Thursday, November 30, 2006
A Delightfully Light-Hearted Drama that is actually a MUST SEE!
By Reymundo Salao
Because Norma must work in the city, she has to leave behind her daughter Ruby in the province with her mother. But when nobody can look after Ruby anymore, Norma has no choice but to bring Ruby to live with her in the house of her employers and the latter's daughter Louise. There, Norma must try to balance who she devotes her attention to: her own daughter or her ward?
It’s no big surprise that INANG YAYA is such a beautiful movie with a quality that can match Hollywood movies, it’s a film from Unitel Pictures, which is known for its topnotch quality movies like “Crying Ladies” and “Magnifico” Over the years of its existence, Unitel is known for gradually breaking the cliché of Tagalog movies. They redefine Pinoy movies, slowly removing its common ugly characteristics such as “baduy”, “corny”, or “kopya”. Instead, they have introduced movies that are beyond the expectations of many viewers. Movies that indeed have originality, art, style, impact, beauty, and depth. When the movie was announced, it was a sure bet that this one will be right on the money. Even though I had free movie passes, I proudly did not use them and paid to watch this movie on the first day. And indeed, INANG YAYA is a champion. I enjoyed the film, with no regrets, and even an urge to watch it again.
The film is directed by Pablo Biglang-awa, Jr. and Veronica Velasco, who also wrote the script. They have both weaved such a wonderful light-hearted drama that does touch the very depth of a viewer's heart and probably generate a more positive kind of tear-jerking. Yes, this film is a tearjerker, but it does not resort to the overused cliché used and abused by other big-studio Tagalog movies. In other movies, they'd have to kill a handful of important characters, subject the protagonist to extreme domestic maltreatment, and make her life a living (oftentimes obviously-fabricated) hell, in order to just call itself a tearjerker. Inang Yaya will have none of that garbage. This movie is a tearjerker because of the real emotions and the simple little dramas of life as a nanny. It taps into issues that any of us might encounter, and give us an impact of a jackhammer, no matter how simple it could be. The conflict of a mother's love towards her own daughter and her love serving as a mother-figure-nanny to her employer's daughter. It never seems complicated, but it carries deep emotional impact. Inang Yaya is tear-jerking in a positive light. It makes you shed tears, not because it has a sad and/or dark theme. It makes you shed tears because of the feel-good emotions that it gives off to its audience.
Right from the beginning, the film has breathtaking cinematography. The scenes in the rural setting were well-polished to make the backgrounds seemingly unintentionally scenic. The set design for the interior shots of the house, which is the main setting were attractive. The camera work was superb, as it is executed with high-definition cameras that made each-second-of-a-shot photographic. There is a very brief underwater scene which shows the prowess of the film's cameras.
The chemistry between Maricel Soriano, Tala Santos, and Erika Oreta is incredibly beautiful. The three characters really stuck it true to the drama of the story with a gold standard performance. Marita Zobel, Sunshine Cruz and Zoren Legaspi also gave good performances. But Liza Lorena's role as a slightly villainous grandma, Lola Toots, gave the movie its balance of darkness. Her role does work, and gives it a similarly realistic touch, not making her too much of an absolute villain of sorts. Maricel Soriano, who is the title character, is indeed brilliant in this movie. I have only seen a couple of her performances in other movies but it is in subtly-plotted drama that she gives all the more deeply moving performances. It is in her slight gesture of emotions that she portrays a character that does connect to the emotions of the viewers. But even though she is the title character, the real superstars of this movie are the two children who both share the love of Norma, the Inang Yaya.
Both young actresses Tala Santos and Erika Oreta are brilliantly adorable, giving a performance of unblinking realism, with Tala Santos slightly more charming than the other because of her more dramatically active and oftentimes funny character. She plays Ruby, the daughter of Norma, who has a stronger and slightly mature personality than her counterpart. Erika Oreta plays Louise, the daughter of Norma's employer, who grew up a rich girl, who is a bit more naive and a bit spoiled, but nevertheless, innocently goodhearted. It's almost unbelievable to find two young actresses that can stir up a chemistry which is highly engaging and delightfully charming to watch.
