Movie: Murder on the Orient Express

"Murder on the Orient Express"

What starts out as a lavish train ride through Europe quickly unfolds into one of the most stylish, suspenseful and thrilling mysteries ever told. From the novel by best-selling author Agatha Christie, “Murder on the Orient Express” tells the tale of thirteen strangers stranded on a train, where everyone’s a suspect. One man must race against time to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

First of all, I would like to thank my friend Chris (and 20th Century Fox Philippine) for bringing me along to an advanced screening of Murder on the Orient Express. That said, I was not paid to say good things about the film. Which I feel like I should say, because I will be saying a lot of good things about the film.

Sir Kenneth Branagh is, in my humble opinion, the most entertaining Hercule Poirot I’ve had the pleasure of watching. (Although, I haven’t seen that many.) He is, from the moment he enters the screen, a commanding presence. And I think that’s half of the battle won for this latest adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, having a likeable and funny protagonist.

Another thing I liked about the film is that it didn’t feel the need to add to or update the material to make it harder for viewers to solve. There were a couple of changes to the source material, if I’m not mistaken, but it only makes for a tighter story-telling.

I liked how the film establishes Poirot’s aptitude at solving mysteries quickly in the beginning, wisely introducing the main character to viewers who are not as familiar to the character and his history. And I liked how the film establishes possibilities in who the culprit could be.

I don’t remember how it went in the novel, but in the film, the suspects are introduced and fleshed out one by one. And I love how there is a vulnerability to each character, even as they are shown to be despicable. Dame Judi Dench is most exemplary here, as she bosses her maid around while still showing so much contained emotion.

I also have to commend the writing of the screenplay, as all the clues are spread out in the dialogue and the characters’ actions. Nothing feels planted, even though most of the clues really were planted. The hints dropped fell naturally, and seemingly without thought, that it gives viewers a sense of euphoria when the mystery slowly unravels with callbacks to the clues.

And then there’s the cinematography. Murder on the Orient Express is beautiful. It feels like a film from a different era with the way each character was framed, with the way light is used and infused into certain scenes. It was awe-inspiring.

Don’t get me wrong, there were faults to be found too. It was comically funny that whenever the camera would pan through the train, all the characters seem to be looking out the window. And certain scenes (and lines) seemed to have been included just to make the film funnier. But they’re small nitpicks in comparison to what the film was able to accomplish: which was to present a straightforward murder mystery that didn’t need to twist every which way just to make sure the viewers doesn’t solve the case too quickly.

Murder on the Orient Express opens here, in the Philippines, today.

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Movie: The Fault in our Stars

"The Fault in our Stars"

Hazel and Gus are two extraordinary teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them – and us – on an unforgettable journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that they met and fell in love at a cancer support group. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, based upon the number-one bestselling novel by John Green, explores the funny, thrilling and tragic business of being alive and in love.” (C) Fox

I understand that The Fault in our Stars is a love story. I do. But the thing that sets it apart is not that it’s a love story between teens with Cancer. What sets it apart is that their love story helps them understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them. That life will go on for the people who love them. This is why The Imperial Affliction plot thread was important, because it was a representation of their fears. But the only thing we got out of this very important plot thread was lip service.

The film version of The Fault in our Stars focuses on the love story between Augustus Waters and, our protagonist, Hazel Grace Lancaster. And, if I’m going to be honest, it’s not really any different from other doomed love stories. Boy meets Girl. They fall in love. But can’t be together because of ‘reasons.’ And yet they still get together anyway, making the most of the time they have together. And then one of them dies. The end.

Oh, come off it. That’s not a spoiler. They’re people with cancer. You know one of them is going to die.

Going back to my point: The Fault in our Stars distilled down to just romance isn’t special. Not for me. Because it was the relationships of this two star-crossed lovers to people other than each other that really made their love story special. Because they were learning from each other not to better themselves, but to be better people to those around them.

The source material deals with death. The book is brimming with death. Not explicitly, but we feel it with the way characters stop being mentioned. We feel it when one character loses his eyes. We feel it whenever Hazel Grace looks at her mother watching over her, caring for her, rushing to her if she so much as gasps out of air.

Yes, the film did take said scenes to the big screen version. But most of it was played to comic effect. The rest became merely words that needed to be said.

Unlike some people online, I don’t think John Green is infallible. Nor do I think that The Fault in our Stars is the be-all and end-all of books. But it was a book I recommended to people because of the fact that that it was a love story not just between boy and girl, but between the main characters and their family and friends too.

Because the book was bigger than just another love story.

Separate from the book, the movie was decent enough. But it’s not a good adaptation for me. I already had more, so I wasn’t going to expect less. I just hope that the film encourages people to read the book, for a better experience with The Fault in our Stars.

