Category Archives: Adventure

Prometheus (2012)

In 2093, the spacecraft Prometheus enters the vicinity of LV-223, a distant moon believed to hold the secret to man’s origins. Funded by Weyland Corp.’s dying CEO (Guy Pearce), the expedition follows an ancient star map discovered by archaeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). On the moon, several crew members disembark, including an android called David (Michael Fassbender). Under instructions from Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), they explore the area expecting answers, and discover horrifying truths.

As many critics have noted, Fassbender gives a superb performance as David. He radiates an aura so otherworldly, so nonhuman, that it’s chilling just to watch him move. Because we are not privy to his motivations, David remains an unpredictable character. We are always suspicious. In contrast, Shaw starts off as a naïve scientist seemingly ignorant of the risks of experimenting with extraterrestrials. What she experiences, however, transforms her into a resilient survivor, and we find ourselves rooting for her by the movie’s end. Vickers, on the other hand, stays terribly underutilized. She first appears doing push-ups after two years of stasis—piquing audience interest—but she contributes virtually nothing to the plot. Without any real power (her crew keeps disobeying her) and ostensible personal agenda, Vickers functions as little more than eye candy. Theron’s capable acting is wasted on a character that isn’t done any justice in the script.

Prometheus is far from perfect, but the good news is, it doesn’t aim to be. Viewers complain that it’s confusing and that it contains too many unresolved questions—perfectly valid assessments elsewhere, but here I disagree. Details are dealt sparingly, but attentive viewers should be able to piece together enough information to feel satiated, for now. Ample threads are left open for a possible sequel, which may or may not connect to the first Alien movie (TJ filled me in on this). It’s not that I have zero complaints: An early scene, a father-daughter memory meant to provide background on Shaw’s faith, strikes me as gratuitous and too on the nose. But despite certain predictabilities (ooh this looks dangerous let’s touch it), Prometheus pulls off a thrilling and intellectually satisfying adventure by taking on some of mankind’s most enduring issues and setting them against a gorgeously bleak alien landscape. Perhaps rightly so, it portends that some questions are not meant to be answered, and leaves us with a distressing possibility.

‘The trick is not minding that it hurts.’

‘Why do you think your people made me?’ ‘We made ya ’cause we could.’ ‘Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?’

Titanic (1997)

Nostalgia is a tricky bastard. While it frames the past gracefully, it also alters perception in ways inescapable to the sentimental, a partiality that only deepens with time. At my brother Kevin’s insistence, my siblings and I watched Titanic on its centennial, fifteen years after I first saw it in theater. It was their first time; I was their age in 1997. I loved Titanic then, and I love it now. Sepia-filtered memory makes distance impossible.

Everyone knows the story. Rose (Kate Winslet) is a beautiful, intelligent girl suffocated by the trivialities of high society. Aboard Titanic with her controlling mother and tyrannical fiancé Cal (Billy Zane), she meets Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a third-class passenger whose carefree outlook shows her the possibility of a different life. But on the fourth night of its maiden voyage, Titanic sinks into the freezing Atlantic, carrying with it the lives and dreams of over 1,500 people—to be remembered only as one of the greatest disasters in history.

James Cameron has yet to impress me with recent works, but he does hit all the right notes in Titanic. Although the movie stretches for three hours, the story moves onward at an ideal pace, never unsatisfying and never dull. With hardly any superfluous scene, Titanic embodies the epitome of a well-told story and a well-rendered movie (perhaps at the expense of being too conventional, too whole). True, the rich-girl-poor-boy narrative is downright cliché, and the couple’s whirlwind romance does require some leap of belief, but both leads play their parts so convincingly that it’s not hard for viewers to make that emotional jump. Many memorable scenes (by now iconic) also help in establishing character, although they do nothing to humanize Cal, whose caricature treatment inspires the same hatred as any old-fashioned villain.

I don’t think I have ever not cried while watching this movie. No matter how many times I see it, the feeling of loss never fades. In combining personal drama with history, Titanic conveys an overwhelming sense of both private and public tragedy. We mourn for Jack and Rose, but we know that their story is only a mirror of all those that went down with the ship, a sorrow augmented by its sheer preventability. For all its melodrama, Titanic expresses poignant insights on the transience of things and the permanence of memory. When Celine Dion starts crooning, who can help but cry?

‘Titanic was called the ship of dreams. And it was. It really was.’

‘Do you trust me?’ ‘I trust you.’

‘Three years, I’ve thought of nothing except Titanic; but I never got it. I never let it in.’

Hugo (2011)

Set in 1930s Paris, Hugo centers on its title character, a clockmaker’s son who lives within the walls of a railway station. Orphaned and abandoned, Hugo (Asa Butterfield) steals food to survive and filches mechanical parts to complete his father’s project, the restoration of a broken automaton. When toy merchant Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) catches him red-handed and takes a valuable notebook from him, a desperate Hugo turns to the man’s goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Moretz), for help. Together, they repair the automaton and discover its link to Georges’ secret past, opening up an adventure much bigger than the one they first imagined.

