November 29, 2008

The Duchess Review

The Duchess
Starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes

Georgiana (Keira Knightley) is a corset-wearing girl who gains clout and fame when she gets married to the unfaithful duke (Ralph Fiennes). Like all couples of her time, Georgiana is demanded of her baby-bearing ability, and is pressured to deliver a boy. Meanwhile, the Duke starts becoming more unsubtle with his various affairs, but like any other girl of her time, Georgiana ignores this.

The movie chronicles her rise to celebrity status, her temptations, and her life with the boring Duke who cares more about his dogs.

To be honest, the movie sounds like ordinary Keira Knightley corset-wearing fare, but this one seems very much like a soap opera- and yes, that's bad.

OK, maybe the performances, the movie's presentation, the costumes are all nice to look at. I mean, Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes? Hell yeah. Still, the film seems as if it's very fast-paced, and it actually is, but it sort of overstays its welcome.

Maybe it's because Ralph Fienne's character- the Duke- is just plain boring. He's pretty abusive, but I felt like "Meh, what's new?". Georgiana, on the other hand, is pretty likeable. You side with her, naturally, because the film actually aims for a feminist angle (but it's not a half-baked spin at it, really) and you just have to sympathize with her and her suffering.

But to make for a love triangle, a forgettable Dominic Cooper (who plays as Charles Gray) enters the fray. This makes for more dramatic moments for Ralph Fiennes at least, and perhaps just that.

Maybe I'm too bored from it to actually make a sensible review for it, but in hindsight, it's a pretty decent movie. Not gonna get nominated for any major Oscar, but it's still good.

Rating: 7/10

November 25, 2008

Movies Opening This Week (Week 3)

*This post was a bit overdue. I had this on reserve for a long time.
Last week, there was nothing interesting in the theatrical canon. Now, there are pretty much a few.

Baz Luhrmann makes a comeback in the star-studded romance Australia. It's the story of an English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) who inherits a farm and makes a reluctant pact with a cattle driver (Hugh Jackman) to protect it from a takeover. The twist in this romance is that it's set near World War II, thus chaos ensues and they even get to witness a bombing.

When we're talking about Sean Penn, we usually talk about Academy-Award nominated performances and a unique movie. So who is he playing in this movie? Well, he's playing Harvey Milk- the first ever openly gay person ever elected into office in America (and where else but in San Francisco?). If it wasn't obvious, it's a biopic. And he gets to kiss James Franco... errr, not exactly my idea of a good time in the movies, but whatever.

Anyway, it talks about how Milk got into office, and got shot the same year.

November 23, 2008

Help Choose: Apple TV or Popcorn Hour

Ever since I've made the jump to the world of torrents, I've been downloading feature films non-stop, and even though the iMac's screen is very much adequate for movies, movies are watched at least in a TV. And additional free Hard Drive space is always appreciated.

Burning DVD's is a different matter. Unreliability of the end product for one. I mean, if you burn a DVD, there's always the chance of having a skipping picture. So I've decided to research on HDTV receivers (where you can put movie files and play in HD, since my dad has an HDTV already), and I'm stuck with two solutions: Apple TV and Popcorn Hour. If you can help me determine the better of the two, then I'd be so grateful.

Apple TV

It has a lot of room for improvement, but every time it does improve, it becomes a lot more attractive to buy. Plus, the improvements are free. They say it's painless to set up, and if you want file format support, you can just hack it (but it will void the warranty).

Unfortunately, the Apple TV doesn't come with HDMI cables, I'm afraid to hack it so I can play my AVI files uncompressed (my movie files are mostly AVI files) and you have to re-encode your movies (and inevitably suffer quality loss). Picture quality loss that's not significant isn't that much of a loss for me, but we're talking about a big screen here.

I predict that Apple will inevitably bring out an update that brings support for all the formats Quicktime supports, but it doesn't seem as if it will happen soon. But anything could happen in MacWorld in January.

Still, Wi-Fi is built-in so you can stream straight from YouTube, Flickr, or the iTunes Store (I like watching trailers... in HD!) and the hard drive is already built-in unlike in Popcorn Hour where you have to shell out extra cash. Additionally, the minimalist style is very much appreciated and it's extremely n00b-friendly. To reiterate, enhancements are also very much free, so the product's life will be pretty darn long and replacement would have to take very long.

The quality may not beat Blu-ray, but I don't really care, because the iTunes integration (from multiple computers so anyone dropping by to watch a file in his laptop with you can watch it on TV instead) is a pretty big sell.

The price for 160GB which I'm eyeing on, is supposed to be 16000 pesos when converted from its US dollar price, so I'm expecting that price in Greenhills. Still, you'd also have to buy your own HDMI cables which are pretty expensive unless you look.

