MOVIE REVIEW: Ignacio de Loyola (2016)

For years, the Jesuit Communication Foundation (Jescom) based in the Ateneo de Manila University has built a name as the leading Catholic multimedia ministry in the Philippines. Founded by the legendary Fr. James B. Reuter, Jescom first gained a reputation as a leading publisher of liturgical music by Fr Eduardo Hontiveros and his associates. It has since ventured into print media, radio and TV broadcast, and social media ministry. In July 27, 2014, through a Facebook post, Jescom announced a new project that is ambitious in its scope: a full-length theatrical film about the founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignacio de Loyola, and only the second theatrical feature film about the saint (after the 1949 Spanish movie The Captain of Loyola).

The film opened exactly two years later. The timing couldn’t have been more apt: the chosen date came four days before the feast day of St. Ignatius, and also happened on the same week as the 31st World Youth Day in Poland, led by Pope Francis (the first Jesuit pope). An aggressive social media campaign helped push Ignacio to screen into 56 theaters nationwide on its first day. Featuring an all-Spanish cast and top-rate Filipino talents during production, and also backed by a number of Jesuit provinces (countries), expectations for the film were high.

Based on the St. Ignatius’ autobiography (where he referred to himself in the third person, as a way of abnegation), the film explores the genesis of Ignacio’s conversion and his beginnings as a preacher and spiritual adviser. As a member of the aristocracy, he was possessed by a thirst for adventure and conquest, inspired by his voracious reading of books like El Cid, Song of Roland and the Arthurian legends. After all, Ignatius lived during a vigorous period marked by adventurism and early colonialism: he was born a year before Columbus landed in America, and Magellan was killed at the Battle of Mactan around the time he dabbled in warfare. He was inspired by current events as he was by popular fiction.

After being seriously wounded in the Battle of Pamplona (1521), he was forced to give up a promising career as a military captain. Recovering after a botched operation that threatened to end his carefree life, he faced a terrifying anguish upon realizing that his life would have been worthless. Forced to read religious books when his hospital did not have his favorite genre–this was, after all, the Counter-Reformation, and most hospitals were run by the clergy and by monasteries—he suddenly realized that he was intended to serve a higher purpose and a more powerful Master, and resolved to renounce his old life and begin anew as a man of God. Between the Two Standards of God and Lucifer, he resolved to become a soldier of the Church-Militant.

The rest of the story traces Ignatius’ journey into establishing his newfound ministry, where he had free rein to share his ministry and to provide counsel using the formula he created in the Spiritual Exercises, a manual for spiritual directors from which most modern Catholic retreats are based from. The movie, however, falters in coming up with a coherent treatment of this journey, with different episodes strung together while at the same time competing through different points of view (particularly in the movie’s first act). To be fair, the same thing can be said about other Filipino films within the same genre. Among those produced in this genre within the last 30 years were Lorenzo Ruiz…The Saint…A Filipino! (1988, Maria Saret), Madre Ignacia [del Espiritu Santo]: Ang Uliran (1988, Nick Deocampo), Divine Mercy sa Buhay ni Sister Faustina (1993, Ben Yalung), Kristo (1996, also by Ben Yalung) and, more recently, Pedro Calungsod: Batang Martir (2013, Francis Villacorta). These movies also attempted to cover as much ground as possible about each saint’s life, but being unable to establish a strong theme that would have justified the selected episodes being portrayed.

That said, the film makes it up with a sincere portrayal by Andreas Munoz as Ignacio de Loyola. Munoz gives the audience an Ignacio who was less adventurous and more introspective. Resigned that his injuries could mean (among other) he would never be able to dance again with Princess Catalina (Tacuara Casares), Munoz-as-Ignacio does not hide his anguish, his being abject and defeated. Devouring every page of the Lives of Saints and the Life of Christ that he read, he slowly transformed into the calm convert, his spirits fired by a zeal to become a renewed Christian. At the same time, Munoz portrays a composed, compassionate spiritual director who wins the trust of people who confided to him; his conversation with the prostitute Anna (Marta Codina) is often cited in various reviews and social media comments as the most touching scene in the movie, and rightfully so.

