Scud at the Movies (and Others): Part II

Two 3-day-long weekends. 11 movies. 4 TV series. Not one disappoints.

I just finished watching Control, a tragically terrific movie about Ian Curtis, lead singer of the 1970’s band Joy Division who killed himself at the age of 23 in 1980, a month before I was born. Shot in black and white, this film follows Curtis from his mid-teens up to the time of his death. It showed his struggles with stardom, his commitment to his wife, his conflicted love with a French woman, and a recurring sickness. The film also showcased the band’s songs which were in my opinion brooding, heartbreaking, and full of angst. I’m guessing Curtis was the band’s songwriter and my opinion of the type of songs the band churned out was depicted perfectly by its lead star, Sam Riley.

One of Joy Division’s songs was part also played in the house party scene of the weirdly enjoyable movie Donnie Darko. This is a movie about an out-of-sorts teenager played by Jake Gyllenhaal who sees a demon, masquerading as a bunny rabbit, in his dreams. The bunny rabbit seemingly puts him in a spell in his sleep and later on even when he’s awake and persuades him to commit crimes without being caught. I have read that this movie has been a cult hit since it came out in 2001 and I’m not surprised. The ending is confusing and demands repeated viewing and maybe even heated discussions. Heck, I even googled it searching for some explanation of the movie’s ending. Haha. The confusing ending also reminded me of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, which I saw years ago, which also had a mind-boggling ending.

Grace is Gone. This probably is John Cusack’s career-best performance playing a morose and limping husband of an American soldier deployed in Iraq. When news arrives that his wife Grace was killed in action and unable to break the news to his two daughters he and his kids embark on a road trip to an amusement park in Florida. Along the way, father and daughters bond discovering more about each other. Watch this for Cusack’s breakdown scene in his mother’s house, Alessandro Nivola (playing Cusack’s younger sibling) explaining to his nieces why he and his brother weren’t close, Cusack breaking the sad news to his daughters, and the eldest daughter’s eulogy to her mom. This movie won the 2007 Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and deservingly so.

Grave of the Fireflies. A Japanese animated movie set near the end of the Second World War about two orphaned siblings trying to survive the ravages of war. This is not the typical animated movie churned out by Hollywood where the characters are lovable and always have a happy ending. In this movie we immediately learn that the siblings die and hereon out we go along with their journey from the time where they are driven away from their house due to bombs dropped by Japanese planes, to living with a cruel aunt which drives them to leave and find shelter in a cave. This is a harrowing movie about war and the loss of innocence. This movie is a great addition to the Japanese repository of classic animated movies like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Howl’s Moving Castle among others.

On a more mainstream mode, the musical Hairspray is immensely entertaining from the opening number “Good Morning, Baltimore” to a wickedly funny Michelle Pfeiffer to John Travolta playing an overweight, middle-aged mother of the movie’s main protagonist.

I also saw the surprisingly good adaptation of James Ellroy’s Street Kings starring Keannu Reeves investigating the death of a fellow LAPD officer. Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Hugh Laurie (House), Chris Evans (Cellular), John Corbette (Aidan of SATC), and Amaury Nolasco (Sucre of Prison Break) also star.

Teeth, a Canadian movie, is about a woman cursed (or is she?) with vagina dentate. The guy who sold the dvd to me mentioned that this was a suspense movie although when I watched it I wasn’t scared. This movie is more of a comedy with some nudity, cut male organs, and lots of blood. Ouch.

The second black-and-white film I watched was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring an overweight Elizabeth Taylor who reportedly gained 30lbs for the role that critics say is her best performance ever. Her real-life husband at that time Richard Burton, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis comprise the 4 main characters of this film. The characters in this movie banter and drive each other to the point of madness which is very enthralling to watch. This film reminded me of Closer, the 2004 screen adaptation of Patrick Marber’s play, about 2 couples whose lives intertwine with disastrous consequences to their relationships. Closer was not blessed by Oscar gold, although Natalie Portman and Clive Owen won nomination nods for their supporting roles, unlike WAOVF which got 13 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, and acting nominations to its four stars. Unluckily, the male stars were shut out during Oscar night but Taylor and Dennis won Oscar gold.

On the local scene, I watched Confessional at the Robinson’s Galleria IndieSine which won Best Film in the 2007 Cinema One Originals competition. This is a story about a video editor who goes to Cebu, together with his girlfriend, during the Sinulog celebration to take part in a documentary competition about the religious festivity hoping to win the P50,000 cash prize for the eventual winner. The first half of the film ambles along as the video editor, played by Jerrold Tarog who is the screenwriter and also one of the film’s directors, describes his work as a video editor, how he met his girlfriend of two years and domestic partner of 9 months, his sea trip to Cebu, and interviews with his subjects for his documentary. Then he interviews a retired congressman from Mindanao who then confesses to him the misdeeds he had done when he was still in power. At this point, the film veers away from the “happy-go-lucky” atmosphere it was trudging along during the first half and delves into a morality play. This is a great movie made more interesting by the innovative way the movie was done – there is animation, shooting scenes documentary-style, non-dramatic delivery of lines which is now a staple of Filipino mainstream movies, among others. I also liked this movie because the subjects of the documentary spoke in the Cebuano dialect, thus part of this movie is subtitled, which is my primary dialect (I grew up and finished my studies in the Visayas) and the assassination scene near the end is the place where I and my housemates used to go during weekends and holidays to play badminton, eat our lunch, or just spend a leisurely afternoon walk.

This brings me to the best among the films I’ve seen for the past 2 weekends, Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows about a mischievous kid who is largely ignored by his parents and misunderstood by his homeroom teacher. The movie is at times hilarious, sad, and heartbreaking. Jean-Pierre Léaud who plays the film’s protagonist, Antoine Doinel, evokes the turmoil going on the kid’s head even before this is explicitly expressed to us viewers when he is interviewed at the police precinct after being caught stealing a typewriter from his father’s office. The end of the film, when Doinel escapes from the juvenile prison, is classic especially the part where he runs towards the sea then the scene freezes as he stares to the camera. Again, that scene reminded me of the tragic end of Lino Brocka’s Maynila, Sa Kuko ng mga Liwanag when Bembol Roco’s character stares at the camera in terror realizing that he was trapped and faces a very angry mob. Perhaps Brocka got his inspiration from Truffaut?

I also finished the 5th season of one of my all-time favorite TV series, The X Files, which is probably the best season I’ve seen from the show. This is the season where the government conspiracy talked about in previous season is explained.

Another TV show season I finished was Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. This is a terrific adaptation to the small screen of James Cameron’s Terminator trilogy. The actress who plays Sarah Connor has a voice eerily similar to Keira Knightley. This series also got me excited over the new Terminator movie starring Christian Bale as John Connor although I’m a bit apprehensive since James Cameron is no longer at the helm but McG.

McG incidentally is also one of the directors of the series that I am now halfway through finishing, Chuck. This thoroughly entertaining series is about a geeky electronic store supervisor who knows about the US government’s confidential secrets and intelligence with the “help” of his estranged Stanford college roommate.

BBC’s Planet Earth is an 11-episode documentary narrated by David Attenborough about the natural wonders of planet earth. There are lots of breathtaking shots and never-before-seen footages of predators hunting for its prey, a panda giving birth, Siberian cats, and caves among others. I saw a clip of the US version narrated by Sigourney Weaver but her voice is not as enchanting as Attenborough’s. Watch this 5-year-in-the-making Emmy Award winning series for its sheer scope, magnificent cinematography, and a greater appreciation of our planet.

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