Popcorn Hour A-110
Anything you set beside an Apple product comes out unattractive, and while not very ugly, the Popcorn Hour looks like such in comparison. Still, it's the features that matter, and features it delivers.

First and foremost, the file format support. Any format you put in it is very much supported so I don't have to suffer long encoding times, and so that the movies I download are gonna be very much untouched (and thus, may be able to even beat Blu-ray). Additionally, it has a built-in torrent downloader, but it would have to depend on how dependable it is. Plus, you can go beyond YouTube and even view Metacafe videos, etc., etc.. And it's effing cheaper (P10000 when converted from USD).

But it wouldn't be that effing cheaper when you consider the additional stuff you'd have to buy. In fact, it would be extremely close (maybe even slightly more expensive) to the price of the USD-converted price for the 160GB Apple TV. For one thing, the Popcorn Hour doesn't come with a Hard Drive. 

While you can select the capacity of Hard Drive you want, it would bring the Popcorn Hour's price up to par with the Apple TV's (that doesn't include the HDMI cables). And if you want to sync the Popcorn Hour with a PC or Mac, you'd have to format that Hard Drive into the conventional FAT32 or NTFS.
 BUT, the torrent downloader becomes unusable because the Popcorn Hour can't write into FAT32 or NTFS drives (or so they say) thus the torrent downloader becomes unusable.

Additionally, if I want to stream videos wirelessly from the Internet (aka, thru Wi-Fi), I would have to buy yet another accessory! I'm not sure how much it costs, but even without it, it would still cost as much as the Apple TV in hindsight. Plus, the interface isn't as n00b-friendly, so I wouldn't dare leave it to my youngest brother to operate. Of course, that is unless you'd opt for using a USB flash disk as a poor substitute for the hard disk drive.

Still, the file format support is the big sell here. But I'd also like to stream the occasional online video through the Wi-Fi connection we have here without having to expend more.

Which one?
These devices may have already received some sort of upgrade already when we actually get to buying one of them, but being able to decide on a definitive streamer would be very appreciated.

November 22, 2008

iPod nano 4G review

If you've been following my Twitter feed, then you'll know about the trevails of my brother's new blue engraved iPod nano we ordered online in the Philippine Online Apple Store. It's a bitch that we didn't get the T-shirt they promised, but what the heck, it's kinda ugly in the picture.

Anyway, everyone would know what I'm reviewing this thing for: to determine if it's worth the money. And you know what? It is. But before you go horsing around for the nearest mall to get the thing, let me expound on my review first.
iPod nano (4G) review
Cost: P 9500 (Apple Online Store Phils.)
Also available: anywhere

NOTE: If you don't want to read, scroll all the way down for a summary.

No other gadget has ever taken so much of my time, so much of my attention just to ogle at it more than the 4th generation nano. And while Apple products tend to make you do just that, this one is special. This is just how awesome the nano is to look at, and out-of-the-box is what I mean, because it looks better than the pictures in my opinion.
But what it delivers on style, it almost delivers on substance. It has the same features everyone knows and loves/hates on the regular iPods, and then some.

So to keep this review short (kind of), let's focus on the new stuff.

A new way to discover your old, buried music, Genius playlists try to locate 25 songs that have the same "mood" as the current song you're playing. You have to get your computer's iTunes Genius feature turned on, though.
Generally, it's the same on all iPods: it can work, but it can also pick a few sour pickles from the jar.

But for the sake of convenience, Apple decided to give you three ways to access Genius:
1) Hold the Center button for two seconds in the Now Playing screen, and a menu appears.

2) Push the Center button several times in the Now Playing screen until you see Genius with a sort of arrow beside it. Slide the Click Wheel to start Genius.

3) Access Genius from the Music menu while playing a song.
It's good to see Apple giving the newbies a great hand.

VoiceOver (Accessibility)
But it's even better to see Apple giving the blind a hand. New in the iPod line is the ability to be able to sync VoiceOver (Mac) or Narrator (Windows) onto your iPod so a blind person could be able to navigate the iPod nano. I didn't test this however, but it's still worth mentioning. To activate this feature, simply check a box in the iPod section of iTunes and press Sync (I forgot what was written on that checkbox).

Revamped aesthetics
If you saw the pictures, you'd know that the iPod nano has a more iPod touch-y look going on in the software, and a welcome change back to the old tall look.
The hardware change makes room for a larger screen (which is most welcome) as well as a better grip. However, this will also make you have to hold the nano to its side if you were to watch a movie, which is very much more tolerable to watch in that way to be honest.

