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Friday, January 9, 2009

himala


"Himala" is Filipino for "miracle" and this is precisely what the movie is. It has been awarded the CNN APSA Viewers Choice Award for Best Asia-Pacific Film of all Time.

Thousands of CNN viewers voted on "The Screening Room" Web site to honor Ishmael Bernal's 1982 film with the accolade, which is jointly awarded by CNN and the region's prestigious Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA).
"The Screening Room's" Myleene Klass presented the award Tuesday in front of a crowd of over 700 film industry figures at a special ceremony on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

Set in a God-forsaken marginal town, "Himala" boasts of a richly textured milieu, a veritable Filipino Nowhereland just waiting for a miracle. And the miracle-incarnate is Elsa, a simple but headstrong young girl who claims to have seen the Virgin Mary and who starts a healing crusade. The complex, highly nuanced role was played by the Philippine's premiere actress Nora Aunor, took the prize with 32 percent of the vote. Everyone else in the film was thespians from theatre. Loaded with fascinating characters caught in an ideological-moral inferno, the film brings to the fore the complex, harsh social realities that face third world people and how such realities find their way in cultural expressions such as religion. The sensitive direction of the late Ishmael Bernal, the creatively austere camera work, the haunting musical score, and of course, the thespic genius of Nora Aunor makes "Himala" a truly great film that merits re-viewing and re-discovery, especially by foreign audiences. The "Via Dolorosa" denouement remains as one of the most riveting scenes I've ever seen in any film. A cinematic miracle, indeed.

It came in ahead of more widely known films like Japanese Akira Kurosawa's "Shichinin no samurai" ("Seven Samurai"), which took second place and "Wo hu cang long" ("Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon") by Taiwan's Ang Lee, which snared third.


The movie is about Lea, a mother of two kids with different fathers. Lea, works in an NGO (non-government organization), which deals with human rights violation committed against women. Ogie and Maya are Lea's children. Ogie's father, Raffy, leaves them when he had to work in the province of Surigao. Lea together with his son Ogie, did not join Raffy for Lea has a job in Manila which she did not want to leave. Maya, whose father is Ding lives with them, together with Ogie. Things start to get worse when Raffy arrives in Manila. Raffy, meets with Lea for him to see his son, Ogie. As days went on, Ogie regularly sees his father and sometimes spends some time in his house together with his new wife who is pregnant with there first child. Raffy, realizes that he has a lot of shortcomings as a father to Ogie. Raffy tells Lea that he will take Ogie with him to the United States after his wife gives birth. Lea doesn't know what to do.


Steven Spielberg's masterful adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel stars Whoopi Goldberg, in her impressive screen debut, as Celie, a sharecropper's daughter living in rural Georgia. The film opens in 1909 when Celie is a young girl, a victim of incest, pregnant with her father's child. Ugly and unloved, separated from her children and her sister, Celie's only option is marriage to an abusive, philandering husband (Danny Glover) who treats her little better than a slave. Her life changes forever when her husband brings his mistress, a beautiful blues singer named Shug (Margaret Avery), into the house. THE COLOR PURPLE was also the film debut for Oprah Winfrey, who beautifully plays Celie's sister-in-law, Sofia. THE COLOR PURPLE was nominated for 11 Academy Awards (including one each for Goldberg, Avery, and Winfrey) but surprisingly won no Oscars, and although the film was nominated for a Best Picture award, Spielberg was snubbed by the academy and was not nominated for Best Director.

state of war


The main thread of this story is squarely political, yet, tucked inside is a novel within a novel, a dreamy, allegorical history of the Philippines in which the ancestors of the three central characters Eliza Hansen, Adrian Banyaga and Anna Villaverde figure prominently. The trio of young people travel to the island of K to take part in an orgiastic festival. Each shows a different face of Manila: Adrian is the son of a leading family; Anna, a dissident scarred by recent torture; Eliza sells her favors to whichever political figure is in power. They are pursued by fanatical Colonel Amor (Anna's interrogator and Eliza's lover) who is intent on discovering the secret of Adrian's power connections. Meanwhile, Anna has met up with a terrorist group planning to bomb the festival; and Eliza is hoping to act as matchmaker between Anna and Adrian. The interlocking episodes culminate in a terrifying finale. One wishes Rosca had used less allegory and more realistic detail; often the unique situation in the Philippines is lost in her somewhat mannered style. Still, there is an erratic, Kafkaesque brilliance, an intensity that makes this first novel a powerful piece of literature.

