Movie: Captain America, Civil War

"Captain America: Civil War"

Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” finds Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps-one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.

When I watched The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was a little underwhelmed. Although I did enjoy watching the film, I had notes throughout on what I would’ve have done (storytelling-wise) that could have made the film better. But, now that I’ve had a few months to have some perspective on how I felt about the film, I understand that I was coming from a place of high expectations. The first Avengers film struck me speechless, and I was expecting the same for Age of Ultron. That was unfair. So when I first saw the trailer for Captain America: Civil War, I told myself to manage my expectations.

The Captain America films has been my favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The First Avenger was an amazing film that perfectly told the story of the classic Captain America and made it palatable to modern viewers. The Winter Soldier topped that by twisting expectations, and delivering the most non-superhero film that starred a superhero. In both films, the cast of characters had been manageable. There were only a handful, and each one of them played an integral part in telling the story. And then here comes Civil War with the problem that truly plagued the second Avengers film: an overly large cast with rich stories that remain untapped. Each one bursting to tell their own journey.

Civil War served them all well, without forgetting the fact that this is a Captain America film. That this closes his trilogy.

And what a closer it is. (Seriously. The film’s last shot? Not counting the after credits? It gave me goosebumps.)

I don’t know how many times my jaw dropped watching this film. The fears and questions I had while watching the trailer were all explained away, and most of the stuff that internet people have been concerned about made a lot of sense for me. As the credits rolled, all I could think of was this: I didn’t have to manage my expectations at all. Because while Civil War is no Winter Soldier, the film is still a solid Captain America film. And that is what’s important, right?

Civil War has more superheroes than either one of the Avengers films, but each one plays out their part and stays in their lane. A few breakout as scene-stealers, but none of them steals the movie from Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan. Not even Robert Downey Jr., who tones down his Tony Stark to give his most somber portrayal of the character since he was first handed the iron helmet. And it works.

Everything works.

There have been a lot of reports that it’s Spider-Man who people will remember from watching this film, but I disagree. Spider-Man is set-up wonderfully, yes. Tom Holland does give a nuanced take that balances the drama of Tobey Maguire’s version with the levity of Andrew Garfield’s take on the hero. But this is not his film to steal. He serves a purpose, and one of his scenes actually underlines the movie’s theme without being blatant about it. His scenes still pushes the Captain America story forward, while providing a break from the film’s serious tone. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely still leaves Spider-Man’s story to whoever will be writing the webslinger’s own film.

As they do for the Blank Panther who makes quite the splashy entrance, and yet doesn’t overpower the strengths of the other characters.

The writers and directors Anthony and Joe Russo must be commended on using characters that haven’t been established yet to further the plot, without making the plot about them. They serve their purpose, but their own stories are purposely left out for their own films, without making moviegoers feel like they were shortchanged with these characters.

And I love how they use the absence of certain characters to push the story even further, to make the characters more three-dimensional.

But the best part of the film is how the number of superheroes isn’t overwhelming. Which… If these are the people working on the next two Avengers films? I think we can all rest easy, because we’re in good hands.

Captain America opens today in the Philippines. And I would like to thank my friend Chris Cantada for inviting me to the premiere of the film last Monday, April 25.

And, obviously, I didn’t get into the nitty gritty details of the film. I keep having to check myself that I’m not dropping spoilers by accident. But, if you’ve already seen the film and want to discuss it with me, hit me up in the comments. (This also serves as a warning to other readers to not read the comments section, if you don’t want to be spoiled.)

Movie: Honor Thy Father

"Honor Thy Father"

After years of financial struggle, Kaye and Edgar are finally on a roll. Kaye has made millions promoting her father’s investment scheme to her friends and fellow Pentecostal parishioners at the Church of Yeshua. But their world unravels instantaneously one day when Edgar swings by his father-in-law’s house to find the place ransacked and the old man gone. It doesn’t take long for Kaye’s friends to turn on the couple, who go to the fiery bishop for help. But he’s not exactly generous, preoccupied as he is with raising money for a new temple (and with the promise of extravagant kickbacks). The parishioners continue to demand their money back, and Kaye and Edgar start receiving death threats. When the tension erupts in violence, Edgar decides to seek the aid of his criminally inclined family.

