Sunday, December 30, 2012

Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman)


Christopher Moore, a contemporary author of fantasy fiction, has once said that "children see magic because they look for it". This, for me, is the foundation and the root of all questions raised in "Fanny and Alexander", a complexly-themed masterpiece that is, sadly, also Ingmar Bergman's very last feature film. In hindsight, it may look as if "Fanny and Alexander" is merely about children's innocence and the power of imagination; two themes that are otherwise quite alien to Bergman himself. But seeing the film unfold in its three glorious hours, "Fanny and Alexander" came out to be so much more than that. In many ways, the film is also a complex extension of Bergman's provocative meditation on the non-intervening nature of God (see "Silence of God" trilogy) and his passive role in human existence. Personally, watching "Fanny and Alexander" is like finally putting the last pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in place. 
But Ingmar Bergman, ever the abstract filmmaker, is indeed not the kind that will bail you out with some clear-cut answers. For the record, "Fanny and Alexander" is littered with magic and the supernatural; two aspects of the film that can be taken either as truly literal or completely symbolic. Nonetheless, the film, on surface level a period family drama, wonderfully takes on a new texture and thematic dimension by utilizing some elements that defy physics or explanation. In addition, the film even flirts with the idea that magic may perhaps be the one and only substitute for the complete absence of God; an absurdist approach on Bergman's part but is also very compelling in how it slightly satirizes the extent of our adherence to the unexplainable. 
With no real story or narrative, "Fanny and Alexander's" first half is all about the everyday trivialities in the life of the Ekdahls, a well-to-do family of stage actors which, after a relatively happy Christmas eve, was struck by an unexpected tragedy, which suddenly finds Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) and her older brother Alexander (Bertil Guve) emotionally astray and fatherless. 
By way of Sven Nykvist's dreamy cinematography which has won him a well-deserved Oscar, the film was able to subtly depict both the difficulty of losing a father in the formative years of one's life and the silently mercurial nature of familial existence at the time (early 20th century Sweden) through its use of empty spaces, distant shots and anguished faces. 
After the burial of the titular characters' father, a bishop named Edvard Vergerus (Jan Malmsjö) then enters the scene. Extremely authoritative and ruthless, the bishop is Fanny and Alexander's, both of which were raised in a tender and carefree environment, worst nightmare realized. But just when they thought that things won't get any worse after the death of their father, Fanny and Alexander then find themselves under the wing of the bishop himself, who has decided to marry their newly-widowed mother (Ewa Fröling). 
From this point on, after much foreboding early on (with those moving statues and the apparitions of Alexander's father), the film slowly but surely abandons the first half's relatively realistic and lively portrayal of the Ekdahls in favor of a more metaphysical, abstract and gloomy second part. From the approach to the characterizations, it's quite easy to see the definite influence of "Fanny and Alexander" in all those stepmother/stepfather films that it has since predated, specifically Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth", what with its stepfather subplot and whole 'magical realm' aspect. 
But then, "Fanny and Alexander" is never a film that can easily be defined by classifications. It is, in fact, a challenge to our own grasp of cinematic reality. If an emotionally-focused drama like "Fanny and Alexander" suddenly goes all supernatural (which it did), what then can be our potential response as viewers? Well, it's much preferred to just keep mum and simply relish it; after all, this may just be magical realism's finest moment in cinema.  
But aside from being a stunning amalgamation of both fantasy and reality, "Fanny and Alexander" is also a conscious allegory about the importance of cinema in relation to our lives ("Outside is the big world, and sometimes the little world succeeds in reflecting the big one so that we understand it better") and is also a film that challenges our perception of the unknown, of the things we can't define and of certain life phenomena that we can't explain and articulate about. But more importantly, "Fanny and Alexander" beautifully pushes the limits of cinema unlike anything I've ever seen before.
As what the Ekdahls' matriarch (played by Gunn Wållgren) has said at the end of the film, "Everything can happen. Everything is possible and probable. Time and space do not exist. On a flimsy framework of reality, the imagination spins, weaving new patterns." From where I look at it, this is the subtle justification of the film's surprisingly magical nature; a justification that is quite directed to us, the viewers, who are neither children nor naïve and who never expected or anticipated magic but stumbles upon it anyway because of this film. How sad that Ingmar Bergman's great swan song has come too early. But nonetheless, we should still be thankful that a film like "Fanny and Alexander" has come at all. Now I'm more than eager to watch the five-hour version.


Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam)

The Python troupe.

4 years after "Life of Brian", the Monty Python troupe, composed of John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, is back and as insightful and profound as ever in "The Meaning of Life", a surrealistic comic masterpiece that is quite possibly their most ambitious film ever. Hell, I wouldn't even bother to label it as their best. 
Unlike the previous two Python features, namely "Holy Grail" and "Life of Brian", both of which have modicums of a narrative, "The Meaning of Life" is infinitely more lose, non-cohesive and random. It is, for me, their most 'stream of consciousness' creation of the three. Opening with an awe-inspiring short involving geriatric employees and their very pirate-like attempt to take over the world's whole economic landscape, it is quite easy to see how bigger in scope "The Meaning of Life" is compared to the comic troupe's previous creations. And as the film progresses, it's also quite wondrous to sense and feel that Monty Python has since fully grown not just as an assemblage of comic geniuses but also as a thought-provoking lot. 
Ranging from sex to the very idea of heaven, hell and death, "The Meaning of Life" tackles almost everything under the sun (alas, even the very creation of sun itself and its brotherly stars), over the war-time trenches and inside the uterus. Split into various chapters, "The Meaning of Life" is comprised of sketches that are overwhelmingly funny yet also poignant with the truths that each of them speaks. And although the film's main intent is to leave you in stitches, it will also make you laughingly question yourself as to how relevant your minuscule place in this universe really is. But do not worry; Eric Idle will treat you with an affirming song of how miraculous your birth really is. And no, there's not a hint of sarcasm both in the tune and the lyrics. Despite of the film's bizarrely mocking tone, the film is embedded with an indelible humanity that actually means what it wants to say. Suddenly, here is Monty Python, the most humanly offensive and irreverent comic group that has ever graced the screens both small and big, traversing their most vulnerably human side. 
For me, what eagerly exemplifies this side is the scene when Eric Idle's French waiter character leads the camera (presumably representing us, the viewers) in a relatively long walk towards his humble home. He then explains, in a very non-philosophical, layman's manner, the meaning, for him, of life. "You see that house? That is where I was born. My mother said to me, "Garcon. The world is a beautiful place, and you must spread joy and contentment everywhere you go."" That was what Idle's waiter character has stated. Although it's a random, seemingly out of left field scene that's truly in contrast with the rest of the film's tone, it nonetheless strikes me as very life-affirming and, to a certain extent, even worthy of tears. 
Yes, "Life of Brian" is arguably their greatest work, but I will always reserve a special place both in my heart and mind for "The Meaning of Life". Not only is it a proof of how Monty Python is and will always be the best in terms of avant-garde comedy, it has also solidified the fact that the Python troupe indeed never lacks the silent sensitivity needed to tackle the very nuance of human existence itself. They have just made God quite irate, is all. 
Personally, I find "The Meaning of Life" to be more than just a comedy. Fittingly, I have watched it at around three o'clock in the morning. Waking up, I felt as if I haven't had a dream. Well, maybe the Sandman have had quite a hard time replicating or even surpassing the things I have just seen. The Pythons may have given the Dreamer a run for his money.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sisterakas (Wenn V. Deramas)

Sisterakas: Sounds like 'carcass' to me.

