Sunday, February 06, 2005


Barry Watson is Tim, he is an up-and-coming news editor and he has this uncanny fear of the closets in this scary-fest with weird psychological undertones and surprisingly unforeseen twists and turns.

As a child, Tim witnessed his father's abduction by the Boogeyman, who lurked in the dark shadows of his bedroom closet. The vanishing was downplayed by his family and he was persuaded to believe that his father simply abandoned them. His mother was committed to an insane asylum soon afterwards.

It is now fifteen years after that dreadful night and yet Tim still hasn’t gotten over his fear. He has been consulting with psychiatrists over the years and he has not been successful in combating this terror inside his heart.

Soon, he is forced to relive his nightmares once again when his mother dies. At the funeral, he meets a mysterious child who may or may not be the key that will unlock the secrets of the evil phantom.

This movie works surprisingly well. The terror and suspense it generates was sustained pretty much all throughout the tense one-and-a-half hour running time. There are clichés, of course, but it was effective in building up the creeping atmosphere of dread and helped provide rooms for effective twists in scenes where you think you know what will happen next based on how movies of this kind usually play out.

For a low-budget thriller ($7 million), this movie achieved what the loud and visual-effects laden big-budgeted horror flicks fail to do: take the audience into a wild jolting ride of dreadful anticipation.

The use of psychological and mental suggestions in some of the scenes bring to fore additional questions that further make the story more involving: could those things be really happening or are we just being played by Tim who may not have taken his father’s abandonment well and played out this neatly woven tale of a Boogeyman who will, at any moment, strike from behind the darkened shadows of the closet and take away your loved one? We don’t know for sure but we are thinking.

Million Dollar Baby

Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman & Hilary Swank form a formidable triumvirate in Eastwood’s lonely Million Dollar Baby and what a gratifying experience it is watching these actors’ splendid work magnified larger onscreen.

Million Dollar Baby holds a disturbing twist at the end that has divided its audience in a contentious debate in the line of ethics and morality. Not surprisingly however, the outstanding filmmaking merits of the film is kept at bay because it is just simply one of the greatest films of the year.

Maggie (Swank) is a trailer-trash Southern girl who earns a living waiting on tables in LA. She keeps a metal foil in her pocket to store food leftovers which will provide her dinner. She has a dream. She wants to be a boxer and she doesn’t want anybody else to train her except Frankie Dunne.

Frankie (Eastwood) is an aging boxing trainer whose gift in training boxers and churning out champions is on the wane as he grapples with a seeming guilt from a sin in his past that he can’t seem to overcome. He goes to church everyday. Engages the priest in a religious banter and yet there is a nagging sense of something, a quiet and passionate plea for forgiveness that he can’t grant even unto himself. He writes letters to a daughter who refuses to acknowledge and returns them unopened and yet he persists on writing everyday.

Frankie manages a gym with Scrap. Scrap (Freeman) is an ex-boxer whose only attempt at boxing glory ended tragically as he lost one of his eyes. Now, he lives in a makeshift room inside the gym with no possessions except the memories of his time as a promising boxer and the broken dreams of becoming a champion.

Scrap provides the narrative flow of the story. Based on a collection of short stories titled Rope Burns by F. X. Toole, this movie has the dark somber elements of Eastwood’s own Mystic River yet the powerful denouement recalls the tragic and unexpected conclusion of Midnight Cowboy and more recently The Hours and House of Sand and Fog.

Frankie hesitantly takes on Maggie under his charge but upon the prodding of Scrap he finally agrees on training her. Eventually, Frankie and Maggie form a friendship fostered on their equal need of each other - She a father figure and he a daughter he has not seen in years. When Maggie fought her first professional fight, Frankie gave her a robe with a gaelic name imprinted on it. When she asks what it means, he shrugs and tells her to find out on her own. Later, this will be revealed in one of the most crucial scenes in the film and almost certainly, i could feel the entire audience let out a collective gasp.

The Clint has fashioned a harsh movie based on a brilliantly written script and the audience is treated to another exceptional performance by Hilary Swank. As Maggie, Swank is able to transform herself again and this time to that of a late-blooming boxer who turns into a mean-spirited destroyer inside the ring. The combination of her girlish angst and boxing skills has contributed to a fully realized characterization that invites admiration and ultimately awards recognition. No one can approximate how great she has performed here without going into the film’s deservedly kept secret. I will not go into it but suffice it to say that if Swank was able to convincingly portray herself as a girl masquerading as a man in Boys Don’t Cry, in this movie she does the same thing and boy, can she be any better.

This is a movie with sparse dialogues hence the need for a narrator but the lack of spoken scenes is significantly overshadowed by a few but witty banters between Scrap and Frankie. There is one particular scene where Frankie is admonishing Scrap for wearing ugly worn socks (with holes!) inside his office and for those few moments the viewer is able to get a glimpse of how the characters inner selves are working. We are given an idea of how deep their friendship is and how Scrap manages to tolerate living such a nasty life.

There is sidebar story about a boy who moved from Texas with dreams of becoming the world's welterweight champion. His name is Danger and his story is special as it provides extra weight to the characters of Scrap and Frankie. More than the character element, his part in this story is to further encapsulate the resonating theme in this movie that everyone suffers one big loss in his life and it isn’t worth crying over but instead one must be able to regain his foothold, throw all weighty emotions away and continue on fighting for life. Such is the power of this movie that it can depict questionable ethics and yet still champion the cause of life.

The Wedding Date

Debra Messing is Kat. She is a British expatriate working in New York. Dermot Mulroney is Nick and he is what you would ordinarily call a male gigolo, but in this movie he is called, euphemistically, an escort.

A wedding takes place in a week and Kat hires Nick to escort her to the wedding to the tune of $6,000 (excluding the charge for extra services, wink…wink…) which she withdraws from her 401k fund. Why she, a pretty lady, would be so desperate to get a hooker to escort her to her sister’s wedding is explained in a jiffy: Her former fiancĂ© is the best man and she apparently, after being unceremoniously dumped by his ham of an ex-boyfriend, still feels romantic about him and by hiring a world-class escort, she expects to see him drool in fierce envy, but... Alright! Enough already!

The story has been made into a variety of movies before and the viewer is very much aware of this fact before going into the cinema. So, with that out, the only challenge for the filmmakers is to be able to generate a plausible scenario that will somehow make this at least worthy of the ticket admission. The movie tends to be repetitious at times but it fortunately succeeds in building the romance between the unlikely pair of Kat and Nick. The canned characters that populate this formula are surprisingly amusing and even refreshing too, especially the cousin who has the best written lines outside of the main stars.

There is a very romantic notion about finding love in the most unlikely person – that no matter how much you try to ignore it, love and all its rosy promises will still win in the end.

Messing is gradually making the transition into the big screen and she brings such joy into it. Her Kat is an off the wall character whose wildly inconsistent ways prove such a charmer that eventually captures the heart of Nick. Mulroney provides great romantic support with his portrayal of an escort who, in his quiet demeanor, shows why he is much sought after by the ladies.

What makes me like the movie more is its wonderful use of Michael Buble’s music. Home, Buble’s latest release happens to be my current favorite and when I heard it played, I instantly had a change of heart about the movie and started liking it. Sometimes, a clever director, when he knows he has a not so good a movie plot to sell, only needs to devise some other ways by which to distract the viewer and in this case I was pleasantly distracted into liking the movie. Enough said.

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