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Friday, December 23, 2005

The Family Stone (2005)

Everybody hates her. And they show exactly what they feel.

The romantic dramedy The Family Stone is about a family befitting its family name. Stubborn, opinionated, strong individuals. These are what characterize members of the household that the uptight, obsessive compulsive Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) meets during Christmas. She and boyfriend Everett (Dermott Mulroney) are set to announce their engagement but queer and quirky little things start happening around Meredith that family "gangs" up on her.

Most vocal of her vehement dislike for Meredith is Everett's youngest sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) whose sarcasm and meanness knows no equal. Then comes Everett's deaf brother Thad (Tyrone Giordano) who is in a relationship with a gay partner. Being conservative and orthodox, this doesn't sit well with Meredith and her parochial view on homosexual relationships and racial issues are challenged by the family. Even Everett's mom Sybil (Diane Keaton) does not hide her frustration with Meredith and there is no way she is giving her her mother's wedding ring as she has promised to Everett.

The only ally that Meredith has is Everett's playboy brother Ben (Luke Wilson) who shows real concern and compassion towards Meredith's uneasy situation. Things get more heated and emotional when Meredith asks her younger sister Julie (Claire Danes) to accompany her in the Stone home.

The movie manages to discuss sensitive issues on homosexuality, adoption in mixed-marriage, death of a family member, sex and infidelity with a candid verve and honesty. It does not pander on the melodrama or too easily give in to formulaic endings as many Hollywood movies are wont to. The values of deep respect, acceptance, asking for forgiveness and letting go make the movie truly enjoyable and satisfying to watch. This movie is perfect for this Christmas.

The fanatic verdict: go and watch it!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo (2005)

Irreverent. Rude. Sarcastic.

These may be the best terms to describe this sequel to the run-away hit Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo (1999). While the film mostly stayed in the formulaic plot of sexual mis-adventures with all sorts of women of different physical and psychological dysfunctions, the movie has inserted some pointed criticism against Western way of living.

The movie was a description, albeit a skewed one at that, of the two-pronged repercussion of civilization: progress and decadence. Amsterdam was pictured, for example, as a perfectly livable and hospitable city where almost anything banned in other cities is legal. Prostitution and sale of marijuana and hashhish are a common everyday fare. The city as T.J. (Eddie Griffin) said is like "Disneyland for college students" where the rich can waste away money and themselves.

Very noticeable in the movie was how the director's (or the writer's or producer's?) take on the U.S. imperialism and war-based economic policy. In one scene where Deuce (Rob Schneider) sported a loud American flag shirt, an anti- American shouted , "Fuck you American, you imperialistic dog!" but a plump European woman waved a tiny American flag while saying, "I love America, I love President Bush. Thank you for bringing democracy to Iraq. " The woman was hit in the head by a wooden shoe.

In another scene, Deuce was with the very beautiful but extremely obsessive compulsive woman, Eva (Hanna Verboom). A pathetically rude French guy kept pestering and abusing the two. Deuce told him, "In America we don't smoke in the Aquarium." The French retorted, "Oh yeah! Well, in Europe we don't unilaterally attack a country for its oil!" While the statement was clearly pointed to the Bush administration, the same could be said for European countries in its colonial days heydays.

That's the reason why when T.J. told Deuce that "black people all over the world will be forever grateful to the Dutch" for inventing chicken and waffles, the latter reminded him, "Did you know that the Dutch started the slave trade?" The movie also made a scathing remark on how Armsterdam has become "the new Sodom and Gomorrah." I don't know how the Dutch are taking the insult. Or if they care.

But perhaps the clearest merit of the film, although it was delivered as a tacked on preachy speech, was its sympathy for women. In the battle scene between Deuce and the jilted gigolo wannabe Gaspar Voorbosch (Jeroen Krabbe), which was projected on a giant screen outside the Man-Whore Union building, Deuce empathically lectured Gaspar that, contrary to what many men believed, women wanted more than sex. They want to be cared for, asked how their day was, told how beautiful they were inside despite their many physical limitations.

And Deuce was not simply sermonizing. He practiced what he preached. He brought the artificial leg of his wife to Europe as a sign of his loyalty to her. He was never mean to the women he dated. He even went to great lengths of bending down and accomodating Eva's 130 obsessive compulsive behaviors. In the end, his love for her, was able to "cure" some of her OC-ness.

