Monthly Archives: June 2013

Fingers Crossed

Today my news feeds on Facebook and Twitter were rattled by news of former president Joseph Estrada as he is “officially” sworn in by another former president–of the Senate this time–in the person of Juan Ponce Enrile as the new mayor of Manila.

deja vu? feels like 1998 (image courtesy of rappler.com)

deja vu? feels like 1998 (image courtesy of rappler.com)

In true Erap fashion, he wasted no time in declaring himself to be the first ex-convict mayor of my beloved city of Manila. An obvious “fuck you” to his critics and opponents in this election. Trust his spin-doctors to capitalize on Erap’s negatives to turn it into another object for the adoration and adulation of the masses. Remember how he used his weak English speaking skills with that Book “Erap-tions” that endeared him even to those who didn’t like him when he was president?

And comparing his conviction with that of Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Anwar Ibrahim, and Ninoy Aquino was the height of audacity and gall. Again, in true Erap fashion, he forgets that the four world icons of freedom he dared to align with were convicted by dictators and despots. While he, at best, was a plunderer who did not have the foresight to deposit his jueteng loot in off-shore accounts and sign documents in his pseudonym in privacy instead of in front a potential witness. Hence, his conviction was a walk in the park compared to that of other plunderers.

I’m sure Erap and company are having a hoot as they enjoy the support of people who are not able to separate Erap the movie star from Erap the convicted plunderer. Β They say Erap will do in Manila what he did in San Juan. Dare I ask: what the heck did he do in San Juan other than to transfer its leadership to one of his mistresses? After his promise of one term as mayor, should we expect Laarni Enriquez to run in his stead? If this happens–poor Isko! His becoming a balimbing (turn-coat) would be for naught.

But for my city’s sake. I honestly hope that Erap does well. Ironic as it may sound, he says stamping corruption will be the centerpiece of his administration. Let’s see if this promise holds up in the coming days. For sure, his administration’s each and every accomplishment will be trumpeted by the media. I’m hoping he won’t bully his critics the way he did back when he was president.

I hope Manila doesn’t become another San Juan. Emulating Marikina or Olongapo is a far better goal. I hope my fingers don’t break from being crossed all the time. I hope.

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Fast and Furious

There was a particularly suspenseful scene in “World War Z” that ended favorably to the protagonists, led by Gerry Lane. When it ended, there was a felt collective sigh among the audience in the cinema, followed by some nervous laughter. That, somehow, captured my entire experience of watching this latest addition to the zombie genre.

the movie poster

the movie poster

I decided to watch “World War Z” in spite of hearing from at least a couple of people who didn’t like it, commenting that the ending was flat and corny and that things moved at too brisk a pace to get a hold of the story. In addition, I also read about the ‘troubles’ that the film crew got into while making the film: the revolving door of scriptwriters, the thing with the Hungarian government over prop guns, the 7-week re-shoots, and the long delay of showing, among others. But I wanted the film to work. I love the genre, in almost all of its iterations. So with bated breath, inside the cinema I went.

For a film that was based on a book that told its story through a handful of second-hand information (like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and Stephen King’s “Carrie”), the narrative in the film is straight-forward and linear. It wastes no time in getting Gerry–played with consistent gravitas by Brad Pitt, into the fray. Their journey from the chaos of Philadelphia and New Jersey to the ship stationed off the eastern seaboard of the US is both tense and harrowing. When they get to the ship, Gerry is practically black-mailed to go on a mission to track the origin of the pandemic.

From here Gerry transits from one action set-piece to the next, as he follows each lead in locales like South Korea, Israel, and Wales. Each arrival and departure is marked by escalating suspense and destruction that leaves one in awe of the power of chaos. The sequence showing the fall of Jerusalem was spectacular. The CG zombies here look much better than the wretched creatures of “I Am Legend” and they really move like rabid and frenzied animals. The zombies here make the zombies in “28 Days Later” and the 2010 “Dawn of the Dead” look lethargic by comparison. Hence the title of this review. And their sheer number makes them appear like a deadly wave–kind of like the zombies in the iPhone game “Zombie Tsunami” minus the cute-ness.

zombies like ants

zombies like ants

The audience never really gets a chance to look closely at the zombies. Aside from Gerry’s first witnessing a bitten man turn in Philadelphia, the next time we see them upclose is at the WHO facility in Wales. The clicking of the teeth was creepy and funny and un-settling, to say the least.

Gerry is soon rewarded with the discovery that will change the way the world can respond to the pandemic. It is not a cure, but it gives them hope in eliminating the zombies and in rescuing the stranded. The pathology in the film is not the same as in the book, perhaps to fuel the pace of the plot and make the proceedings more dramatic. The comparison to rabies is quite accurate, except for the incubation period, which is about 12 seconds. The film also seems to eschews the epidemiological response described in the book, but this is just consistent with the pathology. I mean, when you have only moments between infection and manifestation of symptoms, an epidemiological response is indeed too slow.

The film ends in an open note. And I just learned that the producers’ intention was to make a trilogy, so the ending just seems appropriate. There are other stories to be told: the origins of the virus, why Gerry quit the UN in the first place, and so on. But for now, Gerry is happily reunited with his family, one battle has been won, but the war continues. Tense and harrowing, very entertaining. Will look forward to the sequel.

Why so serious?

When I first heard that Zack Snyder is stepping in the shoes formerly occupied by Brian Singer, I was interested but apprehensive. After all, he has surprised me with some of his films (“Dawn of the Dead” and “300”). However, his handling of that superhero film “Watchmen” seemed uninspired. I mean, it was very respectful to the original material but showed nothing more that would’ve made the transition from comic to film feel more epic in scale. Hence, my apprehension.

