Sunday, July 31, 2011

Memento (Christopher Nolan)

Lenny and AMD.

After a 4th viewing, I finally came into terms on how great a psycho noir film "Memento" really is. Its lonely and constantly manipulated protagonist Leonard Shelby (played by the very underrated Guy Pearce), who is out there in the open searching for the man who raped and murdered his wife, isn't the only one that goes with the wave of the film's conflicted theme of revenge, deceit and selective thinking, but also us. 'This' character helps Leonard and 'that' character aids him, but can they really be trusted? "Memento" is indeed a film that gives its ultimate revelation in the end (which is also supposedly the chronological beginning of the film's colored sequences) just like any other mystery films, but what elevates the film above other movies of its kind is its unique view of its characters' reliability. Do they really speak of the truth?

The film plays like a crooked little jigsaw puzzle game and we, the audience and Leonard, are the clueless arrangers. Or is it like a tight-strung political conspiracy and we are the Woodwards and Bernsteins? "Memento" is truly successful in its layered exploration of the barren landscapes of a short term memory disorder-inflicted mind that visually simulates this through the film's reverse chronology. Christopher Nolan, who directed the film with both the limitless consciousness of a daring independent director and the depth of a human dramatist, fragments the film with subtle linkages that makes the film all the more urgent in its presentation. It's purely involving yet it never spoon-feeds plot devices and narrative necessities.

"Memento" merely plays like a confused sleuth who constantly goes around places until its confusion turns into a foggy clarity. As evident in its pattern alone, it stands as a film that was never really created to answer its own teetering questions. It probes into the deepest and treads the slightest yet the next thing you may know, it unravels on its own. Here is an exceptional mystery film that is more concerned with its protagonist's internal catharsis than the audience's plot satisfaction.

Here we do not have a hero but a mere vengeful soul. He wants answers but so do we. "Memento" hands out its clever twists and turns just like any other cinematic exercises in doing so but does not have the courtesy to give a parenthetical period. It's a fourth wall cerebral involvement and I'm more than happy to join in.

I hate films which open up a lot of doors yet don't have enough capacity to close them afterwards. "Memento" is different. It's meticulously written to the point that I have even imagined Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan drawing out diagrams for the film's numerous probabilities. We're very much aware of their skillful ability to answer the film's many questions with stoic narrative certainties, but they chose not to.

Like people with Anterograde Amnesia ourselves, Nolan is our few-worded storyteller that tells us an unforgettable tale of desire and the search for human closure but does not consider the necessity to leave us a pen so that we wouldn't forget. But as I like to call it, it's 'living in the moment and in it alone'.

Aside from a rich, 'blink and you'll miss it'-type of story, the film is also filled with splendid performances by former "Matrix" colleagues Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano. He (Pantoliano) embodies our common view of an unreliable handler of truth. Do the words he says comfort or distort?

"Memento" grabs us audience in its engrossing clutches but then leads us astray to each our own as the film ends. Some may find Teddy as a legitimate guide, some may consider Sammy Jankis nothing but a tarnished flashback, but again, to each our own. "Memento" surely polarizes in-depth views and what-if analyses among its viewers, but as a film that brilliantly shows the mystery of motives and the flaws of human relationships, it concentrates its audience into a common agreement that it is indeed one of the first great films of the new millennium.

First viewing, I thought it was confusing as hell. Second, I thought it was good but still confusing as all hell. Third, I thought it's not as confusing as how I initially thought it was but still wasn't as great as how everyone thinks it is. This is my fourth viewing and the rating speaks for itself. It's not 'confusion' that bothers me anymore but its characters' (particularly Teddy's) 'reliability' and the liability of Leonard's tattered memories; two doors worth finding the keys for.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston)


The most outstanding testament of how Marvel handles its core superheroes with utmost care in films, this is truly, without a doubt, the best Marvel movie that I have seen, or to be more exact, the finest 'Pre-Avengers' Avenger movie out there. It has certainly balanced the typical side humor present in almost all popcorn flicks with its action sequences that make it all the more explosive and entertaining. It's a war-torn celebration of patriotism and outlandish strength, and who would be better to represent such a film but the most obviously propagandistic superhero out there that is Captain America?

But a reminder to those who might be put off by the film's geographically-specialized protagonist, the film, directed by Joe Johnston like a true blockbuster filmmaker, is also quite conscious with its hero's stupendous status. Like a war-time satire, it highlights Cap's post-frailty but pre-hard hero masquerade as a symbolic mascot that parades around camp after camp and city after city to promote bravery and desire for clean-cut Allied victory. It partly worked because of Chris Evans' nuanced portrayal as a pretty boy figure that seemingly came out of the corners of the American Dream but whose outer motives is all but superficial. As told by the film's very fascinating look at Steve Rogers' literally 'small' beginning as a Brooklyn Boy U.S. draftee wannabe, his moral fiber is perfectly sound save for his physical built. But along came the scientific experiment and bam! Just like that, he's now muscular than ever and a genuine super soldier.

Now, based on the standards of common superhero origins, Steve Rogers' rise as a star-spangled super patriot is all too easy considering that Bruce Wayne got his parents killed before having enough inner strength to balance his conflict between being a hero and vigilante to become the legendary bat entity that he is. It can easily be said that Captain America's path towards being a superhero is relatively convenient compared to others, but with how the film has introduced his humble origins with a slightly sympathetic and sentimental view and then combining it with over-the-top occult and far-fetched science, do all superheroes really need to have some dark past to really carry out a great back story?