That's what true love means, isn't it: curing each other's pain, healing each other's wound.

And did I tell you that the movie was funny too?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Why Kong is King

Peter Jackson's three-hour long adaptation of King Kong was nothing short of epic. The gargantuan gorilla was given life and realistically-human personality capable of feeling love, fear, hatred and appreciation for beauty. The film, far from the reasonable fear of critics and fans, did not sacrifice artistic content of the story.

Jackson did not just create a monster who fell in love with a beautiful woman. What he did was cull from his imagination how a creature who knew violence as a way of life could be tamed into a gentle beast capable of using violence as the only means to save his loved one. In effect, Jackson did nothing more than project what human beings are capable of doing when their loved ones are threatened by harm.

Though the movie took exactly three hours to finish, there was not a single boring moment in the film. Every scene built up into the climax and sometimes even outdid previous scenes in eliciting horror, suspense and exhiliration among the audience. Noteworthy in the movie are the spectacular production design, the cutting edge effects that make Spielberg's Jurassic Park a movie for three year olds, the breath-taking cinematography and wonderful sound track and editing. And of course the battle between Kong and the hungry T-Rexes.

I would also like to mention the fine acting of Naomi Watts as Ann Darroway. I did not find Jack Black's portrayal of the mad movie director Carl Denham convincing though. Probably because I keep seeing him as the looney substitute teacher in School of Rock. I only had one wish, that Jackson could have picked a more attractive actor to play Jack Driscoll than the fresh from the grave Adrien Brody. But hey, if Ann could fall in love with a gorilla, why not with Adrien?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Top 12 Most Romantic Movies I Have Ever Seen

(and would like to see again, and again, and again!!!)

I don't know about you, but as for me, I love romantic movies. Here are just a few of what I love.
Can you identify at least 8 of them? The first one is bonus.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Joyeux Noël

(aka Merry Christmas)

Beguiling in its simplicity yet profoundly moving and honest in its portrayal of the human side of war, Joyeux Noël, is a movie that must be seen by people of all nations and faiths. Wars haves so ravaged us and have made us so cynical about the nature of men as killing machines that we sometimes tend to forget that soldiers, though they may belong to an enemy state, are humans too.

Set during the First World War somewhere between the borders of France and Germany, French, German and Scottish soldiers discovered for themselves the absurdity of war. In just one Christmas night of fellowship and truce they had learned more than they could in their lifetime: the meaning of brotherhood that binds all men and women. When the German tenor Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Fürmann) sang for his troops to lift their spirits up, little did he know that he would start a spontaneous reaction with the opposing camps.

As soon as the Scots heard his beautiful and heart-rending rendition of Silent Night, they joined him with their bagpipe instruments. A little later the French joined the fraternal exchange of singing and they crossed the no man's land to exchange their champagne with chocolates from their enemies. Captains of the three regiments declared the night a night of peace and soldiers of the three camps rejoiced and celebrated Christmas as if they were at home with their own brothers.

Filled with poignant scenes of the anxious and bitter separation of parents with their children, brothers with brothers and of lovers, Joyeux Noel managed not to pander on over-sentimentality. It has touches of light humor and beams with hope and optimism. Towards the end of Christmas night, Fr. Palmer (Gary Lewis) celebrated Mass for all of them. It was very moving to see and hear the battle-scarred and war-hardened soldiers forget their native languages and responded in Latin.

Equally noteworthy in the movie is Ana Sorensen's (Diane Krüger) portrayal of the faithful girlfriend to Sprink. Her haunting voice (I don't know it it is really hers) lent a chilling background to the already freezing temperature of the battlefield.

Joyeux Noël brings home the true message of Christmas: that we can see through the barriers of skin color, nationality and religion if we take to heart the meaning of being all sons and daughters of one God.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (2005)

Just when everybody thinks that the Filipino Film is dead (or in a coma), once in a while a breath of genuis, passion and creativity comes to resurrect the moribund movie industry. In the recent years, quality films have been produced independently or by art-minded producers that have competed and won in international film festivals: a tribute to enduring legacy of Brocka and Bernal. Anino (Shadow), Mga Pusang Gala (Stray Cats), Ilusyon (Illusion) and The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros are just a random sampling of these artistic indies that have made names for the Philippines and earned the respect and admiration of international filmmakers and festival organizers.

