Monday, February 26, 2007

"THE FOUNTAIN"

Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn

Cinema 3, Greenbelt 3

"What if you could live forever?"



"The Fountain" is one of those movies which you don't just watch, you experience it wholeheartedly. Many days later, it still lingers and haunts you like some apparition. I saw this film a week ago, absorbed it like a sponge, then the next day hopped over to Tagaytay for some much needed R & R to recharge my batteries but I can still picture this evocative film vividly in my mind. It has stuck like glue.

Overall, the film unfolded like a poem being read aloud with stunning imagery which resembled an abstract painting by a struggling artist. A myriad of different colors splashed all over a blank canvas, slowly taking shape. An experiment which will make anyone sigh with amazement upon grasping hold of the painting in some gallery and realize one is looking at a masterful piece of art. The film had a cleverly edited non linear plot. It seemed like a time travel machine which transports the 2 main characters back and forth in time. The story unfolding in the present, the future and within the pages of a book whose main time line is way back in the very distant past.

The cast led by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz channeled their artistic talent with a subtle flair to portray forceful characters. Fluctuating between different time zones, the depth of their acting range remained true to the personification of their ill fated characters. They delivered their dialogue with good diction and even when they merely whispered some of their lines, the poignant personality of Izzy and Tom were clearly evident. Hugh Jackman's 3 roles within this movie were all well essayed, somehow his rather tall physique didn't block his screen presence. You know how you tend to notice how some tall actors just get overbearing with their height well in this film, I somehow forgot that he is 6'5 tall.


The movie's soulful musical score wasn't overbearing and it didn't suspend the audience with a sense of false belief. Brilliant cinematography provided excellent backdrop to a rather complex premise. A sudden burst of color filling the screen one instant and in the next sequence an overtly dark overtone looms over the set. My favorite scenes in the movie involves the tree of life, how a small seed planted on the ground evolves into a vibrant tree blooming with its numerous branches and leaves. The last scene too when the tiny bubble bursts when the nebula is born. Those shining flashes of light amidst the dark sky, it seems like a well choreographed dance interpretation of the birth of a new star. The main premise dealt with a rather somber view of life, the quest for immortality and death but mostly it is a hopeful love story which spans through time.

Now here's my interpretation of the plot. (Warning: Spoilers alert)
The story unfolds in modern time, a neurosurgeon named Dr. Tom Creo obsessively wants to find a cure for his wife, Izzy. She is in pain and slowly dying from a tumor in her brain. Izzy on the other hand driven by a profound sense of spirituality has accepted her tragic fate. During her lengthy illness, she embarks on a journey through the pages of a book she entitles "The Fountain". She writes a novel about an ancient Mayan belief that upon the death of a Mayan warrior, the tree of life sprouted from his body and his spirit lives on through that tree. She tells Tom:

"He (the Mayan who was her guide when she visited South America) said that if they dug his father's body up, it would be gone. They planted a seed over his grave. The seed became a tree. Moses said his father became a part of that tree. He grew into the wood, into the bloom. And when a sparrow ate the tree's fruit, his father flew with the birds. He said... death was his father's road to awe. That's what he called it. The road to awe."


The setting of her book is during the reign of Queen Isabelle of Spain whose rule is being threatened by an Inquisitor. So the Queen sends her loyal Conquistador to find the tree of life in her quest for immortality and her eternal hope that she and Tomas can live together, forever. Izzy visibly weakened and in the last stages of her life is struggling to write the final chapter of her book. Izzy's belief in astrology about Xibalba, the Mayan underworld, a peaceful state which occurs when a nebula is born also sustains her acceptance of her impending death.

Her husband, Dr Tom is hell bent on finding a cure before she dies so that they can be together forever. Eventually, the film shifts to a forlorn image of a bald man living in a space bubble with a nurturing tree that seems to drift aimlessly in outer space. In my opinion, the bald man is none other than Dr Tom himself who has outlived everybody on earth and wanders across the vast universe in hopes of reaching Xibalba so he can be reunited with Izzy, his beloved wife. Being a scientist, his 'solution' for immortality is to keep testing Donovan (the monkey) for a cure to eradicate the tumor in its brain so he could use the same formula to heal his dying wife. When in theory Izzy believes they could only be together forever in death. However, since Dr. Tom did find the 'cure' to immortality, he continues to live eternally in that little space bubble with the tree. The tree which for me symbolized Izzy. It is the same tree which sprouted from the little seed he buried on Izzy's grave over 500 years ago. She is the tree of life, the tree is Izzy. His only connection with his dead wife are the 500 (representing the amount of years that Izzy has been dead) black rings he tattooed all over his body. This can be attest by the fact when he realizes near the end when the bubble is about to reach Xibalba that Izzy through the blooming tree was with him all along.