What is there to say about Honor Thy Father other than the fact that it was beautifully made? Director Erik Matti and Cinematographer Ber Cruz made even the tightest and dirtiest look cinematic. The first thought in my head coming out of the cinema was that this is the film that will become part of film class curriculum.

Meryll Soriano and Krystal Brimner were the standouts when it came to acting, delivering nuanced performances that made their characters feel strikingly real. Perla Bautista and Boom Labrusca both delivered solid support as well, making their presence felt without taking away the focus from the lead actors.

And then there’s John Lloyd Cruz.

I’m not a fan of John Lloyd, to be honest, but there’s something about his ticking-time-bomb performance that I felt really captured the essence of the film. That said, I like him better in the scenes where he doesn’t have lines, the ones where he lets his actions and reactions speak for him.

If you have seen and enjoyed Heneral Luna, you have to watch this film. It has the core of an independently-produced film with the budget of a mainstream movie–so we get the best of both worlds. And all I have left to say is that, I think Honor Thy Father is the best film off the past year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. So watch it.

Show the mainstream media that there is room for films like this. For stories that aren’t cookie-cutter romances, and aren’t trope-filled horrors, and aren’t slapstick comedies. We’re always lamenting the dying movie industry because it’s inundated with movies that cater to the escapist nature of the Filipinos, and yet most of those complaining don’t even bother watching films like this when they come out.

The movie industry will stay in its deathbed unless we support the films we want more of. If we want more quality films, it’s time to put money where our mouths are.

Movie: Buy Now, Die Later

"Buy Now, Die Later"

BUY NOW, DIE LATER is a compendium of five interconnected stories, each one representing one of the five senses. The stories featuring ODIE, ATO, CHLOE, PIPPA and MAITA will remind us that every bargain comes with a price.

I really wanted to like this film. Especially because out of the three films I’ve seen so far off this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival entries, this has been the best. But being better than My Bebe Love or Haunted Mansion isn’t really something to be proud of.

Buy Now, Die Later suffers from putting style over substance. The film is, for the most part, beautifully lit and shot. There was obvious thought put into lighting the scenes, in the camera’s movements, and in blocking the scenes. But the same thought wasn’t given into casting two of the main leads, because I completely do not understand why the producers of this film thought Alex Gonzaga and Vhong Navarro were right for the roles they played here.

Let’s start with Vhong. The actor’s swagger did not fit the underdog character he was meant to portray here. Based completely off the events and the dialogue, you’re supposed to feel that the character is meant to be looking to escape the shadow cast by a too famous father. Unfortunately, Vhong’s portrayal only made him out to be a fame-hungry bottom-feeder who wants the easiest way to get into the spotlight. Which would’ve been a fine character on its own, if it weren’t for the fact that this doesn’t fit his character’s actions and dialogue in the second half of the film.

And then there’s Alex. I don’t know if it was a conscious effort on her part to emulate the speaking and movement of certain local celebrities, but it was a little too over the top for me. It certainly didn’t help that she would jump from one emotion to the next without any nuance, making her character feel like she’s suffering from a psychological disorder.

Which makes me feel bad for the rest of the cast, Lotlot de Leon and TJ Trinidad most notably. You can see that these two made an effort to make their characters breathe and be real. I actually feel especially sorry for TJ Trinidad because the director or the producer subjected him to wearing an awful mask that was completely unnecessary. It’s like they didn’t trust that he could bring the malevolence needed to make his character work, when his character was actually already scary enough–until the mask appeared and made his character look like a joke.

Story-wise, I must commend the film for trying a different kind of story-telling from what the masses are used to. Especially during the Metro Manila Film Festival season. But I think they bit off more than they can chew with this one. Especially when it comes to logic and continuity. The biggest flaw in the story-telling comes near the end of the story when Lotlot’s character is seduced by the promise of youth–during the time when she’s worried about her daughter’s safety. It should make sense, but the dialogue given her does not–and neither do the scenes that follow after she succumbs to the devil’s bargain.