shelter


Forced to give up his dreams of art school in order to take care of his family, Zach (Trevor Wright) has become accustomed to a life where he neglects his own needs in favor of taking care of his older sister, Jeanne (Tina Holmes) and his nephew, Cody. When his best friend’s older brother, Shaun (Brad Rowe), returns home to cure a case of writer’s block, Shaun and Zach develop a friendship that develops into a true, intimate relationship. Shaun presses Zach to take control of his life, and to take ownership of his artwork. He also develops a strong bond with Cody, and Zach happily notices the positive effect Shaun’s attention has on him. As time progresses, however, a host of new issues come up. Zach struggles with his identity, his family, and friends, while trying to understand the new emotions Shaun has brought into his life. When the cat is let out of the bag, Jeanne threatens to take Cody away. Wanting nothing but the best for him, Zach is forced to decide between his pattern of always putting others’ desires first or fighting for what is really most important and appropriate for both his and Cody’s future.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

mamma mia!


The movie is a giant showcase of ABBA tunes, but add some gorgeous scenery from a seaside cliff in Greece, impeccable comedic timing, a somewhat predictable yet honest plot, well done choreography, and you have the hit of the summer. If you like ABBA, you'll love the movie. If you aren't an ABBA fan, you'll become one.

The movie begins at a scenic bed/breakfast owned by Donna, (Meryl Streep) as her 20-year-old daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) plans her wedding day.

Donna had a summer romance 20 years ago and gave birth to Sophie with the father being any of three men. Sophie decides to secretly invite all three, one of which is Sam, (Pierce Brosnan) in hopes she'll find her father who can give her away.

Sophie doesn't tell her mother and thus begins the funny storyline with a lot of energetic singing and dancing as the audience wishes they were a part of the movie rather than a spectator.
By far the best singer in the movie is newcomer Amanda Seyfried. Meryl Streep does a respectable job in her singing debut, emotionally putting herself into the role as we would expect. Her gal pals, Tanya and Rosie were wonderfully cast as well. Conversely, Pierce Brosnan would not have scored points with Simon on Idol. He seemed stoic during his singing attempts, obviously ill suited for this part.

The movie takes an unexpected twist at the end, but throughout you'll be smiling and laughing inspired by the passion and love of life which nearly leaps off the screen leaving you wishing you were "The Dancing Queen."


The Beatles' songs may have provided the soundtrack for the lives of those coming of age in the 1960s, but their extensive catalogue acts as the literal soundtrack in this romantic musical from visionary director Julie Taymor. Newcomer Jim Sturgess stars as Jude, a young man working on the docks in Liverpool. Eager to escape, he travels to Princeton where he meets Max (Joe Anderson). But it's his meeting with Max's younger sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) that changes him. They quickly fall in love, but their relationship is tested by the chaos of the late 1960s and Max's unwilling tour in Vietnam. Throughout the film, characters burst into classics from the Beatles: frat boys sing "With a Little Help from My Friends," while Uncle Sam bursts from a recruitment poster with strains of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." U2's Bono makes a cameo as a counterculture leader and croons "I Am the Walrus," and actor-comedian Eddie Izzard provides a trippy rendition of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite." Sturgess has the voice, charm, and good looks to fill Shea Stadium with hordes of screaming young women. As Jude, he's earnest and certainly capable of carrying the film. Wood capably balances Lucy's naiveté and knowledge, easily moving between her love for Jude and her passion for her cause. Though the performances are strong, it's Taymor's gifted direction that makes ACROSS THE UNIVERSE so fascinating to watch. As in FRIDA and Broadway's THE LION KING, she proves herself an artist with creativity few can match. Director of photography Bruno Delbonnel also deserves praise for his contribution to the striking visuals. He has worked with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on AMELIE and A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, and he brings the same sense of romance and whimsy to this unique musical.

low key


Asia's Songbird Regine Velasquez faced the entertainment press, once again at the launching of her first album with Universal Records (UR) titled Low Key. The launch was held at the 9th floor of Universal Tower in Quezon Avenue yesterday, November 14.

Compared to her previous albums, Low Key has Regine singing mellow songs--all covers. Some of the tracks include Terri Gibbs's "Tell Me That You Love Me"; Don McLean's "And I Love You So"; Rita Cooldige's "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In love"; Katie Irving's "I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me"; Orsa Lia's "No Walls, No Ceilings, No Floors"; Cat Steven's "How Can I Tell You"; Dennis Lambert's "Of All the Things"; Dan Fogelberg's "Longer"; Janis Japlin's "At Seventeen"; Christopher Cross's "Never Be the Same"; Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever," among others.