Strictly speaking, Captain America really is one of the few superheroes out there that really does not belong to an edgy reality. Although he existed in an era of widespread violence that is World War II, he's on a territory of his own. Some may say that his appeal is more inclined towards children more than it is for adults, but with his no-questions-asked fighting skills that the film has captured with its uniquely overblown (in a good way) Serial-style action sequences and a hardcore haze of Nazi foes, Cap balanced both demographic well enough. He's both a kid's dream idol and an adult's colorful nostalgia, and with "Captain America: The First Avenger", his myth as a Marvel character and as a most recognized figure of pop literature was finally materialized into the silver screen in a most overwhelming, and quite surreal, fashion.

With non-stop and knock-out (wow, two hyphenated rave adjectives in a sentence?) excitement and great performances by its array of actors, particularly Tommy Lee Jones in his Lee Marvin-like character, Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark and Stanley Tucci's bit performance as Dr. Erskine, it is a wonderful all-around cinematic experience.

But surprisingly, Hugo Weaving, considered the absolute go-to-guy for villainous roles (come on, he even voiced Megatron) and is also one hell of a versatile actor, is flatly one-dimensional in his role as Red Skull in a very 'James Bond villain' kind of way. But then of course, that might be intentional.

In countless alternate worlds where heroes and villains repeatedly play death-defying chess games of immense magnitudes with each other, Red Skull uses his mouth more than his hands. Words are not particularly useful when you got a boomerang shield heading into your face, you know.

"Captain America: The First Avenger" is like a grocer's errand boy who came late for your orders yet you find out that there's an extra something that he has put inside your grocery bags. We all know that a good Captain America film is long overdue, but as it finally came into our very midst, it exceeds the simplicity of the qualitative requirements of a decent movie. Instead, maintaining with the errand boy analogy, it 'delivered' with the silvery spark of a great action-adventure film. Sure, it's a given that Cap's 'Avengers' mates are extremely ecstatic about the film, but I instinctively know that elsewhere, Indiana Jones is also out there wearing a smile.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder)

Our trippy little heroine.

A 2-hour cinematic excuse to showcase what I may call the 'Trinity Complex' (after Carrie Ann Moss' iconic role), which is prevalent among many female characters in so-called cool and kick-ass action films. But sadly, with all its kinetic visual gibberish, "Sucker Punch's" narrative took a hefty lot of beating.

Zack Synder, mostly known as a heavy-handed visual director, indulged too much on surface pageantry and partly forgot about narrative justifications. It also just shows that Mr. Synder really lacks the emotional side to really carry out the film's 'freedom' theme (that reminds me a lot of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" ) that might as well be just as potentially compelling even without any of those phantasmagorical action sequences.

And considering that this is Zack Snyder's first originally-conceptualized live-action project (with his past projects being a remake, a CGI animation and 2 graphic novel adaptations), he should have pushed for a more logically coherent direction in terms of its plot and didn't took the easy way out by means of a CGI action-fest that nonsensically takes place inside the protagonist's mind (played by Emily Browning) while dancing her brains off and supposedly putting those who witness her perform into a temporary trance.

As those scenes went on like those of "Black Swan", dragons, giant armor-clad samurai warriors and robotic henchmen pollute the screen like it's nobody's business and with complete disregard whether it may look horrendously ridiculous or not. Why can't they just film an extremely alluring dance number in plain sight? Why resort to such an intense (though very forgettable) orgy of bullets and explosions when its core tale is pretty strong enough on its own?

Another problem I have with the film is its complete neglect of character development. There's Emily Browning which I think could have pulled off a great performance. Abbie Cornish is truly assertive in her role. Carla Gugino, riding the same 'older than her age' role that she previously portrayed in "Watchmen", is quite good. What lacks is an entire characterization that is essentially needed in such a film of hard-hitting action. Compare it to, say, Tarantino's "Kill Bill", which is also a heavily stylized film. But before it completely went ape-crazy with its gutsy violence and musically-enhanced action set pieces, the chief players were fully fleshed-out first via Tarantino's wondrous writing.

"Sucker Punch's" character-fleshing deficiencies (But I should have known based on the characters' names alone) aren't about the context of 'do we care about the protagonists?' but to the extent of 'do we even bother about them at all?' As our female leads slash, bash and gun-bang (is there such a word?) their way into the film's surprisingly dramatic ending, it should have been one hell of a foxy, hard-hitting ride (and an action vehicle about 'woman empowerment').

But instead, it has embraced its ridiculous self and, armed with the typical musings about existence translated into narrations, Kamikazeed head-first into pretentious oblivion. It's just a shame that its main selling point (the history and fantasy-combining action sequences) also ironically paved way for its cinematic downfall.

If only they have retained the simple gist of the story and completely sacked the idea of a literal psychological warfare and countless cerebral gunfights, "Sucker Punch" could have been more worthy as a celluloid-occupier. Oh, and one more thing (keeping up with the Scott Glenn catchphrase), it's also an obvious letdown of leviathanic proportions, considering that it once boasted of being on par with "Inception".


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (David Yates)

The much awaited confrontation with 'You-Know-Who'.

