Sunday, November 28, 2004

After the Sunset

After the sunset is an action-caper designed to give a two-hour entertainment. On that aspect it delivers. Max, Lola, and Stan form a triangle upon which the plot narrative goes around. (And all around it goes!)

Max (Pierce Brosnan) and Lola (Salma Hayek) are retired thieves enjoying the fruits of their labor in idyllic Bahamas. Stan (Woody Harrelson) shows up one day and baits Max to steal the last of the Napoleon Diamonds which, not surprisingly, was on display in a cruise ship docked for a week on the same island where the master thieves are setting up home. Hmmm, at this point onwards, the movie goes on one predictable scenario after another. Most of the scenes feel like a setup designed to elicit laughs (and admittedly they do).

Don Cheadle stars and is wasted as a local gang leader who commissions Max to steal the diamond for his ‘charity’ work.

Visually, the movie is attractive. The Bahamas setting was use to full advantage in undressing Salma Hayek at every conceivable scenario. The music is also lively (as is typical of a movie set in the tropics). Of the clich├ęs in the movie, the most glaring and sometimes offensive is the depiction of the locals: 1) as always having fun; 2) police are inept and 3) women, even those in the police force, are always gorgeous.

But the movie is fun. The climax is not entirely something new but it still delivers some excitement and a little thrill.


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Kinsey

Kinsey feels like a good movie. The performances from the entire cast – from Liam Neeson (who is so commanding in the title role that even when he engages in homosexual sex with his assistant/lover Clyde Martin, excellently portrayed by Peter Saarsgard, the viewer will not ever doubt his masculinity) to the British great Lynn Redgrave who was almost unrecognizable as the final subject/interviewee – were all uniformly good. The photography brilliantly captures the color of the various periods in Kinsey’s storied life. And yet, I was somewhat clueless whether the movie was excellent good or just okay good.

Kinsey is the story of Alfred Kinsey’s life before and after his ascendance as the sex guru of modern America. The film swiftly laid out the foundation of Kinsey’s psychology when it dwelt on his early childhood where his view on the morality of sex was based on his father’s traditionalist teachings (reasons for which are expectedly revealed in one of the film’s highlights – drawing no dramatic resonance anymore given the fact that it came too late into the story structure). The film then quickly jumps into his early adulthood when he becomes a zoology professor at the Indiana University, collecting wasps. He meets his future wife Clara (portrayed effortlessly by Laura Linney) during one of his class and they get married. At this point, talk of sex has been particularly scarce. On the night of their wedding, they both discover difficulty in consummating sex because: first, both of them are virgins; and secondly, Kinsey has a big penis.

Supposedly, that act brought about an impetus on the eventual urge for Kinsey to study sex behaviors of the American people. I haven’t read the biographical book where this movie was based nor have I read any of the landmark books based on his studies of American sex, but given this scenario, I already started having serious doubts about the plausibility of this sudden burst of inspiration.

The film is insightful on the subject matter it professes to dissect. Moviegoers will laugh and snicker at the old sex taboos of the early ‘60s culture about masturbation, pre-marital and extra-marital sex, homosexuality, bisexuality, etc. But are the laughter aimed at the morally-stringent period where sex remained a taboo topic or are they laughing at themselves because these have become almost the norm of the present society and the virtue to distinguish right from wrong have almost vanished to the so-called advancement of sexual psychology?

At film’s end before the final credits roll, a short film compiled by the Kinsey Institute for Sex showing various animals and insects in separate stages of the sexual act is shown. I have no idea what the director’s intention was in inserting this clip but one wonders: have we really gotten down to such low that even those animals who are impervious to the codes of morality pale in comparison to what we humans are actually doing so publicly now? Was it actually the whole conceit of the director in filming this story?



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Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Incredible Bridget Jones

I watched “The Incredibles” and “Bridget Jones” on the same day. And boy was it a blast!

The new Disney-Pixar animated “The Incredibles” is a story about a family of retired superheroes who must spring out from government-imposed retirement to save the world once again from the evil threats of a fake superhero.

Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson provide voices to Elastic Girl and Mr. Incredible respectively. The animation is on par with Pixar’s bests and the storytelling, leisurely and enjoyable.

Some critics have drawn social parallelisms between the fate that befallen the retired superheroes to the current social norm heavily dependent on litigation. The superheroes were once mighty group of law enforcers who were forced to retire when most of the people they saved felt “victimized” by the obtrusive nature of their heroic acts and started suing them. Funny it seems but it happens in everyday life now. In the end though, when the people get to see the goods this real superheroes are made of they are once again exalted in public.

But lingering thoughts take us back to the time when they were unceremoniously retired and there is fear as to just until when the public’s euphoria over their exploits last and how eventually they will be forced into seclusion again.

“Bridget Jones: The edge of Reason” stars Renee Zellwegger as Bridget who returns once again to regale us with her tale of love that doesn’t end happily ever after or so it seems when applied to her overly neurotic personality.

