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Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Legend of Zorro (2005)

When you are tired and the weather is not good, the traffic is bad and you're in a balmy mood, you can go lock yourself in your room or go out and watch a cheesy, romantic, swashbuckling family fun adventure. The choice is yours. As for myself I opted for the latter.

The plot: California wanted to join Old Abe's Union but some old gringoes did not want to lose their colony to a Federate Republic. A ballot-snatcher was sent to steal the votes and prevent Californians from achieving independence. The bell was tolled. Zorro came to the rescue. Zorro would have retired by that time but the call of heroism was too strong to resist.

He and wife Elena had an argument that ended in their divorce. Meanwhile an arrogant Spanish count, Armand, bought a huge tract of land to be converted into a "vineyard." Elena, who was three months separated from her beau, learned of the evil scheme of Armand and tried to learn as much as she could to stop it.

Don Alejandro dela Vega, the spurned husband, grew despondent every day. He even failed to rescue his friend Guillermo from bandits that raided the latter's home. Utterly dejected, he went to the church and confronted the Blessed Virgin. His prayer at the church is one of the most beautiful we can ever hear uttered by a superhero:

"I'm used to listening to my heart, but it's now speaking to me in darkness. Please grant me light and courage that I may learn what you want me to do. " (or something to that effect, can't find as of the moment the exact text but I vow I will!).

Meanwhile, the precocious and young trouble-maker Joaquin grew more and more distant from his dad, whom he believed was incapable of being a good father and husband to his mother. Between the call of duty and the role of being a family man, Zorro rode his ever faithful horse and rose to the occasion. What follows was an astonishing fight and love scenes that would surely delight people of all ages.

But personally, for me, the first Zorro (The Mask of Zorro), was better. Still this new Zorro kicked some butt.

Hephep! Hurray!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Corpse Bride (2005)

From the morbid imagination of Director Tim Burton comes another funny, touching, out-of-this-world story. The Corpse Bride is an amusing tale of Victor Van Dort (voice and facial features of Johnny Depp), the ever-shy, perpetually-clumsy and nervous-as-hell fiance of Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), and a bride-in-waiting until death becomes her, Emily (Helena Bonham Carter).

The plot is simple enough for even dead people (oops! pardon the expression, didn't mean to be rude) to understand: one nouveau riche family (the Van Dorts) wants to marry off their only son, Victor to a royally-bankrupt, pretentious, scheming family's (the Everglots) daughter, Victoria, so the latter could pay off their debts and get out of famine's way. All would have been well had not the young Victor, because of his over-zealousness and excitement at seeing his beautiful bride for first time, committed terrible blunders during the wedding practice. Out of embarrassment, he ran away into the forest and there tried to correct the mistakes he had done by practicing the words he should have said at the rehearsal.

As fate would have it, as soon as he perfected the formula words and as soon as he slipped the wedding ring into what he thought was a twig, a voice said: "I do." A corpse dressed in wedding gown rose up and pursued him for a wedding kiss. Victor woke up in an abode of the dead. Everyone, including his new "wife", Emily, was happy except the poor Victor who desperately wanted to go back to the land of the living so he could marry Emily.

Meanwhile, the treacherous and cunning Count Barkis was hatching a plan to usurp Victoria from Victor. He presented himself to Victoria's parents as a rich and willing bachelor, ever-ready to marry Victoria and give her wealth beyond compare. Naturally, the greedy Everglots jumped at the idea. They arranged Victoria to wed the Count. Victor learned of Emily's sad story and Victoria's planned wedding to the Count. He devised a plan to go up once more by consummating his marriage with Emily on a church.