NOTE: Flash turned off intentionally to show off default brightness.

The Now Playing screen is most iPod touch like, and I love it. Plus, if you'd look at the uppermost picture of this post, you'd see that the Album Art montage of your Music, Videos, Photos, etc. have been placed at the bottom due to the return to (original) form and to make the menus more responsive as well.
Navigation is still largely the same despite the changes inside, but... is it my big finger or is the Click Wheel kind of cramped?

Plus, the screen is now made of glass- the same material used for iMac's and MacBook's. Not bad. Now if you place it on the iPod classic...

...but wait! The screen is curved, meaning that it will attract unwelcome light called glare. Put it under a bright light, and let your eyes burn!!!

Still, I also love how they scrapped the smudgy back with, well... a back that doesn't invite fingerprints!
CAPTION: The engravement is up there!

Probably the most unexpected addition to the nano is the accelerometer. I mean, no one would know how Apple would use something like that on a device like this, but use it he did.

So what do you do with an "accelerometer" anyway? Well, it's a mechanism that detects how you move your nano whether it be in a landscape or portrait manner. So if you're watching a movie, and you want to flip the picture to the other side of the nano because it's more comfortable to hold, you can do so. Or if you want to use Cover Flow to show off or take the scenic route in navigating your music, you can do so by holding the nano to its side as well. Photo too small to view vertically? Fix that by viewing it sidewards.

Surprisingly, however, the controls of the Click Wheel don't rotate along with the screen. So if you thought that while watching a movie, the Next (or Previous, depending on what position you hold the nano while watching a movie) button is now the "Menu" button, forget it. Because the Menu button is still the Menu button in that mode. It will take a little getting used to, but you will instantly get used to it, really.

To save battery, however, I'd recommend turning off Cover Flow.

And of course, Shake-to-Shuffle. It's a pretty gimmicky feature, but if you hate it, you can turn it off. Surprisingly, it doesn't actually activate unless you shake it very vigorously, so it's actually not gonna affect your exercise routine. Still, if you're paranoid (or if it does affect your exercise routine), Apple did include features designed with you exercise buffs in mind: the ability to turn the feature off entirely or just being able to leave the nano be because Shake-to-Shuffle won't activate when the nano is locked (the Hold switch is turned on) or if the screen dims.

Other uses for it are in the future, when iPod games built for the nano come out. Unfortunately, these downloads are only available in the US.

Voice recording
Yep, you can now record your voice on it. But that is if you insert some compatible earphones. I don't know if it's only limited to the official iPod earphones with recorder (READ: the ones that don't come in the box) but I've heard of iPhone earphones working just fine. (I have yet to try this because my dad sent the iPhone 3G box back to Globe because it broke down.) So no comment on sound quality here.

Obviously, the bad thing about this is that you have to shell out money to get these earphones, and they probably don't even improve on the sound quality with the earphones that come in with the package. If sound quality is what you're looking for, look for the iPod earphones that come with the rubber buds, or better yet, other brands.

Other stuff
The most important thing to consider in a portable device is: does it last long? The answer is Yes unless you like watching movies. Regardless, you'd get a decent amount of battery life left after watching a regular movie anyway.

But there's another important thing to consider in a portable music device; two in fact: the sound quality and the capacity. To be honest, you'd be able to hear the slightly better sound quality if you actually get to compare the last generation nano side by side with it, but it's not that big a jump. The big jump however is in capacity. From just a teensy 1-2GB to 8GB and 16GB flavors, the nano will give you a great run for your money since it costs the same with the last generation's 1 and 2 GB models.

The iTunes factor
If you love iTunes, then you don't need to read this because syncing, management, etc. are all the same save for having to create an iTunes account to activate Genius. Otherwise, you'll have to stick to making your own On-The-Go playlists within the iPod because you'll never get Genius if you don't sync your nano to iTunes. It's silly really... I mean, can't Genius be standalone in the iPod?!

Some people hate iTunes and for good reason: it's a memory hog. And that's more especially obvious in Windows than in Mac. Plus, iTunes has been known to cause blue screens.

Here's some advice: give yourself a day or two before you start downloading the updates iTunes bugs you about.

Accessories, accessories, accessories
The nano has a gallery of accessories. So if you are looking for a case, don't worry, you're covered! There are a lot of accessories out there for you to hunt for. And I think that some older ones even fit (but not snugly) in the new nano... I'm not sure.

Klondike, Vortex and... wait a sec.
This isn't important, really. But I love iQuiz, LOL. However, it's replaced by an accelerometer-controlled game called Maze. It's decent enough to waste your time as it has a simple goal: collect the yellow shiny things... in a maze... but why omit iQuiz?