Zellwegger sizzles in another great performance and she is again supported by Colin Firth as the conservative and reserved Marc Darcy and Hugh Grant who is back as bridget’s dashing and playboy ex Daniel Cleaver who happens to have changed for the better and shuns casual sex.

It is 8 weeks into Bridget’s relationship with Darcy when she stumbles on her first great rival, the long-legged, svelte lawyer Rebecca.

Typical of Bridget, she rushes to her friends for advice and she ends up more confused and unreasonably jealous. She breaks up with Darcy and goes to Thailand with Cleaver. In Thailand, they met a stranger who introduces Bridget to the illicit joy of Narcotics. She was almost tempted into going to bed with Cleaver until a ‘room service’ interrupted the interlude.

Bridget is caught trying to smuggle drugs out of Thailand, the package she innocently carries for her friend turned out to have drugs inside. She gets imprisoned but is once again rescued by Darcy.

Later, Bridget realizes that her jealousy were not only unfounded but also funny. When confronted, Rebecca confesses to Bridget that she was indeed in love but not with Darcy. Hmmm… Who could she be in love with?

And so ends the movie happily again until the next neurosis of Bridget comes into surface one more time and unnecessarily wreaking havoc on her romance with Darcy.

There are a lot of funny scenes in the movie but what set this movie different from the first one is its attempt to further show the audience the special character that Bridget Jones is.

In the Thailand prison scenes, she made friends easily with the inmates there. She taught them how to sing Madonna’s Like a Virgin properly and related to their love problems with her own (which she is forced to make up because she realized that Darcy have been very good to her all along.)

Bridget may not be perfect but as portrayed by Zellwegger she comes off lovable and endearing and she doesn't know how much loved she is. There is a scene where Darcy and Cleaver were fighting over something and later on the audience realizes that Darcy is in fact jealous and only wants to be assured that nothing happened between Cleaver and Bridget in Thailand. And if Bridget were present during this fight she would have cheered on whoever was the victor! Lovely.

Birth

Nicole kidman mesmerizes the audience in a 3-minute close-up where all that is seen is her changing expression from anger,disbelief, acceptance and ultimately grief.

Birth is a story about love. Love that comes to people once in their lives and when this is lost, people cling on to it like a child desperate to see his/her toys at home on the first day of school. You just yearn to feel it one last time. Sometimes the grief that is reflected physically is not tantamount to the heavy burden one carries deep in his/her heart. It just gnaws on you and you are almost held captive to it.

Birth is about Anna, a long-suffering widow who after ten years of grieving over her dead husband Sean finally manages to let go and is set to marry Joseph.

Birth is about Sean, a ten-year old boy who breaks into Anna's life proclaiming that he is the reincarnated husband.

The film is appropriately paced for its theme. All the actors do well particulary Kidman and the young boy who portrays Sean, Cameron Bright (he was seen in Godsend, i think.)

To dwell on the story is to break the element of surprise the writer and director so skillfully injected into the film without actually letting the audience feel betrayed or anything.

Anne Heche costars in a pivotal role and provides the truth near the end that is not entirely shocking nor surprising but is painfully heartbreaking.

Ray

"Ray" is about the life of the legendary singer/songwriter Ray Charles. He is a blind Afican-American whose music literally rocked the world with the fusion of classic R&B and Gospel.

The film is a celebration of his music and a loving tribute to his remarkable life that made him the Icon that he is now.

Ray was born to a poor single mother. As a young boy he witnessed a devastating loss that haunts him for many years. He losses his sight soon after and forever lived in the dark. He was sent by his mother to a school for the blind and taught him how to be strong to be able to survive on his own.

Before Ray lost his sight, he was introduced to the piano by a kind neighbor. This introduction lead him to love music and eventually gave him the freedom to become whoever he wants notwithstanding his physical disability.

When his mother died he moved to Seatle and met the young Quincy Jones and together they found an agent who booked Ray in shows accross the neighboring states. Soon, the phenomenal new sound of Ray Charles gets the attention of people from Atlantic Records and signed him up for a contract. The contract produced a string of hits and had all of America clamoring for Ray.

Watching Ray is like watching a great performer march to the stage, waltz through his routine in a deliberate tentative pace and slowly building up his act until he hits full crescendo. The audience, meanwhile, are held in breathless awe.

Jamie Foxx turns in a brilliant and outstanding performance that may in the surface appear to be just an imitation of Ray Charles but as the film gets along and the viewer is brought deeper and deeper into the psychology of his character, Foxx’s heart is revealed and all you see is Ray Charles.

The film attempts to give us as much detail about Ray’s life. In poignant and sometimes harrowing flashbacks, we are told of the demons he is battling inside that made him seek the comfort of heroin. He had a string of extra-marital affairs but he kept his loyalty to his wife.

Supporting performances from the dutiful wife to the agents, band members and mistresses were all very good. But particularly the performance of Regina King as the strong-willed mistress come off as the best specially the part where she was leaving Ray for good and Ray was on his piano composing a new track for his album. Their verbal fight ends up with the composition of the hit song “Hit the Road” and watching it unfold onscreen, one momentarily forgets that they are actually fighting but instead one thinks they are merely collaborating on the music.