Perhaps the last MMFF film that I will be able to watch in theaters, "Sisterakas", expectedly, is an extremely formulaic comedy film that seems uninspired even for director Wenn Deramas' standards. Instead of inspiring hilarity by way of the story or the script, the film instead relies on the sheer comic presence of stand-up comedian turned movie star of sorts Vice Ganda and Kris Aquino's painfully funny awkwardness. Surprisingly, Ai-Ai de las Alas, technically the most experienced cinematic comedienne among the three, is the least funny in the movie. Perhaps her mother roles are slowly becoming stale.   
Like Deramas' previous, relatively funnier film "Moron 5 and the Crying Lady", "Sisterakas" narrative core focuses on revenge, a theme which almost always results in solid comedy gold. But instead, because of the film's lazy execution, not to mention some obviously borrowed elements (Vice Ganda's evil boss is too "Kimmy Dora"; Ai-Ai's role is too Ina Montesillo yet again) from other comedy movies and an irritating abundance of self-referential jokes (the big offender here is the scene when the three exchange one-liners about their multi-million peso commercial endorsements), "Sisterakas" never quite makes it as a good comedy film. And do we really need a "James Yap" joke, like, every 2 minutes. As if Kris Aquino's love life isn't already a parody on its own. 
The film's plot, about a fashion designer (Vice Ganda) who has made it big and whose focus now is to exact revenge on the family that has wronged his own, isn't anything new or a valid enough reason to excitedly anticipate every bits of narrative progression. What "Sisterakas" is mainly all about, fitting for its three larger-than-life lead stars, are the random in-between jokes that either poke fun on their real-life showbiz personas or just make bland scenes look livelier than they actually are. 
The real strongman here, surprisingly, is Vice Ganda. By letting him take over all of his scenes with his patented fast-mouthed mockery of other people, the film was slightly saved from its irrevocably fast descent into the waste bin. Even Joey Paras, most known for his masterful performance in the indie film "Last Supper No. 3", had his nice moments. 
But what was real funny yet sad at the same time in the film was Kris Aquino; funny because she was effortlessly so in every instance that she attempts to act or emote and whatnot, and sad because she was highly exploited in every scene she was in. 
Deramas, after all, seems to be more interested in making a laughing stock out of Kris rather than creating an adequately comedic character for her. This, in the context of proper screenwriting, is almost offensive. Those who think that Kris Aquino playing Kris Aquino is the funniest thing there is should watch "So Happy Together". In that particular film, Kris was at least tolerable in the acting department yet was still able to be quite funny, thanks to a much better director in the form of Joel Lamangan. Kris proudly convincing PNoy to watch "Sisterakas" will always be a big mystery to me. The film should have been entitled "Gawin nating Mukhang Tanga si Kris: The Movie". I doubt that the film, or her performance in it, will do Noynoy (or even Bimby for that matter) proud.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

One More Try (Ruel S. Bayani)

Try and try and try...

I thought it will be different. I thought that, with this film, Star Cinema would temporarily veer away from their uncontrollable obsession for infidelity. I thought that, for once, here's something that will infinitely be more sensible compared to the said film outfit's recent products. But no, "One More Try", an official Metro Manila Film Festival entry, has merely used some medical excuse in the form of severe aplastic anemia so that they can push forth their mouth-foaming inclination towards anything extramarital and morally questionable yet again. 
But before we move on with the review, the obligatory synopsis first: Dingdong Dantes' Edward is happily married to Angelica Panganiban's Jacq. Along then comes Angel Locsin's Grace, a woman who had a brief romantic relationship with Edward and is now mothering the fruit of their love (they had a child, alright) somewhere in Baguio, asking for Edward's help. 
The child, much to the very motherly sadness of Grace, is inflicted with a kind of life-threatening illness that can only be cured by bone marrow transplant and Edward is the only possible donor. But the catch is this: Edward is incompatible to give his marrow and the only other cure is to get it from a second, still non-existent child. To conceive the baby, they first tried in vitro fertilization but it failed. The only remaining option, as what Carmina Villaroel's irritating 'Doctora' character has stated, is for Grace to be impregnated through the 'natural way'. Meaning, Edward and Grace must have sex once more, much to the complication, of course, of their respective relationships and their lives. All four main characters (including Zanjoe Marudo's immaterial character Tristan: Grace's beau)
While the establishment of "One More Try's" scenario is quite provocative, the film, as it goes along, transitions from interesting to slightly plausible to idiotically preposterous. Sure, the film has raised certain moral questions regarding this very difficult psycho-sexual predicament, but the way the characters were realized is so irrational and obtuse that they ultimately looked ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious despite of the film's self-serious tone. 
Okay sure, some may argue that "One More Try" is indeed a cinematic essay about the idiocy of love, and I may be missing the point. But be informed, the idiocy of love is really different from sheer simple-mindedness. Specifically, I am pertaining to Angelica Panganiban's character who, despite of her being an epitome of an intelligent career woman, has quickly allowed Grace to enter their married life, knowing that situations will subsequently conspire against her. 
From where I look at it, I think that "One More Try's" ultimate flaw is not on the direction (by Ruel S. Bayani) or the performances. In fact, the performances range from good to great. It is, in actuality, on the screenplay itself, which has allowed its own characters act upon a crucial situation with sheer lack of logic and thought. 