"All these years, all these memories, there was you. You pull me through time. You pull me through time."

Towards the end, Dr Tom now more spiritually sound in mind and body is calmer and at peace with himself because he knows he will finally be reunited with his Izzy.

Yes, I admit it was a pretty complex film to grasp and not everyone will like it. Heck they might even hate it for good measure. It can be quite claustrophobic when most of the scenes are enveloped with a dark overtone. The somber subject matter too - Death and Immortality - can be a bit depressing. You need to be in a certain state of mind, be it coherently alert or a bit spaced out to understand the film. But I admit, it is a refreshing change from the usual fare of love stories with happy endings. I do certainly recommend it. Just be sure you are in the proper state of mind so you can appreciate this existentially provocative cinematic masterpiece from Darren Aronofsky.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE"

Viggo Mortensen,Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Ashton Holmes

"Everyone has something to hide"

Joey Cusack



This is David Cronenberg's adaptation of a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Cronenberg is (in)famous for directing movies about deviant characters with freakish behavioral patterns. Case in point, The Fly, Dead Ringers and Crash (circa 1996). Crash was about a group of people who got off by watching people in car accidents. It remains so far the only movie I actually walked out from (I tend to endure most of them) for its objectionable nature. It wasn't so much the violent nor the sex scenes which I found offensive, it was the whole premise of the story. Therefore I was a bit hesitant to watch "A History of Violence" given Cronenberg's track record. Heck I even bought the VCD because it was selling for only P75.

Tom Stall, the main character in this film isn't deformed nor does he have any weird fetish. But let's just say he has a dark past. Nowadays though, he lives with his wife, Edie and 2 kids in relative anonymity in an obscure little town where everyone knows everybody by their first name. A model citizen so to speak who is hailed as a hero after he fended off some unsavory characters who created trouble at his little diner. Soon enough, more unsavory characters show up and insist he is Joey Cusack, the prodigal brother of a crime boss back in Pennsylvania. The rest of the film deals with how Tom tries to prevent his murky and troubled past from ruining his present peaceful existence.


The setting is mostly the basic surroundings of a small town where according to the local sheriff they take care of their own. The rather insular way of life where the locals get wary of strange men in black suits who look menacing enough to turn the whole town upside down. We are also shown the 'troubles' of his oldest son, Jack who gets bullied by some jocks but he uses witty humor to disarm them instead of resorting to fights. It seems that up to the point where Tom Stall is 'exposed' as the violent Joey Cusack, everything was ordinary bordering on the monotonous almost boring existence of the Stall family, a loving wife and well bred children.

But once the viewer is made aware of who Tom Stall really was in his former life, the film takes a U turn. Signs of a more aggressive attitude manifest itself. From the way his son finally attacks his bullies and sends them to the hospital with broken noses to the way Tom Stall practically 'rapes' his wife on the staircase. It goes to show that no matter how hard we try sometimes we are preconditioned to behave according to some pattern in our brain that never really gets out of our system.

Surely, Tom Stall was provoked to react and he just wanted to protect his family from his past catching up with him. But does this mean that unless he was provoked he wouldn't have turned violent? I don't think so. I believe that once there has been an established set of behavioral pattern ingrained in our brain whether it stemmed from childhood or early adult years, it lingers no matter how hard we try to suppress the urges.

So "A History of Violence" just proves my point. It was an interesting insight into the psyche of a man who may seem quite passive on the outside but somewhere in the back of his head his violent tendencies no matter how hard he tried to erase them never went away. Cronenberg chose to focus that premise on both Tom and his son, Jack. How they cope with the truth that both of them do have a history of violence. Jack is suddenly empowered with the knowledge that he might be a violent person too, that somehow it might be genetic. While Tom Stall fluctuates between being Tom Stall, the passive good natured husband and Joey Cusack, the aggressive former thug, he is deeply conflicted and it affects his entire disposition.

Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall did good by being subdued and his subtle way of changing into Joey Cusack was convincing enough to make us believe that he is indeed a man driven to circumstantial violence. He didn't resort to changing his facial gestures or changing the way he dressed, it just naturally evolved. Maria Bello as his wife was basically effective but I expected her to be given a more interactive role as the supportive yet at the same time fearsome wife. Ashton Holmes, although in a small role as Jack Stall was OK. William Hurt and Ed Harris as the 'bad guys' were steady and forceful not resorting to the typical caricature type of villains who smirk or gnarl to look more menacing.

