15 June 2008

Queens | Reinas

Directed by Manuel Gomez Pereira, Queens is a feel-good film perfect for a Saturday afternoon. Some may be put off by its rather banal plot of homosexual couples being discriminated by their own families, but the film manages to add some spices into this seemingly overused plot. Sticking with the Spanish tradition of romance, Queens showcases the confusing, yet humane relationships centering on three gay couples who are to wed on the same day, the first day that homosexual relationships are officially legalised.

What I like about this film is that it doesn't linger on how gay couples survive through discrimination and hatred, but how their families, especially their mothers, learn to cope with their sons' sexuality and become supportive in the increasingly liberal social atmosphere. What is beautiful in this film is that it's life-affirming and so self-reflexively melodramatic (something which can be aesthetically done in films from Spanish-speaking countries where the strong, direct expression of passion is natural). Somehow through the sentimental lens mainly reserved for soap opera, it manages to portray how parental prejudices are indeed still present and difficult to eradicate, but also manages to show how they can be overcome or at least lessened through acknowledgement of love. I know it's another cliche. But believe me they know how to make it fresh and witty.

The main plot of homosexual relationships is just the tip of the iceberg. Other themes touched on in this film include class difference, political manipulation, the status of Latin Americans in Spain, and business-love complications. The overcoming of sexual barriers leads the characters to reflect on other imaginary borders set up through prejudices and of course realise the possibility to overcome these too.

The ending of this film offers something significant too. Watching it makes me realise that after all we're just a bunch of humans with desire and longing. We need to struggle (i.e. to live) to prove that we're still alive and to make us forget our unavoidable death. This is so Spanish!

12 June 2008

The Happening

Sorry. Can't talk about M. Night Shyamalan's film without spoiling it. Those who haven't watched it please beware. I've warned you ...

A new film directed by Shyamalan, The Happening just can't be compared to The Sixth Sense. It's an apocalyptic film about a new plague that makes people lose their will to live and attempt to kill themselves. However, after the film finishes I'm sure a lot of the audience will still feel that they probably need more information about the plague. It's not clear what causes it and why it lasts for just a day ... Of course, explicative attempts have been made by way of dialogues and news clips, but they just don't add up. We feel like there should be more to it than just some plants oozing some toxic gas.

Another point that needs mending is the cheesy love story between Elliot and Alma. I just don't see that they have any chemistry together. Their relationship suffers because of Alma's character. She's a bit weird with her glaring eyes and rather eccentric personality, while we're not given enough details how Elliot is seen as irresponsible. For me, he's quite a nice guy throughout but it's her that needs mending. The fact that the plague stops when both of them decide to come out from their hiding place is just too cheesy and embarrassing. I just can't believe that this can still happen right now in the twenty-first century when coincidences and happy cheesy endings only happen in those films that set out to be cheesy and shamelessly romantic. The Happening doesn't set out to be like that and I couldn't help but feel disappointed.

In comparison, The Mist is far better both in its deployment of mystery and in its political message concerning the existential condition of humankind and the fear of the unknown. What is the message of The Happening? Sometimes nature works wonder and sometimes it may make you want to commit suicide. Or it's we who have destroyed nature and it's her turn to destroy us. Well, have we heard this a million times already? But Shyamalan's means to get this message across still needs mending.

Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture

It's been a while since I had time to sit down and read a good novel. I still don't have time but I recently managed to 'create' some time to read Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture by fine Greek writer Apostolos Doxiadis. It's been sitting on one of my bookshelves for a long long time. I picked it up the other day just on my way to the toilet, hoping to just cast a quick glance through it. But the book turned out to be great fun and 'unputdownable'. The experience of reading it reminded me of the old days when I could simply sit down and read piles of books I liked. Alas, those good times were not destined to return.

The novel centres around Uncle Petros, a math genius, and his nephew, who tries to pry into Uncle Petros's eccentric personality and learn a lot from it. Uncle Petros spends (or rather squanders) all his life trying to find the proof of Goldbach's conjecture that 'every even number greater than 2 is the sum of two primes'. Needless to say, I'm not good at maths but I really enjoy seeing how a person can be passionate about one thing and put his whole life at stake. Compared to Uncle Petros's dedication, I can't help but realise my own cowardice, afraid to take a big plunge to do what I really like. Perhaps what's even worse is that I don't really know what I like ...