And then, after much emotional despair and lots of tears, all of a sudden, the film jumped into a heavily sugar-coated happy ending that's ever-characteristic of every Star Cinema films. Plus, I found out through research that there's an alternative treatment for severe aplastic anemia other than the bone marrow transplant called immunosuppression, which has little to no 'early mortality' rate. 
Well, if that's the case, the whole dilemma raised by the film is all for naught. We have been fooled, it ultimately seems. Carmina's doctor character may have been the one needing some hair-pulling and bitch-slapping and not the main characters. But medically-speaking, is there really a need for conflict? 

(Note: As I'm writing this review, I just found out that the film has won the Festival Best Picture. Congratulations, but the film could have been better or, if my research will prove to be quite right, even easily invalid.)


Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné)

Baptiste and Garance.

The great Francois Truffaut has once stated that he would indeed give up all of his films to have directed "Children of Paradise" himself. If that's not a testament of the film's more than impressive whole, with its ability to impress and stir up healthy jealousy among other equally heralded filmmakers, then I don't know what else will be. The film, shot during the turbulent times of Nazi occupation in France (French Resistance members at the time even secretly worked in the film's production), is a miraculous achievement not just of cinema but of the entire realm of art. By merging the symphonic beauty of two of the greatest art forms the world has ever seen (theater and film), Marcel Carné, the film's director, has created an unforgettable screen masterpiece that is both aesthetically moving and emotionally evocative. 
Although it was cleverly marketed in America as France's cinematic answer to Victor Fleming's "Gone with the Wind", "Children of Paradise" is so much more than just a foreign substitute to an epic Hollywood picture. It is, by its own right, a stand-alone film that ambitiously treads the territories of both love and artistry, not to mention that it is also a visually stunning rendition of 19th century France. Populated by characters that seem to be molded after Charles Dickens' creations, "Children of Paradise", in a way, moves and unfolds like great literature (the film was even split into two distinct, very novel-like chapters). But unlike the lively pageantry of "Gone with the Wind", "Children of Paradise", even at the film's early moments, is already burdened by a running sense of melancholy, specifically when the camera first focuses its lens on the face of Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault), a great pantomime who will find himself slowly falling under the spell (and pain) of love. The object of his affection is Garance (Arletty), a stunning woman who sees love merely as a simple phenomenon and who, at first sight, was immediately magnetized by Baptiste's romantic peculiarities. 
But then, it's not only Baptiste who's smitten by Garance; on one side, there's Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur), a flamboyant theater actor whose acts atop the stage bleed through life itself. On the other, there's also Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), a part-time poet and full-time criminal whose great contempt of life can only be matched by his enormous pride. And finally, there's Count Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou), a rich man who baits Garance with his unequaled fortune so that she will not love any other man ever again. 
Together, these four characters engage in a slow dance of doom that finally justifies the melancholic undercurrent that runs through the film. But even though "Children of Paradise" plays like a tragedy, the film, for plenty of reasons, will surely put a smile in every cinephile's face mainly because of its visual and thematic perfection. And even though the film runs close to 3 hours, I honestly would have wanted 3 more. Hell, the film, with its highly eloquent and intuitive screenplay (by Jacques Prévert), could have been an audio book. But then again, it could have also been an enjoyable silent film, what with its pantomime fluidity and swift physical timing. 
Considered by many as one of the greatest films of all time, "Children of Paradise", again despite of it being a romantic tragedy, is a celebratory film that embraces and makes one with art even in the midst of a violent global conflict. "Children of Paradise", a flawless masterpiece of French cinema, will always stand the test of time not just as great art but also as a proof that cinema can never be crippled by war-time destruction, be forced underground by bombs and be shackled by fear. "Children of Paradise" powerfully persists.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

El Presidente (Mark Meily)