Overall the film was quite subtle (yes I know I've used the word over and over) and despite the word 'violence' in its title, it was surprisingly well contained and compact enough to sustain your interest. Quite minimal in texture but with a rich storyline, well presented with a subdued tone which surprisingly is rather tame for a Cronenberg movie.

Monday, February 5, 2007

"BABEL"
Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barrazza, Rinko Kikuchi

"A single gunshot heard around the world"

Cinema 4, Greenbelt 3



Babel is an interwoven tale about the ripple effects of the firing of a rifle which connects 4 families in different countries presented in a non linear manner by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu.

The film begins in the sparse arid mountains of Morocco then weaves through a Mexican town colorfully decked for a wedding and moves on to the hectic vibrant city of Tokyo. The scenes jump back and forth among these cities, cleverly edited so our vision isn't impaired by distractions. The incident which holds the film together is the accidental shooting of an American tourist traveling in a tour bus in Morocco.

Morocco as the scene of the crime focuses on the 2 young goat herders and their daily existence as well as the repercussions of the shooting incident. We are shown aspects of a small Moroccan village called Tazarine where the couple seek help. The lack of basic human needs like a hospital or a telephone or even a car. The remote location peppered with clay houses but sustained by the peaceful demeanor of its inhabitants who offer their foreign guests some Arabic tea and nourishment - obvious signs of Middle Eastern hospitality. In contrast, the tourists are wary and feel threatened for their lives, fearing some imminent terrorist attack on their person.

In contrast to the sparseness of Morocco, Mexico is depicted as noisy, chaotic and colorful. A small town decked with decorations for a wedding. People are boisterous and in a celebratory mood. Food is abundant, a Mariachi band regales the guests with rhythmic music, a lot of dancing and merry making ensues. Then a nasty incident at the Mexican - US border pierces through the darkness like a thief in the night. I think this part held the most poignant scenes of the film filled with various emotions of fear, desperation and helplessness.

Tokyo with its J pop, neon lights and tall skyscrapers making it one of the most noisiest cities in the world is strangely presented through a deaf mute teenager. I think that Inarritu focused too long in this part of the world, given that its connection to the 'incident' was quickly resolved early on. Yet it was also the most complex of all the stories combined. It had all the necessary ingredients to form a separate film all on its own merits. It also had the most cinematographic scenes present in the entire movie. Shots of dancing lights inside a disco with really loud music, the pristine clear skyline of Tokyo with its tall skyscrapers and the scenes of a busy Tokyo street life with baskers and young Japanese teenagers dressed in short school uniforms. It also featured a scene reminiscent of "Lost in Translation" where people would never know and just speculate about the note which Cheiko gave the detective.

The film has the grainy tone of a documentary. Some scenes are presented in a non linear manner yet it is quite easy to figure out and connect the pieces together. Music depicting each culture also plays a big part in sustaining the dramatic sequences. The dialogue is multi-lingual with English subtitles. An ensemble cast of different nationalities with known celebrities as well as first time actors all give credible acting performances.

The common theme which links all of these locations and the characters together is miscommunication and its implications. The news bureau mistakenly portray the incident as terrorist attacks. The incident at the Mexican - US border gets ugly because of misconceptions. The misguided Japanese teenager cannot properly communicate her need for attention because she is a deaf mute.

In this respect, I feel that Inarritu himself didn't do justice to the main theme of his film by his failure to provide more conclusive details regarding the fate of certain characters. Several loose ends remain unresolved. Sure, you can say that it can be deduced or implied but sometimes it helps to see 'concrete' visual evidence of a storyline coming to a coherent ending. I honestly expected "Babel" to be more grittier and more complex in its presentation. The last question I had pondering in my mind as the end credits rolled by and I would pose to Innaritu if I could would be 'Donde esta Santiago?'

Saturday, February 3, 2007

"MEL GIBSON'S APOCALYPTO"
Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez

"When the end comes, not everyone is ready to go."

Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex

Jaguar Paw



Just when you thought Mel Gibson couldn't get crazier, he comes up with an intensely gripping film about an extinct civilization filmed in an ancient dialect with an ensemble of unknown actors. And guess what? I believe this film is his most brilliant masterpiece, to date.

Apocalypto is the story of a young Mayan Indian named Jaguar Paw whose village is ravaged by a rival tribe. He, along with some men and women are then taken captive and go on an arduous journey towards the center of the Mayan kingdom. There, the rulers believe that to appease the Gods, they must build temples and offer the captives as human sacrifices. Jaguar Paw manages to escape and flees back to rescue his family while being pursued relentlessly by his fierce captors.