While Hugo generally sustains its fantastic veneer, ill-considered sequences at times break the illusion—the most jarring being a painfully blatant statement of theme. But despite such identifiable blunders, the movie leads you inside worlds far from familiar: gigantic clocks forming intricate mechanical lacework, books spiraling toward the ceiling, tiny toys lining a shop from end to end. In Hugo, your world is scaled down to one city, one train station—where your biggest enemy is the inspector, and the orphanage your worst nightmare. Visually, all this is rendered in spectacular 3D. The opening scenes take your breath away: the onrush of steam in your face, the crowd parting to let you pass—almost, almost like you’re really there. In a word: captivating.

Magnified to gorgeous proportions, Georges’ masterpieces compel the viewer to consider and appreciate the many layers at work in Scorsese’s fim. Although marketed as a heartwarming family drama, the movie’s principal accomplishments lie elsewhere. As a children’s movie, Hugo may fail to mesmerize very young audiences, but does wonders in capturing the hearts and minds of more mature viewers. Whatever the dissenting few may say, I consider this film a success in the seamless unification of its elements: an orphan searching for his father’s presence, an artist struggling to reconcile with a bitter past, and—between them—a mysterious, broken automaton carrying a crucial message. Apart from Butterfield’s inconsistent performance and some awkward exchanges between the two children, I have no real complaints. My eyes blurred over several times while watching this film—at times out of sadness, more often out of sheer awe. I am grateful to Maki for dragging me to its last screening in Metro Manila. Hugo in 3D is definitely something I would not have wanted to miss.

‘We could get into trouble.’ ‘That’s how you know it’s an adventure.’

‘Why should I believe you?’ ‘Because…because it’s true!’

‘If you’ve ever wondered where your dreams come from, look around. This is where they’re made.’

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

One magical summer, I met Hayao Miyazaki and entered the strange universe of Studio Ghibli. I remember listening to Eandra play the theme of Howl’s Moving Castle and being convinced to watch the movie, which soon prompted me to unearth more. I wept over Grave of the Fireflies, laughed through My Neighbors the Yamadas, and marveled at the mysterious worlds of Ponyo and Nausicaä. For a year I awaited Studio Ghibli’s next film, then titled The Borrower Arrietty.

The movie centers on Arrietty, an adventurous girl born to a family of borrowers—little people who live under the floorboards and “borrow” from humans the things they need for survival. She knows that this peaceful co-existence hinges on one very important tenet: that the borrowers remain undiscovered by humans, whom they perceive as cruel and dangerous. But one day a frail boy named Sho arrives at the house and strikes up a friendship with Arrietty, transforming her understanding of humans but also endangering her family’s existence.

A legend among anime fans, Hayao Miyazaki is a name that has become inseparable from Studio Ghibli. He serves as the production planner for Arrietty; animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi takes on the director’s role. Even after repeated viewings, Ghibli’s animation does not disappoint. There is always something new to admire in each film. In Arrietty we find a strong emphasis on detail highlighting relative properties: short distances become chasms, a clock’s ticking is amplified to insistent banging, and tea flows out of a pot in gigantic drops. This magnified scale imbues house interiors with a sense of newness, inciting wonder at what we deem ordinary—this I consider the film’s chief achievement.

Content-wise, what I liked most is the subtle dynamics of Sho and Arrietty’s relationship. Neither character overwhelms the other; they are equal in their weakness. I especially appreciated how Sho did not presume to solve the borrowers’ lodging problem, even though it was well within his capacity to do so. That struck me as the ultimate sign of respect. Because of this, I am prompted to deem the film’s few didactic lapses forgivable.

While Arrietty holds none of the exuberance of Spirited Away (my favorite), it possesses the same qualities that made the latter such a success. Charming and splendidly uplifting, this movie shows that it doesn’t take all that much to bridge two worlds. Sometimes, all you need is a cube of sugar.

‘We’ll make do, we always have. You don’t know anything about us!’

‘You protected me after all. I hope you have the best life ever. Goodbye.’

Thor (2011)

All right, it was a short-lived vow. Still, I wouldn’t have broken it for something like Thor if it hadn’t been for the sake of company. Last weekend I went to a movie theater with DA, Jes, Sarah, Marck, Ed and Ryan. I didn’t even want to watch this, but I hadn’t seen these guys in a while and online reviews say it’s pretty good so I thought, why not? Turns out theater-going isn’t so bad after all, as long as you’re seated in time for some trailers and you have a strong bladder. About everything else, you can only hope that other people get there on time as well and don’t stand up too often.

Spanning the three realms of Earth, Asgard, and Yodenheim, Thor offers a cast of immortals: Chris Hemsworth as the god of thunder, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster, an astrophysicist Thor meets after his father banishes him to the human world. In Thor’s absence, betrayals and racial conflicts rock his native Asgard, eventually exposing an unexpected opponent he must defeat in order to restore peace.