After last year's surprisingly good period gangster film that is "Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story", here is E.R. Ejercito again with an Emilio Aguinaldo biopic entitled "El Presidente", an infinitely trickier film to pull off, scope and exposition-wise.
If E.R.'s previous film focuses mainly on gangland altruism, "El Presidente" is all about patriotic resilience amidst imperialism, and it definitely shows on the film's abundant dose of sentimentalism. And if E.R. seems tailor-made for the role of Asiong Salonga (after all, he has already played Asiong in the '90s film "Asiong Salonga: Hari ng Tondo"), he seems feverishly out of place in this whole historical drama, especially when he's surrounded by character actors that are ten times more talented than him.
Now do not get me wrong, when I think of a more suitable and relatively bankable actor to play Aguinaldo, I can't really think of anyone save for Ejercito himself (as of the moment, that is). Except for his bulldog-ish cheeks, Ejercito nicely fits the title role specifically because of his relative mass appeal and sense of authority. But then, somebody has seemingly forgotten to remind him that "El Presidente" is, after all, a film and not a theatrical play.
With his repetitively oratorical hand gestures and monotonous line deliveries, despite of the stature of the person he's playing, E.R. is easily dwarfed by his co-actors in the film, specifically Cesar Montano, whose brief but strong turn as Andres Bonifacio is a mild cause for celebration. Except for his hair that's anachronistically gelled upwards, Cesar Montano's Bonifacio is so well-portrayed that I wouldn't bother for him to have more screen time than Aguinaldo himself. Granted, "El Presidente" is quite sophisticated with its cinematography and action sequences, but its whole narrative seems fairly derivative and very 'Philippine History 101' that the film's human aspect was left terribly wanting.
Complete with cursive texts beneath every establishing scene that continuously remind us that the film is more of a crash course on the history of pre-republic Philippines rather than a fairly humanizing story of a great man (this, of course, depends on who's seeing the film), "El Presidente" never quite connects on the emotional level. Instead, and this is quite saddening, it merely gives out the occasional 'wow' factor with its action set pieces, mammoth scope and nothing more. And although I also liked Baron Geisler's intense performance as a Spanish captain, the film's supporting cast was fairly uninspired and a tad too unconvincing; indeed, a bunch of artificially mustachioed lads sputtering things about independence and going slow-motion on simulated battles is not enough. Well, maybe that is the ultimate downside of a historical drama: the scope is almost always so big that the characters are rendered as nothing but glorified plot details.
In a way, "El Presidente" is "Jose Rizal's" (the film, not the man) campy and overly sentimental half-brother who gets into too much unjustified scuffles. If Cesar Montano's portrayal of Jose Rizal is one founded upon complexity, dedication and utter intensity, E.R. Ejercito's Emilio Aguinaldo is founded upon monotony, misplaced emotions and uncalled-for action star-ism. In one action scene when he has suddenly pulled out a very gangster-looking boot knife, I even expected E.R. to suddenly show his ever-wriggling tongue and shout "Ako si Boy Sputnik!" His performance is just so all over the place that at the end of the day, "El Presidente" has made me root more for Andres Bonifacio. Now I have this sudden craving to watch Richard Somes' Bonifacio biopic "Supremo".
But in all fairness, the film's final 15 minutes or so is quite powerful. In a way, it reminds me of the final moments of Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" in how both finely convey the elegy of time in the lives of the most powerful and seemingly immortal leaders. The appearance of Nora Aunor as Emilio Aguinaldo's second wife though, who was cast just so she can be put into the posters as a potential crowd-drawer, is a complete non-event. In my opinion, they could have put Lilia Cuntapay in the role and it wouldn't really even make a strand of difference.
"El Presidente", although admittedly a grand, sweeping production, is a very clunky film that offers little to nothing that our history text books have not taught us yet. Perhaps showing some of Aguinaldo's trivial humanity wouldn't hurt. And yes, "Manila Kingpin" is better.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini)