At last, we reached the end. The final Harry Potter film. The final adventure of the characters we both loved and hated. The heated conclusion. The teary-eyed farewell. As I see the vicinity of Hogwarts in complete rubble and places such as the Forbidden Forest nothing but abandoned, although I never followed the "Harry Potter" saga that much closely, there's this subconscious childhood reminiscence of the wondrous universe that these films have once created, and how it's extremely saddening to see these faint memories of colorfully magical places turn into a grayish limbo-like battle arena. But then again, like Voldemort's villainous return to form, this transformation is purely inevitable to reach the peak of the story's ultimate crescendo.

Going with the tradition of the last 3 films of the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" remained at ease with having small in-between adventures before it goes relentlessly full-speed to the much-anticipated final encounter between the Dark Lord and our hero, whose bravery is put to the greatest test.

A particularly well-made scene is the initial action sequence of Potter and company escaping from the vaults while riding an obviously exhausted and aging dragon. From these wonderfully computer-generated dragon alone, one can easily see the sense of magical realism that the film is heading into. It's not your usually 'bold' representation of the said creature where it flaps its enormous wings like it's a perfect god of the skies. Like how the "Harry Potter" film franchise has grown and aged, the dragon shows the passing of time and its attachment into a serious, more visually conscious fantasy film whose emotional core is also very much attended to.

The film, like the previous ones, is littered with great performances all around that are more or less fueled by a common dramatic baggage that senses both victory and defeat in a constantly contradicting fashion. But Alan Rickman, who portrayed Severus Snape with pitch-perfect indifference and apathy all throughout the saga, was highlighted by the film (finely integrated into the film with rich visuals) using a clever flashback that has put into exposition both a startling plot twist and an unexpected heroism.

All of that, enhanced by Rickman's best performance in the series yet, greatly contributed in properly depicting maybe the best character of the whole J.K. Rowling wizard universe aside from Harry Potter himself (though some may passionately argue that he's merely a monotonous poster hero).

Countless times it has been said that the entirety of Harry Potter's story isn't for children in the first place or are there little to no purely kid-friendly subjects in it save for the occasional awes and wonders. But "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" simply takes the cake as the most matured by way of how it has subtly analogized Dumbledore and Snape's relationship to that of Jesus Christ and Judas' and its realistic contemplation about death and sacrifice (highlighted by the scene where Harry Potter, Radcliffe saving what maybe his best performance for last, asks Sirius Black whether or not dying hurts).

Judging from its overall positive reception by audiences, comparisons with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" is a given, but unlike the aforementioned Peter Jackson film, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is much more narrow in its conclusion, preferring simplistic summation rather than full, overlong and seemingly endless walk towards a very satisfying end.

But sadly, it is also short in its much-hyped duel between Potter and Voldemort, which I think would have made the film a perfect one if only it would have been a minute or two longer. And Is that epilogue really necessary? Is Neville Longbottom really that essential a character to be a full-fledged hard hero? Like Voldemort's strategic positioning of his Horcruxes, this film proves to be very, very powerful yet particularly flawed.

But needless to say, it's still a fitting end to a decade-long cinematic display of love, magic and friendship that has undoubtedly left a mark to each and every one's imaginations who had the chance to witness it all from the innocent start until the very end. But as we see Potter's tranquil smile in the end, something tells me that sadness is all but absent. Somewhere, there's still heaviness. A feeling that channels ours. Somehow, we never really wanted it to end. There's a reason why "Pottermore" was created.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (David Yates)

Harry, Hermione and a Horcrux.

It's easy to say that "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" pumped you up for the final Potter film. But aside from that plain rave about the film (I honestly think that saying that this merely 'pumped' you up for the next one undermines this film's true worth as a pure film on its own), this one's also a well-conceived exercise in atmosphere building. True to the inevitability of its transition of tone, it's given that "Half-Blood Prince" fully paved way for the immense darkness that has since fully set in into the whole magical saga. But this first-half adaptation film really makes the previous installment seem like an exuberant daisy farm.

With "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" indulging its key story into such themes as death, emotional degradation and desire, one can easily suffice that this one's a true departure of what the film series used to be. But again, unearthing these dark undertones and integrating them into the mythos of Harry Potter purely enhanced the potential of what the series can really be.

The film opened with a stark dramatic introduction into the emotional and decisive conflict of Potter and his friends, looking at windows and uttering 'Obliviate' spells as they try to meditate on their final adventure where both Hogwarts and the world's fate lie. Through this and a cunning initial action sequence (that has brought magical carnage into the city outskirts), it's easy to see that this film won't be hesitant anymore in its displays of negative emotions and suspenseful chaos.

Then the film suddenly transports its heroes' quest into the Ministry of Magic itself that seems like a fantastical remodeling of the bureaucratic, uber-cyclical world of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" (with a Graham Chapman look-alike as Ron Weasley's disguise). Two introductory scenes of pure adventures wrapped in dark intents and intrigues. These types of moments, no matter how bordering craziness some scenes may look like, truly conforms with the wondrous tradition of the Potter lore. But hinting at shades of blackness and blue, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" is much grittier in its collection of episodic tasks and missions and are ultimately more satisfactory in their respective in-between catches of breath.

