Monday, February 19, 2007

More Watching

My weekends have become unbearably predictable.

I went to Quiapo last Saturday to scour some DVDs and supposedly proceed to Binondo to catch any New Year celebrations the Tsinoys had. I only accomplished the first part of the plan though. I stayed too long at the DVD stores that when I came out from the maze of shops it was getting dark already. So I decided to start the long ride home instead.

With that done, I spent the entire weekend watching movies, thus virtually saying goodbye to my social life.

Friday evening I watched Friends With Money, starring Jennifer Aniston and a group of other more mature actresses (i.e. Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack). The movie simply came with those 8-in-1 DVDs so I watched it na rin. Surprisingly, I was quite entertained by it. Foremost, the actresses are astounding as a group of girlfriends trying to make sense of their relationships. The film also owes a lot to its astute writing for keeping it upbeat and witty. So this film gets three bamboos.

I finally saw Marie Antoinette by Sophia Copolla. I did not have high expectations from the film given the wide disgust critics have for it. I'm not sure what exactly Miss Copolla's intention was for the film, but for me it came out as a two-hour long music video. The photography was very fluid and energetic; the set was very lush and opulent (of course); the costumes were rich and luscious; and the music… ah, the music was pure, astounding irreverence (think of having an 18th century ball with rock music). It was enjoyable to watch if one is out for a ride of the senses, but it ends right there. For some depth and historical perspective about the French royalty before the revolution, I suppose you can learn more from looking it up on Wikipedia. The film deserves only two bamboos.

I've always been surprised at the odd films one can find in pirated DVD shops. One interesting movie I stumbled upon in Quiapo is No Regret, by Korea's first openly gay director, LeeSong Hee-il. I assume this movie is fairly new because it's not on IMDB yet. It tells the story of a rather cliché set of characters - the poor barrio boy in the city who becomes a prostitute (played convincingly by the luscious Lee Yeong-hun) and the gay businessman trying to find true love while his parents are marrying him off. So Lino Brocka and Mel Chionglo noh? The clichés stop right there though as what beneath it is a complex story of the relationship between the two. The viewer is spared of any melodrama, instead it reveals well-developed characters and a story that is poignant. I'm not sure however about its glacial pace (so typical of Korean films I realized) although it gives you enough time to contemplate the story and understand more the characters' despair and alienation. Except for the rather odd ending, it's a satisfying movie, which earns it three and a half stars.

I also saw The Last King of Scotland, a much praised film for its main actor Forest Whitaker. All right, it's another film about a third-world despot. Perhaps what makes it different however is that while all other films about dictators portray them as power-hungry bastards, this one shows the president as short of crazy. While it has great intentions of showing the mind of a tyrant, it misses in giving a full-rounded character of President Idi Amin, including his motivations, his fears, his thought process (the last one he almost completely lacks). Instead, it fell into portraying a caricature. As a Scottish doctor visiting Uganda, James McAvoy (as Nicholas Garrigan) was noticeably adept and the character was better written. I'm giving the movie three bamboos.

I learned about Fateless in Jay's blog and I was quite pleased that I found it in Quiapo. I was thinking, oh no, another Holocaust film! But really, after watching the film I think this horrifying moment (among others) in recent history should never be forgotten, thus more movies about it should be made. The film follows the experience of a fourteen-year-old Hungarian Jew, named György Köves (Marcell Nagy), during the Holocaust. It shows one boy keeping a semblance of motivation to live in such atrocious times. One part of the film discusses about man needing a life-giving obsession to keep their hope alive; it is that drive that Gyorgy nearly lost but he trudged on, which makes the it an inspiring piece of filmmaking. Four and a half bamboos.

Another interesting DVD I saw in Quiapo is a collection of Gong Li films. Ahh, Gong Li, who can resist her? The cover said the DVD has Raise the Red Lantern, but typical of pirated DVDs the film is nowhere inside it. So I settled for To Live (Yimou Zhang, 1994), touted as China's Gone With the Wind. Set in the 1940s and the next three decades, it follows one family's struggle during China's tumultuous history duing the said period. I'm not sure about the film though because there were just too much crammed into it. Chopseuy!!! It had its poignant and funny moments, but in the end I felt like I was watching a TV soap. Read: intoxicating and all over the place. Gong Li and You Ge (the latter winning in Cannes for his acting in the film) were excellent however. So only three stars for this one.

Photo Credit: (1), (2), (4), (5), and (6) from Rotten Tomatoes; (3)

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