Aside from being a masterful surrealist, it is also very notable to state that Federico Fellini is also a morally powerful and spiritually transcendent filmmaker. This is, of course, very much evident here in "Nights of Cabiria", an unforgettable cinematic masterpiece that traverses the widely unseen and unheard (at the time) world of prostitution and the soulful humanity that bleeds through and through albeit the blind sexuality contained within it. 
Although it is much expected that the film shall highlight the more obscene aspect of what many consider as the 'oldest profession in the world' just like, say, Luis Bunuel's later film "Belle de Jour", "Nights of Cabiria" is surprisingly very mellow with the jobs' details and instead delves not on the inner workings of the affordable sex that they offer or on what motivates prostitutes to continue on doing what they're doing but on the reasons why they should not anymore. At the center of it all is the energetic yet at times very temperamental Cabiria (played by Giulietta Masina), a prostitute who can be the most romantically jaded one minute yet can also be the most hopelessly romantic in the next. With a face that still echoes her heartbreaking turn in Fellini's earlier film "La Strada", Giulietta Masina, with her sometimes tomboyish facial expressions and mime-like gestures reminiscent of silent film stars, is a beautiful embodiment of both melancholy and hope. 
With her consistently comical body language and a face that fluctuates between naughtiness and confusion, Cabiria is evidently a most complex character to pull off. But despite of that, Masina has done it as if without much effort. Yes, perhaps there are no scenes that show her participating in any simulated sexual congress. And yes, perhaps Giulietta Masina does not, in any way, physically resemble an actual prostitute, what with her small stature and relatively frail body frame. But with the help of her masterful evocation of Cabiria's romantic naivety and pure humanity, she has been most believable as one in much the same way Philip Seymour Hoffman is never a dead ringer for Truman Capote (Toby Jones relatively gets that distinction) yet he has made us believe that he actually is the "In Cold Blood" writer for close to 2 hours mainly because of how inspired his performance was. 
But then of course, Giulietta Masina's powerful performance wouldn't really be as penetrating if not for Nino Rota's stirring musical score, the film's often dream-like photography and Fellini's patient direction which has perfectly built-up the film until its heart-breaking yet hopeful finale. 
Just like Fellini's masterpiece "La Dolce Vita", "Nights of Cabiria" is a film that's highly dependent not on how or where the so-called 'carnival of life' will bring the main characters to but how he/she may figure in the playfulness and hysteria of it all. In one of the film's most resonant sequences, Cabiria, along with her co-workers, joined a small pilgrimage heading towards the Santuario della Madonna so that they can ask her for forgiveness and guide. Albeit her countless pleads for mercy and various promises to change her way of life, Cabiria never felt any better or different, and so do her co-workers. Although a filmmaker that largely incorporates religious symbolism into his films, Fellini seems always aware that religion will always be a mere spiritual opiate and nothing more; that fate solely depends on whatever life a person leads and not on some higher power; that some music and a smile, not some wooden idols and a haplessly fevered devotion to the great unknown, can make the world of difference. With "Nights of Cabiria", Federico Fellini has made us all believe that despair can merely be shrugged off by a more than hopeful countenance. 
For the longest time, cinema has often made us feel the utter fruitlessness of existence and how it is almost impossible to graduate from life pristine and unscathed. "Nights of Cabiria", perhaps the best film ever made that deals with the emotional and moral conflict buried deep within the heart of prostitution, is a precious piece of art that genuinely captures the elusive essence of hope amidst anguish rarely seen in today's cinema.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jules and Jim (Francois Truffaut)

A bridge run.

