering from the brainwashing he suffered by the guys in the Capitol. Gale is wasting no time in trying to win Katniss back. The three of them are members of a team sent by President Coin to storm into the Capitol and kill President Snow. However, their mission is beset with dangerous and elaborate booby traps, as only the best Gamemakers of the Capitol can concoct.
Being their fourth film already together, Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss), Josh Hutcherson (as Peeta), Liam Hemsworth (as Gale), Woody Harrelson (as Haymitch), Elizabeth Banks (as Effie Trinket), Stanley Tucci (as Caesar) and Donald Sutherland (as grand old President Snow) have really fit their respective characters like a glove by this time. With Jennifer Lawrence there portraying her, every rash act of Katniss becomes heroic somehow. She gets the audience to actually root for this indecisive, foolhardy character.
Julianne Moore (as Coin) and Natalie Dormer (as Cressida) had to contend with bad hairstyles but do get their jobs done right. It was good to see and hear the departed Philip Seymour Hoffman one last time as Plutarch, though his screen time here was very short. It was great to see Game of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie in a small scene as Commander Lyme. It was good to see the other victors like Finnick (Sam Claflin), Annie (Stef Dawson), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Johanna (Jenna Malone), though their screen time was also very brief.
"Mockingjay Part 2" is a very long movie and it can feel like it. It was more than 2 hours (137 minutes to be exact) of war, politics, and yes, the love triangle. There are actually no more Hunger Games to show in this one, but the Capitol itself was turned into one large-scale Hunger Games arena when Katniss and company encounter the "pods" (which were spectacularly violent land mines). I actually do not recall that there were oil tsunamis or mutant monsters underground in the books, but these were the most shocking and thrilling parts of this film. Without these, the younger members of the audience may doze off with all the talking scenes. 7/10.
The Last Witch Hunter (2015)
Average Unoriginal Witch Film
In ancient times, Kaulder was a fearless witch hunter who was able to kill the Queen Witch herself. However, before she died, the Queen cursed Kaulder with immortality. Cut to modern times, Kaulder is the last witch hunter of his kind. A congregation of priests called the Axe and Cross were commissioned to help Kaulder over the centuries in his sworn mission to incapacitate and incarcerate all the bad witches. Loyalists of the Queen though are working feverishly to resurrect her, setting up a major confrontation between good and evil to decide the fate of mankind.
As predicted, Vin Diesel's acting was as one-dimensional as ever. His look was as unchanging as ever too. He looks the same whoever character he played -- Riddick, Toretto, now Kaulder. They should have kept the ancient Kaulder look which would have set the character apart. As predicted also, Vin Diesel's pervasive good guy vibes are very apparent no matter how tough or violent he gets. These good vibes saved the day, making this derivative and CG-laden witch adventure more bearable and entertaining. Of course, we would root for him to route the queen and her minions, good should triumph over evil!
Michael Caine and Elijah Wood play priests of the Axe and Cross, who were Kaulder's personal assistants, advisers and bodyguards, Dolan 36th and Dolan 37th respectively. However, their roles were not as big as their names would make you expect. Caine was as cool as you'd expect, acting like he was Alfred or any of the recent Caine roles you can recall. His performance was always a respectable effort even though he may only be just phoning this one in, being so short. Elijah Wood looked very wrong in this role. The way he looked with a priest's collar was very awkward. His acting was so stiff, as if he knew how wrong he was for that role.
I was expecting the priests to be Kaulder's sidekicks in his battle against the Witch Queen, but it turns out they would be out of the scene for most parts of the film. Kaulder's companion would be a young female witch named Chloe played by Rose Leslie. Leslie, who gained popularity as Wildling Ygritte in TV's "Game of Thrones," is a polarizing actress, either you will like her or you won't. I like her, so I liked that she has moved onto Hollywood, and she gives a strong feisty performance as her TV character did.