But this time, there's no dragon-riding suspense or broomstick-riding, flying keys-fighting excitement just for the sake of it and how the word 'fantasy' relate with the name Harry Potter just like how the term 'adventure' connects with Indiana Jones. This time, there's much more at stake.

Among the other films in the series, this film is the most mature in its exploration of the Potter-Granger-Weasley friendship dynamics and marks David Yates' pure ease and proper form as a "Harry Potter" film director. Its only minor flaw, though, is the eponymous Deathly Hallows' improper narrative positioning within the duration of the film and how it was actually tackled. For 2 and a half hours, the film has gotten itself from the most dangerous of perils and into the most bitter of jealousies yet the very titular 'Deathly Hallows' were only imposed into proper exposition in the last 20 minutes or so of the film. Although the very retelling of the "Canterbury Tales-like" story of the Deathly Hallows legend is thoroughly overdue, it was visually told in a style that has likely to have merged Indonesian 'Wayang Kulit' puppetry with atmospheric CGI animation that bursts of great imagination.

Now, if 'hyped' is the only thing that you've felt after watching "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1", then the film has failed to inculcate its whole power unto you. For me, I'll describe it as a very 'powerful prelude that can wholly stand alone'. But of course, speaking of the anticipation regarding part 2, I was also truly pumped, alright.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (David Yates)

The two with a task.

Now this is what's great when a Potter film is done particularly right. After a slightly weak effort in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", director David Yates has replenished this film with a brilliantly balanced mix of teenage love (developing between Potter and friends) and the gritty abundance of dread polluting and tinting the air as the brooding presence of the Dark Lord is getting more and more overwhelming and his powerful than ever arrival a pure inevitability.

For the first time, although it initially looked like "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" will be a conflicted film, tone and theme-wise (whether it will emphasize the romantic subplot more or fully focus on the desperate quest to uncover Voldemort's secrets and exploit a loophole in his self-achieved immortality), it came out as a great combination of both and ended up as a truly ideal film in the franchise that can appeal both to those who seek the obviously inescapable romance between our heroes (mainly the teenage audience) and those who like their Potter film broodingly stirred and menacingly thawed.

Daniel Radcliffe, who I found to be quite stiff in the previous chapter, has qualitatively raised his performance a notch higher and looked more comfortable and eager as the lightning-scarred chosen one. On surface level, his character may look too hard to comprehend. One scene he is as confident as ever, but in the next, he's as insecure as the next nerdy fellow. He may be a reluctant hero, but his Harry Potter role can be viewed, especially in this film, as a representation of the destruction of people's 'not a care in the world but confused as all hell' teenage monotony. A cyclic stage in one's life broken by one's choice to move deeper and deeper into the intricacies of a dangerous, world-threatening affair as part-curiosity and part-bravery.

Maybe 'revenge' is Potter's ultimate goal, but looking at his numerous adventures that seems to beat more around the bush than to progress, I can quietly see that J.K. Rowling attached this 'retribution' scenario (and also the 'chosen one' prophecy) as subtle MacGuffins to subtly move the whole intricate plot line so that her characters' countless adventures can be wholly justified. After all, "Harry Potter" is essentially a children's fantasy book, a genre where bulks of make-believe journeys are nothing but commonplace.

But back into the whole "Half-Blood Prince" situation, it was a beautifully placed (and enhanced by the film's revelations' seamless narrative timing) penultimate complication that creates what seems like momentary displays of adolescent happiness and then juxtaposing these emotional elements with the contrasting difficulties that lies ahead for Dumbledore (a great performance by Michael Gambon) and company like a massive Herculian task. It's a film, although mainly tinted with pale, eviscerated colors, that supports itself with the strength of its solid 'black and white' visual comparisons (scenes of romance and of downfall). And with that alone, I think the film has succeeded to be a very strong installment in the franchise with such a simple cinematic approach in contrast.

Another note-worthy performance is of Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn, a very crucial character that is rightfully downplayed by Broadbent with the needed lack of awareness and apathetic ineptitude towards the darkening weather of events. True, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" might as well be one of the most uneventful films in the franchise in terms of action sequences, but as a Potter film that is finally equipped with the needed bridge across a trodden path into an impending end, this is a film of heart-pounding emotional proportions. Raising wands and trickling tears, this one's one of the best in the series.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (David Yates)


It has been quite obvious that the "Harry Potter" film series has gradually became darker and darker the same time when its main stars grew older and taller. This change of thematic tone is given for such a series of far-flung magical mythology because as film viewers, we can't stay with what's merely colorful and limited forever. We can't indulge ourselves with wondrous flying cars and levitating spells for a long time when there's the Dark Lord himself and some Dementors somewhere out there.

So if "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" clearly is the prelude to the series' descent into narrative darkness and character complexities, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is the further sustenance of this said transformation of tone. Throughout the film, we see scenes completely colorized with blue, signaling an impending, higher conflict. While the characters, especially Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe really reminds me of Keanu Reeves' acting chops in many scenes), who is drawn into a psychological torment/mind games with 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named'.

Then ironically, Sirius Black, played by the ever-disturbingly brilliant Gary Oldman, whose roles of marauding villains completely overwhelm his resume, is surprisingly the lighter part of the film as Potter's father figure in the middle of an escalating tension. The previous installment, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", is a very action-packed film that was although justified in its action sequences by the mere Triwizard Tournament, translates the best into a good old blockbuster offering.

