MOVIE REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast is far from perfection but still proves to hit the right spot in our hearts, the same way the animated feature did way back in 1991.

Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast had huge shoes to fill as it’ll be marking a pinnacle in bringing the beloved animated Disney film faithfully to life as live-action on screen after so many years of loose adaptation releases.

Let me begin by saying that the production had the biggest efforts in respecting the craft by staying true to the original material, almost verbatim, in transforming it to reality, whilst adding flavor by introducing a couple more music to an already-gorgeous lineup of classic songs. The film dazzles with colourful characters, extravagant musical sequences as Condon doesn’t hold back in bringing bold textures and hues of a classic musical production, very reminiscent to Baz Luhrmann’s elaborate style of magic realism on film.

There has been a revamp to the depiction of several characters, most notably to Belle, played by the commendable efforts of Emma Watson. Perhaps, for the first time, a Disney princess is human (and a feminist, if I may add) – the layers of reality that Watson brought to Belle completely eradicated the wide-eyed damsel-in-distress impression of a princess archetype. Belle is portrayed as a real woman: assertive, less romanticized, more organic, and overall ambitious whose destiny doesn’t rely on quintessential prince charming prototypes. This characterization is a rather bold move from screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopolous in showing a three-dimensional Disney leading lady by eliminating the nuances of a dated impression of the feminine persona.

Another revamp is to that of LaFou, whose homosexual undertones are finally embraced, which completely gave sense to what used to be an illogical fixation and fascination towards Gaston as what has been portrayed in the animated version. It goes to show that the film has supported the characters’ intellect by giving rationale to their decision making. It is a very brave move from Disney by finally adding an LGBT character (two of them, actually) to a classic child-friendly film. This revamp shows that Beauty and the Beast, or probably Disney in general, is finally speaking to a new era.

Despite the film’s greatest intentions, inevitably, it suffers from a fair share of casualties here and there. Being an iconic musical, it is just expected that the singing part will be, a no-brainer, above par. However, we have to admit: Watson’s vocal ability wasn’t the best, which didn’t come as a surprise, prematurely conceived from the film’s early marketing and promotional clips. Ultimately, there’s a strange and awkward atmosphere one just cannot ignore that a random laundry woman in the neighbourhood, or a nameless old fish vendor, can sing stronger and has more solid vocal register than the leading lady herself. Vocally, the neighbourhood chorus completely swallows Watson, especially in the opening number, which is crucial, as it sets the mood and expectations of the film. It’s the white elephant in the movie. It all seems like a big ball of ‘showbiz’ agenda that Watson’s casting primarily falls down on how divine she looks in that iconic yellow ball gown, as if a living replica of the animated version – no more, no less. If this wasn’t a musical, Watson would fit perfectly like a glove; but at the end of the day, one of the primary reasons why a musical’s narrative continues to move fluidly is the vocal strength of the cast, especially the lead, and autotune can only get her so far.

The cast and the music felt overly congested. Stanley Tucci’s casting was completely unnecessary, as if merely dragging a big name to pile up an A-list ensemble; again, too much showbiz stunt agenda that is overwhelming to the film’s overall essence. His character has nothing to do with the film’s narrative other than a filler, and he could be taken out easily for a cleaner and much more concise plot. There are a couple of songs that felt better if they were released in an extended DVD version; Beast’s solo act felt redundant, as it was anti-climactic to the film’s pacing.

Speaking of pacing, the build-up of the characters, particularly to that of Belle and Beast, is rather perfunctory, especially in the second act. Their transition from master-prisoner to lovebirds is very, very abrupt, it’s just so hard to buy, which consequently contradicts Belle’s newly overhauled persona as a less idealized, more grounded woman. How the ‘courtship’ was portrayed was too by-the-book from the original source; it felt too forced, and ultimately seems inconsistent from their premise of modernizing the definition of love and relationship. It didn’t have enough establishing moments to justify a love that felt and seem so impossible (bestiality, anyone?), whereas it was the best opportunity to humanize a fairytale, since that has always been the apparent objective of this live action adaptation.