Movie: Pedro Calungsod

"Pedro Calungsod"

I really wanted to like this film. Not because I’m Catholic, I’m not, but because I want to see a non-mainstream story make a mark on a mainstream event like the Metro Manila Film Festival.

Unfortunately, while the sentiments behind this film is lovely (as is the cinematography), the story itself is not.

Pedro Calungsod: Batang Martir is a fictionalized retelling of the life that the newly canonized saint led back in the day. I say fictionalized because, if I remember correctly, no one really knows the entire story of Calungsod’s life. Just snippets. Enough to get him beatified almost a couple of decades ago.

The film follows Calungsod, portrayed by Rocco Nacino, as he joins a mission that would take him to an island off the coasts of the Visayan region, where Spanish priests wish to spread the good word of Christianity.

We are then treated to a series of events that take place in that island; events that supposedly happened in real life. Events that are really boring to watch, to be perfectly honest.

Conflicts break out suddenly and are never followed up on. The every day life shown in between conflicts are pretty peaceful, and feel really off because these people are supposed to be living in constant fear of a seige.

You never really understand the motivation of any of the characters shown–save for Christian Vasquez’s Spanish priest and Nacino’s Calungsod. Then again, they’re the central characters. They’re men of faith and nothing else; and they will defend their faith to their last breath.

And they do.

And then you wonder: what was the reason for this movie to be made? I mean, really? What was the point? Because I don’t get it. We see Calungsod die early on in the film. And then we see the journey they make towards the island. Their every day life. And then, just because one man is angry, Calungsod dies. And the film ends.

Really, that’s it.

The scenes are beautifully shot. Christian Vasquez makes it known that he can be a serious actor. Victor Basa looks pretty while he baptizes the natives (and the dead). Rocco Nacino looks weird with his wig. Alvin Aragon has a weird accent while speaking Bisaya.

And that’s pretty much what I took from the film. I don’t think that’s what the producers intended when they decided to produce this. It’s definitely not what I expected when I went in the theater.

I wish I could say Pedro Calungsod is a must-watch, but it just might turn people off non-mainstream Filipino films.

Television: Sherlock and the Empty Hearse

"The Empty Hearse"

Two years after the devastating effects of The Reichenbach Fall, Dr John Watson has got on with his life. New horizons, romance and a comforting domestic future beckon. But, with London under threat of a huge terrorist attack, Sherlock Holmes is about to rise from the grave with all the theatricality that comes so naturally to him. It’s what his best friend wanted more than anything, but for John Watson it might well be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’! If Sherlock thinks everything will be just as he left it though, he’s in for a very big surprise…

It looks like Steven Moffat saved all his smarts for Sherlock and left none for Doctor Who. But this isn’t about Doctor Who. This is about Sherlock Holmes, and BBC’s brilliant adaptation that takes the detective to the present time. And currently, the only show under Steven Moffat that has any semblance of brilliance.

Last time on Sherlock, we saw our titular detective fall to his death–only to attend his own funeral. In the first episode off the new series, we quickly find out how Sherlock survived the fall. Or do we? The way Sherlock tells the story is open to interpretation. He really might be telling the truth, but he could also be trying to pull a fast one. It wouldn’t be out of character for him. I don’t plan on dwelling on the mystery. I’m just happy to have three new episodes of Sherlock.

The first order of business is to bring Sherlock back to everyone’s lives. It takes a third of the episode to integrate him back into people’s lives, but I’m not complaining. Benedict Cumberbatch, the bastard, is perfect in every aspect. The ways he breaks the news to the people he cares about are Standard Sherlock, but he gives them each a personal touch depending on the relationship his character shares with whoever he’s talking to in the scene.

Amanda Abbington is a glorious addition to the cast. I was afraid that I wouldn’t like whoever they cast as Mary Morstan, since I’m already content with the existing cast from the first two series. I feared that introducing Watson’s wife might change the chemistry of the show. But I was wrong. Abbington’s first series of scenes doesn’t actually make much of an impact. I won’t share why. But once we do get to meet Mary and see how her relationship with Watson works, she immediately wins us over.

Well, she won me over at least.

Louise Brealey, our dear Molly Hooper, also steps up as she gets more screen time. Brealey gives life to Molly with such enthusiasm and seriousness, that I would actually like to see her help out more in Sherlock’s cases. She gives a new dynamic to the Holmes-Watson tandem, and I think the team behind BBC’s Sherlock would do well to explore it. If not in this new batch of episodes, then maybe the ones for Series 4.

But the best part of The Empty Hearse is this: it’s fun to watch. Series 2 of Sherlock reached too much into intellect. The writers sought to one up us every step of the way. The Empty Hearse brings something back that hasn’t been seen since the first series: fun. It’s not tiring to watch The Empty Hearse. Our minds do not get taxed. We get sharp wit and smart entertainment, without the show becoming overbearing… or too smug about its brilliance.

