Aubrey Peeples leads movie version of cartoon ‘Jem and the Holograms’

Most widely known for her role as the love-to-hate Layla Grant on ABC’s beloved series, “Nashville,” teen actress Aubrey Peeples takes on the lead role of Jerrica and her alter ego Jem, in Universal Pictures’ musical-adventure Jem and the Holograms.

In the film, as a small-town girl (Peeples) catapults from underground video sensation to global superstar, she and her band of sisters begin a one-in-a-million journey of discovering that some talents are too special to keep hidden. Four aspiring musicians will take the world by storm when they see that the key to creating your destiny lies in finding your own voice.

When recruiting and casting the actress who would portray both Jerrica and Jem, director Jon M. Chu and his fellow producers had quite a task at hand. They needed to find someone who could embody both small-town girl Jerrica, who has been living the unexceptional life up until the time she dons a secret identity inspired by her music, as well as Jem, the bold, stunning and absolutely fearless superstar who is everything that her alter-ego eschews. To add to that, they required a seasoned vocalist who could step right into the complexities of the music and lyrics—a tall order indeed for the production.

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In fact, the filmmakers needed to present a Jerrica who is the exact opposite person that one would expect to be Jem. Unlike her sisters, who love to share the minutiae of their lives by posting around the clock on their social media accounts, Jerrica is extremely shy. Although she is a wallflower who cherishes her privacy, in her heart, she is a dreamer and a creator. And while she writes music alone in her room, she will soon find out that some talents are too special to keep hidden. Jem, established by the pet name that her father had for her before he died, is about to meet the world.

Chu walks us through our protagonist’s struggle: “Jerrica has a gift, and it’s up to her sisters to draw that out of her. Once she’s empowered, once the world literally hands itself to her and says, ‘We follow you,’ she has to decide what kind of a person she’s going to be. Is she going to be a hero, or is she going to be a villain? That’s a huge struggle for a teenage girl to go through as she attempts to fit in with her high school friends—or with her sisters.”

The performer who stood out among all others was Aubrey Peeples, who has starred as Layla Grant on ABC’s Nashville since 2013. The versatile singer, dancer and actress knew she was headed for an enormous task when she signed on to portray both Jerrica and Jem, but she was up for the challenge. Peeples appreciated that Jerrica wasn’t starstruck; rather, she cares predominantly about her music and family. Peeples offers some insight: “Jerrica has had to take care of her younger sister because they grew up without a mom. Now that their dad is gone, she has to take control of everything. She is alone in this position, but she rises to the challenge.”

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While too young to have embraced the original animated series Jem and the Holograms as a young girl, that didn’t stop Peeples from being moved by the series’—and now the film’s—timeless tropes of commitment to family and embracing one’s signature creativity. She shares: “I love the messages of aspiring to reach your goal and honoring all cultures. I was also thrilled that the story looks at the double-edged sword of social media. I don’t think that we’ve had a film that comments on both the all-consuming nature of it…as well as how it can form a connection among people all around the world.”

Chu provides a bit of insight into Peeples’ casting: “When we met Aubrey, we knew right away that she was the one. She wasn’t just a great singer, she had an old soul that’s rare to find in young actors today. She loves analog over digital, and she could care less about fame. Instead, she was all about honesty in her craft. She was powerfully subtle in Jerrica’s quiet moments, then explosive and commanding in Jem’s performances on stage. It was pretty extraordinary to watch. She was everything we needed in our new Jem.”

“Jem and the Holograms” also stars Stefanie Scott (“Insidious: Chapter 3”) as Kimber Benton, Aurora Perrineau (“A House Is Not a Home”) as Shana Elmsford, Hayley Koyoko (TV’s “CSI: Cyber”) as Aja Leith, Ryan Guzman (“The Boy Next Door”) as Rio, Molly Ringwald as Aunt Bailey and Oscar®-nominated actress Juliette Lewis as Erica Raymond.

Opening exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas nationwide on November 4, 2015, Jem and the Holograms is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

— PRESS STATEMENT FROM UNITED INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

Carla Abellana, Tom Rodriguez paired anew in ‘No Boyfriend Since Birth’

The refreshing tandem of Carla Abellana and Tom Rodriguez returns to the big screen via Regal Entertainment’s latest romantic-comedy offering, No Boyfriend Since Birth, directed by Jose Javier Reyes.

Carla Abellana plays Karina Miranda, an executive assistant who works in a bridal shop. She’s never been in a relationship all her life, waiting for her high school crush Carlo Mercado played by Tom Rodriguez.

After graduation, Karina and Carlo cross paths at a wedding. Carlo, being a wedding photographer who worked in Canada for 10 years, gets close to Karina as they share common interest. Unfortunately, it is all work for Carlo unlike Karina who has fallen deeply for her high school crush again.

Determined to win the man of her dreams, Karina does everything in her power to make Carlo fall for her. But Carlo is one tough nut to crack and so Karina decides to give up hope and spare herself from more pain. Until Carlo asks her to be his business partner.

Karina then finds herself in a tight fix once again. Will she accept the proposal or turn it down? Will she finally gets to be with the man she dreamed all her life?