Then there’s the foreshadowing of how the devil’s items work; they used three characters to underline the fact that the magic of the items don’t affect those who have been cursed. Except one of the three characters hasn’t even been cursed yet. That’s a problem someone in editing, or the writer himself, should have been on the look out for.

And speaking of editing– I don’t know who was in charge of trimming down the movie, but the latter half of Buy Now, Die Later suffered from a lot of cuts that didn’t make sense–leaving characters finishing lines of dialogue that viewers never saw start in the first place.

Don’t even get me started on the garish music video that jolts viewers into the second story.

So would I recommend this movie to anyone? I want to say yes, if only for Lotlot de Leon and TJ Trinidad–but Buy Now, Die Later is really only entertaining two-fifths of the time, so I would say no. If you want to support Quantum Films so they could make more films, watch Walang Forever instead.

Book: Horns

"Horns"

Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician, the younger brother of a rising late-night TV star. Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more–he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone–raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances–and Ig the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, he was and always would be guilty.

Now Ig is possessed of horns, and a terrible new power–he can hear people’s deepest, darkest secrets–to go with his terrible new look. He means to use it to find whoever killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge; it’s time the devil had his due.

It’s wonderful. It’s amazing. It’s… It’s more than I expected. And I already had expectations, after reading the equally astounding N0S4A2.

Knowing Joe Hill’s background, I always assumed I wouldn’t like his works. See, while I respect Stephen King and I love his premises, I was never a fan of his writing. I don’t know why. So when I picked up N0S4A2 before, it was with trepidation. After all, Joe Hill was being hailed as someone who is carrying on his father’s legacy. I was wary. But I ended up liking his style of writing. Horns, my second foray into Joe Hill’s world of horrors, cements the fact that he is not like his father at all.

Yes, he has Stephen King’s knack for creating a mythology so complete that anything that happens within the story is unquestionable. But in their handling of words, I would lean to Hill as being the more accessible one. Maybe because he has a younger voice, and has a better hold on how readers now take in words. But that can’t be true, right? After all, Stephen King continues to be widely read. More widely read than his son, if you think about it. But this is a topic that’s separate from Horns, and this is a post about said book, so let’s get on with the discussion.

Horns is a book of ironies: the devil performs miracles, while the good guy is awarded horns. And what I like about the book is that it plays with these ironies, it explores these characters, and we are not spoon-fed information about why something is happening. Things happen. Shit happens. And everything is taken in stride. The story is messy. Realistically messy. Nothing feels preordained, even when you think you know where the story is finally going.

I loved how Hill presented Ig as someone who doesn’t see himself as a good guy. He is presented as the most hated man in their community. And yet, as we get to know him, page by page, we decide for ourselves who Ig really is. That he isn’t the devil he’s being painted out to be.

And I love how Hill tackles the idea of people doing things that aren’t the things they want to do; that their innermost voice can say vicious things while presenting a virtuous front. It’s the idea of identity, and how we consciously shape how other people see us. And what happens when that ability, to create our own identity, is taken away from us.

Horns tells the story of Ig, but at one point in life or another, Ig has been us. Subjected to judgment by the court of public opinions. Given a verdict without the proper trial. And all we can do is to keep on keeping on. To live our lives despite what other people are saying. To give the effect of not being affected, while doing our best to set things right–to set us right.

Horns is a study of people at their most base form: as creatures who want to be liked.

Suffice to say, I loved the book and I think people who share my taste would too. If you find yourself agreeing with most of my reviews here at the blog, then this book is probably for you too.

But, if you need more opinions, then why not check these blogs out:
The Write Place
The Horror Hotel
Empires and Mangers

Book: The Rules for Disappearing

"The Rules for Disappearing"

She’s been six different people in six different places: Madeline in Ohio, Isabelle in Missouri, Olivia in Kentucky… But now that she’s been transplanted to rural Louisiana, she has decided that this fake identity will be her last.