Besides the all-Spanish cast (who spoke their lines in an accented English), Ignacio de Loyola is supported by top-rated Filipino talents. Ryan Cayabyab composed and conducted the movie’s powerful musi. As with his previous work in film, Cayabyab has underscored themes and ideas in the movie with easily-identifiable musical motifs, which are deftly transformed in succeeding scenes. The theme with Princess Catalina, for instance, begins as a lovely gavotte (supported by guitarist Lester Demetillo) between her and Ignacio. After they part ways and whenever Ignacio recalls his limerence, the dance theme resurfaces, each time becoming more infused with melancholy, and finally fully developing near the movie’s end as a statement of how Ignacio’s worldy desire has changed into a spiritual desire. Another recurring theme, taken from the Credo by Cayabyab (from an early opus), accompanies Ignacio’s meditations in a moving interpretation highlighted by cellist Francisco Llorin.

The entire score is recorded by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra in a stirring reading of Cayabyab’s score that would certainly match the best music produced in other films. The Ateneo Chamber singers also provided strong support in their rendition of choral lines, notably the haunting Suscipe at the entire end credits. Having started out as a music producer, Jescom clearly spared no expense with regard to the music by hiring only the best Filipino talent it could find for this movie, and this alone for me would be worth the ticket. (I’m looking forward to buy a copy of the soundtrack’s CD.)

Director Paolo Dy may have made missteps in terms of how the movie’s story and script has been (under)developed–this being his first feature film–but there is no denying that he was motivated by a singular vision in realizing a modern take on St. Ignatius (whose story itself is larger than life). For sure, Ignacio will find its place in many education film showings and might even be regularly aired on Holy Week television specials. Having said all these, Ignacio de Loyola is a interesting (if not compelling) showcase of Filipino talent, and this film provides audiences with a good introduction on how far Filipino talent can go.

Special thanks to Eric Louie Bolante (production manager of the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra), for his assistance in providing some details about the production of Ignacio de Loyola.

From the humans behind ‘Despicable Me’ come ‘The Secret Life of Pets’

From Illumination Entertainment, one of the entertainment industry’s leading producers of event animated films like “Despicable Me” and “Minions,” comes Universal Pictures’ “The Secret Life of Pets,” the recent No.1 box-office hit in the US, and opening in Philippine cinemas Aug. 24. Watch the film’s new TV spot below.

“The inspiration behind ‘Pets’ was all of the pets that my family and I have owned since I was a little kid. We grew up with a cat and dogs and a bird, and what I realized as I became a parent was that we all invested these pets with rich emotional lives. Whenever we’d come home we would be thinking about the joy in their faces in seeing us and thinking about them doing things that were a little bit naughty. We realized we were asking exactly what they had done while we were out.”

“It struck me that I wasn’t alone in wondering about what the inner lives of our pets were,” he continues. “The minute I started to look at my own pets that way, I realized that everybody looks at their pets through that lens. Whether or not it’s a real emotional life or a projected one…it doesn’t matter. We’re fascinated with their inner lives and highly curious about what they’re doing and thinking when we’re not around.”

Working with the writing team of Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio, with whom he’s worked on the films in the “Despicable Me” franchise, Meledandri first asked them to develop this idea into a screenplay. They were then needed to start “Despicable Me 3,” and writer Brian Lynch—known for his work with Illumination on “Minions” took the helm.

Daurio explains how it all began: “The first thing that Chris pitched to us was the image of a dog watching his owner leave the house. As soon as the owner leaves, the dog dumps his food in the trash and opens the fridge to find something better to eat. That was the initial image that was planted in our head, and it stayed with us throughout this entire process.”

Paul describes what drives the process he shares with Daurio: “The key to an Illumination film is lots of laughs and lots of heart. We want people to laugh as much as they possibly can, but we also want to make them cry a bit at the end as well.”

As they pondered upon the setting, the duo was drawn to a New York apartment building. “Early on, we decided we wanted this story to take place in an apartment building,” Paul says. “That gave us access to a lot of pets and the idea that when the owners are away, they party. They gossip and drink out of the toilet; things they would never do if their owners were watching.”