Moreover, the rest of the cast was just stunning. From the impeccable chemistry between Lumiere and Cogsworth, played by Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen respectively, to the hilarious Emma Thompson, whose golden nightingale voice is a revelation on-screen, to the heartwarming performance of Kevin Kline as Maurice – you can never go wrong with seasoned actors playing classic and iconic roles.

The best part of the film, to my surprise, is Luke Evans as Gaston. I have always been skeptical about him as I find his voice too high and raspy for an uber masculine brute. Evans added so much flavor and pizzazz to the character, he stole every scene he’s in, and at the moments he’s not on screen, you’d find yourself longing for his presence. He’s gritty but vain; extremely annoying but very lovable; he has sold the character so well, you’d easily want a spin-off for his own movie.

Overall, Beauty and the Beast turns out to be exactly what you think it would be – strengths and weaknesses combined; thus, it won’t disappoint. Ultimately, the premise of the film has been lived up, though far from perfection, it still hits the right spot in our hearts. This film is a beautiful nostalgia, and you will find yourself in goosebumps witnessing how the animated film from 1991 has finally unraveled to life.


3.5 out of 5 stars


Now showing across the Philippines in 2D, 3D, IMAX and 4D screens, Beauty and the Beast is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Philippines.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Arrival (2017)

I must admit, I’m such a big fan of La La Land even before it hit local scenes, that I almost forgot that there are other interesting movies coming to theaters thereon. When Damien Chazelle’s followup to Whiplash was finally shown in the cinemas just last month, I managed to watch it 11 times as if magic has already lured me to return again and again. The musical romantic drama film is indeed captivating. The songs stuck in my head, its visual spectacle as awesome as the first time. Arrival, on the other hand, is a different case. Despite prior critical acclaims, I was not as excited to see it, simply because “alien invasion” sounds too worn-out for me. Much to my surprise, I had no idea that Arrival is the kind of movie that will make me forget La La Land (and all of the 11 times I saw it), or any other recent favorite for that matter.

In Arrival, the help of linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is sought by the military when twelve seedpod-shaped spaceships suddenly appeared on random location across the Earth. She is teamed up with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and they station at the nearest landing site in Montana. As supervised by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and CIA Agent Halpern (Michael Sthulbarg), their goal is to determine what the aliens want. Adams showcases a character to be hold onto and to be cared for, with Renner’s comforting personality on the side.

Director Dennis Villeneuve proves yet again that he has the knack in his craft, more evident as ever after Enemy and Sicario (both of which are outstanding as well). Based on the short story, Story of your Life by Ted Chiang, Arrival is adapted to screen by Eric Heisserer who highlighted the importance of visual cues and actions to give hints and plant seeds that are to be harvested as the story progresses. What the two created in Arrival is a movie to be remembered, not as an alien movie but as one good example of how to break the stereotype in alien sci-fi subgenre. This time around, it is not about the usual destructive nature of close encounters with aliens. The key word here is communication. For guman beings or otherwise, communication is the best tool to make things possible and workable. But one big question remains: is it really the intention of the large spider-like seven-legged aliens they referred to as heptapods?

This all goes back to the very start of the movie. The introduction is a fascinating prelude to its ending piece inasmuch as this same ending is a riveting starting point that could lead back to the movie’s first few minutes. Focus is much needed to fully comprehend what the story is all about. It is indeed a simple story that tackles various personal issues including fear of the unknown and facing consequences. A repeat viewing could also work wonders in filling in the gaps that would appear as though intended to make the audience crave for more. Why are they here? Why are we all here?