The use of Ray’s music to highlight his career/life milestones was inspired and it was further use to greater advantage in the scene where Ray Charles was finally recognized by the state of Georgia after being banned during the height of the desegregation movement when he did not perform in a concert because black people are being restricted to a specific section in the hall. When his song Georgia on my Mind was adopted as the state song, I was misty-eyed and on my feet applauding Mr. Ray Charles, his music, his life and his achievements.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

My current reviews

"friday night lights" stars billy bob thornton as a HS football coach for the small town of Odessa in Texas which holds the record of winning the most HS championships in the state. the movie is a chronicle of the 1988 season and follows the story of the team as they struggle to win each game amid personal hardhips and undue pressures from their proud and passionate townmates. for those looking for a football 101 lesson this is the movie. technicals aside, the personal stories of the athletes that the writers decided to focus on give the movie its weight and ultimately inspires the viewers to root for them and see them succeed.

"taxi" may have had queen latifah in one of her hilarious and funniest roles ever but the lackluster comic antics turned in by costar jimmy fallon swallowed everything up. jimmy fallon is a bumbling NYPD cop and latifah a newbie cab driver. they cross paths one day and they get involved with a gang of robbers who look like runway models. and that is as far as the story goes. bad movie.

"the grudge" is based on a japanese horror hit. it stars sarah michelle gellar who is in japan with her boyfriend who is studying for something i may have missed. anyway, gellar works as a caregiver and gets assigned one day to this one house when the regular caregiver fails to show up. when she gets there, she finds the bike of the regular caregiver parked conveniently inside the compound (oh, serious trouble),thus begins to unravel the mystery of the house. she sees a boy taped and locked inside a cabinet. sees the woman she was attending to killed by a shadow. the horror in the movie works a la the ring because the writer and director patiently tells us the story behind everything in a slow deliberate pace that heightens the viewers desire to know more but also the increasing the creeping atmosphere of fear slowly building and building and wham!...good scary stuff.

"shall we dance" is another movie based on a japanese hit about a middle-aged man who takes up dancing to break the monotony in his life and in so doing bring back not only life to himself but to all the people he inspired and touched. richard gere is effective in the lead role and the dance sequence he does with jennifer lopez is lustful without the lust. susan sarandon costars as gere's wife. good manageable movie.

"surviving christmas" will not survive till christmas. some critics are so harsh they say it wouldn't even make it to halloween. hehehe. and for all the good reasons, they are right. the movie is an exercise in mockery. it mocks the christmas tradition of family and it fails miserably. ben affleck stars as a millionaire who buys himself into a family so that he can celebrate the christmas he never had. premise maybe good but the execution was terrible. it feels like an overextended sitcom rerun that airs at 3 inthe morning. very bad!

NOW THE truly great ones.

"the motorcycle diaries" stars gael garcia bernal and rodrigo dela serna as two buddies who take on a road trip across south america to 'discover the land they only read in textbooks' but they end up learning more than they ever expected. this film is a chronicle of the charismatic south american revolutionary che guevarra's travels when he was twenty three to the outskirts of argentina, peru,chile and venezuela. on the way, he discovers the social injustices to the poor, the division of the rich and the poor, the phlight of the common man. witnessing the transformation of guevara from the exuberance of youthful mindlessness to take the cause of the small people and lead the most successful social revolution in south america is most inspiring. the film is not pro-communist but it is sympathetic to the ideals of the real communist movement. che guevarra was assassinated by the CIA when he was about 35 or so it says in the end blurb. on the performances, both the lead actors do superb turns but kudos goes to bernal who embodies the character of guevara with such charm and quiet ferociousness that the viewers may actually mistake him for the real guevara. very good film. one of the most important films i should say.

"vera drake" is a british film made by mike leigh that won the venice prize for best picture and bestactress. true enough, imelda staunton, the vera drake in the title inhabits the role with such pleasantness and heartbreaking remorse that the audience end up cheering for her eventhough she has committed a very heinous crime. vera drake is a cheerful homemaker who tends to her family with dedication and servile grace. she does home cleaning for several households and attends to her ailing mother. on the side, she also plays matchmaker to her homely daughter and a family friend. But her kindness does not end there, she also helps teenage girls who are pregnant and in distress. vera drake does abortions but she thinks she is only helping the poor young girls. she knows its wrong that's why she keeps the knowledge from her family. tragedy strike when one of the girls she assisted nearly dies and the hospital doctors who treated her brought the matter to the attention of the police. the film is not a sympathetic look at abortion. however, it does not condemn nor does it condone. the film merely shows the frailties of the poor young girls who are desperate to rid themselves of the sad predicament they are in and charitable spirit of vera drake who sees the opportunity to help and does so without asking for any favors. ms. staunton is being touted by many to win this year's oscar for best actress and seeing her on screen validates the critical acclaim.

both films should be very visible in the following months as awards season kick in and i wouldn't be surprised if both collects a few.

-end
november 11, 2004

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