Factory defect
I'm not sure if all iPod nano's on sale right now have this, but if you plug the headphones in the jack, you get sound only from the left earphone with the right earphone's sound muffled karaoke-style. Plug it halfway and you only get sound from the left earphone exclusively, but there's a sweet spot 3/4's into the jack that works. It's shi*ty how the Chinese factory can screw something like a headphone jack up (that sounded wrong) because, well, it's probably the same factory that makes all the past generation iPods right?

This iPod is a great purchase, and the enhancements are worth it. But if you already have a 3G nano (the "fat" one), there's not much reason to justify the purchase unless you want a bigger screen to watch videos in but still retain that portability (and price, because the iPod touch provides all that too). To help you decide whether to purchase, maybe you can consult the laundry list below:

The Good:
+ Gorgeous aesthetics in and out plus nice build quality
+ Slightly better sound quality
+ Accelerometer
+ Battery life
+ Excellent screen
+ Now comes in 8 and 16GB flavors
+ Great bang for your buck
+ Still uber-portable
+ More responsive Cover Flow and navigation
+ More impressive looking than the pictures (no really)
+ Shake-to-shuffle isn't as annoying as you think
+ Accessibility features are a plus
+ Sh*tstorm of accessories

The Bad
- Headphone jack may have a defect (varies from model to model)
- Click wheel has little allowance
- Screen invites glare
- Shake-to-shuffle is a tiring gimmick
- Extra cash needed for headphones with recorder
- Landscape controls need a little getting used to
- iTunes is BS especially in Windows, but you need it to use Genius
- iQuiz is glaringly absent (but that's personal preference since you can download it anyway but not for free)

Rating: 9/10 (Congratulations if you don't have the headphone jack problem)

November 16, 2008

Burn After Reading Review

I'm not even sure how to respond to this movie.

But let's lay the groundwork a bit for you to understand: so this movie is about this agent (John Malkovich) who has a drinking problem thus leading to his demotion. He doesn't take it lightly and he quits. Later he decides to write a memoir about his experiences in the CIA, but because his wife's divorce attorney advises his wife (Tilda Swinton) to copy his personal files and burn them onto a CD, his memoir winds up in risk of being leaked. Believe it or not, the CD winds up in a gym manned by some other guy. Even more unbelievable is that a gym trainer (Brad Pitt at his silliest) who reads it declares it as government information, and because this other gym trainer (Frances McDormand) wants to get money for cosmetic surgery, she agrees on the plan to bribe the former spy so they won't have to disseminate the files. When they meet, ludocrosity ensues in this storyline and the others in between.

See? This crap is crazy, the silliness baffling, the weirdness... haunting. But thank the heavens for the Coen brothers because this thing would've turned out extremely convoluted if done wrong. Them along with the all-star line-up, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand- oh my God, the offering is tempting to watch just for the sake of star power!

But does it do what it intends to do? Yeah I guess, I mean, it is a spy comedy after all, and I got a few chuckles, but no belly-laughs. The story is weird enough, and occasionally thrilling even, to keep you glued to your seat and watch the proceedings. Yeah, you can say that it was an OK movie as far as I know, I mean...

It has its moments, but I think it ends up as being forgettable, but it's not necessarily disposable comedic fare. The thing about it is that you just have to keep track of the otherwise extremely quirky characters who all fit the tone of the unique, quirky movie. I really don't know if the uniqueness of this flick even works for it or detracts from it, really, so I surely can't say that this movie is gonna be the crowd favorite, but if you're bored and need a little weirdness in your life, then go get watching Burn After Reading. Otherwise, just look into it yourself whether you think you'll like it or not, because for the record, we're not even talking about some ol' Judd Apatow toilet humor flick here. It's even pretty darn smart.

RATING: 6.7/10

Posted with LifeCast

November 11, 2008

Philippines Apple Store Now Online

I received the news in my e-mail, and it was pretty cool. Now you can order products right after Steve Jobs announces them, you won't have to go through traffic and fill forms to get that MacBook you were lusting form, and you don't even have to pay extra for shipping (when purchase is above 3000 pesos) nor engravement.

Yes, engravement.

Well, my dad decided to take the new Online Store for a spin, and after he made his Apple ID, credit card credentials included, he bought a 4th ten iPod nano as my youngest brother's Christmas gift with free engravement of his name for identification and bragging purposes, LOL.

Anyway, as any online store should be, shopping is relatively painless, and the nano is surprisingly cheaper than in SM or Hong Kong even! Of course, it doesn't apply to the whole product line, but the extras are cool, and you have one extra color to choose from when you order online for the nano (Product Red for AIDS foundations).