Noticeably, Regine's rendition of the songs are more restrained, a far cry from the usual belting that she does in most of her albums.

milk


Maybe you don't know a damn thing about gay activist Harvey Milk. San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be voted into office in America, was shot dead in 1978, along with Mayor George Moscone, in City Hall. Dan White, a troubled politico who had served with Harvey on the city's board of supervisors, pumped five bullets into Harvey. Smoldering intensity wasn't Harvey's thing. Penn uses makeup to lengthen his nose and look more like Harvey. He adopts a New York accent to get Harvey's inflections. There's one word for Penn's performance: phenomenal.

To those who say its focus limits its audience, I say Harvey's focus was human rights and therefore limitless. Robert Epstein's Oscar-winning 1984 documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, memorably traced Harvey's life journey. Van Sant is hunting bigger game. He wants to show Harvey in the daring act of inventing himself. Milk begins with Harvey's 1972 arrival in San Francisco with his lover, Scott Smith (James Franco, warmly funny and touching). All the actors excel, notably Hirsch, Franco and Diego Luna as Jack Lira, the Mexican lover whom Harvey neglects with tragic consequences. Sporting the calendar-ready look of a good Catholic husband and father, Dan is both repulsed by and attracted to Harvey and his gay agenda. Harvey's band of brothers tease Dan mercilessly. At a party, a drunk Dan approaches Harvey in a piercing display of yearning and isolation. Van Sant means for his film to strike a personal chord, whether Harvey is talking a closeted teen out of suicide or talking himself into keeping up the fight when his own love life is crumbling. It brings Harvey to life for a new generation instead of setting him in stone.

dreams


Made toward the end of his life, this film by Akira Kurosawa is at once amazingly beautiful and incredibly slow going. An anthology of imagery and lessons, Dreams focuses on the ways life both gives and takes away, almost with the same hand. Nonlinear to the point of expressionism, it's a film only for the Kurosawa enthusiast who feels the need to see all of his films. In a scene toward the end, Martin Scorsese appears as Vincent Van Gogh, painting in a field that looks like one of his paintings. Visually arresting--and sometimes just arrested.

ploning


In the picturesque island of Cuyo, Palawan, an illegal Taiwanese fishing vessel docks carrying the fisherman named Muo Sei, a man looking for something or someone with the name Ploning. He has from sunrise to sundown to look for this "Ploning".

In his search, Ploning is revealed to be the island's town belle of the year 1982. A dutiful daughter to patriarch Susing, a committed supporter to grieving Intang, an honorary sister to extended family Nieves and Toting a wise ally to simpleton Alma, a supporter to broken-hearted Siloy and a co-mother to half-paralyzed Juaning. A woman so important that the town barely notices the absence of rain because of her presence in their lives.

Despite her renowned beauty, everyone is puzzled why this 30-year-old spinster refuses to get married and still hopefully waits for her beau, Tomas, to come back. Tomas left for Manila when Ploning was 16 years old and there has been no sign of him coming back any time soon. Ploning's silent demeanor adds to the mystery and depth of love that no one seems to understand.. In the center of this, is a 6-year-old boy named Digo who has built his world around the affection and care of Ploning, his foster mother. But his entire world crashes as he learns that Ploning has plans of going to Manila to look for Tomas. Thus, leaving the boy with his bed-ridden mother, Juaning and his strict older brother, Veling. Digo tries everything to stop Ploning from leaving and finds an ally in the town's visitor, the beautiful town nurse, Celeste. Celeste claims to have known and fallen in love with a man named Tomas and tried to follow him in Cuyo to find out if he loved him back. Ploning, with security and so much faith, denies that her Tomas and the man Celeste fell in love with are the same man. On the day of the fiesta, the rain comes and Ploning seems to be missing. Digo's feeling of abandonment leads to a tragedy that grieves the town. But no one was prepared for the secret that Ploning has kept all these years. A secret that exemplifies the selfless love that withstands blood, pain and even time.