MOVIE REVIEW: The LEGO Batman Movie

Coming from someone who is not a fan of any superhero character, I could immediately give my thumbs-up to The LEGO Batman Movie for making me more curious about the world of the Caped Crusader (whose only movie I’ve seen is Batman v. Superman plus some cartoons). It’s quite nostalgic to watch this spin-off with The LEGO Movie in mind—the entirety of which I enjoyed thoroughly back in 2014. I can’t think of any other animated movie filled with such spellbound fun that leaves an enjoyable aftertaste even after some time. It might have been terrible for me to look for one adorable song from The LEGO Batman to equal the first movie’s Everything is Awesome but everything else just works sufficiently to keep me entertained.

The story is more laugh-inducing with Batman’s indifference towards his ‘greatest enemy’—The Joker. It builds up tension between the archenemies and provides a good picture of both character’s soft spots. Will Arnett’s Batman may seem serious but his character develops for the better. On the other hand, Zach Galifianakis’ Joker is simply hilarious however much he tries to look evil or plot against Gotham City. When the Joker asks Batman if he seriously feels nothing special about their relationship, the latter just cracks with a soon-to-be-classic quote, “Batman doesn’t do ships. As in relationships… You mean nothing to me. No one does.” When these lines are followed by a closeup of Joker’s flabbergasted reaction, it’s a tough feat not to laugh out loud seeing how Batman’s words have shattered the Joker’s feelings.

Batman’s character in this film is as lonely as it could get. It is painful to watch how this is stressed with everyone else partying and celebrating without minding the hero of their city. He lives in a mansion with Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) as his butler and Apple’s Siri as his sentient supercomputer—a bountiful living, indeed—but he is a sad, lonely man. Things change when he meets the playful Dick Grayson (Michael Sera) who would become his adoptive son and sidekick, Robin. Not to mention, the entrance of Rosario Dawson’s Barbara Gordon into Batman’s life made him realize the importance of teamwork, let alone companionship. All of these could be your typical framework of a family-oriented movie but The LEGO Batman appears to have set these standards to make things more familiar and more accessible.

With a number of jokes and comic book references and an abundance of characters (villains and allies alike) to serve the fans, The LEGO Batman Movie goes beyond the expectation of delivering visual treats all throughout. The ride is all worth it. Should this be the direction Warner Animations Group intends to go, we are all off to see more memorable adventures with The LEGO Ninjago Movie opening this September and the sequel to The Lego Movie in 2018.

MOVIE REVIEW: Split (2017)

There is much to rediscover with the return of director M. Night Shyamalan who has gained such attention with supernatural horror-thriller The Sixth Sense. Long before his latest film Split began its production, the anticipation is high enough to increase hype over the movie—how much more with the introduction of versatile actor James McAvoy as its lead star.

Split revolves around the story of a mentally-ill man with 23 personalities and his everyday life in between his creepy kidnapping of three teenager girls in a custom-built dungeon and his frequent visit to a psychologist, played by the ever-reliable Betty Buckley. On another hand, Anya Taylor-Joy as one of the victims tells much of a thinking role: useful and relatable.

The overall atmosphere of this psychological thriller adds up to the vibrant portrayal of McAvoy, who owns his character, one at a time, until it unleashes the 24th—something equally suprising and satisfying. While it could have been moreso interesting to see him literally play 24 characters (as how the film is marketed), minimal exposures of McAvoy’s dissimilar personas give proper highlight, individually, instead of moving into complex storytelling with all of them suited up for the story’s timeline.

Split showcases a terrifying James McAvoy in a role perfect for an M. Night Shyamalan comeback tale. The stylish visuals alone provide a classic atmosphere hinged on the director’s early works: the result as shocking as what audience could expect.

 

Comparable among its league under the same genre, Split exudes Shyamalan’s psyche—however torn it could be—and successfully transforms it into something terrifying thanks to McAvoy’s dependability. The outcome complements with the eerie sound design, determined editing and claustrauphobic . It would not be any surprise if this happens to be an origin story and a sequel is yet to come to explain all of it and provide answers to the film’s inescapable riddles.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Mana (2014)

(Reviewed and delivered in the forum for Mana at Cine Europa Film Festival 2016.)