Superhero movies tend to follow a certain formula, we all know that, and recent mass production has made stereotypes of many characters. But I like the humans in Thor. Erik, Darcy, and Jane are quirky, funny, perhaps even endearing if given enough screen time. The gods, in striking contrast, fall into the easiest stereotypes: wise father, wayward son, loyal friends. Of all of them, Loki’s character has the most potential. He has an interesting background and a complex personality, yet all this is brushed aside in favor of the title character. Unfortunately, Thor is boring, predictable. Everything about him is unconvincing: his early decisions, emotional growth, even his romance with Jane. Then again superheroes are generally like this: maybe the entire franchise just doesn’t appeal to me (except for Iron Man, but we all know Tony Stark doesn’t really have superpowers).

All in all, Thor strikes me as average. I wouldn’t call it a waste of money, but I definitely could have gone without it. The special effects are awesome, and I actually like the ending—minus some cheesy lines between father and son. It’s entertaining enough, if that’s just what you’re looking for, but it’s not something I’d want to see again, or even remember for a long time.

‘For the first time in my life, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.’

‘I have no plans to die today.’ ‘None do.’

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

So I’ve been watching a lot of Hollywood recently: Tangled, Love and Other Drugs, and now The Lightning Thief. Noticing this trend in my blog, I vowed to watch a not-so-popular film next, but this afternoon my little siblings Sean, Kevin and Althea coerced me to see this movie and I couldn’t refuse. I only downloaded it for them in the first place.

Based on the first book in Rick Riordan’s popular series, the movie invites viewers to enter a world where Greek mythology exists as reality. In this first installment, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) accidentally discovers his identity as the son of Poseidon when Zeus accuses him of stealing his lightning bolt. To protect him from Hades (who wants the treasure for himself and believes the boy has it), his satyr-protector Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) leads him to a secret training camp for demigods. There he meets other half-mortals like Luke (Jake Abel) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), who aid him in his quest to prove his innocence to the gods and rescue his mother from the Underworld.

I will say it outright: I didn’t like this movie, and though I will try not to make this review a list of complaints, frankly I don’t think it will turn out any other way. My main problem with The Lightning Thief is that it’s not convincing enough: unimpressive acting, innumerable plot holes, stock characters. It’s easy to recognize the stereotypes: the funny sidekick, the smart-beautiful-strong lady-love (perfect, like the one in Eragon), the deceiving friend. The proliferation of happy coincidences didn’t help alleviate my consternation with this film. “That was convenient,” Sean said during one scene (I forgot which, the remark applies to so many). And it is true: so many coincidental things occur in this film, and yes, other movies have that too, but the problem is this one didn’t suspend my disbelief. At all.

I think I have to cite a few good points now. The fight scenes and special effects were okay, pretty standard. I appreciated the whole Greek mythology aspect of the movie as well as its occasionally successful attempts at hilarity, but overall I really, really didn’t like it. My siblings enjoyed it a lot though. It’s nice to know that at least kids can see past all my complaints, even though I obviously couldn’t.

‘Persephone! What could possibly be taking so long? Don’t ignore me!’ ‘Or what? What will you do? I’m already in hell.’

‘Just because you didn’t see me doesn’t mean I wasn’t there.’

‘You can receive all the training in the world but ultimately you have to follow your instincts.’

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

Who among us didn’t have a dragon phase (or are still in it)? Exactly. This movie takes this childhood fascination and transforms it into something wonderful, magical—in 3D, no less. (It’s too bad I only watched it on my laptop.) Whereas everything around us today feels like it’s all about marketing to the largest possible audience, it is a rare, honest, feel-good film: it doesn’t try to be anything else, and it works that way.

Let me summarize. Hiccup is an awkward boy. The son of the chief Viking in his village, he has striven all his life to prove himself worthy of his race and his father. On an island in constant war with dragons, every kid dreams of becoming a great dragon slayer, and Hiccup is no exception. The problem is, when he finally gets his chance, he finds himself incapable of hurting a dragon and instead befriends it, realizing that there is so much more to the creatures than he had been taught to assume.

Although a bit lacking in the how-to aspect, this movie is everything else it promises to be—bright, charming, thrilling, sweeping—at times even scary. In a word: it will make you feel like a kid again. Armed with clever characters and an even cleverer script, it crawls its way into the viewer’s heart so well that by the end of the film you’re willing to overlook its faults. Not that there are a lot. How to Train Your Dragon combines all of the good of children’s films and takes with it hardly any of the bad. Its characters are a tad stereotypical (easily identifiable), its plotline predictable (anticipatable), but who’s complaining? Endearing characters, witty lines, great graphics, swooping music—to a kid that’s all you really need. To quote my nine-year-old brother Sean’s first words at the end of the movie: “That was bee-yootiful.”

‘This is Berk. It’s twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death.’

‘Excuse me, barmaid! I’m afraid you brought me the wrong offspring! I ordered an extra-large boy with beefy arms, extra guts and glory on the side. This here, this is a talking fish-bone!’

‘The sun was in my eyes, Astrid! What do you want me to do, block out the sun? I can do that you know!’

‘We’re Vikings. It’s an occupational hazard.’

‘This is Berk. It snows nine months out of the year, and hails the other three. What little food grows here is tough and tasteless. The people that grow here, even more so. The only upsides are the pets. While other places have ponies, or parrots…we have dragons.’