The twist at the end of the story is (how shall I say it? ... heart-warming. Victor was willing to die for Emily (after all his heart is dead the moment Victoria marries Barkis). But true love, sacrifice and sweet vengeance step in to reunite real lovers and unmask the impostor and defiler of women. Barkis was the bethrothed of Emily who left her for dead after taking away with him her entire dowry.
Quotable Quotes:

Emily: I was a bride. My dreams were taken from me. But now - now I've stolen them from someone else. I love you, Victor, but you are not mine.
Barkis: Can a heart still break after it's stopped beating?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cinderella Man (2005)

I had a very low expectation of this film since I heard that critics gave it a low passing mark. So when I saw it last Sunday I was happy to prove the critics wrong (once more!). Ron Howard who produced The Missing and A Beautiful Mind (also starring Russel Crowe) directs this story of a Depression-era boxer James J. Braddock who made an astonishing come back from the dead victory over light heavy-weight champ Max Baer (Craig Bierko). Saddled by financial problems and a broken right fist, James was reduced to being a laborer at the docks earning a few dollars barely enough to keep his family from freezing to death inside their shabby apartment.

When an opportunity knocked, James let it enter and embraced it openly. His wife, the ever beautiful Mae (Renee Zellweger of Down with Love, Chicago and Cold Mountain) was against his profession fearing that one day, James would come home inside a coffin. She did not attend any of his fights and forbade her children from listening over radio broadcasts of their father's fight. So every time James would arrive home, the family was in a tensed suspense, anticipating his winning but also fearing his lost.

With the help of Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti of American Splendor and Sideways) James was able to regain his boxing license and his chance to prove to the world that the Bulldog of Oregon and the Champion of New Jersey, the pride of the Irish and American people was still delivering solid punches and great games.

On the more personal side, I like the movie because it teaches a lot of good values for the whole family. James for example asked his son Howard (Patrick Louis) to return the piece of meat he stole from the butcher's shop, even though the family had nothing to eat and would starve to death. Or his paternal selflessness and sacrifice when Rosemarie, her darling little girl asked for an extra piece of meatloaf and he pretended that he was too full to eat it. James returned (and added some more) the money he asked from charity on his first winning fight. He also risked his life for a friend who was in danger. As a family man, he showed that the most important thing, when confronted by many problems, was to stick together. And this he lived when his wife sent his children to her parents' home. James begged from his former bosses for a money to get them back.

Over all, Cinderella Man, is about a man whose love for his wife, children and friends make him a champion fighter in and out of the ring. It is a story of a man whose dreams, aspirations and heart are bigger than the world of sufferings he encounters in life.

Two raised gloves! A total knock-out!

Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Russel Crowe, Paul Giamatti, Renee Zellwegger

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Billy Elliot

Stephen Daldry's ambitious film Billy Elliot soars high with the critics and the movie-going public. Set in a mining town embroiled with labor dispute, Billy Elliot is a movie about doing what you really want to do and being what you really want to be despite the odds of being rejected and ostracized. Billy's father who works in a mining camp (Gary Lewis) wants his son to follow after his lead: be a boxer or football player. He disapproves of his elder son's activism and the last thing he wants to see is his younger son dancing, and dancing ballet!

But Billy (Jamie Bell) has the heart and talent to become a ballet sensation. With the aid of a lovelorn mid-life-ing but tough and determined ballet instructor (Julie Walters) Billy is out to prove the world and his dad that there is nothing wrong with following one's dream even if that dream takes you to a place where only a few appreciates and understands you. So Billy hangs his boxing gloves and exchanges them for a pair of ballet shoes and starts what will later be a lifelong love-affair with dancing.

Of interest in the movie is the background story of Billy's dead mother and the increasing isolation between Billy and his Dad, between the two brothers and between his Dad and his brother. Billy Elliot manages to be at once a heartfelt story without pandering on the melodrama, it is funny and at times poignant but in the end it is really a story of acceptance, forgiveness and the triumph of the human spirit to soar high above personal dilemmas.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Billy's father finally has recognized that his son is as normal as any other boy and that he is his son no matter what he chooses to be and to do. Father and son, playfully tease each other, laughing out loud until they fell on the grass and embrace one another.

Billy Elliot has recently been turned into a West End musical with composition by no less than Sir Elton John who also produced the musical.

Wonderful, entertaining and heart-warming!

Director: Stephen Daldry
Cast: Jamie Bell. Gary Lewis, Julie Walters
Released: 2000
Country: Britain