Most of the time, stories with a lot of characters tend to be confusing with distracting details here and there. But in the case of Gabriel Fernandez’ Mana, there is enough exposure given to each character who comes from the same root—the matriarch of the family (Fides Cuyugan-Asensio) who happens to be on the verge of death.

Notice the paint on the wall chipping and dirty as if to say that things got to be neglected or to mirror the mess that the family has made out of itself. What was first a high-profile family is now seeking for privacy in the middle of a family crisis.

Everyone is worried about the security of getting the inheritance passed on to the rightful heir. No one is flawless. No one is without a fault. The siblings confront one another to revive their issues without noticing that they merely add fuel to the fire.

It is never difficult to connect to the characters, what more with this scale of ensemble. They are played by good actors who are moreso refined in the industry. We have the ever-reliable Cherie Gil, Jaime Fabregas, the power-hungry Ricky Davao, Tetchie Agbayani, and yes how we miss the late Mark Gil. Then comes the youngest child, played by Epi Quizon, flowing in youth, who first appeared with a rainbow on his background. He is the last to arrive in what seems to be a reunion among the immediate family of the bed-ridden Doña.

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Every mention of the place Negros gives out that sensation that we are transported to the province. Piece by piece, there are hints planted to tease what is bound to happen. The swing of the pendulum, the writings on the wall, the faint whispers, the dog and the baboy ramo, as well as the apparitions—all culminating to a larger terror. Cut to short scenes with a group of women in black veil, they light candles and they say their prayers.

We get to choose how we hope the story would progress and what the “mana” or inheritance is all about. We also had the chance to root for our favorite character.

Things get scarier towards the end upon the revelation on what actually has to be inherited. All in all, Mana is as eerie as it wants to be thanks to its well-structured narrative that is somehow embossed from a regionalistic lens. We get to ask ourselves, is this tradition real? Are we ready to face this side of reality when in fact we have been hearing this layer of aswang stories since forever?

Another day would come and people would—one way or another—move forward for a new generation of aswangs—real or not.

MOVIE REVIEW: Morgan (2016)

In the new sci-fi horror film Morgan, there is more action sequences to speak of than any further voyage to the core idea, that it pushes itself on the verge of being generic and mostly uneven.

Lee Weather (Kate Mara) works as a corporate risk assessment consultant who is sent to the middle of god-knows-where to investigate the subject of a top-secret science experiment—an artificially created humanoid named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy)—after a violent outburst. The scientists working on the subject raise Morgan as if it were their own child. Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones), Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie), Dr. Darren Finch (Chris Sullivan) and his wife Brenda (Vinette Robinson), and the project head Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh) are all just there to protect “her.”

Morgan’s teenager look does not go near that of a 5-year-old. Donning a fierce disposition and with a pair of eyes covered in mystery, it leaves a frightening appearance which serves as a clear indication of what is to expect: something bloody, something terrible, something very familiar and Frankenstein-esque.

As we go along, there is not much information about the structure of the science organization to hold on to except for the laboratory setups, and the repetitive mention of how essential the project is, with all of its employees worried as hell. Much worse, there is an artificiality in the way it unfolds its story, just like when Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) prods with questions that trigger Morgan to involve physical force yet again. Regardless of whether the intention is to hurt, damage, or kill, the establishment packed with intelligent people do not seem to realize the necessity of tightening their security and it is too late for them to have the guts to inflict harm to the very subject of their project.

Helmed by first-time film director Luke Scott and written by Seth Owen, Morgan has an enormous number of attempts to look good thanks to its classy production design and special effects. With hits and misses, things pay off: hesitantly and devoid of escalating emotions. More than being the son of the celebrated auteur Ridley Scott, the film’s writer-director appears to have the desire to own a particular style amidst the claustrophobic atmosphere of the story.

Morgan seems to be better on paper as a concept that can be effectively explored by telling stories that know where to take off and where to land.