Witness Protection has taken nearly everything from her. But for now, it has given her a new name–Megan Rose Jones–and a horrible hair color. For the past eight months, Meg has begged her father to answer one question: What on earth did he do–or see–that landed them in this god-awful mess? Meg has just about had it with all of the suits’ rules–and her dad’s silence. If he won’t help, it’s time she got some answers for herself.

But Meg isn’t counting on Ethan Landry, an adorable Louisiana farm boy who’s too smart for his own good. He knows Meg is hiding something big. And it just might get both of them killed. As they embark on a perilous journey to free her family once and for all, Meg discovers that there’s only one rule that really matters–survival.

I’m on the fence on whether I liked the book or not. On the one hand, I like the cinematic premise. I like the idea, and for the most part, the execution of it. I like the logic that the main character employs in trying to figure out what the story is behind their placement in Witness Protection. But the cinematic premise is also my biggest bone of contention with The Rules for Disappearing.

You see, when you watch a movie, you’re not always privy to what your main character is thinking. You can be, some movies employ narration or voice overs, but suspense thrillers usually let the action speak for itself. Which is why in movies, left-of-field twists work. In books though, withholding information, even if it’s important and organic to your story, makes your main character an unreliable narrator. And that’s when we get into a bit of trouble. Because it’s hard to trust an unreliable narrator.

Also, it’s hard to get romantically swept away when your main character is constantly reminding you that she shouldn’t be falling in love. It kills the mood. And makes her a tad unlikeable when she disobeys her own rules.

And that’s just the tip of why I don’t know whether The Rules for Disappearing is something I would recommend to people or not.

I did enjoy reading the book. A lot. It was a very fast read, and for the most part, I was very engaged in what was happening to the main character. But, and please bear in mind that I am not a resident of the United States of America, the plan our main character tries to pull to get her family out of Witness Protection in the last quarter of the book was very unbelievable. Highly improbable. And that ruined the book a little for me.

Which is kind of sad since the ending was very chilling. And would make you want to read the sequel, even as you wonder if the book actually warrants a sequel. I guess when I do eventually pick up the follow-up, I’ll just cross my fingers and hope that the events don’t unfold the way it did here–unrealistically.

But this is me, and other people have other opinions. So why don’t we mosey on down to their little corners of the world wide web and find out what they have to say about the novel:
The Flyleaf Review
Oh, Chrys
Young Adult Book Haven

Movie: The Winter Soldier

"Captain America: Winter Soldier"

After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy–the Winter Soldier.

I was never a fan of Captain America. I’m a Spider-Man kind of guy. But ever since Marvel began expanding its cinematic universe, starting with Iron Man back in 2008, I held out hope that the world’s dullest superhero would get a character makeover to make him more relatable to today’s audiences.

Marvel didn’t do that. Instead they wrote a story to highlight what makes Captain America a hero–his heart, his belief…his faith. The First Avenger made me see the shine under the dull exterior of Steve Rogers. Fast forward to years later, after his attempt at leading the Avengers in their first team-up movie, and we see Captain America come to his own. Finally.

Steve Rogers is a man of virtue. That’s what makes him dull. Because you know he will never make a mistake, and that he will always consider other people’s fates first before his own. He is not one of us. He is the Superman of Marvel, the beacon of hope, and of all things good. Of what we have to aspire to be.

And we don’t like being shown our weaknesses.

But when you put Steve Rogers in a situation everyone of us faces? When you give him problems that we ourselves have? When you see him struggle with things we struggle with in a day-to-day basis? You start to see that he’s not perfect. That he is us…at our basest form. Someone who just wants to do good; someone who just wants to do right.

Someone with the courage to do so.

This is when we start to root for him.

The Captain America of Marvel’s cinematic universe speaks to us because he is not painted to be the person we should be–but the person we could be…if we only had the confidence to embrace who we are, regardless of how we look, of how big or small we are, of who is opposing us.