Plus, you cab configure extra parts for new Macs. Unsatisfied with that 250GB hard drive? Expand it! Something like that...

Potentially and personally, the most exciting thing about this is that Apple is one step closer to completing its Philippine tour, ending with a locally flavored iTunes Store as well.

I can't wait to see how the nano will look like with an actual engravement. When my brother does get it in the next 3 weeks or less, I will be sure to review it for you all.

Posted with LifeCast

November 9, 2008

Why the iPhone 3G is STILL innovative

On paper you'd see that the features you get on the iPhone 3G are sparse compared to even the most basic of cellphones. Come on, who doesn't think that omitting MMS and video recording are embarrassing for a company well-known to be the cutting-edge? Why does the iPhone lack so many features yet receive so much acclaim and praise?

Well, think about this: how often do you use your cellphone's E-Mail features? Did you know your cellphone probably had one (if it was made after 2003 or so)? How about your music player? Compare how much you used to listen to it when you first got it to the frequency of your music listening now. Do you even bother to surf the internet with your phone despite having 3G? Statistically, only 10% of users are able to actually use all of their cellphone's features to their advantages (especially multimedia ones) while the rest ignore them altogether or use them rarely and just stick to texting and calling. However, the iPhone changed all this.

Let a newbie take an iPhone for a spin, and chances are that most of the features it has actually get put to use. That's because most of these features aren't secluded into some stupid folder; they're just staring at the user. You want E-Mail? Press E-Mail and set up your Yahoo! mail account credentials! Music? Ha! It's right there unmistakably in the iPod! It's all driven by one-click (or in this case, one-touch) access, because people become tired of having to slog through various menus and stuff like that just to access this one little feature (-cough- Nokia! -cough-). It's convenient and an extremely quick way to access features, and it's surprising that no other touch-screen phones before it have done stuff this way. This kind of reminds me of the old Nokia phones of lore, or even current Sony Ericsson models. You only had to push Menu and there the features were. Now, you have to go through hell to find where the Address Book is (-cough- Nokia! -cough-).

That's primarily the driving force behind my dad's batchmate (the same batchmate I mentioned in my CEL '08 post) preference of the iPhone to the significantly more feature-packed E61i- the menus weren't convoluted and the features were staring at you in the face.

Oh, and here's another game-changer that Apple put: an accelerometer. Some phones have already been using the accelerometer for other gimmicks even before the original iPhone came out, but the accelerometer in the iPhone wasn't a gimmick- it was a legitimate function. Gone were the days when you had to click a button and search a menu to make a video adopt a landscape orientation in the screen. All you had to do was flip the phone sidewards, and voila! Same goes for the music navigation. If you find having to flick your finger tiresome just to find a specific song, why don't you flip the iPhone sidewards to access Cover Flow? And how about surfing the web? If you feel that the web is more justified with a widescreen view of things, why not flip the iPhone sidewards as well? See? Legitimate feature and less gimmicks.

Speaking of which, multimedia also plays a big part in the iPhone. Once you've loaded up your iPhone's music library, you can immediately plug any ordinary headphones (in the 3G iPhone, that is) to replace those crappy Apple ones and enjoy. Or if you're on a plane, get your iPhone on Airplane mode and watch your favorite movie. This thing could replace a dedicated music player if not for the lackluster battery (my dad's iPhone 3G's battery has even become defective!) and for the refusal of Apple to let users put music manually in it.

And how about a mention of Visual Voicemail? Voicemail may not be popular in the Philippines, but this killer feature has been tremendously helpful to the Caucasians out there. Normally, voicemail could be heard only through the order of which the mail was received. In the iPhone, you could access the voice message you want in a menu. It doesn't matter in the Philippines, but it still matters that the iPhone is actually the mobile that pioneered such a feature.

Lastly, the App Store. Yes, the Palm has apps, Windows Mobile has apps, Google Android has apps and your phone probably has apps too, but the rapidity of popularity the stuff in Apple's App Store has is astounding, thus the quantity of apps that get hosted there are also rapidly increasing moreso than the competition if claims are to be believed. Whatever the case, getting an app is easy after you make an iTunes Store account- and most of them extend what the capabilities of the iPhone and make up for most of the lacking features.

All of these elements combined with a stylish and extremely nice presentation make for an unmatched user experience, and they are what make the iPhone the innovator despite having some of the thinnest feature sets in any smartphone. 

Now it has sparked competition between other companies, and they're trying to match the experience on other platforms. And this competition attests to the power of Apple's innovation. But has the competition been beneficial? Well, it has also caused some brands to drop features they normally would have, and the physical keyboard is sometimes non-existent as well. Whether you like the touch keyboard is up to you, but I think the competition for touch-screen phones is beneficial to those looking for alternatives like the Omnia or the Xperia X1. But for those looking for beefy featured phones should look elsewhere. That is, unless the right one comes along.