“No Boyfriend Since Birth” begins its search for “forever” on November 11. In Philippine cinemas nationwide from Regal Entertainment.

MOVIE REVIEW: Lisyun Qng Geografia (2014)

“But for now, let’s wait for the rain to stop.” – Claren Torres

lisyun-qng-geografia-posterIt is but fitting for young director Petersen Vargas to start his debut film with a quote from an important person in his life–something that encapsulates the overall mood of what is to follow, and to its extent, works as a tribute to that beautiful part. On the flip side is the real purpose of his work of art: a way to reminisce a piece of his past and to put closure on it.

Garnering recognitions across several film festivals, Lisyun Qng Geografia is a notable short film that speaks loudly and draws a lot of emotions from a fresh memory. As a thesis film submitted and defended at the UP Film Institute early last 2014, it was recognized as the Best Narrative Film Thesis in his batch. I was able to attend Likha Adarna at that time and it cannot be denied that from there Vargas’ promising work is bound for bigger things. True enough, it has participated in regional film festivals in General Santos City (Salamindanaw International Film Festival 2014) and Pampanga (CineKabalen 2014) and has even made rounds in international film festivals in Thailand and Mumbai. It was also one of the three winners of Best Picture in last year’s Gawad CCP for Alternative Film and Video. I have followed its journey at the ANI section of Cinemalaya 2014, Cinema One Originals Festival 2014, CineKabalen 2014, Singkuwento International Film Festival 2015, and now back at Cinemalaya 2015 where it is an official entry to the main competition.

Lisyun Qng Geografia Geography Lessons

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Lisyun Qng Geografia is essentially a nostalgic tale that is founded on the bittersweet taste of the has-been and the could-be. It tells the story of Tib (Earl Policarpio) who, before leaving Pampanga for good, chances upon an old map that pushes him to look back at his past, particularly the memories he once shared with his high school best friend, Tric (Ross Pesigan).

What appears to be a simple story of remembering high school is amplified by its intention to trigger a personal note in every frame and dialogue. We start with Tib getting ready to leave, boxing his stuff and weighing the sentiments of each memento until he comes across a map on which the trails of joy and struggles are etched. This map contains these memories that he finds hard to simply let go. Or, perhaps, the hardship of letting go makes the idea heavier that it is just about time to face this past. There is enough reason for him to retrace his steps; the significance of Tric is indispensible–that one person he has been so used to being with that it would be dreadful to get away with.

The beauty of Lisyun heavily relies in the tightness of its story. It is easy to attach one’s self with the emotions at hand because they are familiar. What lingers is the aftertaste that lets us recall our own stories and find ourselves one way or another in the characters. Amidst their respective uncertainties, the bond between Steven/Tib and Patrick/Tric is something to root for. The chemistry is there with the sparks in their eyes and the burst in their laughter. In the same manner, the pain is there in their sadness and longing. There is the apparent hurt of looking, of looking for more, and of looking away.

I’ll set out to find you
Trace the footsteps back to
Erase all mistakes
Lower the stakes

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Drowned by the sound of raindrops, easing himself by heaving a sigh, Tib knows that there is a missing piece to search for. It has already been several years since their last year in high school but the ghost still haunts like a scent that never fades. He looks back to relive the memories that are of equal weights joyful and hurting. It would be impossible for him to dismiss the idea of forgetting, albeit there is the implication of burying everything in a snap.

Not everyone will be able to relate to Tib and Tric’s love story–if we could put it that way–but this same story is very human as their feelings are built on real emotions. We get to establish in ourselves the bond between the two character as we take a good look at their everyday routines: fetching from one’s house and off to school on a bike, spending break times at the backyard of the school where they find solace, sharing interests and capturing the most mundane moments there could ever be. And from there we draw the courage to drill deeper into the core of what their hearts are beating for.

An oath of silence my feelings swore to
Not to be spoken of again
But I like to think you too keep quiet
I’ll never shout it out to the world
That I feel a certain way
But I don’t want things to change

I swore to the heavens
I swore to the sea
I swore that I’d make you
Stay with me

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The flashback scenes are meticulously colored in blue–something reminiscent of the Taiwanese film Eternal Summer that also tells a story of two high school best friends who also have strong attachment to each other. Painting these scenes in blue adds up to the melancholy of that period. The beauty of Pampanga is attentively captured through the lens of a Kapampangan director who is keen on promoting his heritage inasmuch as utilizing the language through the dialogues.

With homey scoring, Lisyun is successful in keeping the audience close to the goings-on. What made it more engaging is the use of the original songs from local indie folk band Ourselves the Elves. With songs such as “Baby I Love You So” smoothly attached to the scenes, the depth of the feelings involved is emphasized as if the dreamy rhythm and the poetry in the lyrics are entirely part of the story being told. It is as if these songs mirror the voices inside the head of the characters. Ourselves the Elves has given the appropriate level of sentimentality through their memorable lyrics and catchy melody, reaching its peak at the closing song, ultimately grasping the familiar ears.