I did not think this film "The Last Witch Hunter" would be anything original, and it was not. The poster was generic, looking like it could be a poster of one of Vin Diesel's "Riddick" films. Even the title was generic, "Witch Hunter" having been just used in a recent Jeremy Renner- Gemma Arterton film called "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters." Still I went in to watch this film because it is a Vin Diesel film. As consistently one-note his tough guy roles were, at least Diesel certainly knew how to entertain his audience. And that he did. 5/10.
Amenabar and Hawke Worked So Well Together Here!
For a long time, Alejandro Amenabar has been one of my favorite writer- directors for the twisted suspense thrillers. He was quite prolific at the turn of the century -- "Thesis" (1996), "Open Your Eyes" (1997) and his English-language debut "The Others" (2001). His biographical drama "The Sea Inside" won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004.
Since then though, his output had been sparse. That was why when I heard that he will be releasing a new film this year entitled "Regression," I made sure I went to watch it.
Seventeen-year old Angela Gray accuses her father of sexually abusing her. Detective Bruce Kenner is assigned to her case. The father meekly admits to the crime, but does not actually recall doing it. Kenner seeks the help of Psychology professor Kenneth Raines to elicit his repressed memories, as well as those of the other members of the Gray family, via hypnotic regression. What is revealed from these sessions are diabolical confessions of such disturbing nature that Kenner himself could not get them out of his own mind.
Ethan Hawke is such a good actor, really. From his feature debut in "Dead Poet's Society," then "Before Sunrise" (and its series), "Gattaca," "Sinister" to his Oscar-nominated performances in "Training Day" and "Boyhood," this guy can really portray the most ordinary characters and wind up making them very memorable. His intense take of the obsessed Bruce Kenner was riveting and infectious. His visions become our visions, his beliefs our beliefs. He had a flawless interactive rapport with Amenabar's camera, registering and conveying the anger, paranoia, confusion, and fear of his character so well on screen.
Emma Watson returns on her trajectory to becoming a serious movie actress after being sidelined by unfortunate roles in "This is the End" and "Noah." The talent and the promise are there, but the connection with her role as the troubled Angela was not as convincing as that of Hawke's. Her best performances were still those for Hermione Granger. Her young adult performances in films like "Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "The Bling Ring" had a certain unnatural stiffness in them, as it was again here as well.
Credible supporting performances were given by David Thewlis as the authoritative Prof. Raines and David Dencik as Angela's repentant father John. Going a bit over the top was Dale Dickey and her exaggeratedly demented performance as Angela's grandmother Rose. The strangest casting decision was that of Lothaire Bluteau as the priest Reverend Murray. He exuded such a creepy vibe, which of course may be the director's intention.
While "Regression" was still not on the same level of excellence as "Open Your Eyes" or "The Others," Alejandro Amenabar returned to form with this comeback project of sorts. The script, though weak and flawed in certain aspects (like motive, for one important example), was still logical and grounded despite dealing with controversial religious and psychological matters. The storytelling engages you despite the dark unpleasant topics and relentlessly morbid atmosphere. I am looking forward to the next Amenabar opus. I hope it does not take so many years anymore. 7/10
Knock Knock (2015)
Keanu's Most Wretched and Embarrassing Role!
When I saw the name of Eli Roth as director of this film, I should have taken that as a warning that this was probably going to be a bad movie. Roth's previous work either as director or writer were mostly crazy violent and gory just for the sake of being gory. Unlike his other films though, like the dreadful "Hostel" or the awful "Aftershock", this one had a known movie star in the lead role -- Keanu Reeves. It was because of Reeves that convinced me that I could give this film a chance.
Successful architect Evan Webber is an ideal husband of an artist wife and a model father of two. One day (ironically it was Father's Day), Evan was left behind at home because of work while the rest of his family went on a beach vacation. That night, two sexy young ladies show up at this door lost and soaking wet from the rain. Evan kindly admits them into his house so they can get dry and call for a cab. However, these two liberated girls had kinky shenanigans in mind for Evan, and then some.
In spite of the fact that the script and the acting were already pretty cheesy from the very start, the premise of the film actually seemed promising at first. Things do get interesting when the girls came into the scene and turned on their charms in an attempt to seduce the faithful family man. After that key scene though, the rest of the film turned south and just got more and more ridiculous up to the very end which unfortunately did not come right away.