All in all, I would say that INANG YAYA is the year’s best Filipino movie. It has the slight social relevance, the charm of an entertaining piece, and the drama that can make tears flow. It is balanced by equally excellent visuals, with a cinematography that implies discipline and innovation. The overall direction is well-executed. No sloppy continuity errors and not even the musical scoring may bring it down. And the impact of Inang Yaya is cerebral and extremely emotional. A drama of delight that should not be missed, INANG YAYA is a must see. If you rarely watch Pinoy movies, now is the time to do it. Movies like this are very rare, don’t miss it.
This Wonderful Light-Hearted Drama from Unitel Pictures is Now Showing in Theaters. It is directed by Pable Biglang-awa Jr. and Veronica Velasco, who also wrote the screenplay, and stars Tala Santos, Erika Oreta, Liza Lorena, Sunshine Cruz, Zoren Legaspi, and Maricel Soriano.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
BOND BEGINS AT CASINO ROYALE
By Reymundo Salao
By now, it should probably be already be fairly easy to create a James Bond movie, because we simply would have to copy the Bond templates established by Sean Connery, Roger Moore, George Lazenby (ok, maybe not him), Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan. But as time goes by and as Bond clichés have gone from one to the other with the Brosnan Bond films slowly losing charm, it is high time that they made a Bond film that tells us who or what Bond is, as based on the source material; the James Bond books of Ian Fleming himself. And the new James Bond universe recreated by Martin Campbell and the new actor to play the 007 agent, Daniel Craig, is definitely a world that intends to capture the James Bond the way Ian Fleming wrote him to be.
CASINO ROYALE is the 21st James Bond film produced by EON Productions and the first to star Daniel Craig as British Secret Service agent James Bond. Based on the 1953 novel Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, it was adapted by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis and directed by Martin Campbell, director of the 1995 Bond film, GoldenEye. CASINO ROYALE was first made into a TV movie in 1954, and in 1967, there was also a Casino Royale movie which starred Peter Sellers and Orson Welles, but that was a James Bond parody. First word of a new Casino Royale adaptation came in 2003 when Quentin Tarantino was said to have lobbied EON to let him do a "proper" film adaptation of Fleming's novel, based on a screenplay he had written that would have starred Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, set immediately after the death of Bond's wife Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. However, as Tarantino does not belong to the Directors Guild of America, he is unable to work with Sony or MGM/UA, so this is seen as a publicity stunt on Tarantino's part. Casino Royale was officially announced under Martin Campbell in February 2005.
SEARCH FOR THE NEW JAMES BOND
Highlighted by a flurry of unconfirmed reports from a variety of different sources, the quest for the actor to replace Pierce Brosnan as James Bond attracted a great deal of high-profile media attention after rumors began to surface in the Autumn of 2004 that Pierce Brosnan would not be re-signing with EON Productions to play agent 007 in Casino Royale. Brosnan confirmed this on October 14, 2004, stating "It's absolutely over," and that he considered himself "fired" from the role. A spokesperson for EON Productions issued a statement on April 17, 2005 that it would "definitely not be Pierce Brosnan."
Throughout 2004 and 2005, an endless stream of potential new Bonds — both unknowns and established Hollywood actors — were rumored and even announced by some media. Some of the popular names mentioned to be in actual consideration by EON Productions, the list included Christian Bale, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Gerard Butler, Henry Cavill, Daniel Craig, Jack Davenport, Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes, Rupert Friend, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Julian McMahon, Alex O'Loughlin, Clive Owen, Colin Salmon, Dougray Scott, and several others.
The setting of CASINO ROYALE is set in the early days of James Bond being a Double-O Agent, so we won’t be seeing a hundred percent the James Bond we already know. Instead, we are being treated into HOW he becomes the man that we know he is. We may notice that at the beginning, James Bond is needlessly reckless, even clumsy and his charm is not as elegant. But as the story progresses, he adapts and evolves, he goes through lessons and ordeals, he refines with a touch of class, picks up tricks, and creates his own lethal sense of style. And he eventually becomes suave and and charmingly dangerous secret agent 007. This progression is excellently done. A very smart way of portraying subtle changes in Bond's psyche, and such a storyline that does answer many James Bond questions that many have long asked.
