Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sassy school teachers teach and end up learning life's lessons Reviewer

Sassy school teachers teach and end up learning life's lessons

September 15, 2011, 1:24pm
MANILA, Philippines — What’s your favorite teacher movie? You haven’t really seen too many of them, have you?
But two readily come to mind: the lyrically titled “Dead Poets Society” and the equally sweet sounding “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” anyone?
How about: “Bad Teacher?”
Indeed, what is it about the titles of today’s films? “The Town.” “After.Life.” “Super 8.” “Due Date.” “The American.” None of these titles grab you with the sort of magic evoked by “Legends of the Fall,” “A River Runs Through It,” or “The Kingdom of Heaven,” titles guaranteed to lure moviegoers to the cinema house.
Could this phenomenon be an alternative explanation for the preponderance of film franchises? From Batman’s “The Dark Night” soon comes “The Dark Knight Rises” and from “Mission Impossible 1, 2 and 3,” the coming yearend’s Tom Cruise trademark “Mission Impossible 4.” Great box office guarantor titles.
Avid cinephiles already look forward to the renaissance of the Jason Bourne thrillers in next film season’s “The Bourne Legacy.” Suddenly ubiquitous Daniel Craig who just regaled us with his performance as an alien abductee in Solar Films recent release “Cowboys and Aliens” (to the premier of which Universal Pictures’ Rommie Berona invited this reviewer and Bobby Caballero) takes over the Matt Damon staple character now that Matt has wisely decided to surrender his Bourne ID.
Now don’t expect “Bad Teacher” to jumpstart a slew of teacher films. It’s bad enough that this current one, if you take writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg without your tongue in cheek, present an almost entirely negative picture of the US educational system.
Two female teachers who badmouth and hate each other so much they want each other to go to jail, a naïve principal more interested in dolphins than administration, and a male teacher whose predilection for “dry” sex makes him an ideal poster boy for the RH bill. These are the main protagonists and antagonists of “Bad Teacher.”
Former ‘N Sync boy band leader Justin Timberlake plays the testosterone-bursting algebra teacher Scott Delacorte, scion in this film to the Jaeger le Coultre watchmakers’ fortune. Over his affections fight dirty blonde Elizabeth Halsey (green-eyed Cameron Diaz who initially comes off as a cross between a virgin and a tart) and sultry redhead Amy Squirrel whose portrayal of Lucy Punch merits an A+.
Jake Kasdan handles these characters as though he, too, has taught in middle school – the equivalent here of high school. He injects Elizabeth with just the right amount of sensuality, Amy with the perpetual pout of a loser, and Scott with the usual Timberlake charisma.
But it’s the other teachers in the John Adams Middle School that come shining through. This supporting cast gifts viewers with a microcosm of the lives and times of mild-mannered middle-American educators. John Michael Higgins’ amiable Principal Snur is complemented by Jason Segel’s amicable gym teacher Russell Gettis and the school-m’armish Phyllis Smith’s Lynn Davis.
Still it is Cameron Diaz’s Miss Halsey that holds the film together. At the beginning of the film, she confesses to teacher buddy Lynn Davis, “My full time job is to find a guy who’s going to take care of me.” You just believe her and totally side with her in the confrontation with the wealthy fiancé whose decision to terminate their romantic relationship occasions her unwanted return to the teaching profession.
And she’s so right when she tells a suitor, “I don’t sleep with co-workers” – because, indeed, school teachers should not, no matter how bad they may be.
“Bad Teacher” runs for 92 minutes; it is rated R for foul language and even fouler sex. It is distributed by Columbia Pictures, the Philippine office of Sony Pictures Releasing Intern