Nonetheless, there is just too much to handle in its adaptation to motion picture that it becomes uninteresting along the way save for that climax where it veers to a twist that can either be shocking or obviously predictable.

While it may fall flat when it comes to its narrative, the strong performance by Morgan itself is enough reason to see where things are heading. Anyway, it is only Morgan who has a developed character, making the titular role just about without frills.

MOVIE REVIEW: Don’t Breathe (2016)

Horror films oftentimes validate itself by letting its audiences root for its characters—whether the story dwells in the miseries of the protagonist (a group of friends, a bunch of strangers, lovers in troubles) or the personal issues of the antagonist (a mad man, a person with a dark past, a spiteful soul). Amidst the characters is a particular danger, made more terrifying by the littlest details it can branch out to, ultimately leading to that grueling need for survival, if not an simple escape, all the while maintaining tension to keep the viewers hooked and feel that they are part of the problem. Evil Dead director Fede Alvarez knows well enough how to build up that tension in this suspenseful horror film that literally tells one not to breathe despite the actual necessity to grasp for air in its every twist and turn.

Don’t Breathe tells the story of a group of small-time burglars who breaks into the house of an elderly blind man, thinking that they could score easy money. But before we get to be introduced to Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto), the film opts for a chilling cold open that starts high above the ground, slowly and eerily zooming in to the subjects: a man is dragging a body on the street in broad daylight—spoiler as it may seem for the audience but necessary enough to provide a sneak peek to what is bound to happen.

Its beginning sufficiently introduces our heroes (or antiheroes) and gives a quick view of their social status. The heist is quite a jackpot and each of the trio is intrigued on how they can get away with the crime as usual. But when the unnamed blind man (Stephen Lang) enters the picture, tables are turned in an instant as he is set to go after the ill-advised criminals.

There is admirable craft in the way Alvarez tenders horror in this age of the haunting and possession as typical themes of the genre. The old blind man’s house becomes a haunted house filled with a heavy atmosphere of fright that is effectively showcased through a delightful command of sound. The camerawork is playful and yet it works as a steering device to give clues on what will happen or what to expect. There is a claustrophic feeeling in each occasion every character tries his way out of the chaos.

Full of surprises and worth a chilling climax for its one-and-a-half-hour runtime, Don’t Breathe is the most exciting horror-thriller yet for this year. It’s not for the faint-hearted and never for those who can’t catch their breath.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Shallows (2016)

As if all the promotional materials are not enough to stress out the horror that is The Shallows, the film begins with a flash-forward where a young boy finds a GoPro camera on the beach and learns a terrifying shark attack through the latest footage. It’s a good cold open that follows the usual scenes where the story builds up through the protagonist’s back story: the happy part where everyone is smiling and bad omens lingers. There even go the lively soundtracks used either to stretch out the narrative or merely to necessitate the contrast.

In all fairness to Jaume Collet-Serra’s latest feature, everything is compacted to an hour and a half of Blake Lively, gorgeous and all, then wounded and exhausted, then back to being gorgeous (save for that horrendous scar).

Lively plays med student Nancy who needs some time alone and decides to seek out the favorite Mexican beach of her late mother. Thanks to her smartphone and the believable phone signal in the area, we get to be acquainted with her father who is against her plan to drop from school, her kid sister who wishes she could have joined the trip, and of course the latest gadget of parent company Sony. She wishes peace, only she has no idea that the unnamed waters offer much of the opposite.

With her surfboard as her sole company, she conquers the waves and befriends some locals along the way. It is only by the end of her first day that she realizes the consequences of her ordeals. The challenge starts with the appearance of a great white shark that seems to be there just to bully around. Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively has turned into a fierce performer in the most outrageous stints 200 yards from the shore.

For a film that heavily relies on a single actor, The Shallows delivers with excitement all throughout its tight runtime. It is not even a question of whether it would be tiring to witness her frustrations granted her wound, the unpredictability of the weather, and the terrors of being alone in the middle of nowhere. What a fitting struggle for survival that is equally affecting and horrifying.

