Friday, March 23, 2007

Five Movies

Kiki's Flying Service
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I think I'm a closet fan of Hayao Miyazaki. I haven't seen the more popular titles, like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, but I seem to have a vague recollection of watching (and enjoying) his kind of animated movies when I was a kid. Anyway, my housemate John Ray seems to be a big fan; he bought a three-disc compilation of all of Miyazaki's movies last weekend. This one, released in 1989, is about Kiki, a thirteen year-old witch who leaves home (in a broom, with a precocious black cat, natch) to go off on her own in a distant seaside city. She ends up living with a nice pregnant lady who runs a bakery. It soon becomes apparent that her broom-flying skills (or lack of it) will come in handy as she starts her own, you guessed it, delivery service. (Kinda makes you wonder what you were doing when you were thirteen). The traditional animation is fantastic, trademark Miyazaki. I thought there was potential to say more with the story, but the simple, straightforward narrative is fine, too. And I loved the acerbic cat Jiji, with the hots for the sexy kitty next door. I think I enjoyed this as much as I did "Howl's Moving Castle."

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By now, every local cinephile must have seen this movie and cracked all sorts of jokes about all the men in it in skimpy loincloths with bulging biceps and washboard abs. Occasionally though, one can read a random review of how good the movie actually is. The visuals are spectacular and like nothing else seen on film. The story itself, about how 300 of Sparta's finest warriors hold off an invading Persian army numbering in the hundreds of thousands until their inevitable deaths, is engaging and emphatic. That last scene of King Leonides near death, arrows sticking out from all over his body, actually reminded me of those movies by Fernando Poe Jr, where he's fending off a battalion of Japanese soldiers. If all the accounts are true, those Spartan men certainly were the real deal as far as courage and martyrdom are concerned. While the themes of heroism and bravery are anything but new, the execution of the filmmakers, with the use of advanced CGI technology, make this movie certainly worth the price of admission. For once, Hollywood produced an action movie that is thoroughly enjoyable and doesn't insult the intelligence of viewers (eat your heart out Michael Bay). People who love a good movie should catch this on the big screen while they can. (PS I hear this movie's director, Zack Snyder, is already making plans of bringing the comic classic The Watchmen to the big screen. That's something to look forward to).

Notes On A Scandal
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More than anything, I feel that this film is an avenue for Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett to show off their acting skills, and by god, do those two act up a storm. A cynical spinster-teacher deprived of intimacy befriends the seemingly innocent new art teacher in the hopes of establishing a relationship beyond the professional. Dench is effective because she tempers her portrayal of the caustic and untrusting Barbara Covett with compassion; not enough to make me like her but enough for me to understand why she does what she does. Blanchett is fiery as always as the flawed mother and housewife Sheba Hart, who begins an affair with one of her students - all of fifteen years old. And while I may not have read the book, I got the impression that the writers intended the film to be funny, or at least, in some cases, make the dialogue of the characters humorous, particularly in Barbara's narration. The depth and complexity of the emotions displayed in this film may be too much for some people, but I like a good, well-written character-driven piece devoid of cliches and predictability, and this one definitely fits the bill.

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The story of a Supremes-like girl group, the infighting and intrigues, the successes and failures and the relationships they form with the people around them and each other. Big deal. I knew I shouldn't have seen this, but I was bored and had nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon and some friends asked me to come along with them. Turns out I shelled out P150 so I could get bored in my seat inside the theater. I've seen the films of four out of the five nominees for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and I gotta say, Jennifer Hudson has nothing on all the other nominees (I've yet to see Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine). Sure she practically shits in her dress while doing "And I Am Telling You," but I don't believe she's better than Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza, who both acted their pants off in Babel, and Cate Blanchett in Notes On A Scandal. All the other performances in this movie were ho-hum. The sets were pretty impressive, but other than that, there was nothing truly outstanding and memorable about this movie for me. Chicago got it right. This one obviously didn't.

Death Note
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I've become a fan of Asian horror films ever since the Japanese film The Ring came out. I saw them all, or the early ones at least - The Eye, The Grudge, Dark Water (all remade into Hollywood films) and the truly demented (but strangely fascinating) Audition. The trend caught on, and local theaters soon became inundated with Asian horror titles. With new titles coming out almost every other week, I lost interest for a while, but John Ray picked up this Japanese movie from our friendly neighborhood pirata last weekend (along with the Miyazaki collection), and we both saw it one lazy Sunday afternoon. The tagline says it all: "The human whose name is written in this note shall die." The note(book) lands, literally, at the feet of a college student named Light (yeah, I know). The Japanese god of death, who calls himself Ryuk and who has a penchant for apples, gives him access to the note on a whim. Light then proceeds to use the note to kill off all known criminals in and out of Japan. With the body count mounting, the world's leading police forces are stumped as to the identity of the killer. They then turn to one of the best and brightest detectives, codenamed "L," for help. What follows is a thrilling battle of wits between a crafty modern-day executioner who dispenses justice according to his own terms, and a highly-intelligent recluse out to expose and punish the mysterious serial killer. Not as terrifying in the classic sense as the aforementioned horror movies, but definitely a must-see if you want an innovative spin on tired plotlines dealing with crime and punishment.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Message of Concern

The slew of political ads currently polluting the airwaves are so unbelievably infuriating I can't help but switch channels or unconsciously mouth off an invective each time they come on. One thing I like about not working for the giant broadcast company anymore is that I don't have the obligation to tune in to local channels (especially when the news is on) anymore. Instead, I retreat to the familiar mess that is cable TV. If I sound like I'm being an elitist, that may be true, but I'd rather be called that than endure the desperation and sheer wretchedness of politicians stooping down to new lows to try to gain the attention of viewers, hoping that would translate into votes. I mean, how many times can one take the image of a distinguished senator dancing goofily to an inane song tailored to suit his needs (and his name)? How many times can one stand the image of obviously rotten-to-the-core politicians smiling cheekily and pretending to have the best interest of the masses at heart when all they really want is to cling on to power? And seriously, how can one even stomach the sheer audacity of more than a few of these so-called public servants who say one thing only to devour their words in favor of a spot in the lineup of a more favourable party? I'd have no trouble supporting someone whose opinion differs from my own but at least has the dignity to stand up for what he believes in despite the odds, rather than those who turn around and lick the ass of someone they used to crucify in the guise of "unity" and "team spirit." Barf.

The sad, inescapable fact is that we have to live with these political ads for another two and a half months, after which, once again, we as a nation would have to live with our choices. Is it too much to ask for people to be more discerning about the people they vote for? We all have our own ideas about what qualities a leader should possess, but is it really that hard to agree on who's too much of an ass to be given an honorific precursor to his or her name? I don't know about other people, but the chances of a candidate getting my vote is directly proportional to how bad his or her tv spot is; the more it sucks, the less likely their name will appear on my ballot. Call me shallow and irresponsible, but that's as good enough a gauge as I can get on just how effective and classy our local politicos are. (And we all know having lots of money does not necessarily guarantee a good advertisement)

Despite all my rants though, I highly encourage everyone out there to go out and vote in May. Apathy is never cool and anyone who doesn't exercise his or her right to suffrage does not have the right to bitch and complain about the government. Choose leaders who have impeccable records, who are steadfast in their beliefs and don't sell their principles, who are as idealistic as they are pragmatic, who can talk to the world but don't lose their patriotism, and who you know can truly make difference for the good of the country. But most important of all, vote for those who DO NOT DANCE AND POSE MAKE COMPLETE FOOLS OF THEMSELVES IN THEIR POLITICAL ADS.