A tale of two sisters competing for the same king, The Other Boleyn Girl uses historical facts as window dressing for this work of fiction that is entertaining, if not wholly believable. Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) is the doe-eyed vixen ordered by her power-hungry uncle to bewitch King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). Her shy sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) has always been in Anne's shadow; Anne is prettier, more accomplished, and desired by many men. So when the King picks Mary--the "other Boleyn girl"--as his mistress, Anne turns on her sister and schemes to become not only the King's consort, but his new queen. With a pair of American actresses in the lead roles and an Aussie portraying their hunky object of desire, the English accents are all over the place in this period piece with a modern feel. Though the Boleyn girls' mother points out that her "daughters are being traded like cattle for the advancement of men," it is Anne who ultimately throws her slight weight around to bully Henry into doing her bidding. When he begs her to give herself to him, Anne--wearing a Carrie Bradshaw-esque "B" pendant on her neck--counters, "Make me your Queen." Is the audience really supposed to believe that Henry the VIII--the most powerful man in the land--would divorce Catherine of Aragon, separate from the Catholic church, and put England in upheaval simply because Anne refused to sleep with him until he jumped through all her hoops? "I have torn this country apart for you," he hisses at her before finally getting his way. Based on Philippa Gregory's bestselling novel of the same name, The Other Boleyn Girl features an attractive cast and a familiar plot with some icky twists. Kieran McGuigan's cinematography is breathtaking and is as crucial to setting the film's tone as the dialogue. Actually, it fares better: Lines such as "Well? Did he have you?!" sound almost comical. But the sweeping shots of Henry's kingdom and the carefully framed close-ups of Portman and Johansson are breathtaking in their beauty and say what words simply cannot.


Chicago director Rob Marshall's pretty but empty (or pretty empty) film has all the elements of an Oscar® contender: solid adaptation (from Arthur Golden's bestseller), beautiful locale, good acting, lush cinematography. But there's something missing at the heart, which leaves the viewer sucked in, then left completely detached from what's going on.

It's hard to find fault with the fascinating story, which traces a young girl's determination to free herself from the imprisonment of scullery maid to geisha, then from the imprisonment of geisha to a woman allowed to love. Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo), a young girl with curious blue eyes, is sold to a geisha house and doomed to pay off her debt as a cleaning girl until a stranger named The Chairman (Ken Watanabe) shows her kindness. She is inspired to work hard and become a geisha in order to be near the Chairman, with whom she has fallen in love. An experienced geisha (Michelle Yeoh) chooses to adopt her as an apprentice and to use as a pawn against her rival, the wicked, legendary Hatsumomo (Gong Li). Chiyo (played as an older woman by Ziyi Zhang), now renamed Sayuri, becomes the talk of the town, but as her path crosses again and again with the Chairman's, she finds the closer she gets to him the further away he seems. Her newfound "freedom" turns out to be trapping, as men are allowed to bid on everything from her time to her virginity.

Some controversy swirled around casting Chinese actresses in the three main Japanese roles, but Zhang, Yeoh and Gong in particular ably prove they're the best for the part. It's admirable that all the actors attempted to speak Japanese-accented English, but some of the dialogue will still prove difficult to understand; perhaps it contributes to some of the emotion feeling stilted. Geisha has all the ingredients of a sweeping, heartbreaking epic and follows the recipe to a T, but in the end it's all dressed up with no place to go.


Annie Proulx has written some of the most original and brilliant short stories in contemporary literature, and for many readers and reviewers, "Brokeback Mountain" is her masterpiece.

Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, two ranch hands, come together when they're working as sheepherder and camp tender one summer on a range above the tree line. At first, sharing an isolated tent, the attraction is casual, inevitable, but something deeper catches them that summer.
Both men work hard, marry, and have kids because that's what cowboys do. But over the course of many years and frequent separations this relationship becomes the most important thing in their lives, and they do anything they can to preserve it.

The New Yorker won the National Magazine Award for Fiction for its publication of "Brokeback Mountain," and the story was included in Prize Stories 1998: The O. Henry Awards. In gorgeous and haunting prose, Proulx limns the difficult, dangerous affair between two cowboys that survives everything but the world's violent intolerance.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


After all the controversy and rigorous debate has subsided, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ will remain a force to be reckoned with. In the final analysis, "Gibson's Folly" is an act of personal bravery and commitment on the part of its director, who self-financed this $25-30 million production to preserve his artistic goal of creating the Passion of Christ ("Passion" in this context meaning "suffering") as a quite literal, in-your-face interpretation of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus, scripted almost directly from the gospels (and spoken in Aramaic and Latin with a relative minimum of subtitles) and presented as a relentless, 126-minute ordeal of torture and crucifixion. For Christians and non-Christians alike, this film does not "entertain," and it's not a film that one can "like" or "dislike" in any conventional sense. (It is also emphatically not a film for children or the weak of heart.) Rather, The Passion is a cinematic experience that serves an almost singular purpose: to show the scourging and death of Jesus Christ in such horrifically graphic detail (with Gibson's own hand pounding the nails in the cross) that even non-believers may feel a twinge of sorrow and culpability in witnessing the final moments of the Son of God, played by Jim Caviezel in a performance that's not so much acting as a willful act of submission, so intense that some will weep not only for Christ, but for Caviezel's unparalleled test of endurance.