This is Lynch’s third collaboration with Meledandri, and he appreciates Meledandri’s character-centric approach. “Chris always says, ‘We’ll come up with the story and the set pieces later. Let’s work on who our lead character is, what happened to him or her before and what we want the audience to know about them and feel about them. We will go from there,’” offers Lynch. “It has always been helpful to work that way.”

Lynch loved extrapolating upon these pets’ secret lives, revealing: “This film is a salute to how much all of us love our pets. No matter what they do in the movie, the new friends they meet or the death they defy, they still have to be back at the end of the day to see their owners come home. Even if they go on crazy adventures during the day, the highlight of every day is when their owner comes home.”

The moment that Max’s owner brings Duke home from the pound has a special inspiration of its own. Laughs Meledandri: “I imagine Max feels a bit like my nine-year-old son must have when my wife and I came home from the hospital with a new baby: ‘Where did this guy come from? Who asked him here? My life was fine before he arrived and, no, I don’t want to share everything that I’ve got that’s so perfect.’”

Comedy superstars Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart make their animated feature-film debuts as Max, Duke and Snowball in “The Secret Life of Pets,” which co-stars Jenny Slate as Gidget, Ellie Kemper as Katie, Lake Bell as Chloe, Dana Carvey as Pops, Hannibal Buress as Buddy, Bobby Moynihan as Mel, Steve Coogan as Ozone and Albert Brooks as Tiberius.

Opening across the Philippines on August 24, 2016, “The Secret Life of Pets” is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Will Smith on target as Deadshot in ‘Suicide Squad’

Superstar Will Smith leads the Super Villains ensemble as master marksman Deadshot in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Suicide Squad.”

“I have always loved the superhero genre, and [director-writer] David Ayer wanted to make a truly fun film that put a powerful story into the package, which looked at the difference between being bad and being evil. I thought it was a great opportunity to play a character who, seeing as he’s a father, is very much at odds with what he does for a living but at the same time really, really good at it,” he smiles.

“The Suicide Squad is comprised of all these deadly incarcerated villains,” explains producer Charles Roven. “What would they do, given the chance to reduce their sentences or even gain their freedom, even if it’s likely they won’t survive the mission? And they take that shot—not that they’re given much choice.”

Though seemingly given a “choice,” the prisoners who will become the Suicide Squad will have to learn to work as a team—literally. This is no voluntary gig. Plucked from the notorious Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary, which is designed to hold the “worst of the worst,” Deadshot and fellow inmates Harley Quinn, Killer Croc and Diablo, among others, aren’t exactly given an appealing alternative to playing along. U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller, a ruthless, manipulative operative who prides herself on her ability to get people to act against their own self-interest, sees to that.

Like a young daughter he may never see again? Enter Deadshot, whom Waller has quite cleverly managed to toss into Belle Reve with the aid of Gotham City’s most famous crime fighter. As the group’s (and likely the world’s) greatest assassin, he’s quite a prize for the penitentiary. But Waller has a more effective use of his talents on her mind.

“Deadshot has a daughter he loves more than anything, and he wants desperately to be a great father,” reveals Will Smith. “But at the same time he keeps the lights on by being a hitman. He’s deeply conflicted by the paradox of his love for Zoe and the fact that he gets pleasure out of ridding the world of trash.”

It is this internal conflict that Waller manipulates as events unfold, promising Deadshot a chance at paternal redemption—the chance for a normal family life—no matter how unlikely it seems.

As a parent himself, Smith readily understood Deadshot’s desire to be the best father possible, but the assassin’s visceral love of murder was a tougher nut to crack. “I could not get my head around the idea of killing people for money,” says Smith. “But then I read a book called The Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas, who had worked in the FBI profiling unit. One of the first lines in the book is, ‘Why did he do it? Simple, because it felt good.’ That was such an explosive moment of comprehension for me. The question became not why did he do it, but why did it feel good? As an actor, I always hit a wall when I want to know why someone does something versus just accepting the fact that they enjoy it. That book really helped me understand Deadshot’s need for power and dominance and to create a back story of how during his childhood he must have felt really disempowered…how targets remind him of people who were unkind to him in the past.”

Opening across the Philippines in 3D, and in 2D, and in IMAX 3D theaters on Thursday, August 4, “Suicide Squad” is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.