Keanu Reeves is one enigmatic star whose career definitely had its ups and downs. In the beginning, he was able to balance his comedy ("Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure"), romance ("A Walk in the Clouds"), drama ("My Own Private Idaho") and action ("Speed" and "Matrix"). Since the turn of the millennium though, his career turned for the worse, with no really memorable roles to speak of. His last two films, "47 Ronin" and "John Wick," brought his name back up for the better. However, "Knock, Knock" knocks him down again with a performance so dismal it will be long-remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Keanu Reeves' wretched portrayal of Evan Webber is simply beyond embarrassing. Reeves playing monster with his family at the start was just the first of many cringe-worthy scenes for him in the whole course of this film. As his character was threatened with death later in the film, Reeves' impassioned appeal for his life was so hilariously delivered with the craziest of words, it actually had me laughing out loud in spite of myself. Finally, when a scene came when we see Reeves' head on the ground with only his comical facial emoting, I totally lost it laughing. I cannot fathom how a star of his stature could have allowed himself to suffer such shameful indignities.
We can't really expect much from the other relatively unknown actors in the cast who also came up with similarly ludicrous performances. Lorenza Izzo (Eli Roth's wife in real life) and Ana de Armas (the hotter blonde vixen) played the two seductresses Genesis and Bel with such loony, over-the-top abandon. Aaron Burns played the gay friend Louis, who was more concerned about the artwork than people. They did look like they were having a lot of fun doing their inane scenes (even though the situations were not supposed to be funny).
What was on Eli Roth's mind when he wrote and directed this? Were all the outrageous scenarios and lousy hammy acting done on purpose to somehow make this film stand out? Was this all an elaborate warning about logging out of Facebook once you are done with it? Anyway, everything was so exaggeratedly bad it was actually uproariously funny. It was definitely not what I expected going in, but I did get a good laugh out of it so I won't call it a total disaster. 3/10.
Francisco - El Padre Jorge (2015)
Disappointing and Dry Biopic
This is an Argentinian film about Fr. Jorge Bergoglio's life prior to Papacy. Based on its simple and straightforward trailer, I am not really expecting too much. However, I still watched the film to learn more about this beloved man and how he rose among the ranks to be the anointed leader of Catholics worldwide.
"Papa Francisco" (also called "Francis: Pray for Me" or "Francisco - El Padre Jorge") tells the life story of the Fr. Jorge Bergoglio (Darío Grandinetti) from Argentina, from his boyhood to his election as Pope in 2013. These were told alongside the fictional story of Ana (Silvia Abascal), a agnostic Spanish lady reporter (with an Argentinian mother) assigned to cover the Papal election of 2005. Ana met Padre Jorge when they sat across each other on a train going to Rome, and from then became lifelong friends.
The Ana character may have been based on Elisabetta Pique, an Argentine journalist and friend of Padre Jorge, who wrote the biographical book "Pope Francis: Life and Revolution" upon which this film was based. The book was said to be based on interviews on more than seventy people who knew the Pope very well. While individual stories may have read well as a book, but these same stories may also have led to the rather disjointed nature of this film.
The film, written and directed by Beda Docampo Feijóo, told the Pope's story in bite-sized episodes, flashing backwards and forwards in time. These scenes just seemed like simple renditions of the highlights of his life, with no effort to connect them into one cohesive whole. There were scenes about controversies, but these were executed with no tension at all. The best example would be this confrontation scene with a lady politician who wanted him to lay off on his crusade against corruption. Padre Jorge says a few eloquent words, and the scene was over, no more follow through on what happens next.
There were good episodes, like the one where the young Jorge (Gabriel Gallichio) met a beautiful lady at a wedding reception where they danced the tango, exchanged books and phone numbers. Unfortunately, we never hear of her again after she left on a bus. In fact, that would be the way this film treated most of the other characters from Padre Jorge's past, like his mother or his friends. They were never mentioned again when Padre Jorge was already cardinal. The only exception would be Padre Jorge's book about St. Francis. We saw it given to Jorge by his grandmother when he was a young man, and we would see that book again before he was announced as Pope.