Leave it to the intelligentsia to debate the film's alleged anti-Semitic slant; if one judges what is on the screen (so gloriously served by John Debney's score and Caleb Deschanel's cinematography), there is fuel for debate but no obvious malice aforethought; the Jews under Caiaphas are just as guilty as the barbaric Romans who carry out the execution, especially after Gibson excised (from the subtitles, if not the soundtrack) the film's most controversial line of dialogue. If one accepts that Gibson's intentions are sincere, The Passion can be accepted for what it is: a grueling, straightforward (some might say unimaginative) and extremely violent depiction of the Passion, guaranteed to render devout Christians speechless while it intensifies their faith. Non-believers are likely to take a more dispassionate view, and some may resort to ridicule. But one thing remains undebatable: with The Passion of the Christ, Gibson put his money where his mouth is. You can praise or damn him all you want, but you've got to admire his chutzpah.


It isn't difficult to imagine why this 1988 retelling of the Crucifixion story was picketed vociferously upon release--this Jesus bears little resemblance to the classical Christ, who was not, upon careful review of the Gospels, ever reported to have had sex with Barbara Hershey. Heavily informed by Gnostic reinterpretations of the Passion, The Last Temptation of Christ (based rather strictly on Nikos Kazantzakis's novel of the same name) is surely worth seeing for the controversy and blasphemous content alone, but it's difficult to find in skittish chain video stores. But the "last temptation" of the title is nothing overtly naughty--rather, it's the seduction of the commonplace; the desire to forgo following a "calling" in exchange for domestic security. Willem Dafoe interprets Jesus as spacey, indecisive, and none too charismatic (though maybe that's just Dafoe himself), but his Sermon on the Mount is radiant with visionary fire; a bit less successful is method actor Harvey Keitel, who gives the internally conflicted Judas a noticeable Brooklyn accent, and doesn't bring much imagination to a role that demands a revisionist's approach. Despite director Martin Scorsese's penchant for stupid camera tricks, much of the desert footage is simply breathtaking, even on small screen. Ultimately, Last Temptation is not much more historically illuminating than Monty Python's Life of Brian, but hey, if it's authenticity you're after, try Gibbon's.

satanic verses


Just before dawn one winter's morning, a hijacked jumbo jet blows apart above the English Channel. Through the debris of limbs, drinks, trolleys, memories, blankets, and oxygen masks, two figures fall toward the sea. Gibreel Farishta, India's legendary movie star, and Saladin Chamcha, the man of a thousand voices, self-made self and Anglophile supreme. Clinging to each other, singing rival songs, they plunge downward, and are finally washed up alive, on the snow-covered sands of an English beach.

Their survival is a miracle, but an ambiguous one, as Gibreel acquires a halo, while, to Saladin's dismay, his own legs grow hairier, his feet turn into hooves, and hornlike appendages appear at his temples.

Gibreel and Saladin have been chosen (by whom?) as opponents in the eternal wrestling match between Good and Evil. But which is which? Can demons be angelic? Can angels be devils in disguise? As the two men tumble through time and space toward their final confrontation, we are witness to a cycle of tales of love and passion, of betrayal and faith: the story of Ayesha, the butterfly-shrouded visionary who leads an Indian village on an impossible pilgrimage, of Alleluia Cone, the mountain climber haunted by a ghost who urges her to attempt the ultimate feat---a solo ascent of Everest; and, centrally, the story of Mahound, the Prophet of Jahilia, the city of sand---Mahound, the recipient of the revelation in which satanic verses mingle with the Divine.

In this great wheel of a book, where the past and the future chase each other furiously, Salman Rushdie takes us on an epic journey of tears and laughter, of bewitching stories and astonishing flights of the imagination, a journey toward the evil and good that lie entwined within the hearts of women and men.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


The book Love in the Times of Cholera is exclusively about heterosexual love. It is still very enjoyable that way. I think it's one of the best books ever written about that thing called love. In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina chooses to marry a wealthy, well born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs---yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty one years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.


With the Holy Land in turmoil, seven-year-old Jesus and his family leave Egypt for the dangerous road home to Jerusalem. As they travel, the boy tries to unlock the secret of his birth and comprehend his terrifying power to work miracles. Anne Rice's dazzling, kaleidoscopic novel, based on the gospels and the most respected New Testament scholarship, sometimes up the voice, the presence, and the words of Jesus, allowing him to tell his own story as he struggles to grasp the holy purpose of his life.

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