In contrast, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" lacks the action set pieces (except the climactic but short-lived Lord Voldemort and Dumbledore duel of contradicting elements) and the overall sense of story-telling vitality save for its slowly relishing and equally unnerving build-up into an ultimate encounter.

Even the bureaucratic theme in the film is little to no significance into the film's general 'awaiting a villain's return' tone except for the fact that this little plot line summarizes the Ministry of Magic's trembling fear for the overpowering Voldemort's revival of powers. Although I have to say that I immensely liked Imelda Staunton's effective performance as the dictatorial, Trunchbull-like Dolores Umbridge.

In the long run, what will generally matter is how the franchise has ended. There are some which have finished with high and flying colors ("The Lord of the Rings" saga and the "Star Wars" sextology), but there were numerous which have ended with bitter-tasting salvos (such as "The Matrix" and Christopher Reeve's "Superman" films). "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" will surely be remembered as that middle 'Potter' film which concluded with a high-powered encounter between two powerfully opposite wizards and an installment in the franchise with lots and lots of blue. Oh, and maybe as that film that contains an 'under a mistletoe' kissing scene for our beloved titular hero.


Jackass 3D (Jeff Tremaine)

The so-called professionals.

After not seeing some 'Jackass' antics for a long while (being tired and slightly irritated of it are some of the reasons why), here they go again. But this time, these 'out of proportions and out of taste' gang, which is particularly known for physical extremities and their inclination towards the utterly disgusting and the absurd, ironically conforms with the movie experience-enhancing craze that is the 3D technology.

I'm not so sure if the film really needed that 3D add-on as the stunts performed in it were too alarmingly death-defying on their own that it can immediately hit some pretty large nausea-inducing nerves without even giving the entire promise that those s**ts and stuff would look like they will fly right into your face. But come on, this is the movie biz, therefore, money is in the other end of the rainbow, so although I can't quite see the true necessity of 3D (I even think the slow-motion scenes were good enough without any added unaligned reds and blues), I fully understand it.

"Jackass 3D" is almost virtually the same compared to its two full-length predecessors, but with many scrap-worthy segments even made shorter to give way for more rambunctious, mind-numbing, and vomit-inspiring acts, you can see the behind-the-scenes will that they have gathered and put up together just to finish up the film by way of how they have inserted numerous 2-minute parts just to compensate with the requisite running time of a full-length feature.

But watch out for that Steve-O-manned finale. After a decade of forcing their derring-do, daredevil-wannabe selves (I still can't fathom how they brand themselves as professionals. Professionals of what?) to put toy cars in their rectum, defecate and eat, eat and puke and defecate and puke some more, the film's said finale (the Porta Potty Bungee) really exemplifies their spent sweat and blood. And as Chris Pontius aptly emphasized, "That had it all - it had danger, it had s**t, it had puke, I mean that's what this show's all about." Spot on indeed.

Then there's this scene near the beginning of the film where one of them asked what they were doing on a farm with a bunch of stinging bees. "Making a hit movie", said the other. Their outlandish pseudo-bravery, showboating and penchants for pranks are all notches higher than the average person, but their capacity for reason clearly isn't. But with the kind of film/show "Jackass" is, do they even need any?


Friday, July 15, 2011

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart)

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.

Oh, If only I can turn back time. A review coming from a person that has first watched the 2005 Tim Burton adaptation way before this family classic, I got my perspectives the wrong way. I got the comparative order jumbled. When it should have been the later film being compared to the numerous strengths of the earlier one, I had it the other way around. But enough of that, let's move on.

Throughout the entire time I'm watching this film, I can't help but feel that the Willy Wonka character has virtually no backstory, let alone the exposition of his real reason why he closed his factory to the public save for Grandpa Joe's (played by Jack Albertson) unimaginative retelling of the said tale. But beyond Wonka's build-up in the film that may potentially treat his character merely as a golden ticket distributor, moderator and tour guide into the whole film and nothing more, Gene Wilder bursts into the scenery with impeccable style in the most literal sense.

As he first walks through a red carpet, with supporting cane and all, that stretches from his factory's double-doors up to the very external entrance gate, I immediately felt the enigma within him and his internalization of the Wonka role. And then he left the cane sticking into the ground and act as if he's falling, face first. But suddenly, he tumbles and regained his footing all in one motion with the honed finesse and energy of an effortless master acrobat. In that scene alone, I almost completely forgot about Johnny Depp's portrayal, and also from that point on, my ready-made comparison between the two actors immediately came into a halt. Gene Wilder, in the simplest of terms, owned Willy Wonka. He inhabited him and vice versa; shame that the said iconic character wasn't given enough story flesh to bulk him up a bit more in terms of his relative weight to the whole narrative fare. And it's more of a disappointment that the film was titled as "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" despite of the fact that it just doesn't feel like he's the center of the film.

Now, with that said, I can still fairly say that I have enjoyed the film as a whole, although I would have much preferred it if the two musical sequences before the factory scenes were removed as they just do not add anything to the film whatsoever. Yes, maybe the sense of melancholy and joy (Mrs. Bucket's song and the dance scene between Charlie and Grandpa Joe) are the specific emotions that were targeted to be conveyed in these scenes, but both could have been achieved with a more linear approach. And both songs aren't just that catchy at all.