From the moment Jaguar Paw is captured up to the time the end credits roll by, every sequence is fast paced, fraught with dramatic and sometimes violent scenes with an overwhelming sense of excitement enough to make your blood pressure rise. An intense gripping tale of one man's desperate attempt to stay alive.

The setting is surreptitiously authentic. Everything you would imagine an ancient city would resemble, it is like walking back in time. From the rustic villages, the attires of the cast, the weapons of the warriors to the chaotic ambiance of the Mayan kingdom (a place of pestilence and debauchery) and the elaborately majestic sacrificial ceremonies. Mel Gibson obviously did his homework by researching extensively.

Despite being maligned for using Aramaic as the main language in "The Passion of the Christ", Mel Gibson does it again. This time the characters speak in an ancient Yucatan dialect with English subtitles, which in my opinion is a good thing since there is nothing more irritating than to hear an actor speak in English with an accent one can't comprehend. I have no qualms about reading subtitles, besides the dialogue in this film is minimal so it doesn't matter which language they speak. Although I sort of chuckled when one of the warriors used the *F* word, probably Gibson's way of diffusing the tension of the chase.

Using first time actors helped elevate the plot. There was no pretty faced Hollywood star to distract you from being drawn into the storyline. But it doesn't mean that they couldn't act, because the ensemble cast all did a good job in portraying interesting characters with fascinating names like Curl Nose, Sky Flower and Hanging Moss. Rudy Youngblood as Jaguar Paw did bear an uncunning resemblance to Alessandro Nesta except with longer hair. In case you aren't into soccer, he is an Italian Serie A player.

I am a fan of the cinematography aspect of a film more than anything else. Shots from awkward angles, expansive frames of a vast backdrop to close range camera work all make a film worth seeing twice even thrice, just so you can notice those small intricate details. Mel Gibson has a very good eye when it comes to positioning his camera to capture stunning imagery, well in this movie anyway. A view from the top of the trees like when Jaguar Paw looks up at the sky to implore the Gods not to make it rain. The wide shot of the ragingly turbulent waterfall. Or close range scenes like the shot where Jaguar Paw's dripping blood falls unto a leaf then drops upon the back of one of the warriors. The way the last scene (on the black sand shore line) was disclosed gave me goosebumps. It is worth seeing it all unfold on a wide screen where your eyes are treated to a visual feast.

Mel Gibson is probably the second most maligned person in Hollywood (after Tom Cruise) after making some anti-Semitic remarks but you have to hand it to him for being brave enough to come up with a brilliantly provocative tale of survival amidst all odds. Perhaps at some time in his own life, he probably felt like Jaguar Paw battling against the bad publicity over his controversial statements. A case of art imitating life. huh?

Friday, February 2, 2007

"NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM"
Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, Steve Coogan, Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke, Carlo Gugino, Ricky Gervais

Cinema 3, SM Megamall

"Everything comes to life"


dum dum


After watching a bunch of 'profound' movies, I decided to chill and relax with an entertaining comedy on a cool Friday afternoon. This movie fits the bill. It had the potential to entertain through an ensemble of historical characters, funny lines in a light comedic scenario and all taking place in just one setting, the Museum of Natural History.

Larry Daly (Ben Stiller) is a divorced father, always in between jobs and trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his son. One day he is hired as a night security guard at the Museum of Natural History. Little does he know that at night, the wax inhabitants as well as the animals at the museum come to life due to an ancient Egyptian tablet. Total ruckus ensues every night as Larry tries to maintain order.

The film provides some valuable history lessons. Tidbits of information about the many personages at the museum ranging from the Neanderthal man to Theodore Roosevelt. As well as a whole bunch of different characters like Native Americans, Western Cowboys, Roman centurions, Civil War soldiers, Attila the Hun and even a Pharaoh thrown in to provide a tapestry of visually animated cinematic feast.

The cast is peppered with known comedians like Ricky Gervais (in a small role), Owen Wilson, Robin Williams and Steve Coogan acting out some funny scenarios. Watch out for older comedians like Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke still hamming it up at their age with aplomb. Ben Stiller is in another one of his typical 'underdog' roles. The guy who eventually triumphs, gets the girl (Carlo Gugino) and gives his life more purpose. The special effects were top notch like the T-Rex who acts like a puppy, the talking Easter Island Head as well as the animated miniature characters in the different diaspora. The talking Easter Island Head was my favorite. He was hilarious. The plot is pretty flimsy but tolerable. A good vehicle to make the younger generation more aware of certain figures and their role in history.

Overall, it was an entertaining comedy which appeals to your inner child. It almost makes you feel like heading over to the museum to get yourself some dose of history.
 

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