And with the latter film's showing in various competition, the Filipino Filmmakers are once again given nod and notice. This could very well lead to more and more Filipinos (directors and producers alike) cashing in on local talents for inspiration. The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros is one of a kind in its time and its handling of the very sensitive issue on homosexuality in patriarchal and conservative Catholic Philippines.

Maxi, the lead role ably portrayed by Nathan Lopez, was not parodied and made an object of abjection and laughter in this film. Rather, the true personality, dreams and aspirations of the pre-pubescent male homosexual was allowed to emerge. Maxi was the youngest in a family of petty thugs and small-time fixers. His father, Paco, was respected in their community though he was known to be a criminal element. He loved his three sons (Boy, Bogs and Maxi) and was painted as a doting father especially to his youngest.

The two brothers protected their kid sibling as they would a very precious gem. They even went to the extent of mugging street thugs who tried to molest their brother. Meanwhile, Maxi's "blossoming" came when a rookie cop rescued him from his two assailants and an odd but intimate friendship developed between the two. However, when Victor's desire to be a good cop got into the way of the Oliveros' way of life, the real problem emerged and Maxi was put into a dilemma of siding with his family and being true for the love he felt for Victor.

In the end, Maxi's true "blossoming" happened when he stood for what he knew was right even though he had to sacrifice his personal love and affection. The film's strengths lie in the director's (Aureaus Solito's) able direction and the taut script and narration of the scriptwriter (Michiko Yamamoto of Magnifico). Commendable in the film is the flawless acting of the supporting actors (Soliman Cruz, Ping Medina and Neil Ryan Sese) and the believable portrayal of Maxi's character by Nathan Lopez and Victor's (JR Valentin) credible acting.

Wonderful soundtrack and the gritty and raw footages lend the film additional aesthetic appeal.
All in all, The Blossoming, is Filipino society, with all its color, pain, joys, ruin and redemption, captured in digital image.

Two thumbs up!!!

Original Title:
"Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros"
Country: Philippines
International Citations: Sundance, Singapore, Brussels and Montreal Film Festivals
Directed by: Aureaus Solito

Thursday, December 01, 2005

King Kong (1933)

Call me hopeless romantic or incurably nostalgic but King Kong (1933) was one of the few movies that had an enormous impact on me. I saw this movie when I was about eight and I remember going back home in tears. Why do they have to kill such a gentle and loving beast, I asked myself. They could have kept him in cage and he would not do any harm. I really thought the movie was for real!

And there goes a lesson for film directors. A story, no matter how ridiculously conceived, if allowed to touch the basic human emotions-- compassion, love, mercy--will triumph. And not only at the tills but in the hearts of people for generations to come. The plot of the original version is very simple. I might have forgotten the details but I vividly remember that there were a group of adventurers or explorers who ventured into a virgin island wrought with mystery. There, they (the men) brought a beautiful woman (Fay Wray), I don't know why they did that, and then the woman was kidnapped by tribesmen.

The beautiful woman was to be sacrificed to Kong (I don't know whose actor was inside his costume or if he was even recognized for playing the lead role) when her beau John (Bruce Cabot) and her friends rescued her and put Kong to sleep using a stun gun. Then they transported him to New York via a very large ship. They later presented Kong as the Eighth Wonder of the World to the public. He was instant celebrity. But at this time Fay was already falling, not in love but... in compassion with him. (Pardon the expression). And in turn, the Kong was also falling in love with her.

When Kong thought that the reporters (the paparazzi of the 30's) were mugging Ann, he escaped from his cage and tried to rescue his princess bride. Then we all know the famous Empire State Building scene which has been copied and parodied by a dozen movies. And of course, the massacre of the gentle giant by helicopters with machine guns. Sob.

Fantastic movie! I can't wait to see the re-make. I have one hope though: that Director Peter Jackson keeps the human/ape/humane story intact and not get overexcited with special effects. Do I hear you saying Godzilla?

This film was directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack.