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Eagle Eye

Hooray for Steven Spielberg's new poster boy.

Shia LaBeouf stretches his acting muscles, and he does in fact give a great performance. Of course Steven Spielberg wouldn't waste time with LaBeouf if he wasn't good enough.

Story-wise, Eagle Eye is just another one of those movies about the dark side of technology, the centuries-old conflict between man and machine. In fact, during the first part of the film, I couldn't help but notice the similarities with The Matrix, and was half expecting someone to offer Shia LaBeouf to choose between the red pill and the blue pill.

This film isn't a whodunit; in a whodunit, the storyteller lays out a list of suspects, and you try to figure out which one is guilty, based on the clues laid out. So it in fact becomes character-driven, as the characters are fleshed out in the hope that the viewer might put two and two together. This story is actually plot-driven, as from the start, the antagonist is already established, so everybody knows whodunit; the question now becomes howhedunit (okay, that sounded forced).

Director D.J. Caruso does a great job behind the helm, especially with the car chase sequences, which was the most tension-filled car chase I've seen so far. It's actually an interplay of great storyboarding, precise pacing, and excellent editing. Plus, Caruso didn't yield to the temptation of exploiting the sexual tension between LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan.

Notable performances from Michael Chiklis as the Secretary of Defense, who plays it subtle, Rosario Dawson as the fiery government agent, and of course Billy Bob Thornton, as Thomas Morgan, head of homeland security, who is probably the most colorful character in the film. Michelle Monaghan's acting, so-so. Mr. LaBeouf's acting---excellent. And we all thought he'd always be like Even Steven.

Original rating: Three and a half stars.

I had been itching since last week for a good Hollywood movie, owing to the slump in foreign movies after the summer season until Thanksgiving weekend, and apparently, Eagle Eye was shown first in Cebu before it was shown in Manila. And it opened on a Friday, which is not usual. And it wasn't showing in Megamall. Now how the hell did that happen?


Colorado Avenue

This is Finland's entry to this year's Cine Europa, and definitely not one of the better films in the line-up.

This film is a melodrama, if my powers of classification serve me right, and I have nothing against melodramas. It's just that this particular film lacks that X-factor that I have come to associate with European films.

Quite honestly, there is nothing really riveting about the narrative.
The story just tells about Dollar-Hanna and her not-so-epic journey to the American west, then back to Finland, and also the sub-plots of the other minor characters. I believe that the film would have shown more promise if it was treated like a war film, instead of this melodrama that reminds me so much of the drama shows on cable TV.

On the good side, the film did employ excellent cinematography, truthfully capturing the mood and feel of the narrative itself. But the best aspect of the film is definitely the production design, with believable sets (of course, they could have improved on the Colorado set) and convincingly accurate costumes. I guess if you have zero-percent CGI, most of the budget should go to production design.

In my effort not to end on a bad note, I'd just like to say that I know there is more to Finnish cinema than this, and that is what I am looking for. Well, probably next year.

Rating: Two stars.

*You can catch the last hurrah of Cine Europa until Sunday, September 21, 2008, at Shangri-La Cinema.


Righteous Kill

Two great actors and one not-so-great story.

By now, you all know my philosophy: try to give a fair review without giving anything away. Especially in this case, since this is a whodunit, so if I give anything away, nobody would probably watch the film anymore.

Basic plot is this: the two former Corleones (of course I'm talking about Pacino and De Niro) play two detectives, who are out to hunt a serial killer. Two younger cops, the brilliant tandem of John Leguizamo and Donnie wahlberg, think the serial killer is one of their own. So everybody is out to find who did it; hence the name whodunit. There's just one problem: either the story was okay and the directing was weak (in which case I'd have to blame director Jon Avnet for the flimsy storytelling), or the script was terrible to begin with (then writer Russel Gewertz would have to take the blame). Anyway, I don't think it was an effective whodunit, as my girlfriend already knew whodidit in the first twenty minutes of the film (she always does that to annoy me).

Let's just focus on the acting, which is this film's strongest selling point. Fans would love to see Pacino and De Niro onscreen together, as their only two movie credits together were 1995's Heat, and before that, 1974's The Godfather Part II, which I wouldn't really count, as they were never actually onscreen together. So this is one of those rare instances when two Oscar winners of this caliber share the same frame.

The acting is spruced up by Wahlberg and Leguizamo, who are two great actors who deserve a break, and they portray the rookie cop-old cop friction just right, practically limiting the show to the four of them. All the other actors didn't really add anything significant. Rapper 50 Cent appears as the gangster Spider, but I could've sworn he just played himself.

There are only three films where Pacino and De Niro acted together, and it's a shame this latest one pairs lousy storytelling with great acting. I hope the producers pair them up again, as both of them are getting old, and they may not have another shot.

*Thanks to Maynard Maleon for the tickets. Good luck on your Bar Exam bro.

Rating: Two and a half stars.



Who says silent films died in the thirties?

Well, production of silent films may have died then, but viewing silent films is still very much alive. At the Silent Film Festival held in Shangri-La, yesterday was the last day of screenings with live music, and we were very fortunate to have viewed Cabiria, which is actually an Italian classic and a masterpiece, notwithstanding the fact that it was shot in 1914.

A brief heads-up for those film lovers who know nothing about film history: in ye olden times, when films were still silent, live music was played along while the film itself was being projected onscreen. There could be a lone piano player pounding away on the keyboards, or there could also be a full orchestra. The music for yesterday's screening was done by DJ Caliph8, plus Matt Deegan on an electric upright bass and Malek Lopez on keyboards. I actually considered it a wonderful innovation to add a dash of electronica to the classical score (how else could you get a 21st century audience interested in a silent film, if not to tell it through their music?). Great job, by the way. The trio's performance was almost as good, if not as good, as the feature film itself.

Now on to the merits of the film. I don't think you can say anything bad about films of this magnitude, especially since this is like the granddaddy of the huge epics. The spectacular vistas and the costume designs were what probably inspired films like Spartacus, which in turn inspired Gladiator and Rome. And this was before computer-generated imagery, so when we speak of extras, we mean hundreds of extras. And those elephants in the scene where Hannibal crosses the alps---those were real elephants. Director Giovanni Pastrone does a great job behind the camera, as with even slight camera movements, this film pushes the envelope way ahead of its time.

Despite some people falling asleep during the two hour-run (my girlfriend included), it was a great show nonetheless, and you can catch more silent films until September 8.

Rating: Four stars.


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