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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Man to Man (2005)

Regis Wargnier's Man to Man movie continues the director's tradition of showing cultural complexes and conflicts between the East and the West (like he did in Indochine and East and West). In this movie starring Joseph Fiennes (as Dr. Dodd) and Kristin Scott Thomas (Madame Van nen Ende), the director combines his artistic talent and deep cultural sensitivity to come up with a believable, honest and harrowing portrayal of the Western man's (read: scientists) greed and arrogance.

Eager to prove their theory that the pygmies, Toko and Likola (Lomama Boseki and Cecile Bayiha), that they caught in the jungle of Central Africa, were the missing link between man and the apes, Dr. Dodd and two colleagues , Alex and Fraser (Iain Glen and Hugh Bonneville) started conducted experiments on them. While the latter two were thoroughly convinced of their "scientific" discovery, Dr. Dodd started entertaining doubts that the two creatures were no other than human beings.

Unwilling to expose Dr. Dodd's "crazy" sentiments over Toko and Likola, Alex and Fraser did drastic measures to prevent Dr. Dodd from presenting his own conclusions to the Royal Academy. Things turned nasty when Alex and Fraser learned that Likola was pregnant. They wanted to get her fetus aborted for further scientific experimentation. Toko, like a father and husband, tried to protect his family by hunting down Alex. He wounded the man but he himself fell to the wrath of the crowd who was only to willing to rid their city of "savages".

Man to Man, unlike what other critics painted it to be (as a movie not worth seeing), is a real gem and worthy of serious consideration and commendation. Though not necessarily great, the movie has some merits on it including the revisiting of some scientific dogmas perpetrated by a scientific community that would stop at nothing to gain fame and prestige. At once a commentary at how Western men view the rest of the world as the total Other and at the same time a moving film that shows that Science without regard to other people's faith and culture is in itself barbaric and savage. Wargnier's film soars high above the critics' complaint.

The fanatic verdict: Don't listen to the critics, see it yourself!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Why We Love Movies

I have been thinking why people would bother going to a theater just to see a one-and-a-half-hour movie about something whose plot they more or less already know. What drives people to wait in long lines, anticipate for months and even buy tickets for the advanced screening of so and so films? And why do people watch the same movie/s again and again? There must be something to the entire ritual of watching movies other than entertainment or cathartic value they give to audiences. As for me, the following are the reasons why I go and watch movies and share my passion with other folks of similar interest:

1) Movies have their way of mirroring my deepest desires, my greatest fears, my most profound joys and gratitude of and for life. Oftentimes I see myself in the dilemma of one or two characters in the film. I understand how difficult choices are made and the painful but oftentimes liberating consequences they bring. It must have been difficult for Peter Parker of Spider Man to face his mission in life of defending other people when he could not even save his own uncle or for the Hobbit Frodo of The Lord of the Rings trilogy to take the heavy burden of bringing the cursed ring to Mount Doom.

2) Movies have a way of beautifully capturing the deepest of human emotions that probably no other medium of art can do. They speak directly to the heart by way of spoken words, images, vignettes, music or even in silence. Color Purple and Cinema Paradiso stand as two of the movies that have forever influenced my understanding of the value of friendship and the celebration of the human spirit.

3) Dialogues in the films I watch have inspired me to write some of my best poems and short-stories. I have often used my favorite lines from a movie I really like when giving seminars or training to young people. I have often used a metaphor or a parallel story with my own relationship to other people and to God and thus my prayer has been visually and aurally enhanced. I recall how I am Sam summarizes for me the passion of Jesus' love for his people and how A Beautiful Mind tells of a story of sacrifice or how Forrest Gump always reminds me that despite the cruelty and harshness of the world, people are still good deep within them.

4) Stories behind the actual filmmaking and the actors behind the movies fascinate me. I have often wondered what goes on in the minds of the geniuses of the cinema while they are creating their craft. What fear was Alfred Hitchcock fighting against in his movies? What wonder and awe captivated the heart of young George Lucas to create his epic sagas? What kind of world do Spielberg and Mel Gibson want their children to grow up in? Likewise, which of the films I watch reflect my own fears, apprehensions and hopes for the future? ( A Gattaca-like society, a Blade Runner world of androids, The Island of lost desires or Pleasantville of limited possibilities?)