But then, there's the production design. The tagline of the film is "Enter a world of pure imagination". If it tends to be more accurate, I think they should have added 'silly' somewhere in the middle of the sentence, but that's not an insult. Not at all. Unfolding the premises of Wonka's factory, the film has unveiled machines, mechanisms and devices that are laughable at best. But thinking about it all, I think the film completely distanced itself from the wondrous imagery of common fantasy and instead extended its hands and fully embraced its surreal, weird, bordering traumatic, but ultimately joyous and imaginatively quirky side. A beverage that makes a person who drinks it float up the air, a gum that simulates a three-course dinner, a flavored wall, and even a nightmarish boat ride. It is torn between the fantastically linear and the bizarre, but I think it chose to lean on the latter more.

And somewhere between the film's intent of appealing to the general audience and to connect with fantasy film admirers is an uncommon purpose to expose the darker, more desolate side of loneliness and eccentricity. Take note of Wonka's song number near the beginning of the factory scenes and his preacher-like blabbering during the boat ride scene. These key moments, beyond the unadulterated sense of fun, awe and hilarity, suggestively show his on and off, in and out flirt with lunacy. But the plot twist of sort in the end is the true depiction of Wonka's character's real intention, narrative-wise: that after all, he is the delivery boy of the film's moral lesson and the enforcer of the rewards to those who successfully align themselves with it.

Willy Wonka. The eccentric and the weird. His peculiarities, superficiality and unorthodox authority. Moved and touched by a gobstopper. Even in its ultimate emotional justification, the film is imbalanced at best. But the way it was executed and served in its colorful banquet of images and characters that includes a bunch of Oompa-Loompas that seem like Munchkin rejects, was quite effective. And also, it slightly pokes fun of media (the way it has covered Willy Wonka's 'Golden Ticket' craze), the virtue of fads and the conscious mass hysteria that roots out from the trivial promises of mass-consumed products. So, aside from being an exuberant adaptation of a beloved Roald Dahl classic, it's also quite loaded with what it has to say.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Temptation Island (Chris Martinez)

A tributary notion.

Well, alright, I raised my rating to two full stars partly as a tribute to the original cult classic which this film has almost remade shot-by-shot and word-for-word. But remaking a film made in the 80's and completely retaining almost all of the dialogues that made the original so fascinating and endlessly intoxicating in its ability to capture, time capsule-style, the verbal pretenses of the bourgeoisie class (especially represented by the character Joshua in the original film) of the said era, I believe, is completely wrong.

Dialogues such as 'poor, proletariat, indigent people' should have stayed in the original and in it alone because as I hear it being uttered by John Lapus (who played Joshua in this remake), I can't help but feel the uneasiness of how comically oblique and strange the delivery is, especially coming from a supposedly homosexual character who dwells in the postmodern world of fashion where every terms and jargon are with added flash, sociopolitical words like 'communist' are the last things you may hear.

But despite of that, in a time where our local showbiz industry's range of gay performers are from undeserved hosts to stand-up comedians, John Lapus delivered the needed sense of villainy, vanity and lunacy, but he really never inherited the brash deadpan performance by Jonas Sebastian as Joshua in the original. But judging from John Lapus' gurgling, smoker voice, and his regular stint in television where he's regularly thrown in the air by a myriad of dancers while dancing off-sync with the music, you really can't expect subtlety from him.

For the bulk female cast, there really is nothing special going on except Marian Rivera, for the simple reason of her being the typical noisy comic actress that she is, Rufa Mae Quinto, whose stereotyped verbal tone is almost always effective, and Lovi Poe, mainly because her character is the most interesting of all. Solenn Heussaff (a real eye-candy, by the way) and Heart Evangelista, on the other hand, are all too unremarkable in their roles.

While the male roles, filled in with the typical 'pretty boys', suffered because of a crucial casting mistake (or a cast list typo?). Aljur Abrenica, who plays the role that Alfie Anido has played in the 1980 film, is characteristically far out of proportion and capacity with the character he plays (which is supposed to be a smart lad, me thinks). Newcomer Tom Rodriguez, who plays a lowly waiter in the film, should have scuffled for Mr. Abrenica's role and the latter should have been demoted in the waiter's shoes. Aljur's acting chops are just too 'wooden' ("Machete" pun, ha!) to show even a hint of involvement in the whole film.

Personally, I think director Chris Martinez should have fully heeded the nuances and true essence of the word 'remake' first before making this one. Aside from a screenplay fully devoted to the original's satirically composed dialogues (which I think, although how rich the source material is, does not give this remake any rightful merits) that is a delightful thing of the past, this "Temptation Island" remake is, overall, a very messy film, editing wise. Scenes jump from one to the other without a sense of adhesion, while relationships develop without a sense of emotional rhythm. And that final, post-island scenes are just too overlong in a very cliched and unnecessary kind of way.

And those 'food' hallucination scenes, which made the original even crazier and cheesier, are recreated not for the sake of eliciting the penetrating idea of 'hunger', but for the sake of the chief actresses to showcase their modeling prowess once more.

Compared to Martinez's earlier film "Here Comes the Bride", "Temptation Island" is an empty, absurd load of cinematic tosh (Maybe it's its campy intent, but it just doesn't translate that well). And who would have known? John Lapus' bodily parts produce finely grilled pork chops. Nice.