Fright Night - The Vampire Strikes Back - hunk, horns, and all

Fright Night: The vampire strikes back… hunk, horns and all

September 17, 2011, 3:00am
A scene from ‘Fright Night’
A scene from ‘Fright Night’
MANILA, Philippines -- Can you imagine a more unlikely modern-day Dracula than Colin Farrell? Yes, we’re talking Colin Farrell of movie event “Alexander” and cult film “In Bruges” who spectacularly wowed worldwide cinema goers in “Minority Report,” holding his own against megastar Tom Cruise.
Times must be desperate in Hollywood, particularly for A-list actors of Colin’s age. Not only do they have to pit themselves against a new generation of young would-be Cruises and Brad Pitts. They also have to contend with the current domination of roles in that age bracket by George Clooney and Clive Owen.
And, don’t forget, gentle reader: Tom and Brad did portray bloodsuckers in the widely ballyhooed “Interview with a Vampire.”Pitt so out-fanged Cruise in that opus, Tom swore he would out-snarl Brad in the planned sequel, “The Vampire Lescaut,” which to-date remains a plan.
Blame that, maybe, on Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” saga? These movies altered filmgoers’ perception of vampires. No more fright-ugly Peter Cushings and Bela Lugosi look-alikes for today’s looks-obsessed audiences. Welcome to Robert Pattinson country where Edward Cullen makes the vampire truly vamp.
That’s probably why director Craig Gillespie and the “Fright Night” producers picked Colin Farrell as lead actor in this 1985 film’s remake. Hey, the guy not only out-Brando’s Marlon in or out of a white T-shirt a la “A Streetcar Named Desire” in this movie. As Las Vegas suburb newcomer Jerry, he practically steals the show from otherwise top-billed Anton Yelchin (the memorable Russian-accented teenager in 2009’s “Star Trek”). Yelchin plays Charley Brewster who harbors an automatic dislike of newcomers. He wants his Nevada neighborhood to remain his friends’ turf… until these friends start disappearing with nary a trace.
Ironically, Charley has earlier chided boyhood buddy Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) for declaring that new neighbor Jerry is a vampire. Why else does he keep his house shuttered? Charley argues that the guy must be working in nearby Las Vegas, so like everybody else laboring there, he slaves nights and sleeps days.
Charley swallows his words when Ed, too, vanishes. But neither his horny girl friend, Amy (Imogen Poots), nor his mother, Jane Brewster (graciously aged Toni Collette), believes his theory about Jerry. In fact, they find the newcomer downright debonair and want to invite him home! (In this film, vampires can’t just invade any home; they need an invitation.) So off Charley saunters to nearby Las Vegas to seek the services of Peter Vincent (BBC’s suave, stiff-upper-lipped David Tennant) who does a vampire slayer act in one of the theatres.
It turns out vampires had victimized Peter’s parents, too, and his act is just that, an act. He warns that the new breed of bloodsuckers possesses insurmountable supernatural strength. Run for dear life, he advises Charley. But instead of being terrified, Charley resolves to terminate Jerry’s evil ways in a manner that will confound and astound even the most blase moviegoer.
Director Craig Gillespie and writer Marti Noxon wisely set “Fright Night” mostly after sundown, for that’s when vampires strike. The film’s intentionally slow pace heightens its eerie ambience. Goose pimples will surely torment not a few moviegoers for much of the show’s suspense-laden hour and three quarters. The sets of production designer Richard Bridgland Fitzgerald rack up the tension so much you’ll never want to visit Nevada.
Noxon’s witty writing effectively balances the killing suspense with tongue-in-cheek, fangs-on-neck situations, especially in the cold-blooded climax. Whenever it’s time for fang-baring, you’ll feel the bite… blood, guts, gore and all. Henceforth, even the star-struck won’t want to invite Jerry home.
Although shot in 3-D, “Fright Night” stands solidly on its 2-D own – so, as social critic Bobby Caballero would say, spend only what you can. The fact is, nothing in the movie demands three-dimensional enjoyment – save Colin?
Javier Aguirresarobe shot the film in magenta hues to enhance its gnawing look. Tatiana S. Riegel briskly edits “Fright Night” to appropriate music by Ramin Djawadi. Credit costume designer Susan Matheson for enhancing Colin Farrell’s hunk appeal. Michael de Luca and Alison Rosenzweig produced this Dream Works Pictures release.
“Fright Night” runs for one hour and 41 minutes. MTRCB rates the film PG-13, but it’s probably too bloody for even the guardians of 13-year-olds.
Cristobal Labog has worked as a writer and strategic planner for advertising agencies in Manila, Tokyo, Brussels and Amsterdam. He divides his time between the city of Trabzon on the Black Sea in Turkey and the city of Mandaluyong in the Philippines. For questions and comments, e-mail crislabog@gmail.com.