Award-winning Argentinian actor Dario Grandinetti plays the senior Padre Jorge. His last film of note was "Wild Tales", an Argentinian film which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film last year. While he may look sincere, Grandinetti did not really capture the charisma of Padre Jorge. The delivery of his lines were so stiff and lifeless. There was no passion that could be felt nor inspiration that can be drawn from his dry performance. Grandinetti's Padre Jorge did not smile much nor exude warmth, so unlike the person he is portraying. 24 year-old Argentine actor Gabriel Gallichio certainly had more charm in his few scenes as the young Jorge during his student days.
This was a simple biographical film with no high artistic aspirations. It was just a plain retelling of various events in the present Pope's lifetime with no unifying concept. This film does not have cinematic artistry nor wide audience appeal of other biopics like "Gandhi," "The Last Emperor," or even "Romero". It would probably appeal only to Catholics who simply want to know more about their present leader. But even with those modest expectations, this uneven film would probably still fall short. With his growing worldwide popularity, I trust Pope Francis will have a better film about him in the future. 5/10.
Rushed Right Through
This sequel to last month's live-action version of the manga/anime "Attack on Titan." That was a much-anticipated film because of the popularity of the anime. However, it was uniformly met with bad reviews and fan disappointment because of the poor Titan special effects, but more because of the significant, arguably ill-advised or unnecessary changes in the storyline made to fit a live-action format.
The first episode ended with the revelation that Eren was actually the special Titan who was killing the other regular Titans. This sequel began with an inquiry conducted by a ruthless Director General who seemed to want nothing but to execute Eren. Of course, Eren's friend Armin bravely argued for his friend. The action builds up to a climactic grand three-way fight among three special Titans on the outermost wall.
This sequel, released just a month after the original, was only about an hour and a half long. The first 20 minutes or so was just a reiteration of the event in the first film. For me, the two films could have been simply integrated into one longer film. We do not see much of the regular Titans anymore in this film. We will also see the origin of the Titans and the reason why Eren become a Titan recalled in flashbacks which i wished were treated with more details and clarity.
Like the first film, and even more so in this sequel, we see over-the- top acting from most of the cast. The main group of young soldiers, led of course by the trio of lead characters: Eren Yeager (Haruma Miura), Mikasa Ackerman (Mizuhara Kiko), and Armin Arlert (Kanata Hongô). The Mikasa of the films was not at all like the Mikasa in the anime. We see at least one act of bravery from each of their friends as well, namely Sasha Blouse aka Potato Girl (Nanami Sakuraba), Jean Kirstein (Takahiro Miura) and Sannagi (Satoru Matsuo).
We see more of the bespectacled yet incredibly (and hilariously) hyperactive senior female officer Hange Zoë (Satomi Ishihara). We will get a surprising revelation about the enigmatic Shikishima (Hiroki Hasegawa), the character that replaced Levi Ackerman, "Humanity's Strongest Soldier" in the manga/anime. A similarly remarkable storyline follows the human antagonist Kubal (Jun Kunimura). Unfortunately, the film does not give us a satisfactory explanation about what happened to these last two characters.
This film just sought to close the main storyline started by the first film, direct to the point. No more side detours were included. It was all over in less than 90 minutes. Unfortunately, a major part of this sequel was just a lot of talking, with practically no action in the first hour. By the time it reached the battle-royale in the last thirty minutes, a lot of the audience may have already zoned out. It was not really much of an Armageddon as promised by its title. 4/10.
Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015)
Animated Adam Sandler Misadventure
According to the 2012 animated film, Count Dracula ran "Hotel Transylvania" as a resort for monsters who wanted to get away from the humans who frighten them. One day, a human boy named Jonathan stumbles upon the existence of this hotel and falls for the Gothic charms of Dracula's daughter Mavis. Being the over-protective dad that he was, single-dad Dracula does everything to keep the two from falling in love.