5) Films are a living testament that no matter how movies are made they all point to the most basic of human needs: love, affection, mutual understanding, respect, acceptance, faith, hope. These are the stuff that movies are made of. In short movies are about life, its intricate mysteries, its ordinate attachments to things of this world and its aspirations towards the Divine. Movies are about you and me.

How about you? Why do you love the movies?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)

If you've seen Berlin Film Fest winner Transamerica, you might want to see C.R.A.Z.Y. I promise you won't regret it. Although the title sounds a bit, well, crazy, the story is simply marvelous.

Set in the 1960's Quebec, C.R.A.Z.Y. chronicled the lives of the Beaulieus, a hip suburban family headed by a gruff and macho father.

Told mainly from the perspective of the fourth youngest son, Zachary, in a brood of five all-male children, the story depicts the era of uncertainty and growing up around booze, music and sex. Zachary used to be a favorite son of his father until the latter chanced upon him wearing dress and jewelry and "mothering" his youngest brother to sleep. This sad incident was to mar the beautiful father-son relationship of Zach and his dad.

Zach since then became someone else. Despite his healing powers (he could cure relatives of minor aches and pains just by thinking their names) and deeply Catholic upbringing, he had trouble reconciling benevolence of God with his "abnormality" (as his father called it). The fact that Zach was born exactly on Christmas day made matters worse for him because he was constantly bringing shame to his family.

A mystical journey to Jerusalem (the end of the earth) brought Zach to the realization of the use of his powers and his mission.

The film is full of love, understanding and compassion. The official site calls this movie "A love story between a father and a son. A mystical and whimsical fable on the human soul, beautiful, foolish and lyrical."
And I think I should not disagree!

Fanatic Verdict: Bring a Kleenex!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Transamerica (2005)

Beautiful film, infinitely better than King Kong! (LOL - see previous post).

Once in a while a film of rare beauty and compassion comes around and captures our imagination and wins our admiration. Transamerica is such a movie. Executed with painstaking details on the inner character of a pre-operative transexual Stanley "Bree" Osbourne (Felicity Huffman) who discovers at the last minute that he has a son, Toby (Kevin Zegers), a coke-sniffing and 17 year old prostitute.

At a total loss at how to break the awkward news to his son that he is his real father, Bree decides to bail Toby out of a New York City jail and brings the former with him to L.A. On the way, the two seemingly different and contrasting personalities discover that they have much more in common than meets the eye.

Writer and Director Duncan Tucker deserves credit, a pat on the back and perhaps an Oscar nod for this sensitive and compassionate film. Fine acting. Simply great story.

Fanatic Verdict: Two thumbs up!!!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

What Do You Mean When You Say that A Movie is "Great"?

A lot of people had been frustrated when they heard or read from someone that this so and so movie was great only to find it full of rubbish. Some people compared one movie with another and said that the first was better than the second. And many people came into disagreement on which movie merited the term "great" as compared to only "good" precisely because paramaters or criteria of "greatness" and "goodness" had not been earlier on established.

How do I evaluate movies? What do I exactly mean when I say that a movie is "great" and "worth-watching"? For starters, I categorize films that I watch. Obviously you can't compare a Sci-Fi movie with a European drama. You can't make comparisons between a comedy and a horror flick. It's a no-no too to compare Asian epic movies with Hollywood westerns. But you can compare an original film and a re-make. You can compare a prequel to its sequel. You can say that this director is better than this in his execution of stunts or the build-up of plot and suspense. But you should never ever compare King Kong with Brokeback Mountain!

Aside from this, it helps me judge a film of its merits or lack of when I have clearly in mind what I am judging a film for. In George Lucas films, I look for techniques and special effects, not for acting. In the movies directed by Francois Ozon, I look for the psychological and existential drama behind the ordinariness of the story. Alfred Hitchcock is known for suspense but probably not for cinematography or editing (He did not even look at his cameras while filming or joined his film editor in the editing room!). Comedies are best judged by the number of times you knocked your socks off or you had stomach cramps but probably not for insight.

Now, films that manage to surpass your expectations--comedy that makes you cry, Fantasy Adventure that makes you really think hard about the meaning of life, horror that asks deep moral questions, action that reshapes your understanding of violence--chances are, these movies are great.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

C.S. Lewis' beloved masterpiece of all time comes alive in this Andrew Adamson remake. Starring four children of the Pevensie family, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy embark on an unforgettable journey towards believing not so much with their own eyes but with their hearts. WW II London has been devastated by bombing and air raids. To keep them out of harm's way, Mrs. Pevensie takes it upon herself to deliver her children to a recluse uncle in the country side.