Hong Kong, bird flu inspires end-of-the-world yarn


Hong Kong, bird flu inspires end-of-the-world yarn

September 20, 2011, 9:33am
A scene from 'Contagion'
A scene from 'Contagion'
MANILA, Philippines -- Remember SARS? Well, you might not. Originating in China and Hong Kong, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome first ran rampant there, killing a great number of people.
SARS also devastated neighboring Southeast Asian countries – then on to Europe and the Americas – but it spared the Philippines. Yes, the joke went about that so virulent is Philippine air, the SARS virus died the moment the carrier or carriers disembarked the plane at NAIA. That was in 2002, and since SARS never really dominated local news, because the epidemic never got off the ground here, you probably never heard about it. Well, raise the SARS death figure to the nth power and you get an idea of how much more terrifying is the virus around which the film “Contagion” revolves.
Now, remember 1995’s “Outbreak” in which German Wolfgang Petersen (“Troy,” “The Perfect Storm,” etc.) directed a stellar cast top-billed by Oscar winners Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman? Like the much earlier 1980 Japanese film “Wirusu no Hi” (“Day of the Virus”), it dramatized a pandemic that threatened to wipe out the human race. Flash forward to 2011, and we have “Contagion” – and don’t be surprised that “Contagion” and “Outbreak” are both Warner Brothers productions. What’s with Hollywood these days?
But never mind, at least four major Oscar winners – director Steven Soderbergh for Best Picture “Traffic” and Best Actresses Marion Cotillard for “La Vien en Rose,” Gwyneth Paltrow for “Shakespeare in Love” and Kate Winslet for “The Reader” – make “Contagion” something moviegoers will not want to miss. Add heavyweight performers like Matt Damon, Jude Law, Lawrence Fishburne and Elliott Gould, and you have the year’s most star-studded opus.
The film starts innocently enough, with Gwyneth’s character Beth Emhoff emptying a pre-departure cocktail in Hong Kong which a waitress then dutifully removes. This sequence inter-cuts with various scenes around the world: Beth’s husband Mitch (Matt Damon) back in Minnesota awaiting Beth’s arrival; various physicians and medics going about their work at a medical facility in Switzerland; sleazy-looking blogger Alan (Jude Law) strutting his stuff in San Francisco; plus an assortment of other doctors (six of the powerhouse cast) facing another typical day – but is it?
Indeed, now-sniffling, coughing Beth must have caught a flu-like something, for she collapses when she arrives at home (after passing on the virus at the HK and Minneapolis international airports). Her nurse and attending physician in turn pass the germs on to unknown strangers who pass them on to others, as does the waitress in Hong Kong to other local and international travelers… ad infinitum. Within hours or days, all these poor souls perish, including the Emhoffs’ son. Before long the pestilence has claimed millions, causing widespread panic. But guess what, the virus spares Matt Damon’s Mitch and his daughter.
Physicians galore now start entering the picture – from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in America to the WHO (World Health Organization) in Europe. These include Dr. Ellis Cheever (Lawrence Fishburne), Dr. Erin Meers (Kate Winslet), Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard), Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliott Gould), Dr. Ally Hexfall (Jennifer Ehle) and Dr. Eisenseberg (Demetri Martin). Some of these doctors eventually succumb to the disease, one’s abducted by a Hong Kong Chinese (charismatic newcomer Tien You Chui), and a pair discovers the vaccine that could arrest the spread of the virus, or at least before it mutates. (Sequels, anyone?) But expect no more spoilers here.
Local director Elwood Perez’s advice is to head to the cinema with a surgical mask and hand sanitizer because that’s how this convincing film affected him. (This reviewer headed to the bathroom at home after assiduously avoiding the Megamall cinema’s own toilet.) But as Elwood would also ask, where’s the film’s beef?
Owing to Soderbergh’s huge reputation, cineastes assume that anything he directs must be good, sight unseen. And in this apocalyptic tale, he does work with his regular auteur’s crew of writer (Scott Z. Burns), editor (Stephen Mirrione) and composer (Cliff Martinez) who themselves have won Oscars and BAFTA’s. Also, by shooting the film a la film noir with a yellowish tint, his chosen director of photography Peter Andrews, heightens the feeling of plague.
Verdict: Soderbergh’s cast and crew deliver. This cautionary tale, which Michael Shamberg, Stacey Share and Gregory Jacobs produced, could dominate the spectator’s waking hours with its gravitas-laden message.
“Contagion” runs for 1 hour and 42 minutes. Warner Brothers released the film, rated PG-13, although a scene showing the autopsy of a victim’s head could make you squirm in your seat.
Cristobal Labog has worked as a copywriter and strategic planner for advertising agencies in Manila, Tokyo, Brussels and Amsterdam. He divides his time between the city of Trabzon on the Black Sea in Turkey and the city of Mandaluyong in the Philippines. For questions and comments, e-mail crislabog@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Mesmerizing meditation on the beginning of days becomes metaphor for family’s journey into night