Martin Campbell is a sure and safe bet to creating and re-introducing this new world of James Bond. After all, he was the one who pulled off giving the Pierce Brosnan Bond a grand welcome introduction with "GoldenEye". His sense of tight consistency and balance gives CASINO ROYALE no room for tackiness, sloppiness, and dullness. Employing old-fashioned stunts, he even succeeds in creating one very exhilarating and breath-taking chase scene that highlights in towering cranes. A sequence that literally takes you to dizzying heights.
LE CHIFFRE, as portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen, is one of those cool James Bond villains, which create an unsettling diabolical presence whenever they enter a room. But this movie provides many levels of twists and turns that may take the attention away from Le Chiffre. Don't expect Le Chiffre to be the kind of stereotyped Bond villain that has super-villain abilities, that has pet scorpions, or that is spoofed by Austin Power's Dr. Evil. He certainly has no sharks that shoot lasers.
Eva Green as Vesper Lynd is dazzlingly beautiful. She succeeds in playing a character that does indeed have the strength and the influence to bring in a touch of style and a sense of change in James Bond making him the man that he is. Her performance creates a fabulous chemistry with Craig’s Bond. A chemistry that certainly brings out both actor & actresses’ impressive acting talent. And may I add that Eva Green is far more beautiful in one scene where she has no make-up on. If I was a cartoon, my jaw would’ve fallen off.
And about the new Bond, DANIEL CRAIG..? Well, Initially, many ladies hate him. They say he looks short and ugly like a villain. But then again, many of us guys cheer a James Bond that has more of a tough-guy action movie image. The kind that does enter a room of bad guys and leaving it with remnants of chaos. Many of us cheer for him because he personifies an action hero image that we could relate to, rugged, tough, and rebellious. But the film really reveals how much Daniel Craig proves himself to be more than worthy of being the new James Bond. Apart from his rugged physique, he delivers more spiky charm with both arrogance and a sensitive side of Bond which makes him a complex character, and that is what makes him very interesting. This film even shows a far more sensitive, loving, and romantic Bond than in any other James Bond movie (he actually says the magic words "I Love You" in this one). Far beyond the romantic version that George Lazenby has portrayed in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (wherein Bond got married). Craig brings to life a more human Bond. One that actually knows how to care for something important to him and his soul, and has a nasty sense of humor even when he’s being tortured.
CASINO ROYALE pushes for a more believable Bond in a believable setting. There would be no volcanoes here that reveal to be mountain fortresses for villains, nor are there underwater palaces or outer space stations run by uniformed bad guys. But there are some pretty simple gadgets not worth mentioning. My guess is, that just like “From Russia with Love”, this movie sticks to the plain action-thriller formula from the Fleming books. Perhaps some of us can wait for the gadgets till the next Bond movie may come.
The film is said to take James Bond "back to his roots" in a film that would be similar to From Russia with Love where the focus was on character and plot rather than high-tech gadgets and visual effects. An issue which would surely revolutionize the James Bond genre. Incredible visuals would always be part of the James Bond genre. But after more than three decades of Bond movies marinated with overblown visuals, you would think that it's high time they got back to the roots of Bond; the thrill, the suspense, the espionage, the intrigue. We are in a movie age where many moviegoers have become desensitized by visuals. Perhaps the same reason why "Exorcist: The Beginning" for instance, has not worked, because it relied on visuals rather than innovating raw refreshing ideas that may hit a cerebral appeal rather than the visual aspect. After years of having witnessed movies such as "The Matrix" and the "Star Wars" prequels, some people would be less surprised by stunts and explosions that viewers could easily dissect. CASINO ROYALE does not go that direction. It brings you back to how Bond was written the way Ian Fleming would’ve wanted him to be.
And indeed, CASINO ROYALE does possess faithfulness with the original book by Ian Fleming from which it is based on, although there have been minimal revisions which sticks the storyline close to present-time standards.
