Saturday, February 17, 2007

An Officer And A Gentleman

The year is 1982, when my parents were newlyweds, the Berlin wall was still erect, I was still far from born, and Richard Gere was still young and heartbreakingly handsome. Well, I'm a guy, but when someone of the same sex looks good, like it or not you just have to admit it.

Gere plays Zack Mayo, a troubled young man who had been raised (and often neglected) by his whore-chasing father, and decided to join the U.S. Navy in the hope of having a better future. His life was not made easy with the existence of Sergeant Foley at the barracks who had his eyes on Mayo all the damn time, and whose blood was "as red as his".

Enters Paula, a young and beautiful seductress with whom he fooled around on off-days, who fell in love with him the moment their eyes met. She knew that once they graduate, Navy guys would forget the girls they fool around with, and throw them away the way they throw their berets in the air. But Paula stayed with him to see if she would be proven wrong.

When I read the synopsis of this film, I thought it was going to be every bit as cheesy as all the other love stories. Two people meet, hate each other, one thing brings them back together, starts to fall in love, all the way to happy ending. The ingredients of all Bollywood films, with beautiful actors and great songs for aesthetic values (and to make people forget they have actually watched the same kind of film a zillion times before).

But this is not the case for "An Officer And A Gentleman". 15 minutes into the film, I knew I was wrong and I knew I was going to love it. And I did. Richard Gere was awesome as Mayo. I love his expressions. He started out slow, weak and indecisive. He ended up standing and walking tall, determined and composed, as a Navy officer should be. When he found his best friend, Sid, dead in the motel bathroom (Sid committed suicide after Lynette rejected his marriage proposal), he cried and said "you shoulda told me, you shoulda told me.." It touched me so deeply and I was really close to tears but I ended up smiling. You know, I'm that guy who laughs in the cinema when everybody else is sobbing. Not that I'm not moved, it's just that that's the most effective way to not let the sad scenes get to you.

And in the training weeks, during which time Mayo endured a hell, Sergeant Foley threatened to kick him out of the program, and he screamed "I have nowhere else to go, I have nowhere else. I have nothing." It was heartbreaking, and I could really feel his pain. See, it was that powerful.

I guess there's no harm giving away the ending, as I'm like one of the few people who haven't watched the movie until just now. When Mayo came to the paper factory, kissed Paula on the neck, lifted her up and took her away, I thought it was a little soap opera-ish, but come to think of it, it's actually the perfect, beautiful ending. I couldn't come up with a better one. And the song "Up Where We Belong" was also as beautiful. I smiled all the way until the credits stopped rolling.

The final scene is in fact, a really popular one. I remember having seen it in one episode of Friends, but I had a hard time placing it. Then, I took a shot, and got it right. It was in "The One With The Chicken Pox", where Ross showed up at the coffee house in a Navy suit and lifted Rachel up, with the music of "Up Where We Belong" playing. It's good to finally know the origin of that particular scene which now I find so friggin' funny.

Zack Mayo lifting Paula up and took her out of the shabby factory into a bright future.

Ross lifting Rachel up in Friends, but just when he was taking her out, she forgot something and Ross' back was hurting, so he had to put her down. Nice parody.

All in all, this is a truly enjoyable film and it's arguably my best film of this week (it even beats "Dead Poets Society" and "Naked Gun".)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Mar Adentro

I don't know why lately I'm drawn to Spanish movies. I believe that while Hollywood has the money, the best sets, the actors with million-dollar billings, Spain & Mexico have the best scriptwriters, the best actors and produce real movies. The actors are not plastic, they never seem like they're actually facing a bunch of cameras and a whole crew.

The latest Spanish movie I’ve seen is Mar Adentro, by Alejandro Amenabar who also did “Abre Los Ojos” (the original version of Vanilla Sky). The official English title is The Sea Inside, although in Spanish, that would actually become "El Mar Por Dentro". The title should actually be "Deep Under The Sea" but whatever. Meanings are always lost in translation.

At first, I thought I would watch the movie sans the English subtitles, to see if my Spanish is good enough. But, I could hardly understand a word, and the actors were speaking extremely fast I couldn't keep up. I could pluck out words and expressions here and there, and sometimes I'd just guess what the actors were saying, but it's hard to concentrate on a movie when we're busy guessing what's being said. So I gave up and downloaded the subtitles, which sucked big time but at least, the movie became pretty much comprehensible.