If one would want to witness the sheer complexity of love without the utter abundance of unnecessary despair, then I believe that one should not look any further than this film. Although a visually joyful film, "Jules and Jim", based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, is ironically all about the slow decay of a freewheeling love affair. The film's central focus, of course as suggested by the title, revolves around a friendship between two men and how time (or war) can never undo such a strong knot. But then again, the film is also about how a friendship can easily fall prey to the idiocy of romance, the bipolarity of love and the captivating beauty of a woman before they can even know what has hit them.
Effortlessly becoming the best of friends immediately after their first meeting, Jules and Jim's friendship is suddenly drawn into a moody yet, to a certain extent, wonderful ride of both love and life via an adventurously unpredictable woman named Catherine (perhaps a prelude to the character trope we now know as 'The Manic Pixie Dream Girl'). 
Francois Truffaut, a most visually playful auteur, is dead set on exploring love with a sure grasp of irony and relentless energy. "Jules and Jim", with its constant visual frolics and overall feel, is really hard to categorize within a single genre. Part-comedy, part-drama and part-romance (with some hints of war-time dramatics), the film is everything a cinephile can ask for. For the entirety of the film's almost 2 hours of running time, I was just engrossed with what I'm seeing, and it's not just about the film's pioneering visuals. Even when the three central characters are just talking, exchanging reflective remarks and laughing, one can still sense the same tight energy that was fully evident in the film's fast-lipped narration, silent film-like music and playful cinematography. This is definitely because of how well-realized and inspired the performances in the film really are, specifically by the centerpiece threesome comprised of Oskar Werner (Jules), Henri Serre (Jim) and Jeanne Moreau (Catherine). 
Despite the film tackling a relatively heavy-handed tale about romantic deceit, Truffaut was able to inject a sense of childish gayness in it all. And it is in this childishness that the film was able to separate itself from other films of its kind. 
For me, what makes "Jules and Jim" stand out and be rightfully heralded as one of the best films of all time is how it has took on infidelity and romantic apprehension with such carefree warmth and transcendental tenderness. Truffaut, one of the ultimate film intellectuals in cinema history, has relied solely on one concept and it has repaid him and "Jules and Jim" a hundredfold: Optimism. 
Even in the face of tragedy and melancholy, Truffaut was hopeful enough to make us feel that the pursuit of love, no matter the context, the situation and even the consequences, is something that is just truly wonderful to be denied an entry into our hearts. But in the end, he was also able to highlight the fact that obsession, even in the context of love, is an entirely different matter. "Is it the pursuit of an elusive, on and off love or the subtle pains of moving on?" That, for me, is the film's ultimate question. "Jules and Jim" is about how something's got to give.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson)

The spirit of adventure.

Watching "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", for me, is like being reunited with a good old friend who has since become all rich and famous but still hasn't changed a single thing either with his/her looks or behavior. It is, at least, a very emotional experience for me. For someone who has grown up during the times when "The Lord of the Rings" franchise's popularity is in full phenomenal swing and its influence to its fans reaching Star Trek-like proportions, witnessing a spin-off like "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", with pretty much everything that has made the original saga so endearing to almost every single living being fully intact while also maintaining a sense of humility in its story, is truly extraordinary. Let's just say that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is the best adventure film that I have seen for quite a while since, you've guessed right, "The Fellowship of the Ring". Well, you just can't go wrong with Peter Jackson and a handful of halflings. 
Although officially a prequel, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is, all together, an entirely different cinematic experience in its own right, and that's what's truly admirable about the film. If you'll look at it, it's easy to see how it is more advantageous for the film to relish and indulge on the already established mythology of the three legendary films before it. But instead, it took some nice creative liberties with the overall narrative, characters (except of course for the likes of Gandalf and other character reappearances) and atmosphere, which resulted in an experience that's as familiar as it is fresh.  
Aside from that, there's also the evident ambition in the film. Then again, let's not kid ourselves because, hey, the word 'ambition' is always attached to any Middle Earth-related creations. But still, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is a sure-fire testament of how Peter Jackson, though already 10 years removed from the year the first part of his colossal 'Ring' trilogy was released, is still keen on constantly topping himself, visual-wise at least. With this film, he has thrown everything in, from trolls and dwarves to dragons and griffins (and even some rock giants who have a penchant for some earth-shaking fisticuffs), but the Shire's kitchen sink, and I couldn't be happier. Hell, even the performances were top-notch, especially Ian McKellen as the beloved Gandalf and Martin Freeman as the awkward but courageous Bilbo Baggins. While appearances by Christopher Lee (as Saruman), Hugo Weaving (as Elrond) and Cate Blanchett (as Galadriel) among others, are nice extra treats that make the experience even more fulfilling and, to a certain extent, almost tear-jerking. Oh and there's also that little 'riddle game' scene with that obscure character named Gollum. That, my dear reader, is worth the price of admission alone. 
5 years ago, I would have never even imagined that I will be able to witness the mercurial beauty of Middle Earth and the wonders of its adventures on the big screen (fact: I have never seen a single "Lord of the Rings" film on the multiplex). Suddenly, here comes "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", a cinematic creation of two of the greatest minds working in the fantasy genre today (Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro), with arms wide open and ready to embrace me as if I'm an old friend. Hell, even with just the first notes of that beautiful Shire music, I'm sold. All I need is a pony and some damn 'burglar' contract. "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"; I never expected it to be this good and the journey to be this big. Ladies and gentlemen, we're officially in for an epic three-part saga once again.


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