In this sequel, Jonathan and Mavis got married and have a son Dennis. Dracula was very concerned that his grandson Dennis was already turning five, but was not showing any signs of being a vampire. So while Mavis and Jonathan fly to California to visit his parents, Dracula and his wacky gang of monsters bring Dennis to a vampire summer camp, hoping the kid's fangs come out faster.
From the poster alone, we already know that this sequel will be a cute juvenile romp with delightful "monsters". The story line is reminiscent of other films, like "Sky High" or "The Incredibles," about the distress caused by an offspring who apparently did not have the superpowers of his parents. In the first film, the laughs came from Dracula struggling with the problem of his daughter falling in love with a human. In this sequel, it was also Dracula's struggles about this grandson that make this film funny (mildly) more than anything else.
Since this is a sequel, the artwork was basically the same as the first one, with most of the characters coming back to reprise their roles. Curiously, the look of the new main character baby Dennis was not at all original. With his full head of wild curly red hair, Dennis looked almost exactly like the baby brothers of Merida in "Brave." The design of Great Grandpa Vlad and more so his scary sidekick Bela and his army of ghoulish vampire bats could be the stuff of nightmares for very young kids. The special effect of flames looked very good.
Adam Sandler's voice was very apparent as Count Dracula. You can totally imagine him talking in that "Dracula" accent. The cast list boasts of an impressive roster of noted comedians past and present who were all able to project their comic personas through their voice work for their characters. Of course, Sandler's usual movie posse is there composed of Kevin James (as Frankenstein), Steve Buscemi (as Werewolf Wayne), and David Spade (as Invisible Man Griffin). Andy Samberg plays the goofy Jonathan opposite teen star Selena Gomez as Mavis. In smaller supporting roles are Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman (as human grandparents Linda and Mike), Dana Carvey (as Camp Counselor Dana), Fran Drescher (as Frankenstein's wife Eunice), and the most esteemed Mel Brooks (as Vlad).
This another one of those zany, hyper, and yes, predictable animated films for the juvenile set, ultimately not too memorable. Despite the illustrious cast of comics though, the big laughs in this film are only few and far between. At most, a smile or a little chuckle here and there are all you get. Despite some disturbing scenes of apparent child endangerment in this film, you know this is all done in the spirit of silly fun and nothing bad is really going to happen. 5/10.
A Glorious and Grim Adventure
This film tells the true story of a group of men who dared to climb to the peak, braving a harsh environment physiologically-incompatible with human life. Bob Cotter ran Adventures Consultants, a service to guide climbers willing to shell out $75,000 up to the Everest summit. His support staff includes base camp manager Helen Wilton, medic Dr. Caroline Mackenzie, along with a number of expert climbers and native sherpas for guides.
For the fateful climb on May 10, 1976, we follow expedition group leader Rob Hall and his group composed of doctor Beck Weathers, mailman Doug Hansen, journalist Jon Krakauer (who eventually wrote the book about this climb), female Japanese veteran climber Yasuko Namba and others. Before their big climb on May 10, they first had a month-long training camp on the lower levels of the mountain in order to acclimatize their bodies to the inhospitable conditions. While the group was up the mountain though, a deadly blizzard descends upon the mountain, placing all the men on the mountain in extreme peril.
Jason Clarke radiated a lot of warmth as compassionate New Zealander expedition group leader Rob Hall. His conversations with his pregnant wife Jan (played by Keira Knightley in a brief yet remarkable supporting performance) were touching and heartbreaking.
Josh Brolin was loud and arrogant as the wealthy Texan climber Beck. John Hawkes was perfectly self-effacing as Doug, a poor working man whose climb was partially sponsored by school children. Despite his prominent billing, Jake Gyllenhaal plays only a small role as an unconventional surfer-type rival guide. As in his previous films, Sam Worthington was not really very memorable as Bob Cotter. Emily Watson was motherly as the distressed manager Helen.
I am partial to mountain adventures more than the beach. Based on my limited number of hikes up mountains like Pinatubo or Diamondhead, reaching the peak gives such a victorious feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment. Knowing my limitations as a climber, I know that climbing even a segment of Everest is but an impossible pipe dream.