Now that I've roamed all over the Net, I know that the actors were speaking Galician, another Latin language that's older than Spanish itself. Well, at least now I know my Spanish doesn't suck.

It tells the story of Ramon Sampedro, a Galician who broke his neck as a young man and became a bedridden quadriplegic ever since, for more than a quarter of a century. Unwilling to spend more time lying in bed and depend on the help of others around him, he decided that it was best to stop living, so he considered euthanasia and petitioned the courts for permission.

Of course, his decision was not favoured by many, and it sent shock waves all around Spain. Ramon was however so determined that even a deep conversation with a priest failed to deter him. While waiting for the courts' decision, Ramon reflected on his past, reliving the unforgettable moments and in his dreams, he revisited the beach he'd last been to, he flew across the mountains and swam under the sea, and his dreams always ended with the diving accident that rendered him quadriplegic.

When asked if he was afraid of dying, he simply said "it's nothing to be scared of. it'll be like before we were born. nothing."

While many perceive this film as manipulative, with its own polemic and its tampering of la vaca sagrada (sacred crow), I think, with my aversion to its polemic set aside, it's a beautiful film that needs to be viewed with an open mind and a human heart. Although IF (that's a big if), IF I were in Ramon's shoes I wouldn't have done the same thing, but I think everyone should be able to understand his decision to take his own life. It's difficult to not be able to do anything, to no longer have privacy, to completely rely on everybody else, to feel completely useless and helpless, to live in pity and to live life waiting for the sweet release of death. Some might call Ramon a coward for taking the easy way out, but I personally feel that one should be able to do as he wishes. Ramon believed that life is not an obligation but a right, and that he had every right to end his.

The film wouldn't have been as effective if it wasn't for the genius that is Javier Bardem, the Spanish actor who played Ramon Sampedro. He didn't speak Galician, so he had to learn it but he didn't mind because the role was so great, "any actor would pay to play it". The director, Alejandro Amenabar, cleverly played with the subject of life and death, all the while conveying his own ideas and at the same time letting the viewers form their own opinions.

This is not the best film ever made, but it makes us reflect on life and what we have done so far to enjoy it. The Rolling Stone wrote, "What could have been a preachy biopic becomes poetry in the hands of the gifted director and writer and editor and composer Alejandro Amenabar."

Mar Adentro is, indeed, a poetry that once recited, will linger in our minds for a long time.

p/s : Where was Dr. Kervokian when all of this happened? He would have been the perfect deux ex machina.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Amores Perros

Imagine a teenager running away from home, unable to stand his parents any longer. And he took a bus, despite not knowing where it was going.

Then imagine a hopeful young girl, aspiring to be a movie star, on her way to an audition. She was in the bus that was supposed to be her first step to stardom.

Now imagine a bus driver, who got drunk after a long quarrel with his wife but still decided to go to work and drive the bus. The bus crashed, and all three people died. Each had a dream, a hope for a better life, a longing for something. But everything they had planned, everything that had happened, everything in the hours that had passed, led them to be on that bus which was only supposed to be the meeting point but ended up being the final destination of all three.

So how do you tell stories of different individuals, happening in the same time interval? How do you connect them without one story overlapping the other, without eliminating the essentials, with a time constrain and on the same silver screen?

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu did it, and he didn’t only tell the stories well, he weaved them almost flawlessly in his 2000 film, Amores Perros. I may be a little late, well… 6 years too late, but a masterpiece is to be enjoyed and appreciated for a long time. So, does it matter?

I’m not going to write a synopsis because I don’t want to. But I’ll write the raw gist.

It revolves around the lives of a man who is madly in love with her own sister-in-law; a top model who’s also a mistress of a businessman; and an old ex-bandit who is terrified by the idea of finally meeting his own daughter. These people are totally unrelated, but each has a dream of his/her own. It’s amazing how the story of each person unfolds like a silk scarf, and the viewers don’t even realize how the people have nothing to do with each other.

And then the gruesome accident that brought all three together, the accident that proves how dreams don’t always come true, that love is not the be all and end all, and that life loves to play cruel jokes on you when you least expect it.

These people’s lives may be sad and dark, but the film is exceptionally beautiful. And, like every other great films of our time, the good finally prevails over evil.

Please watch this fantastic film if you haven’t. Trust me; your life will never be the same.