By the time I was done watching the movie, I have concluded that CASINO ROYALE is THE best James Bond movie I have ever seen. And one that has made me consider Daniel Craig one of the best Bonds, only second to the gold standard James Bond himself, Sean Connery. It is highly amusing to think that the press releases and the trailers of this film initially got mixed reactions from the public, some even going so far as to hating it. Now, they are proven wrong, because CASINO ROYALE is the finest James Bond movie that will surely remain timeless in film history.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
THE BANQUET: More than just a Hamlet Adaptation
By Reymundo Salao
Set in China in the 900s AD, this loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is about a prince’s return to an empire now ruled by his uncle when his father died. His return from an assassination attempt stirs the kingdom, but he has no wishes to rule as Emperor. The Empress, his former love married by his own father and now is Empress to his uncle the new Emperor, wishes of him to replace as Emperor. But time will only tell if the fates will change, and perhaps, all their plans may be set in motion during the Imperial Banquet.
The combination of Shakespearean stories and an Ancient Asian setting makes for great chemistry as may be proved by Akira Kurosawa's RAN, which adapted William Shakespeare's "King Lear". "The Banquet" (originally entitled “Ye Yan”) is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" which, I believe, is Shakespeare's most powerful literary creation, and one which has been adapted (as I count) 5 times in the silver screen (my personal fave is the version with Mel Gibson; I have yet to watch the one with Ethan Hawke). This adaptation is so loose that oftentimes it feels like it has its own originality and only drew inspiration from "Hamlet".
One of the original aspects of the film is that of the character played by Ziyi Zhang, which is a product of a revision of the original script. A revision which added quite a depth to the storyline. Gong Li (Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice, Farewell My Concubine) was originally supposed to play Zhang Ziyi's part. Maggie Cheung (2046, Hero) was also considered for the role. Due to scheduling conflicts. When Ziyi Zhang took over the part, the script was rewritten to make the character younger. Her character is a former love interest of the Prince Wu Luan (the main character) but was later wed to the Prince's own father and eventually, to become the Empress to his uncle. Such a character has given a large amount of dramatic tension to the storyline and further complicates it, making the story more unpredictable even though it is an adaptation.
It is such a wicked delight to see Ziyi Zhang play such a dark snake of a character in this movie, a character who claims a love which is actually of self rather than something pure. Since her breakthrough in "Crouching Tiger..." she has proven time and again that the potency of her talent doesnt easily wither, and in her youth she has already made great performances, more than enough to satisfy a cinema-acting retiree. Likewise, impressive performances from Daniel Wu as the Prince Wu Luan, (the alluring & yummy) Xun Zhou as the Opheliac Qing Nu, Jingwu Ma as the wise Minister, and You Ge who also deserves much praise for playing the Emperor Li, a character who defies being generalized as black & white; a character which is richly layered with many levels.
THE BANQUET is mainly drama, You do not watch this film for the Martial Arts, even though Yuen Woo Ping has a hand in the making of this film as both producer and action choreographer (I would consider Yuen Woo Ping as the living god of Martial Arts movies, having directed timeless classics like "Snake in the Eagle's Shadow" & "Drunken Master" until now, & was given international spotlight when he worked as Fight choreographer of "The Matrix" movies), but you watch this movie for its beautiful storyline. Although there are moments that induce awe in some of the fight sequences, these are expected to be minimal compared to the dialogue-driving motion of the film. It may even be observed that the martial arts here is a mere icing on the cake.
Along with that icing is the amazing visuals that it presents. From flying stunts, to set designs to costumes. You can feast your eyes upon the visuals, which wakes up viewers from a possible boredom. It employs a semi-surreal style of setting.
It seems that ever since it broke into worldwide popularity, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" has opened the floodgates for Chinese dramatic epics which are done in "closed form" of movies, movies which such a forced unnatural ambiance that generally use wireworks to do fantastic martial arts feats and exaggerated vibrancy and style on sets which depict surreal environments (although this style was long used in Hong Kong, but mostly only for action epics). But this type of fantasy-like genre was getting old and it needed to be complemented with really good storylines. Such was achieved by Yimou Zhang's "Hero" (which starred Jet Li & Donnie Yen). This same surreal "closed form" style is employed by THE BANQUET.
I am glad that this film is on extended run, which gives a chance for those who missed it last week to watch it. THE BANQUET is powerful, dramatically rich, and such a masterpiece of a work, as dark and beautiful as the Shakespearean tragedy from which it is based on.