Tag Archives: John Cena

tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Ferdinand’ Brings Chaos to a Story About Peace

The movie adapts source material that isn’t particularly suited to the mainstream animated approach

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Ferdinand (John Cena) is the one gentle calf being raised on a ranch that provides bulls for the bullfights. When his father doesn’t return from a match, Ferdinand runs away and escapes the ranch. He ends up as the pet of the young daughter of a flower seller, and he lives an idyllic life on their little farm outside the city. But he accidentally goes on a rampage during a village flower festival, and is taken away to the very same ranch from which he started. There, Ferdinand continues to resist the violence of bullfighting, even as fate seems to lead him toward a match with Madrid’s greatest matador.

To the movie’s credit, it manages to preserve the original intent of the children’s book from which it is adapted. Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand is a seminal piece of pacifist literature, and the movie is more or less able to convey the story’s main ideas. But it does so while also trying to adhere to the principles of your standard zany children’s animated film. It makes for an odd fit at times, the film often reveling in the chaos that its bovine characters cause, finding humor in scenes of bulls running rampant in streets. And then it has to go back and get quiet in order to tie back to its greater themes.

The film expands the story by making more out of Ferdinand being an outsider. A lot of these animated movies kind of dance around the same idea: that it’s okay to be yourself. The film builds on the elements already present in the story in order to get to that same idea. There is a lot of talk in this movie about what bulls are supposed to be, and what they’re supposed to want to do. Ferdinand isn’t just a strange bull that just happens to prefer flowers over butting heads: he is someone who has to learn to stand for what he believes in. The film is more intent on painting Ferdinand as a courageous figure, his unwillingness to do harm a more active choice.

Twentieth Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios present "Ferdinand." Ferdinand 2 Ferdinand 3

This is the crux of it: the film in general seeks to turn the story into something more active. The protagonist isn’t just passively avoiding the fights: he becomes a leader that brings other characters into his way of seeing the world. It’s an intriguing approach that doesn’t quite feel fully formed, because the same impulse often throws the story into its sillier antics. The story eventually gets back to the idea of peaceful resistance, but at first it has to get in all of its big, goofy set pieces that involve bulls barreling through a city, causing damage and fear wherever they go. It doesn’t quite fit together.

It’s a fine enough diversion overall, but there are just these incongruities all along the way. There is a sequence set in a slaughterhouse that feels like it should be played for horror, but is instead played for laughs. There is a dance battle in the middle of everything that kind of comes out of nowhere. For the most part, the film skates on being bright and colorful. The character designs are a little weird, but that might actually be a strength. The film is best when it goes against the norm. Voice performances are pretty solid. John Cena brings some real warmth to the main character, and it goes a long way.

Ferdinand certainly seems to mean well, but its overall approach leaves something to be desired. It runs up against the challenge of adapting a very short story into a feature film, and it does so by creating a second act that it mainly made up of big, goofy antics that kind of cut into the seriousness that it wants to convey in the very end. The thing is, maybe The Story of Ferdinand was never meant to be a big, mainstream animated film. It’s a contemplative little story book that just isn’t as crazy or antic-filled as this movie seems to want it to be.

FERDINAND IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

The Challenges of the War on Terror are Scaled Down in ‘The Wall’

The practical reality of soldiers fighting off unseen foes creates fairly effective drama.

NBHD movie 3 ticketsA few pithy lines of onscreen text explain the narrative context of The Wall. It is late 2007. George Bush has already declared victory in Iraq. Reconstruction has begun. Staff Sergeant Matthews (John Cena) and his spotter Sergeant Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are scoping out a construction site that was a scene of a deadly attack. Convinced that whoever attacked is long gone, Matthews steps out of cover to get a closer look. He is then shot in the hip and taken down. Isaac goes after him, and is soon wounded as well. Isaac finds some cover behind a crumbling wall of loose stones, and with no resources whatsoever, must try to find a way to defeat an enemy that he can’t even see.Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 1.50.59 PMThe movie is mainly made up of scenes of Isaac crawling in the dirt, pushing through the pain of his injury, helpless to really do anything else. For reasons that only become clear much later on, his invisible foe is taunting him over the radio, prodding him to have a conversation. The movie keeps the action limited and horrifically lethal. The protagonists never really seem to be more than a couple minutes away from death, their opponent too competent, their injuries too severe. And it is through this desperate situation that the film effectively scales down the ideological abstractions of the war on terror.Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 1.51.37 PMIt doesn’t always work, though. Too much of the conversation between Isaac and the enemy sniper involves a backstory that never really becomes engaging. There isn’t a whole lot gained in exploring the psychology of the main character, his revelations ultimately less effective than the bigger metaphors at play. The film, through the basic elements of its plot, posits a greater pathology to America’s presence in the Middle East. The method and the reasoning portrayed in the picture make a fair case for the intractability of the conflict, with these men trapped in a cycle that can only lead to more death.Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 1.52.42 PMAnd so the film thrives best when it keeps it simple. It is at its most compelling when it just lingers on the awfulness of the situation. The film makes it clear in its most lucid moments that these soldiers are competent, but out of their depth. The enemy presented here, with his seemingly preternatural abilities, might be entirely fictional, but the metaphor holds up surprisingly well as long as it stays within the confines of the practical reality being presented. When it starts to dig up the past, the enemy starts to sound like a Bond villain, and that is detrimental to the overall effect of the movie.Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 2.12.59 PMSubdued filmmaking and sparse production design help ground things as well. The movie is able to make the wide-open spaces of the setting feel like little more than a dusty, ugly prison. The film is more or less carried on the back of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is pretty much the only actor on screen for most of the movie. And like the rest of the movie, he works best when he is dealing purely with the physical present. He isn’t able to do anything to make his character’s shaky backstory any better.Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 2.13.19 PMThe Wall benefits greatly from being succinct. At just under ninety minutes, the movie manages to get out before it outstays its welcome. Having said that, it still comes perilously close to becoming tedious, with long stretches of it devoted to backstory that feels like little more than an obligation. The movie thrives when it limits itself to the psychical world: the sand, the stone, the pierced flesh and broken bones. And somewhere out there, a man pointing a gun, promising death to soldiers who don’t really know why they’re there, fighting an enemy they do not fully comprehend.

THE WALL IS NOW SHOWING IN SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.