Inside the Professor's mansion, the children, with the leading of the youngest and innocent but brave Lucy, enter the wardrobe and find themselves inside the magical land of Narnia where creatures have been long waiting for a prophecy to come true: that "two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve" would help Aslan win the battle against the wicked White Witch who rules Narnia. The Pevensie siblings have been drawn into a battle they did not expect but nonetheless joined to help win. Together they discover that there are forces within them stronger and certainly able to defeat evil all around.

With spectacular special effects, fine acting and able direction, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is sure to delight people of all ages.

Bring in some popcorn and soda and get ready for fun and adventure.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ten Things I Hate at the Movies

I'm taking a break from reviewing films. I'm reviewing instead the whole theater experience. Like many other movie enthusiasts I have pet peeves when it comes to watching movies in a theater. Some are quite insignificant while others are a major source of irritation for me and could destroy what would have been a great watching experience.

1) I hate freezing cinemas. I have this weird "sickness" of going to the bathroom whenever temperature suddenly drops two or more degrees down. I hate missing important lines and scenes especially the crucial ones where the protagonist delivers a quotable quote.

2) I hate oven-hot theaters. There is nothing like poor airconditioning system that can really annoy me when watching a highly anticipated film.

3) I hate people chattering loudly inside the moviehouse as if the whole theater was theirs. And I detest people who watched the film earlier, stayed for another screening only to tell what the next scene would be. Grrr!!!

4) I hate people who use their cellphones inside the theater. Then there are those who let their cells ring 15 to 20 seconds longer than necessary just to boast that they have a nice and catchy ring tune. And then those who speak on their phones as if the one they are speaking to was using a hearing aid. Somebody please ask the guard to shoo(t) these people! =)

5) I hate grimy seats and sticky floors.

6) I hate people who snore inside the theater.

7) I hate popcorn with too much or too little salt.

8) I hate drinks with too much ice on it that you can barely taste the liquid content.

9) I hate snobbish and bitchy ticket tellers. When I go to the moviehouse I want to be entertained and not annoyed by ill-mannered ticket booth attendants.

10) I hate dirty and stinky C.R.'s.

How about you?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Tales from the Enchanted Kingdom: Exodus (2005)

Touted as the first Filipino film to have extensive use of CGI effects, Exodus stars Senator Ramon Bong Revilla Jr. (yes he is currently a member of the Philippine senate! ) and his father ex-Senator Ramon Revilla Sr. (No wonder why these two didn't make enough laws to uplift the country from its economic woes!). Anyway, this movie which is partly produced by an amusement park company, the Enchanted Kingdom, was directed by the avant-garde director Erik Matti.

The plot of this movie is very simple that even if you go out of the moviehouse thirty times you would not miss anything. A certain barrio called Bantayan is plagued by shadowy men (literally and figuratively) who dresses up as carabaos and crawls even if they can walk upright. The leader of these poorly clad "monsters" is the Philippine RnB prince Jay-R (can't they find someone else?) who plays the role of Haring Bagulbol. This king of darkness prefers to bathe in , guess what, dirty water and has a fetish for oriental masks and flowing gowns.

Of course, the lead role with a forgettable name (thank God!) has to be assisted by four magical creatures. But from the recruitment part until the very last scene the movie moves on to a catatonic pace. The heroes travel around grasslands, forests and what looks like a soap factory that has been closed down. Though the movie has probably the most cinematic fight scenes in all Philippine fantasy movies, it fails miserably to excite the audience.

Here are the reasons why I think you should stay away from this movie:

1) It has no plot. Just watch the trailer and you already get the point of the film.
2) The production designer forgot that putting withered plants in the set does not really make it attractive.
3) The costume designer got confused whether Bong Revilla was playing a drag punk queen or Xena the warrior princess (what's with the bra and tiara anyway?).
4) The mascot of Enchanted Kingdom is so annoying and hard sells the amusement park where he resides.
5) It stars a senator who ought to be drafting laws for the country and an ex-senator whose only bill in Senate was the recognition of cockfighting as national sport.
6) It is endorsed by a senator, Franklin Drilon, who said on TV that you (as a Filipino) will feel proud to have seen this movie.

The Fanatic Verdict: Stay in your homes if you don't want to have your wallets ripped off.