Captain America: The First Avenger made me believe that a modern hero could be as virtuous and clean as Steve Rogers. (Which is weird, seeing as that film was a period movie.) The Winter Soldier made me believe that we can be like him too. And that’s just one of the things I loved about The Winter Soldier.

The cast is stellar. Chris Evans is Steve Rogers. Scarlett Johansson shows new depths in her characterization of Black Widow. And new addition to the team Anthony Mackie is awesome as the Falcon. The supporting cast was just as great, but I don’t want to mention why exactly as that would spoil certain parts of the film.

Let’s just say the only character that let me down was Agent 13, but that’s not so much because of how she was acted, but because there wasn’t enough screen time for her, and for the set-up of her potential as a love interest for Captain America. Heck, Cap’s friendship with Black Widow has more chemistry than any of Cap’s scenes with Agent 13.

That said, it is going to be hard to root for a new love for Cap anyway because of a Peggy Carter cameo that will make you tear up. You don’t want Cap to move on just yet.

Another thing that The Winter Soldier does exceptionally well is the characterization of its villains. And the film has a lot of them. Baltroc, Crossbones, Armin Zola… The list goes on, and we’re not even counting the titular Winter Soldier yet. In a Captain America film, you expect things to be black and white. Cap, after all, is our All-American Hero whose intentions are pure and true. Evil should be evil. But that’s not the case with The Winter Soldier.

It’s all gray area. And that’s what makes the film all the more interesting.

What happens when the embodiment of  all things good come fact to face with the moralities of gray areas? How will he discern good from evil?

What happens when a man who values trust above all else, is told to trust no one?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier will take your expectations and throw it under a bus. And then it gives you a film you never thought you wanted–and make you enjoy it.

Book: The Playdate

"The Playdate"

Sound designer Callie Roberts is a single mother. And she’s come to rely heavily on her best friend and neighbour, Suzy. OVer the past few lonely years, Suzy has been good to Callie and her rather frail daughter, Rae, and she’s welcomed them into her large, apparently happy family.

But Callie knows that Suzy’s life is not quite as perfect as it seems. It’s time she pulled away — and she needs to get back to work. So why does she keep putting off telling Suzy? And who will care for Rae? In the anonymous city street, the houses each hide a very different family, each with their own secrets. Callie’s increased sense of alienation leads her to try and befriend a new resident, Debs. But she’s odd — you certainly wouldn’t trust her with your child — especially if you knew anything about her past…

I am very happy to be putting this book down. Finally. I can’t believe it took me a week to read the whole thing through. Although, admittedly, that’s mostly because I was just sneaking in reading a chapter or two while taking breaks from deadlines… But that’s beside the point. I should’ve breezed through this book. But it bored me.

Well, until the last few chapters. But that was because the plot was suddenly moving at a fast pace. The quality of the storytelling did not improve at all. I would even argue that the story took a turn for the worse.

Here’s the deal: Callie, our protagonist, basically wants to get her life back on track. She has a clingy best friend who does everything for her without complaint, which… well, I would find annoying too. For different reasons. But Callie’s reason for wanting to cut Suzy, the best friend, loose is less than noble.

There’s a twist to their friendship. To the reason why Callie knows everything isn’t peachy keen in Suzy’s life. And it’s a twist that ruins the whole book for me. Because throughout all Callie’s ordeals, you actually root for her to win. To succeed. Until you find out what the twist is. And then, you just think, that she kind of deserves what she’s getting.

But the less than pure protagonist isn’t the reason why I dislike this book. I actually would find it more intriguing if the author dealt with the complexities of Callie and Suzy’s relationship. But instead, we get introduced to a third character: Deb.

Deb has a past. It’s insinuated that she shouldn’t be around kids. The chapters with her point view has a sinister vibe to it that pushes you to think that she’s up to no good. So you don’t root for her. You don’t feel sorry for her. And all for the sake of a Shyamalan-ish twist. Which I really, really hated.

Now, I know we read books to be entertained. To be taken for a ride. But you don’t break your reader’s trust. You don’t purposefully make them believe something so you could pull the rug under them to make your writing look smarter than it actually is.

This book betrays its reader. And I do not like it.