As the end credits roll, scenes from both the original film and this remake show up in succession. And for what? For comparison. Dialogues overlapping with one another, sometimes one trailing the other. I can't see the necessity of this remake. For comparison? If both are fueled with the same script and virtually with the same line deliveries, who needs that? If one needs a biting satire regarding the not so glitzy side of contemporary fashion, beauty contests and the world of social climbers and nausea-inducing extreme elitism, then local films such as "Pinay Pie" and "Bikini Open" are much more potent representations. Not this one.

(By the way, except for the dialogues, I did not like the original "Temptation Island" film that much either. So there.)


Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Dangerous Life (Robert Markowitz)

The "Apocalypse Now-like" title font.

(A reaction paper/analysis for my 'Communication and Society' course)

First of all, It's just quite funny to think that a film that ultimately tackles one of our nation's core achievements as a collective whole (the EDSA People Power Revolution, that is) was made by a foreign production company, anchored by a foreign director and scripted with a foreign language. But aside from that, this epic, though terribly dated film "A Dangerous Life" still captured all the haywire tensions that has led to the famous revolt and the momentary euphoria that came with its conclusion. Headlined by an impressive cast of Filipino character actors with the likes of Ruben Rustia, Joonee Gamboa and Ray Ventura to name a few that although squeezed themselves into the film with stagy rhetorical intents and over-dramatization, have executed their roles with considerable marks of their own.

Tessie Tomas, on the other hand, is very good in conveying the superficiality and materialism of Imelda Marcos, though I must admit that she is quite difficult to watch as a straight-faced Mrs. Marcos in the initial scenes without second-thinking that she might burst into some comic skits (after all, she really is more well-known as a comic actress).

Now, for the perspective of the film, mainstream filmmaking has, time and time again, repeatedly used an 'outsider looking in' point of view in recreating historical events. Great examples are Roland Joffe's "The Killing Fields'' (which I thought was quite effective in combining both a journalist and a Cambodian native's viewpoint) and the masterful "The Last King of Scotland", a film that has tackled the horrors of Idi Amin Dada's brutal regime in Uganda seen through the eyes of a Scottish doctor. "A Dangerous Life" isn't very different, either. Tony O'Neil, a reporter played by Gary Busey, is sent to cover the escalating political trepidation in the Philippines mainly ignited by Ninoy Aquino's assassination. This is a very conventional yet very wise move for the screenwriter to filter all these events leading into the People Power through an American's vantage point. Busey's character instantly served as the audience's guide into the whole scenario without them (for director Robert Markowitz and screenwriter David Williamson) investing much time experimenting with other native Filipino characters whose sensibilities may be deemed too alienating for the general viewers (which are from western countries, I believe).

Then there's the O'Neil character's love story arc between a fellow journalist named Angie (played by Rebecca Gilling) and a misguided radical (played by Dina Bonnevie, whose physical stature is awkwardly unfit to be Busey's love interest). From these, the creators just got wiser. Putting a foreign onlooker into an isolated national dilemma (the waning yet increasingly desperate days of the Marcos regime), that is good. But placing that foreign onlooker in a love story with a native Filipino character that is emotionally and physically involved in the whole scenario? Better. It instantly puts Gary Busey's character in a quick emotional attachment with all the transpiring events that is connected with Dina Bonnevie's character's heart and soul as a Filipino, and it even makes his character more compelling and, dare I say, more heroic to watch. This is the meager comforts of first-world filmmaking, and with just a few scenes of the Tony O'Neil character frantically picking up phones and turning off bad news-infested televisions, we got ourselves a brave and concerned foreign journalist.

Obviously, the key moments in "A Dangerous Life" in terms of how 'Mass Media' influences and molds society is when Jaime Cardinal Sin called for all Filipinos listening to him through 'radio' to stand up and march onto the streets to help fend off the armed forces surrounding Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo; places where Defense Minister Enrile and AFP chief-of-staff Eddie Ramos held their mutiny. Through the curious and significant use of the said medium of mass communication and Sin's pleading voice delivered by the transmitting devices, this combination has achieved two things: the alignment and awakening of Filipinos' sense of oneness through a common goal (as voiced out by the Cardinal) and a declaration of mass media's sheer power as a communicative whole.

And then vice-versa (how society has influenced Mass Media), the film has shown this through its exposition of reforming and renaming the Marcos-attacked "Radio Veritas" into "Radyo Bandido". Because there is an increasing demand for necessary updates and information about the events that are happening during the time, the radio medium has able to anticipate and out-think the bullying perpetrators that has destroyed the radio station's first incarnation and rebuilt it through a hidden transmitting device and continued its feed of news to both the mere listeners and the revolutionary participants. Simply speaking, it has able to adjust to the countless calls for truth by a contemporary Filipino society seeking for change and reform.

Those are the moments that has fully shown this 'Mass Media and Society' interaction, but there's this fascinating exchange between Jaime Fabregas' character Ben Balamo and Gary Busey's Tony O'Neil. "Your country is like a gangster movie", said by O'Neil in frustration and anger. But Balamo, arguably my favorite character in the film, has answered back with something like this: "But remember, the Philippines had 400 years of Spanish Catholicism and 50 years of Hollywood". That line alone that is both comedic in its delivery and satiric in its underlying anti-colonialist tone, also tells of the overwhelming influence of mass media in a country's societal stream.