So how much more proof can you get to see if the iPhone is truly a fad or something revolutionary? Bugs don't mean anything when you're actually talking about something like this, mind you, and security issues are significantly different affairs. So even if, on paper, the iPhone 3G is lackluster in features, it more than makes up for the experience.

November 8, 2008

Movies Opening This Week (Week 2)

If you haven't been up to speed with my blog, I've started a new weekly habit in which I recommend movies that are opening in theaters anywhere (meaning that it's not only geologically locked to the Philippines) based on their trailers.

To be honest, there's a bit of a dry spell this week (read: Twilight will suck like Eragon) so there are only two movies in here.

The Dukes
This is about a group of has-been singers who lack money. So they break in a dental safe and find gold. But this is their first robbery attempt, so screw-ups are inevitable. I don't know the actors in here, though.

Role Models
A movie in the same vein as a Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow or the Farrelly Brothers, says one critic. If you like the movies made by these 3 people (or crude comedies in general), then you'll probably like Role Models. It's about two people who wouldn't exactly qualify as role models, but must become just that because they get sentenced to community service. It also features crowd favorite Christopher Mintz-Plasse who made his debut as McLovin in Superbad. (Ouch at that retort in the first part of the trailer, LOL.)

REVIEW: Phantom of the Opera (2004 film)

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Starring Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler (pre-300)
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by Joel Schumacher

This is going to be ugly.

First off, I have to say that I like Andrew Lloyd Webber songs and that I hold the Andrew Lloyd Webber with high regard. The songs in Phantom of the Opera are especially (and arguably) his most memorable to date, but the movie adaptation that follows the musical isn't.

And now, some quick history. Gaston Leroux first wrote the novel, then it was adapted into the silent horror flick. Later, Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted the story and turned the whole affair into a romantic musical which received tremendous fame (with Webber even working on a sequel, which isn't required) and is the longest-running Broadway musical in history.

In 2004 together with Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, Joel Schumacher made a movie based on the timeless musical, and that is the one I'm gonna review.

So what's the story? Well, it's about an orphaned girl named Christine Daae. When her father dies, the "Angel of Music", aka the titular character, takes her under his wing and teaches her how to sing. Later, when the Opera House's biggest primma donna walks out of the La Carlotta show, Christine gets her big break. Conveniently, her childhood friend Raoul becomes the Opera House's patron, and like all these kinds of romances, they recognize each other and fall in love once again. However, the Phantom doesn't like this new development, and obsessively wants Christine for himself, thus the troubling series of events that follow.

I have to be frank: I love the stylishness of it all. The sets are gorgeous and the film has some nice color grading. OK, maybe I didn't like the cemetary (the cemetary in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is more realistic) as well as the fact that there were candles going up and down the water without the fire being lit out, which was downright silly, the first time we see the Phantom's lair, but overall, the art direction deserves to be commended here. Oh, and did you notice that both have an abundance of fog machines?

I need not talk about the songs, as I have already in the paragraphs above, but the thing is that the voices of the musical aren't strong enough to justify the power needed to sing them. And while we're on the subject of voices, I suspected lipsyncing from at least one of the actors, and it turns out to be from Carlotta's and not Christine's.

Why did I suspect Emmy Rossum (who plays Christine) to be lipsyncing? That's because her face hardly moves at all, and only her voice expresses emotion, not her face. But perhaps I was expecting some hammed-up performances, since this is after all a musical, but I'm still bothered by her (and the rest of the cast's) inability to move their faces, especially in the first half. It's the second half that got my attention, also because it was the climax, but the end result didn't turn out as dramatic as I wanted it to be, partly because of some plotholes and said lackluster performances.

Let me elaborate more on "but the end result didn't turn out as dramatic as I wanted it to be". The mystique is all gone and the thrill of guessing which character actually survives this ordeal goes pfft because of the black-and-white parts which represent the "present-day" happening of it all. And while the transitions between them are almost seamless and appropriate, it doesn't exactly do much benefit to the film's so-called mystery. From the beginning you already know that Raoul survives, so the action scenes between the Phatom and Raoul trying to fight each other to the death fall down, down, down into nothing.

That, and the fact that Joel Schumacher altered the Phantom's backstory, doesn't do much good either. I mean, if that was how the Phantom came to the Opera House, doesn't that mean that it would probably be more appropriate (not to mention generic and... less awkward in hindsight) to see Madame Giry and the Phantom being the ones in love? This becomes a bit like those May-December affairs instead, which I don't really like watching very much, because those affairs typically don't captivate the audience, and also because it makes the love triangle's resolution all the more predictable as well.