Meet Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien. This typical middle-class couple lives in the suburbs. They go to Sunday worship with their three children in tow. Mrs. O’Brien takes care of household chores. Mr. O’Brien teaches the three siblings boxing. In between, father and sons wrestle under the shade of trees or take turns at bat in yard baseball.

You can see how Mr. O’Brien (played with sincerity by Brad Pitt) adores the children, playfully jostling, embracing and coddling them, making them feel safe and loved. But Mr. O’Brien proves to be a stickler for discipline; he soldiered in the war which ended only years back. He tells the children to address them “Father” and “Mother,” not “Dad” and “Mom.” Mrs. O’Brien (the absolutely luminous Jessica Chastain) faithfully watches all this loving activity through the window or from the clotheslines.

You sense love in its many splendored hues here – spousal, filial, parental, fraternal. But 15 years later when “The Tree of Life” actually begins (the scenes just described come out later in flashbacks), Mrs. O’Brien receives a telegram. One of the sons has died. He was 19. Dutifully she telephones Mr. O’Brien at the factory and together they mourn the death in the family. The grandmother (a cameo for Fiona Shaw) advises them to go past their grief. Life goes on, everything changes, she says. Creation itself is in a state of flux and only the creator’s light stays lit, unchanging.

At this point, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera dissolves (for everything in a Terrence Malick-directed movie is seamless) to the most stunning images, from the beginning of time when time itself was invented: swirling, fearsome seas; searing pre-volcanic lava; hot and mystic, mysterious mists; ominously sweeping kaleidoscopic clouds; dank, airless darkness.

If mathematics mixed with chaos could be rendered as an Albrecht Durer painting of Dante’s Inferno, you’re watching it. But wait, there’s a kind of hush all over the world now: cool, cold, bubbling water; moss and algae and rocks; dim light in the horizon; and below the water, oval shapes and forms coalescing and collapsing, adhering and cohering, all the time emitting energy concave and convex that radiates and creates forever more.

Soon a silken creature swims to the surface, fills its lungs with air, challenges the surroundings – a dinosaur. Timidly it treads on land, stepping on the head of a similar, wounded creature. We know that the newborn planet has reached 60 million years and that shortly a giant meteor will render these behemoths extinct.

No sooner has this grand celestial/terrestrial tour ended than the viewer is spirited into the glass and steel structures of a modern city. These manmade canyons echo the vastness of nature. Here, we espy one of the O’Brien sons, now 50 (played with silent grace by Sean Penn). The man’s tense composure parallels that of the viewer who has just glimpsed Malick’s vision of eternity… in the blink of an eye.

For that is what viewers willing to journey with this genius of the cinema will imbibe from “The Tree of Life” – the grace to realize that although one’s life may be but a blip on the cosmic screen, the very act of existence is as precious as it must have been for that first dinosaur of long ago but not far away.

My advice to those who have yet to see this opus – so they can muster their possible what-on-earth-is-happening impatience inside the theatre – is to note that the identity of the son who dies is unimportant, but that he dies at the age of 19. No other storyline fiat is of consequence.