That is why I liked this movie a lot. With its spectacular cinematography, this film brought me up to the summit of Everest in such a realistic, involving way. The places on the majestic mountain which I never would have even dreamed of seeing, like the Base Camp (17,000 ft), the Balcony (27,390 ft) or the Hillary Step (28,740 ft), were right there in front of my eyes!
We see everything along their snowy way -- those elegant yaks, those serene Buddhist monks, all the way up to the legendary peak with the little flags summiteers have planted their as a sign of their successful conquest. We will also see the various faces of the human spirit when challenged by the elements -- from triumph, valor and brotherhood to despair, defeat and resignation.
Thankfully, the very real dangers of the climb, like the wide crevasses to be crossed on rickety ladders, the icy wind burning the skin off your face, the nasty frostbite that could cost you to lose frozen body parts, or the avalanches that can rumble down on you at anytime, are to be experienced from the safety of your theater seats.
The parts of the film when the characters were just making their way up the mountain and training for the big climb may be slow for certain audience members. You will learn a lot about the medical aspect of climbing up to an oxygen-poor altitude such as that of Everest. For me, I vicariously immersed myself in that literally breathtaking climbing experience which for certain I will never have myself.
Man, in his quest to prove that he the master of this world, has this unquenchable desire to conquer the earth's highest peak -- Mt. Everest. However in climbing Everest, the last word, as the film tells us, always belonged to the mountain. 8/10.
Heneral Luna (2015)
"Heneral Luna" tells us a more detailed account of the life of one of the revolutionary heroes we learn about in school, yet know practically nothing about -- Gen. Antonio Luna. Practically all we know about him is that he had a very bad temper which gained him a lot of enemies, eventually leading to his assassination. Aside from telling us specific situations where this legendary temper flared up, we also get to meet him more intimately as a leader, a soldier, as a son and as a man.
Even from his intense penetrating gaze and formidable mustache in the poster alone, you already know John Arcilla will be excellent in this film. His comic timing was impeccable. It was a most vibrant performance of a most vivid man, making him really loom larger than life. He was over-the-top in his explosiveness, just the way Tarog wanted him to be. The way he was built up, we were ready for that climactic assassination scene, however outrageous the savagery.
Mon Confiado was a picture of ironic calm as President Emilio Aguinaldo. The more movies we watch about the revolution certainly brings up more and more questions about the controversial Aguinaldo. Nonie Buencamino was so slimy as his treacherous surname-sake Felipe Buencamino. That nonchalant look on Lorenz Martinez face was so hateful as he essayed the role of the equally haughty Gen. Tomas Mascardo.
It was also such a casting risk and surprise to put known comedians in such key roles, like Epy Quizon as Apolinario Mabini, Leo Martinez as Pedro Paterno and Ketchup Eusebio as the vengeful Capt. Pedro Janolino. I must admit their presence can be distracting in certain dramatic moments, particularly Eusebio. Or maybe that was their purpose -- to balance out the severe seriousness of those scenes.
You immediately upfront that the filmmakers were aiming high for this film. The initial introductory texts were written in English, signifying intentions for this film to make the rounds of foreign film festivals. (I read that there were even certain reels with English subtitles shown in some more upscale cinemas.) The presence of disclaimers stating that this is a work of fiction inspired by fact could somehow raise an uneasy question as to how much fiction was in there mixed among the facts.
This film will also grab you with its gorgeous cinematography. The images on the big screen had such vivid colors and innovative camera angles. The period production design and the costume design were meticulous in detail. During a beautifully-edited flashback sequence, there was a stylized scene about Rizal's execution that was so uniquely and hauntingly rendered. There are most gruesome and graphic special effects showing the violent brutality of warfare which will shock you.