Plus, the movie's pace is too inconsistent. Sometimes, the scenes drag out to the point of boring, and sometimes, the film becomes a bit too fast-paced to the point of annoying. The scene involving Raoul going down somewhere whilst the Opera House's managers preparing Carlotta for a play (in song, of course) is an example not because it's confusing, but because the parties involved are singing two different tunes simultaneously!

So while we're in the topic of tunes, do the characters really have to sing almost every line? Can't they talk like normal human beings? Sometimes, a person needs a break from extravagant musical numbers, but this movie doesn't let up with the succession of musical numbers until the climactic (?) kissing scene, which you know will ensue, happens. Frankly, that part did not make me swoon because I had to pant for a while from all that singing!

Most important of all, the film lacks that sparkle of chemistry within the ensemble, and the Phantom doesn't exude that strong, intimidating aura at all. Perhaps, with that backstory, you could've stuck with Antonio Banderas (who sung "The Phantom of the Opera" in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th birthday concert) who exudes, well, something better than Gerard Butler. Plus, because once again of those black-and-white present day sequences, the sense of danger also wanes. And does the romance make girls giggle and swoon? I don't know, but I found that aspect to be extremely lacking if you ask my opinion.

Overall, the film is just OK. It's extremely stylish, and it features some nice songs, but... no dice. I don't think it deserves the Golden Globe nomination (for best Musical) at all, but I guess you can borrow and not buy the DVD from someone if you're interested to see if you like it or not. On the bright side, at least Joel Schumacher didn't put nipples on the costumes like in Batman and Robin. -shudder-

Rating: 6/10

November 6, 2008

Lea Salonga the Gamer

I just read the Entertainment section of today's (Nov 6 08) paper, of which I am a fan of Lea Salonga's column. And interestingly enough, she had "video games" in the title, so I immediately started to read. Now, judging from past articles, I already know that, at some point, she plays video games, but nothing boosts one's respect for an already respectable thespian when you have some favorite titles in common (or maybe just some darn good taste in games). In short, Lea's pretty hardcore.

Her 10 picks as written in her article include (click here to read her insights on each title):
1) Tomb Raider series
2) (the original) Super Mario Bros.
3) Final Fantasy X and X-2
4) Bioshock
5) Crisis Core: FF7
6) God of War
7) Viva Pinata
8) SSX series
9) Burnout 3: Takedown
10) Ninja Gaiden

The list took me by complete surprise, really. Hope her "Cinderella" run in Hong Kong becomes more successful than it already is. (And judging from the pretty sloppy writing, you'd see that it's obvious that I only wrote this on a whim.)

On a side note, I'm pretty sad that Joaquin Phoenix quit showbiz. :/ He was a great actor, and thus a great loss to the showbiz world. We need more great actors, really.

November 4, 2008


Although I've already watched Wall-E not a few months ago, it was just some terrible bootleg- and I rarely tolerate crappy bootlegs- so now that Wall-E's DVD is almost here, there's probably bound to be some excellent bootlegs. And yeah, we have one and I watched it again. Frankly, it's better the second time around because of said quality boost, and the in-jokes I missed are now pretty darn clear which is why i'm only reviewing this movie just now. So without further ado, I give you my review of Wall-E.

Littered with iconic moments and oozing with imagination and slapstick, Wall-E is a testament to how powerful actions are from words, cliché it might sound. The first 30 minutes of the whole shebang will attest to that where personality rings in every little frame despite the lack of dialogue.

The latter part falls short of the Chaplin-esque power of the first half-hour, but more of the antics, I think, that are reminiscent of that part may probably ruin the whole movie without getting its message across, so I guess I won't bash this fact much.

Still, just the fact that Pixar struck gold with their goal of putting emotions in the robots is something impressive. But contributing most to that feat is Ben Burtt's sound design which provides the voices of the robots. I mean, from a man who made R2D2 a likeable character, I'd expect as much.

Story-wise, Wall-E does pretty good. Basically it's about a robot who compacts trash (have you noticed that Pixar loves trash compactors?) and develops a personality after watching Hello Dolly every day. Hey, he's the last robot on Earth and it's been 700 years since the humans left for outerspace; anything could happen. Anyway, you see him going about his usual business of collecting items of interest and compacting the rest of the garbage until he finds a plant. This leads to EVE looking for said plant, but Wall-E doesn't know this and falls in love at first sight. This sparks a series of events that put Wall-E in outerspace.

