MOVIE REVIEW: THE BOOK THIEF (Brian Percival, 2013)



My notes on The Book Thief:

1. The movie’s narration felt whimsical, like a voice-over in a children’s flick. Until I realized the owner of the voice after which I experienced a severe case of goosebumps.

It’s a slowly-paced but emotion-packed film narrated by Death. Bring a box of tissues.

2. For a Holocaust movie, there were so many light moments that always elicited some chuckles. Even in Nazi Germany during World War II, life was still beautiful.

3. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson were just brilliant. I was a bit disappointed with Sophie Nelisse, though. She just looked too passive in some scenes. Or maybe it was just because Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson were too brilliant.

4. As someone who wouldn’t read a book without a plastic cover and would never open it wide enough to cause a crease on its bridge, the scene where they burned books gave me the chills.

5. If I haven’t warned you enough, the last act made me crawl into a fetal position and weep hysterically.

Rating: ★★★★☆

(Originally published February 25, 2014.)




My notes on Grave of the Fireflies:

1. If I remember it correctly, I discovered this emotionally devastating animated film (in my opinion, still the best one) upon the recommendation of my suking pirated DVD vendor in Makati Cinema Square (“Piracy is stealing. Stealing is against the law. Piracy is a crime.”). I was looking for a copy of the latest Hollywood flick that time when she suggested several Studio Ghibli films (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Kiki’s Delivery Service among them).

I initially had doubts because I had outgrown cartoons ever since Princess Sarah Crewes got reunited with her father and banished Miss Minchin to her rightful place: the chimeneya. In my mind, animated films would usually be kiddie stuff and although some were really good (especially the classic Disney films), their themes would still cater to a younger crowd. I didn’t expect that this masterpiece would be my introduction to the wonderful world of anime.

2. More than being the best animated film, I completely agree with the late Roger Ebert that this could stand as one of the finest war films as well. From its opening scene where a young boy named Seita wearing a soldier’s uniform and looking directly at the camera said the chilling line “September 21, 1945. That was the night I died”, it would just be an endless sequence of heartbreaking moments that blatantly demonstrated the destructive nature of war and its debilitating effects on people. I might not have lived through World War II but those air raid warning sounds would haunt me forever.

I also found it smart that the film started with the reveal that both Seita and younger sister Setsuko were already dead and reunited in the afterlife. Every scene that came after that with them having fun just felt incredibly bittersweet especially knowing their tragic end.

3. I really liked how Setsuko was initially oblivious to the horrors happening around her. She was contented with piggybacking on her older brother, or running around in the ricefields, or frolicking on the beach while bombs destroyed their village and killed hundreds of people, including their own mother.

My favorite scenes here involved her constant discovery of the sad realities around her. While trying to catch a crab, she chanced upon a rotting person on the beach and it was her first encounter with death. When the fireflies they caught died the next day, she dug a grave for them because it was supposedly what happened to their dead mother as well (as told to her by their maldita auntie). This particular scene crushed my heart because it was juxtaposed with the actual scene of her mother’s body being burned in a mass grave, dead bodies in a heap left without any dignity.

4. Speaking of the maldita auntie, I swear my blood curdled when she only offered sabaw to the kids while her husband and daughter got generous servings of rice and potatoes. They sold their dead mother’s precious keepsake kimonos to buy the freakin’ food, you bitch!! I wanted to thwack her so hard with that soup bowl. (And then they inserted a short scene with a mother bird feeding her baby birds in a nest huhuhu!)

5. Some people would probably find this emotionally manipulative if one would only see children subjected to endless suffering (those rashes on Setsuko’s back!), but I found it incredibly authentic. Sure, I bawled my eyes out when she sucked on the marbles and made rice balls out of soil because of lack of food, and I crawled into my usual fetal position and sobbed like a mad man at the sight of her dead body hugging her favorite doll while inside a rattan casket, but these probably happened to some people during that time (or even worse).

6. I would never look at a fruit drops tin can the same way ever again. (Side note: I use the exact same hack of filling a ketchup or shampoo bottle with water to get the remaining stuff out of it.)

7. “Why do fireflies have to die so soon?” Hay. Really powerful stuff.

Rest in peace, Sir Isao Takahata.

Rating: ★★★★★




I entered the cinema expecting a fun documentary about a haunted house in Bulacan, but the horror stories that were told onscreen were more frightening than I ever imagined. Hearing the Malaya Lolas recall their tragic experiences that mostly included sexual abuse (in their pre-teens!) from Japanese soldiers during World War II was too much for my fragile heart.

One of the professors summed it up best when he said that these stories would soon be just a blip in our history and treated like urban legends. It was made more apparent by how obnoxious the crew were (intentionally?) portrayed here.

The filmmaker nonchalantly asked one lola if she was raped inside the same room with her sister (na parang nagtatanong lang kung anong ulam nila kanina). One of the crew members laughed when he presented the theory that some of the lolas probably had abortions. Made me want to strangle these insensitive millennials.

It was a very powerful juxtaposition that probably would have been more effective if they had more stories to tell. Several scenes felt like fillers and that meandering ending didn’t really attain the intended impact.

Was this documentary exploitative or essential? Couldn’t it work as both?