Because of being exposed in a milieu where foreign clutches and western cultural imports control and condition the minds of third-world countries like the Philippines, this Jaime Fabregas-uttered line is a few-worded answer to the things that western powers (in this film's case, America, represented by Gary Busey's O'Neil) are repeatedly and hypocritically complaining to us regarding our country's numerous shortcomings in moral fiber and culture of corruption; in many ways, it is from them that we have inherited these.

"A Dangerous Life", despite of its illogical use of Sri Lankan extras in the climactic crowd scenes (It's sad how no one in the crew is even aware how different Sri Lankans and Filipinos look), a one-dimensional portrayal of Corazon Aquino (by Laurice Guillen) and an unnecessary fictitious character 'Tiger' Tecson played by Roy Alvarez (who I think should have played Gringo Honasan based on physical likeness), is still packed with some hints of thematic depth and solid commentaries about the limitations of power and the futility of political alliances. But in the end, although how good the director handled the scenes leading into the historical conclusion that is the Corazon Aquino era, I just can't feel the sense of victory in the end.

Yes, maybe it is the inadequately indifferent extras, but maybe it's also that penetratingly romantic eye contact and reconciliation of sorts between Tony O'Neil and Angie. So, after all, is this film just another one of those 'love caught in a tide of political turmoil'-themed films ala Doctor Zhivago and many others? I hope it's not the intent. But if it is, then it really is a shame.

"A Dangerous Life" is an obviously labored recreation of a defining time in our history where we have taught the world a lesson or two about the essentials of democracy, the importance of simple humanity and what it takes to be a true, proud nation. But alas, it surely isn't a definitive one.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Michael Bay)

Bumblebee and a backdrop in ruins.
Although I really did not find the much-hyped 'Apollo 11' plot that fascinating (I still believe that this one's a messy little exercise in narrative disjoint) and the introduction of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's character anything other than a forced casting decision due to Megan Fox's departure, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" is nonetheless still an enjoyable blockbuster thrill ride where it feels like you're no longer watching a big-budgeted movie let alone a film. A theme park ride, more like.

As the film bombards everything that moves with explosions, collapsing things and flying men, as one's ideas about the limits of human stamina and survival impossibility blurs into a little spot in the film's array of robotic showdowns (and structural meltdowns) for domination, freedom and some 'can you top that?' on the side, we may not know it, but with a dumb blockbuster like "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" in front of our very 3D-ridden eyes, it's too overwhelmingly flamboyant to ignore, and just too visually phenomenal to pass.

Alright, I, for one, hate Michael Bay. His films are nothing but thick collectives of machismo sandwiching a thin narrative and paper weight characters, except for "The Rock" which I really like. Believe me, I'm ready to denounce this film with all my might, but as the film reaches the plot's conflict which I found to be much more perilous and engaging than I have imagined, my ready-made hatred towards the film diminished like how people in the film disappear when they're hit by those Decepticon beams. I'm just completely drawn in by the intoxicating CGI-fest that this is.

Is it the"Forrest Gump"-esque 'famous people' visual composites, the film's pseudo-political pretense or Ms. Whiteley's bosom? Of course, I really cannot pretend that any of those trivialities is the real reason why I liked the film, because the genuine one is two pure, simple words: action scenes. For me, however high a critic's intellectual capacity is (except for those who think that they're utterly superior that they cannot admit it to themselves) and encompassing his/her film knowledge is, there's still these sets of films that really cannot be denied, visuals and entertainment-wise. The likes of the first "Transformers" film (not counting the second one because that one's a real stinker), "Avatar" and every other superhero features, these are movies that are shown and will stay for what they are and nothing more. No psychological complexities and artful avant-gardism, to say the least. Just pure old movie fun catering not to any specific demographics but to anyone ready to surrender their minds in exchange for some fun. And here in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon", I wholeheartedly did.

Now, the supporting cast, for a change, are very likable in a silly and limited kind of way, but that's how it is. Frances McDormand, John Turturro and John Malkovich, who unknowingly assembled for some sort of a mini Coen brothers' cast reunion, are by all means effective, except for Malkovich who, after some scenes or two, really failed to leave an assurance to what his character is all about. The Witwicky parents are still here but their running time are reduced extensively, and I'm grateful for that.

Tyrese Gibson and Josh Duhamel are there for the absolute macho presences and Patrick Dempsey is a messily cliched villain inserted to counter the film's larger-than-life-and-earth villainy. Now for Shia "CGI Baby" LaBeouf, there's not much to say except that he runs, jumps and runs a lot. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, although the leading lady, shouldn't have even been in the film in the first place. I think Megan Fox still should have played the leading female character because this third film leaves a space for a potentially climactic emotional crescendo between her and LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky character.

Now, from a messy plot and a mediocre cast performance, how did I still rate the film 'higher than fair'? Well, because I think that for a third film that speaks of such generic tagline as "Earth's Last Stand", although its cinematic posture wobbles constantly in the entirety of its running time, it still strongly held its own on the way to a climax that is one hell of a ride worth taking and buying tickets for.

If "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" is a self-confessed (I think) 'so-so' in terms of plot execution and character fleshing, its lengthy climax has created a new, indelible standard in CGI action set pieces. Hundreds of Robots and a metal snake + a city to destroy and some heroic humans = a guilty pleasure. A truly spectacular one at that.


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