The historical storytelling was very clear, exciting and engaging from beginning to end, with a fresh graphic novel feel to it. Humor was such an unexpected yet integral element of the script, from those crisp off- color expletives of Luna to those sarcastic side comments of Lt. Rusca (Archie Alemania) and many more in between of different shades. The patriotic sentiments were very poetically-written, but the way they were delivered here felt sincere. They did not sound preachy or cheesy, like when such lines were mouthed by Robin Padilla in "Bonifacio" or Jeorge E.R. Ejército in "El Presidente".
Just like a Marvel film, there was an extra scene in the middle of the closing credits, suggesting a next film featuring Paulo Avelino as Gen. Gregorio del Pilar. There was also a brief cameo appearance of Benjamin Alves as a young Manuel L. Quezon, hinting at a possible trilogy. This is a very exciting plan indeed which we all hope will materialize given the success of "Heneral Luna".
I hear this is also under consideration of being submitted for Oscar consideration, and I support that campaign. The screening I caught today was a full-house despite being 1:30 in the afternoon on a weekday. It was really gratifying to see a quality Filipino film have commercial success even if it was not an inane comedy or "kilig" teen flick with box-office stars in the cast.
Kudos to Artikulo Uno Productions and director-film editor-musical scorer Jerrold Tarog for coming up with what may just be the best, certainly the most audacious, Filipino film released this year to date. Like Gen. Luna, this film leads a mad charge on horseback with a raised fist against Filipinos who say they love their country yet look out for their personal interests first. Let's hope this strong message hits its targets. 9/10.
Rogues, Rebels and Zombies!
Almost exactly one year ago, the first "Maze Runner" film was released in local theaters. I thought that the action sequences within the maze scenes were all quite exciting and very entertaining to watch. However, after all the excellent suspense and tension built up in the first two- thirds of the film, at the end nothing really gets explained clearly. It felt like an incomplete film on its own. For those it gets interested though, this sequel is expected to give answers to questions raised in the first film.
While under the care of a high-security facility, Thomas becomes increasingly suspicious of Janson, the man in charge. When he overhears a sinister plot hatching, he gets his fellow Gladers out to brave the arid desert called the Scorch outside. However, it was not only the elements they have to worry about, there were still a horde of killer zombies called the Cranks out there to contend with. Thomas and his gang survive the Scorch and unite with the rebel group in the mountains in order to fight the danger foisted on humanity by the increasingly mysterious Dr. Ava Paige and her WCKD organization.
Dylan O'Brien continues his good portrayal of the ever-doubting Thomas. In this film, his character would need to make a lot of difficult decisions and O'Brien convinces us that he can make those hard choices. The other young actors in his gang do not really do too much to stand out. Aidan Gillen, the ever-slimy Littlefinger on "Game of Thrones" brings his smarmy charms in this film as the Rat-Man, Janson. One look at him and I cannot really separate him from his TV character.
Rosa Salazar gives a strong performance as Brenda, a survivor within the city ruins whom Thomas encounters. She registers better on screen than the main female lead Kaya Scodelario, who plays Teresa. It was good to see another "Game of Thrones" actress in there, the attractive Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays Harriet, one of the rebels. Veteran actresses Lili Taylor and Patricia Clarkson lend class to their rival scientist characters, Mary Cooper and Ava Paige, respectively.
The excitement build up strongly in the first act. However the second act in the Scorch felt a bit slow as the Cranks overstay their parts too long. Their horror scenes were effectively creepy at first but they get a bit too repetitive. A protracted hallucinatory party scene can also be quite head-scratching. The third act though hikes up the explosive climactic action and revives anticipatory audience excitement for the next installment. The production design of elaborate setup of the WCKD laboratory and the ruins of the huge city looked very good. At the end of the 130 minute running time, there are still a lot of questions about the true intentions of WCKD, or is that name alone already a giveaway clue?
There was no more maze in this movie anymore for the characters to run through. However, the maze is for the viewer who has to try to absorb this whole labyrinthine dystopian world that James Dashner hatched in his novels. Director Wes Ball does his best to make the complex plot engaging, exciting and entertaining with some pretty well-executed action scenes. Overall, when compared to the first "Maze Runner", this sequel was the more satisfying film for me. 7/10.