Rating: ★★★★☆




My notes on Hacksaw Ridge:

1. I would usually go into an epileptic seizure whenever a blatantly religious film would smack me over the head with its outright themes of spirituality and salvation (refer to The Shack). Now here was the story of a soldier with such unwavering faith that he didn’t want to compromise his beliefs and principles (no to guns!) while trying to survive in Okinawa during bloody World War II. His only weapon of choice? Trust in God’s saving grace.

All of these should have easily resulted to an emergency room visit, but it surprisingly converted me into being a believer instead. Kindness in the face of adversity? Bravery even with the lack of power? Heroism amidst all evil? My faith in humanity was restored yet again all thanks to my new pastor Mel Gibson.

2. Early in the film, we got a glimpse on the kind of person Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, in a career-defining performance) really was. It didn’t come as a surprise when he later mentioned, “I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe.” And he did, in the process defying his violent father, his doubting colleagues, his arrogant superiors, and very much the odds of survival in war, while ultimately saving 75 more soldiers just on the strength of his faith alone.

It would be easy to dismiss this as the Hollywood version of the real story, but the basic facts could not be contested. Hearing the real Desmond recall his grueling experiences was just too much for my jaded heart to bear. In one scene, he visited his fallen comrades’ graves after being awarded a Medal of Honor (a first for a conscientious objector) and he simply said, “The real heroes are buried here”.

I ended up flooding the entire row J of CommerceCenter Cinema 2.

3. I honestly almost gave up on this after the first twenty minutes because it was initially headed into pure melodramatic territory with the domestic abuse plot before it veered into a sappy romance complete with a cloying proposal scene. Thank heavens Desmond was immediately sent to war because I definitely did not pay for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

4. The combat scenes were nothing short of spectacular. It had the expected amount of gore and carnage (torn legs! rain of blood! decapitations! intestines sprawled out!) that you would feel very much transported right in the middle of battle where bodies got thrown over grenades and broken torsos were used as shields from the shower of bullets.

My biggest pet peeve in action sequences was that with all of the necessary quick movements, one could barely decipher whatever was happening onscreen. This movie did not have that problem at all because it was very much like watching controlled chaos.

Nobody would even question those Oscars for Best Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Did we expect anything less from the director that made torture porn out of a Bible story in The Passion of the Christ?

5. Vince Vaughn should not be in serious movies because the more he tried to be un-funny, the more hilarious he looked. At least he made the most out of his character, spewing the nastiest throwdowns outside of the America’s Next Top Model house. My favorite ones were:

• “How long have you been dead?”

• “I’ve seen stalks of corn with better physique.”

• “Have you ever looked into a goat’s eyes? Good, that’s unnatural.”

5. Was I the only one wishing for an Esprit de Corps moment? Yes? Really? Ok.

6. Standout scenes: the one where Desmond “buried” an injured comrade to conceal him from the ruthless Japanese soldiers and one could only see his eye peeking out from the ground, and the scene towards the end where he was being lowered via a makeshift stretcher while clutching on to his cherished Bible. Really powerful stuff.

7. One Japanese soldier raised the white flag and he was still shot to death. And that my friends is the reason why I still have major trust issues.

Rating: ★★★★☆


My notes on An Orchestra in Search of a Home:

1. I remember watching the closing show of Repertory Philippines’ The Game’s Afoot in Greenbelt Onstage and immediately after the play, they paid a loving tribute to one of its founders, the late Ms. Zenaida Amador. Co-founder Ms. Baby Barredo reminisced on Repertory’s memories bothgood and bad, but the thing that struck me the most was when she mentioned that they rarely received any funding from the government to stage their productions. Such was (and is) the sad state of our country where the Arts rarely received the needed support (financial from local government, moral from the masses) regardless if they propagate culture or bring glory to our country. Did people even care (or remember) that Brillante Mendoza won the Best Director plum in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival? Why is Neil Ryan Sese auctioning off his shirts just to attend the premiere of his film in the said festival?

2. The Manila Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 90th anniversary this year and its history was as glorious as the music that the band played. This documentary highlighted the current problem that the group was facing: finding not just a home, but a reason to play on. It also dug deeper into the members’ thoughts and feelings and the challenges that they were facing regarding practicality (ergo money) vs. passion.

3. If I were to play in a band, I would definitely want to be part of the strings section. Nothing beats the sound of those swelling violins (played to great effect in the one of the film’s opening scenes with the sunset as a backdrop). In another scene, they were made to sound like machine guns in World War II and the result brought shivers down my spine.

Full disclosure: My fondness for this instrument really started after I watched this late 90’s film called The Red Violin. I rented it for the promised sex and nudity, but ended up loving the musical score instead (which I believe even won an Academy Award).

4. I wish the raw footage used were cleaner with fewer blurred shots and less people coughing, but I guess those were the only ones available for use.

5. I was really interested with the misunderstanding between MSO and St. Scholastica’s College, and that Sister Placid seemed to be a really fascinating character. How about a documentary that will focus solely on her?

6. Music was indeed the nourishment of the soul because even with just a few pieces played in this documentary, I stepped out of the theater floating on an imaginary cloud.

7. Dear Mr. Future President, please don’t forget the Culture and the Arts when you’re already elected into office. We have so many talented people with so little support. They need all the help that they can get. Cue the violins.

Rating: ★★★★☆