This reboot of the “Superman” story appeared to combine the elements that worked well from the first two “Superman” films that starred Christopher Reeves. His origins, set in Krypton, in which Russel Crowe plays Jor-El with less pomp than Marlon Brando, and the mayhem brought by General Zod, played this time by Michael Shannon with less restraint than Terrence Stamp’s original performance.

The first third of “Man of Steel” is the most effective for me: from the trippy but excellent visuals of the scenes in Krypton, to the introduction of the adult Clark Kent as a drifter with a perpetual frown on his forehead, to the sharp flashbacks that show the roots of Clark’s emotional malaise. The scenes depicting the discovery of his super powers (X-ray and heat vision) were equally harrowing and tender; and wonderfully acted by Diane Lane (as Mrs Kent) and the child actor whose name I don’t know. It is perhaps Clark’s misfortune that his adoptive father (Kevin Costner) has a somewhat jaded worldview that he inferred the world will be cruel to someone like Clark. This is the part where I glimpsed Christopher Nolan rearing his blonde head into the story.

instead of a "kiss me", we get furrowed brows

instead of a “kiss me”, we get furrowed brows

While the introduction of Clark’s adoptive family proved to be an abundant source of gravitas, Lois Lane’s entrance is less spectacular, literally. For one, I never imagined that Amy Adams was so curvy. I wondered if the figure walking to the editor’s office, with her back to the camera was a body double. Or she must be wearing hip pads or something. But I digress. Of all the characters, I think Lois Lane had the the most interesting story arc. Imagine attempting to track down this elusive ‘hero’ while dodging various security agencies. Unfortunately, her character was severely under-written that there’s not much she can do but aim to be relentless and perky to contrast with Clark’s lack of humor. I hope that in the sequel, Lois Lane gets written better; I’m sure Amy Adams can handle that.

And probably because Lois Lane was under-written, the development of her relationship with Clark was also, at best, sketchy. Gone was the banter that I loved in Superman and Superman II. Even the glum ‘Superman Returns’ had some old school banter that brought a smile to my lips. Here? Zilch. Shades of Nolan again? I can only speculate. Again, I hope they pay more attention to this in the sequel.

So what happened in the latter half of “Man of Steel”? Did I say mayhem? So much mayhem? I’d say the amount of mayhem in this film surpasses the level of destruction in probably the last five Marvel superhero films combined. I think I just made someone at DC Comics happy with this statement. But it’s true. I mean it got so much that at one point I had to remove my 3-D glasses to ‘wipe the soot out of my eyes’. My grasp on the narrative also got lost as the visual spectacle unfolded, with Clark moving (or getting thrown, dragged, and kicked into) from one huge set-piece to another, until he was faced with an extremely real situation of choosing between earth-people and his only remaining Kryptonian landsleute.

As a film, “Man of Steel” is immensely entertaining. It packs some emotional wallops and allows self-examination on what makes us human. The visuals, especially the liquid-metal device-thingies are right up my alley. As a new introduction to the Superman mythology, this is a great introduction. Henry Cavill, who bulked up his already splendid physique for this film, is perfect for the role. Brandon Routh was also perfect in ‘Superman Returns’ but I can’t imagine him in this film. I also doubt if Henry Cavill would do well in Routh’s Superman film.

As in “Watchmen’, Snyder’s treatment of the material is respectful but unlike it, there are some creative flourishes here that give it an epic and original feel. Although at times, I feel that it is weighed down by the sketchy relationship between Lois and Clark (previously discussed) and its humorlessness. There is joy in this film, but humor? I know Superman is not Iron Man, but I still think Superman needs to lighten up a bit. Hope Mr. Nolan takes note.

Maybe, if I watched ‘Man of Steel’ as many times as I did The Avengers, I’d be happier. Let’s see.

more of this next time?

more of this next time?

Vanishing acts

I love watching heists and capers. I also love watching magic shows. Therefore it is only logical that I will love “Now You See Me”. Right? Do you sense a big “but” coming? Well, at this point let me say that I was immensely entertained by the film. I had a really good time as the film’s plot turned and twisted to a crowd-pleasing conclusion. I was genuinely delighted as each member of the good-looking (hello, Dave Franco, younger brother of James) cast played their parts gleefully.

even the poster is ocean's eleven-esque

even the poster is ocean’s eleven-esque

The film is very stylish–the camera work alone will cause motion sickness to the vulnerable and the combinations of physical and CGI shots remind me of Louis Letterier’s first film (Transporter). The magic tricks defied logic and physics, and these escalated after every set-piece that of the film ended with that scene in the carousel–implying that the four horsemen were indeed wizards–would have made sense.

At times, the film felt like “Ocean’s Eleven” for the younger set and “The Prestige” with less gravitas. Some parts echo the ‘occupy wall street’ social mobiization that rocked the States a while back (which was earlier echoed in “The Dark Knight Rises”). It’s exceedingly clever, especially in the parts that attempt to make sense. The banter between the characters of Eisenberg (Daniel Atlas) and Harrelson (Merritt McKinney) will remind you of the best banters on the best TV sitcoms. Consider this:

McKinney: I like you.
Atlas: I’m touched.
McKinney: It’s from the heart.
Atlas: Well, I didn’t tell you where I was touched.

I cannot reiterate enough how entertaining this film is. It is an almost magical confluence of style, lush photography, gaudy art direction, effortless acting, clever dialogue, and extravagant action set-pieces that capture one’s rapt attention. If only it weren’t so deliberate and arbitrary at the same time. Nevertheless, you will ignore the fact that some parts of the story just didn’t make sense, or that its ridiculousness was at times too much. Or that at it’s core, it’s just a revenge movie.

Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

Daniel Atlas said, “First rule of magic: always be the smartest person in the room.”

I think he was referring to most of us in the cinema.