Older cinephiles will tell you that “The Tree of Life” is only the 5th film of reclusive Terrence Malick who directed “Badlands” in 1973, “Days of Heaven” in 1978, “The Thin Red Line” twenty years later in 1998 and “The New World” in 2005.

Credit the film’s exquisite detailing to production designer Jack Fisk. Alexander Desplat did the magnificent original score which claims pride of place among the works of Brahms, Berlioz and Smetana which also grace the movie. Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber and Mark Yoshikawa edited Lubezki’s amazing photography. Fox Searchlight Pictures released the film.

“The Tree of Life” won the 2011 “Best Picture” award in Cannes; it runs for two hours and 18 minutes and is rated G (for Great).

Cristobal Labog has worked for advertising agencies in Manila, Tokyo, Brussels and Amsterdam. He divides his time between Trabzon on the Black Sea in Turkey and Mandaluyong City in the Philippines. For questions and comments, email crislabog@gmail.com

" INCEPTION " - Suddenly this summer, the yardstick movie of the year

" INCEPTION " - Suddenly this summer, the yardstick movie of the year

Author: Cristobal Labog

From his pre-summer movie "Shutter Island," Leonardo DiCaprio now takes us to "Inception," certainly not just this season's but also this year's (and next year's and next's) most challenging and thrilling film. And that's largely thanks, too, to director Christopher Nolan who spent 10 years writing and rewriting what surely will become his magnum opus. (And we all thought his "Dark Knight" had taken him to the zenith of his career.) But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) rules the industrial espionage business, handsomely paid to extract the most valuable, innermost secrets of modern-day corporate honchos - through the medium of dreams. Like the hero of the Martin Scorsese-directed "Shutter Island," Cobb is also a flawed character - a widower haunted by feelings of guilt that are fuelled by recurrent memories of a dead wife and missing children, even as he pursues both real and imagined antagonists.

Ariadne (Ellen Page) creates the architecture of Cobb's dreams to enable him to weave in and out of this semiconscious state before the omnipresent danger gets out of hand and takes him to "the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns." In non-Shakespearean parlance, that means death, because in Nolan's created universe, when one dies during an induced dream... but that's probably giving away too much (or too little).

"Inception" literally propels the film's central action: Instead of exacting secrets via dream invasion, what if you could plant an idea in the adversary's mind that would eventually result in the fall of his corporate dominion?
The adversary here is taipan Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), Cobb's client, the Japanese Saito's pugnacious, if suave, rival. Cobb's brilliant co-conspirators in this heist of heists include organization man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), skilled forger Eames (Tom Hardy) and Yusuf (Dileep Rao), the expert in charge of the drugs that induce this dream collective into a collective dream.
By nature, movies blur the line between reality and the moviegoer's perception of this reality - that's the secret behind their power to transport the public somewhere other than their normal habitat. In "Inception," multiply this blur tenfold, and you get the tip of an iceberg of pure entertainment that, we promise, will last you a lifetime, or at least until the next Leonardo/Nolan film comes along.
The ravishing Marion Cotillard plays Cobb's late wife Mal. She is by turns Cobb's sultry and menacing phantasm. What a rich supporting cast: Tom Berenger as Browning, Pete Postlewaite as Maurice Fischer and, yes, Michael Caine - auteur Nolan's regular - as Miles.

Hans Zimmer wrote a fevered, pulsing musical score that could out-Valkyrie venerable Wagner himself. He counterpoints this gravitas with an Edith Piaf song that wittily reminds us of Cotillard's Oscar-winning role and that rightfully proclaims to this year's Academy voters that this is Leonardi DiCaprio's year.
Wally Pfister should also win for his amazing camera work, along with film editor Lee Smith. If Guy Hendrix Dyas doesn't get nominated for his production design, perhaps an inception can be arranged for him. Paul Franklin supervised the visual effects, about which nothing but superlatives can be said, but the film belongs totally and with finality to writer-director Christopher Nolan.
"Inception" runs for 148 minutes and is rated PG 13.

Cristobal Labog has worked as a copywriter for advertising agencies in Manila, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Brussels and Amsterdam. He divides his time between Mandaluyong and Trabzon in the Black Sea. For comments and questions, e-mail crlabog@gmail.com [1].