Movie: 10000 Hours

"10000 Hours"The movie deserved its best picture win, even though I enjoyed the Kimmy Dora prequel more.

10000 Hours tells the story of a senator who has, all his life, believed that justice will prevail. Until justice turns against him. Afraid of how the law will be twisted to keep him from revealing the truth about the administration’s corruption, the senator takes off–to search for the one thing that would unmask the corrupt, even if he ‘disappears’ permanently.

What I loved about the film was the pacing. You know how you don’t notice the time when you’re engrossed with what you’re watching? That happened. I lost track of time. I was hanging on to the events unfolding on screen. 10000 Hours was gripping, and I credit this to director Bb. Joyce Bernal.

Bernal is known for her romantic comedies and her dramatic soap operas, but after 10000 Hours, I think she should be known now for her versatility as a director. Although, I would credit her background on the dramatic for making most of the action scenes in the film necessary–

Of course, she’s not the only reason why the film worked.

I’m not a fan of Robin Padilla, but I must say that he is effective as the senator on the run. The character is flawed, and Padilla doesn’t pretend otherwise. Sure, this is nothing new for Padilla. But you have to appreciate an actor who knows not to overexert, or to overact.

Ketchup Eusebio manages to steal every single one of the handful of scenes he is in. Bela Padilla has shown growth as an actress, and Cholo Barretto gives as much as he takes in the scenes he shares with Mylene Dizon.

But the best part of the film is that the unnecessary scenes are minimal, and those that aren’t important are kept short.

Of course, no movie is perfect. And I would just like to point out how wishy-washy Bella Padilla’s character is. For someone who has built her life on journalism and exposing the truth, the reveal of her character’s origins come completely out of the blue–and a little out of character.

But aside from that one tiny complaint, I applaud the existence of 10000 Hours. I don’t usually enjoy watching action films, so this is a pleasant and welcome surprise.

Movie: The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug

"The Desolation of Smaug"

The second in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield on an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.” (c) WB

I don’t know about the use of “enduringly.” Is that even a word? If it is, I don’t think you can say that about these Hobbit films to be quite frank.

Let’s start with a bit of disclaimer. I’m a big fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Sure, he wasn’t faithful to the letter, but he followed the material. He gave the characters new life. So when The Hobbit films were announced, I was ecstatic. Getting to revisit Middle Earth is a trip anyone would be happy to make again and again.

And then I watched the first film.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was an unexpected disappointment. The material was stretched too thin even though the film already incorporated stories from other Tolkien stories. Still, I liked it enough. Liked it enough that I was willing to watch the sequel. But, this time, with cautious optimism.

"The Collectionary: Lord of the Rings"

From the trailers, the second film looked to be more exciting and more engaging. And it was… exciting. Not so much on the engaging. Why?

Well Bilbo Baggins barely gets any character development. He already did, back in the first film, so in this film, he’s just plodding through the plot while the other characters try to catch up. He is no longer the hero of The Desolation of Smaug, he is just the plot pusher.

In the source material, this is the time we meet Bard the Bowman, the other protagonist of the story. And we meet him here in the film too. Except, before we do, we’ve already had to go through a series of adventures where no one develops. I mean, Bilbo does, but that development won’t actually be complete until the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring.

Unless, of course, they want to end The Hobbit films with Bilbo’s descent into madness.

Going back to Bard, and Lake Town; we finally find a new protagonist to root for when we meet Bard. But because it’s already too late in the film, we get a rushed job at his introduction, his fall from grace, and his redemption. Instead, we get the smug Thorin Oakenshield who is being marketed as a leading character, but really isn’t.

No one was lead in this film. Bard was, but he’s not part of the bigger storyline yet.

And to make it worse, we get a forced love story between Kili and Tauriel–which, while a nice effort to give the film something else to make it less stretched, was still a bad idea. There wouldn’t have been a need to stretch the film had the producers (and Peter Jackson) stuck with just having two films.

The Hobbit is not a lengthy novel. It’s shorter than The Fellowship of the Rings, for crying out loud. This trilogy business was a bad idea that should have never been approved.

Heck, for lack of material, Gandalf gets imprisoned again. For a powerful wizard, he sure gets captured a lot. And don’t even get me started on Legolas. Let me just say: did we really need him? Couldn’t that have been some other elf? I know he’s Thranduil’s son and all, but come on, he did not need to have all those scenes that took away from the main story. You know, the one involving the titular character?

Oh, but then there’s Smaug.

For some reason, he seemed more clever in the books. In the film, he just looks like a petulant reptile who won’t stop talking. I’m sure, if I check the book again, he’ll just be as talkative–but couldn’t have Jackson trimmed this part better?

When I started writing this, I was going to say that this was better than An Unexpected Journey. Having written all this down now though, I think I’ll go with the more boring An Unexpected Journey, than this mess of a sequel.