And as everything comes to an end, the crowd would just obviously cheer for the action-packed climax followed by a resolution that touches the human heart. The energy is there—something that The Shallows recognizes, not only for the sake of its audience, but most importantly for the very motion of its narrative.

MOVIE REVIEW: Mercury is Mine (2016)

Jason Paul Laxamana’s Mercury is Mine follows the story of Carmen (Pokwang), a fifty-year old cook who runs an eatery at the foot of Mt. Arayat, and a white American sixteen-year old boy named Mercury who knocks at her door one night to beg for shelter. The relationship grows from there with both characters realizing the need for the other. She decides not to close down her eatery and hires him as a waiter in exchange for a place to stay. The presence of a white teenage foreigner draws customer while travelers are also on the lookout for a buried treasure in the area.

The extremities of these two main characters play big roles in divulging their intentions and aspirations. Carmen dreams of becoming a star and hopes to straighten up the lives of her almost-estranged children. On the other hand, Mercury is willing to learn as he acclimatizes to a rather different environment, with his past being thrown out of the window until secrets are revealed and motives are shown. In the course of Laxamana’s style of storytelling, he is able to lay down the polarities of Carmen and Mercury—her hardness and his softness, her wisdom and his youth, her passion and his innocence—all of which eventually turn to the opposite direction with twisted surprises towards the ending. Tables are turned and so is each other’s temperament.

Pokwang and Bret ably give out their best performances yet. It’s just hard to take one’s eyes off of them. Pokwang is funny, soft-hearted and sturdy, with her eyes speaking more than words in many occasions. She delivers with such attention to timing which makes her being hilarious an already-given merit. As for Bret, he provides a decent portrayal that can swiftly make one forget about his past roles. A good director and a solid material can do pretty much to any performer who can show dedication and desire to do well. The chemistry exuded by their relationship goes way beyond strangers, family, or even lovers. It is all about the new discoveries that let them become conscious of what they want and what they need in life.

The triumph of Mercury is Mine can be very well attributed to this mastery of composing every scene with the purpose of painting them altogether in a beautiful canvas. The story’s charm complements its underlying darkness. The play of moods is even reflected in the choices of lighting and set design, with colors and tones that seem to have been carefully planned to evoke emotions. Topel Lee’s cinematography is breathtaking and seeps into memory. Kapampangan music as well as American ragtime music are utilized to enhance the sensation of contrasting ways of living. Musical scorer Vincent De Jesus does a great job in aligning Laxamana’s vision through compositions that are inauspicious most of the time.

In the midst of it being funny, the film highlights the fascination of Filipinos to white-skinned people. That too could be funny in itself, granted how Filipinos tend to poke fun to physical appearances and think highly of foreigners of different skin color and tongue. This line of commentary is consistently applied to the writer-director’s filmography aside from his sheer tribute to Kapampangan culture in general. From Laxamana’s debut feature Astro Mayabang in 2010, to his first Cinemalaya film Babagwa in 2013, to the cringe-worthy Magkakabaung in 2014, to his recent stints in Regal Entertainment’s Love is Blind and the CineFilipino finalist Ang Taba Ko Kasi, his characters are never perfect but all of them have dimensions to explore. Flaws are celebrated to show truthfulness, while perfections are set aside to reveal more interesting stories. In Mercury is Mine, Carmen and Mercury have dark sides that make them human, real, and prone to sticking to that side as they wish. One way or another, regardless of their faults, we care about these characters as we carefully follow their lives and try to comprehend their line of thinking—and that is essential to any story.

As a crowd-pleaser, Mercury is Mine is highly entertaining. It leaves a rewarding feeling upon watching a funny story that sinks itself in layers of issues to ponder upon. Its unpredictability is commendable thanks to a sharp screenplay. Laxamana surely has a whole lot more to tell and it is just so exciting to see where he goes from here.

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.