Still, when you look at it in another perspective, you'll see that it discusses more complex topics not meant for a kid's movie, most especially consumerism. I mean, just looking at it skin-deep already yields a lesson about the environment, what more if we dissect it further? Really, I think this is gonna be the kind of movie that's gonna be made mandatory for viewing by film students.

But you know what my only gripe with this movie is? PRODUCT PLACEMENT. More specifically, Apple. You'll hear the start-up tone after Wall-E charges his battery, you'll see Wall-E using a post-apocalyptic iPod to watch Hello Dolly. I know that as an Apple fan I shouldn't actually mind at all, but I'm just bothered, and I feel that it dampens the consumerism issue it tries to discuss.

So what else have I to say that's already been said? The visuals, the score, the characters... I don't see anything else wrong with the movie to be honest, but it's not quite my favorite Pixar movie. There's one question left in my mind, though: How did that plant survive?

RATING: 9.3/10

Posted with LifeCast

November 1, 2008

Movies Opening This Week (Week 1)

I've decided to start a weekly post about movies I think will be good to watch. Of course, not all are guaranteed to be good especially since they're judged via trailers, but if history can attest, I've got a pretty decent track record of determining whether movies are gonna be good or not based from trailers. So here are some of the movies I think will be pretty good to watch this week(end):

007: Quantum of Solace
Hmm, we're getting Quantum of Solace earlier than the States. But whatever, I loved Casino Royale because it was a step in the right direction. Daniel Craig is hands-down, arguably the best Bond since Sean Connery. While the Bonds before Casino Royale were half-decent, Quantum of Solace looks like a worthy successor to Casino Royale. I mean, it is also the first direct sequel to a past Bond movie, so we're definitely seeing some big change in direction. From the trailer, I think it's looking a bit like this year's Bourne Ultimatum which was action-packed yet intelligent.

Zack and Miri Make A Porno
Even though I don't think I'll be able to watch this, the trailer is pretty funny.

Basically, it's about two best friends played by Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks who are in debt and just got their 2nd eviction notice. So to pay them all off, they're gonna make a porno. IMO, it's gonna have Seth Rogen toning down the swearing and it's gonna be a pretty distinct romantic-comedy, especially in comparison to the others that have come out this year.

Guy Ritchie's back to form with his new gangster movie RockNRolla. And while it received some mixed reviews, I think it's something you should catch.

It's about a deal made between two people named Uri and Lenny. Uri wants help from Lenny to whom he promises to pay a large fee. And to let Lenny trust him, Uri lets him borrow his "lucky painting" for a while. But two robbers intercept and steal the loot during the transaction, so a series of spirally events occur, all which lead to a rock star who is presumed dead.

A mother loses her child. 5 months later, the LAPD find her son, but she doesn't feel as if the boy is her son, thus, she goes to the LAPD to complain and she's assumed crazy. "Hey, it was 1928 at the time, so the police even bothering to listen to women was already lucky," was probably what they thought, so they put her in the psycho ward. But that doesn't stop her...

It's directed by Clint Eastwood, which is a bonus.

DSi launches (in Japan); new WarioWare

You've probably already heard all about the newfangled DSi that's coming. It lets people purchase games and content from the DSi Store through the use of Nintendo points, it has two cameras, a sound player and recorder, powerful and fun photo editor and lots more that will alter the gaming landscape of the nearly 5 year old handheld in expense for the backward compatibility.

Well, it just got released in Japan for an equivalent of 192 US dollars (9500 pesos) meaning that you may have to expect even lower prices when it gets released elsewhere, even in the Philippines. So if you wish to import the region-locked DSi, you can do so right now.

But in other DSi news, Nintendo just announced two new Wariowares. One of them's a download from the DSi Store (WarioWare Photograph) while the other is for the millions upon millions of ordinary DS's out there (WarioWare Myself).

Now, the special thing about the latter title is that you can create your own mini-games. That alone sounds very cool, and fit even for the casual gamer since WarioWare mini-games (or "micro-games" in its lingo) are 5-seconds long, but even cooler is that you can even transport your creations into the Wii for testing through a WiiWare download.

Also available for download in the DSi Store are old WarioWare minigames from the GameBoy Advance iterations. So if one of them old minigames is what you like, then you can get 'em despite the lack of the GBA slot. Still, one would feel remorse if one had the game the minigames came from.

As for WarioWare: Photograph, the purpose of that game is obvious: take advantage of the new technology under the hood. So, in typical WarioWare fashion, you may end up having to pick a nose with your own finger instead of the stylus to achieve that goal. Note that I said "a nose" and not "your nose" which may make it even grosser. But, you know, 'tis just an example... that reminds me of EyeToy (PS2).
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