Theater: Maxie The Musicale

"Maxie The Musicale"

Maxie behaves like a girl, wears clips in his hair and bangles on his wrists and even wears lipstick. He is teased by neighbors and former school friends. His sexuality is, however, fully accepted by his two brothers and by his father. One night he is accosted by two men who attempt to molest him, but is saved by the appearance of Victor. The story will revolve around the conflict between his love for the handsome young police officer and his family’s illegal livelihood. And will their friendship develop into a relationship?

I never really warmed to Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. It was a good movie, I don’t deny it that. A lot of people liked it. It won awards, if I’m not mistaken. I remember it being a huge deal. Everyone was raving about it.

Fast forward to 2013, and people are doing the same thing for its musical adaptation: Maxie, the Musicale.

I didn’t come in with high expectations. How could I? I wasn’t a fan of the original material. So even with all the raves about the show, I was hesitant about it. And yet, I made sure to come in with an open mind.

I was ambivalent about the first part of the first act. It was crowded. It was loud. But it had its charms, I’ll give it that. I don’t know about the opening number establishing the milieu well, but it definitely underlined the high energy that the cast brings throughout the whole affair.

And it’s this high energy that I have a problem with the most.

You see, the material of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is a little serious. There’s an inherent wonderment in the material, because of the lead character’s young age, that fits well within the bleak world set up in the movie. Maxie has a bubble world where nothing bad happens. And the musical tried to carry this throughout the whole musical with its upbeat music and danceable songs– which, I thought, did the content a disservice.

Maxie’s bubble world of rainbows and happiness clashed with the bleak set-up of the musical. The slums is populated with the petty and the corrupted, and this is supposed to make Maxie’s heart shine even more. But it doesn’t. Because aside from Maxie and friends, none of the other characters are even barely likeable.

It’s a musical of villains where Maxie and friends are horribly out of place. And it doesn’t help that what made the source material charming, the relationship between Maxie and his brothers, take a backseat to Maxie’s comic relief posse and the forced love story between him and police officer Victor.

Yes, the romance that is Maxie’s main story thread feels forced. And it’s entirely the musical’s fault. Because what made Maxie’s infatuation with Victor in the source material work was the fact that it was unrequited. Victor cared for Maxie, but Maxie saw more than just caring in the way Victor treated him. And that was supposed to be it. The musical, in giving Victor his own development arc, ruined that.

Instead of being the object of affection, Victor became a nuanced character that you can’t understand. Because by being developed to be worth Maxie’s affections, the musical only underlined his selfishness even more.

And what was with the teasing that there’s a possible Maxie-Victor end game? It was pandering at the audience. I have nothing against homosexual relationships, but is it right to tell the audience that a straight older man can be gay because he falls in love with a tween? Yes, tween. Maxie is twelve years old. Victor must be, at the very least, twenty-one. That’s a nine-year age gap that wouldn’t matter if Maxie wasn’t a minor.

Speaking of pandering; What was with the nonsensical shower scene featuring characters that only show up for that scene? The one with Victor, with Maxie in his room, was fine. It pushed the story. But the shower scene was gratuitous at best. And while the beauty pageant competition drew the most laughs in the second act, it only cemented the fact that the musical is very confused with what it wants to be–and with what it wants the audience to take away.

Maxie, the Musical is a roller coaster ride–and not in a good way. Because as it takes you up, the way down is only made clearer.

I still have a few things to say, but that seems to wrap up my reaction to the musical nicely. So I’ll just list down a few more notes:

One. Maxie’s dad overdid the vibrato. And he has too many solos for someone we don’t really care about. I mean I know we’re supposed to care about him. But because we focused too much on Maxie’s relationship with his friends and Victor, we don’t really see why we should care about Paco (Maxie’s dad).

Two. Maxie’s only female friend is a scene stealer. I loved every scene she was in.

Three. I love and applaud how the second act began. It was a nice way to get the story moving, while reminding the audience what happened in the overly long first act.

Four. Al Gatmaitan is heartbreaking–even with the limited material he’s given. With a musical this loud, I have to give props to his quiet delivery: the way he emphasizes his inner conflict with just a quiver in his line delivery, with the drag in his steps, the hesitation… Wow. This only makes me more sad that Maxie’s relationship with his brothers wasn’t put more to the front. Then again, I didn’t mind the fact that we didn’t see much of Jay Gonzaga. What we got was more than enough.

Five. The ending that never ends. If this hadn’t been a musical, the part where Maxie sees his dad being shot dead would’ve been the perfect end. But because it’s a happy musical that’s supposed to be positive, we get an ending that keeps going and going and going, just so we could go back to Maxie feeling okay. To Maxie being able to move on. To Maxie being extremely and annoyingly coy. To the musical pandering once more to the audience by teasing a possible Victor-Maxie end game that would’ve just been wrong on every level.

And, *mic drop.*