At the end of the day, their friendship is all too fragile amidst the pressure of society. They keep on voicing out doubt in themselves and saying “I don’t know” is the most convenient way for them to do this. Their impending entrance to college frightens them as it would mean a different world to live in for the two of them.

“I don’t even know what the hell I’m doing here,” Tric would blurt out with Tib appeasing him with “That’s okay! As long as we’re together.”

Tric would feel a remarkable jump in his heart, only that it is not as often as the ache he keeps inside, whereas Tric would regularly bow his head as he displays a sincere cringe of falling apart–something he feels despite being with the one he loves.

There is the fear of rejection and facing the possibility of losing everything at once.

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Hindi makatigil sa kamumuni
Nalunod sa lalim ng sariling pag-iisip

Hindi ka na hihintayin

Hindi na aasa
Walang pagkukusang ayusin
At maibalik ang ating
Nabura nang larawan
Na hahanapin mo rin

Di mahanap-hanap ang kasagutan
Nilunod sa luhang patuloy ang pagtulo
Pagod nang magpasimuno

Hindi na aasa
Walang pagkukusang ayusin
At maibalik ang ating
Nabura nang larawan
Na hahanapin mo rin

Hindi makakilos sa labis na takot
Hindi makilala nang subukang
Muling ipinta ang larawan
Na hinahanap ko rin

Ang lahat ng aking iniisip
Bakit pumayag na agawin nila ‘ko sa’yo?

Lisyun concludes not by shutting the senses of its curious spectators but by opening more opportunities to see its simplicity as part of a bigger picture. The last scene is by itself a brilliant example of its openness: Vargas chose to end it by going back to a scene of uncertainty. Their doubts are floating along with their friendship in midair. What is next in life? What steps should be taken after this? What happens to us?

It does not end with the necessary answers but it sure has closed the doors of indecision. The map has finally led to a treasure worth keeping.

Bond villains execute sinister plot in ‘Spectre’

Certified screen baddies Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”) and Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) prove to be formidable villains for Daniel Craig’s James Bond, in Columbia Pictures’ new 007 action adventure SPECTRE.

In the film, Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as SPECTRE and he comes face to face with an enigmatic and chilling character – the organisation’s leading man, Oberhauser, played by two-time Academy Award®-winner Christoph Waltz.

“In this film it’s the classic, and the classical, protagonist/antagonist dynamic,” Waltz says. “The dynamic is that the hero’s major existential quest needs to be thwarted, and every obstacle needs to be set up to the degree that endangers not just the achievement of this quest but endangers the existence of the hero himself.

Christoph Waltz (left) and Leå Seydoux in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.
Christoph Waltz (left) and Leå Seydoux in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.

“Everybody was very aware that this dynamic is, to say the least, very desirable in this context,” Waltz continues. “That dynamic is what makes these stories really interesting.”

Waltz is especially happy to star in one of Daniel Craig’s Bond films given their grittier and, on occasion, darker tone. “With Daniel, some of the jocular tone from the earlier films evaporated and that was very much on purpose,” says the Austrian star. “During the course of Daniel’s films, Bond has emerged a more troubled soul and less of the ironic prankster type. Whether that continues in this film, or shifts again, audiences will have to wait and see.”

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As is often the case in Bond films, a very distinctive henchman supports the main villain. One only need consider Auric Goldfinger and Oddjob, or Francisco Scaramanga and Nick Nack, to name but two. In SPECTRE, the filmmakers not only introduce Oberhauser, but also Hinx, his muscle-bound field agent, played by Fil-Am actor Dave Bautista.

“I think this film has something of an old-school feeling, especially when you consider the history of SPECTRE,” Bautista says. “They’re this large, mastermind organisation that is everywhere. They’re very mysterious and it’s important that they remain that way.

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“I always thought it was really cool to be the bad guy,” he adds, “but being a member of SPECTRE, specifically, is really great.”

Hinx, he notes, is a great match for Bond. “The character is really, really strong which you notice in one fight scene in particular. When you think of Bond you don’t often see him losing in a fight. But it happens in this film.”

Another important man in the SPECTRE story is Mr. White, played by Jesper Christensen. The character was responsible for Vesper Lynd’s betrayal of Bond in Casino Royale and he also appeared briefly in Quantum Of Solace. “He appears to be a crime boss of some kind but it turns out he’s not completely at the top because there’s someone over him,” says Christensen.

The man at the top is Oberhauser. “White has fallen out with his associates and he’s been in hiding,” Christensen continues. “Now, though, he has been found, and he’s being slowly poisoned.”

Oberhauser played by Christoph Waltz (centet) in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.
Oberhauser played by Christoph Waltz (centet) in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.

When Bond finds White, the latter is almost at death’s door. “He doesn’t really know what to do,” says Christensen, “but Bond makes White help him in his investigations into SPECTRE. Bond hits on White’s love for his daughter. White has one daughter and that is the only thing in his life that he really cares about. To protect her, he lets Bond in on some secrets.”

Through the revelations made in SPECTRE, it transpires that there is one man behind all the tragedy that Bond has faced during the last three films.

Opening across the Philippines on Friday, November 6, 2015, SPECTRE is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.