The writer is also a mathematician of his own right and was admitted to Columbia University since he was fifteen years old. It's great to hear from these 'beautiful minds' whose stories don't necessarily involve just passion and success. On the contrary, there are also a series of frustrated attempts and failures along the way. Yet, what distinguishes these men from others is not just how they cope with their heavenly gift but how they cope with their deterioration and downfall since they can't simply retain that gift forever. Some can steer through with dignity while others simply can't acknowledge it at all.

07 June 2008

Sex and the City

Carrie and the gang are back again, this time in the cinema! When I heard the news for the first time, I was jubilated. Do I need to tell you I've been a die-hard fan of Sex and the City since it came out in its TV series avatar like a decade ago? At that time it provoked a lot of debate and criticism, as the show was one of the first which dealt with the subject of sexuality quite frankly. It was fun watching these four women in their early thirties talking about good and bad sex.

Ten years later, SATC made it into a bigger screen and for some reason I just don't think they have that fizz anymore. I mean, it's still a fine movie with great dialogue, but the audience who have seen all six series would love to see some surprises. However, there're not a lot of 'great surprises' that make you ponder deep into the issues of sexuality and relationship, but somehow the film is just an extension of an average episode. I know there'll be SATC fanclubs out there that will stone me to death but I need to say it: the film doesn't go anyway and it seems that it just comes in circle. Love, breaking up, making up, and friendship. Perhaps these are all life is. Perhaps I'm expecting too much.

Perhaps, when I come to seriously think about it, is it possible that all the six episodes have pretty much covered everything? Perhaps making this film is not a good decision, as the ending of these series is already perfect? That's why the ending of the film exactly corresponds with that of the last series, with Big and Carrie finally made it in a fairy-tale style. Would've it been better if they, let's say, become more adventurous, like making Carrie face an early menopause or having Samantha really die of cancer? These twists would be realistic in their own right and would provide the director and his whole team a lot of ground to explore. But perhaps, true to its own style, SATC may want to remain what it is, a contemporary fairy tale with a glaze of sex and fashion.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull

How many people out there would (care to) know that the real name of Indiana Jones is actually Dr Henry Walton Jones, Jr? I just knew about it when I was collecting some information before writing this entry. I saw the latest of the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull, a while ago, but due to an enormous amount of paperwork and other stuff that I wouldn't care to mention I didn't have time to write anything about it until today.

I'm sure it's a film that people have been waiting for and along with this wait have gathered a significant amount of expectation. Director Steven Spielberg did a great job in providing us with a fun-filled flick but I regret to say that it's just that. If you don't expect too much, I'm sure you'll come out of the cinema feeling you've had a great time. But if you expect something like a parody or a political revision of the film's ideology, you'll be sadly disappointed. Spielberg is great in making an irony-free epic film which aims for a tear-jerking or jingoistic effect. But when it comes to a rather I'd say 'ironical' film, I have yet to see his masterpiece. I guess that's because Spielberg belonged to an earlier era when people are less cynical and more (I'm at a loss for a word here) ... 'faithful'.

For the modern crowd with no faith but a hell lot of cynicism, his film fails to reach their expectation. Sad to say, I'm one of this crowd and I expect Spielberg to at least question what's going on without saying in the film. The film is still very patriotic and unashamedly makes manifest the discrimination against the Eastern bloc, epitomised in Cate Blanchett's odd character and parodied accent. I know the director would have justified that it was the Zeitgeist at the time when the Eastern bloc was the arch enemy. But we're now in the twentieth-first century and have come a long way from that! The thing is ... you can still make a good retro film but you don't need to sport the outdated ideology. To play fair, Spielberg could have at least shown how Indiana Jones himself was equally an intruder into the sacred realm of the 'exoticised' natives. Yet, the whole film still glorifies the old man and death become the whole lot of the natives and people from the Eastern bloc.

I couldn't help but wonder why Spielberg has invested so much in this Indiana Jones character. Is it possible that he sees himself in this character? Is it possible that if Indiana Jones still thrives despite his old age, it also means that the director himself can likewise triumph amidst new directors who are good at doing irony? Perhaps we're touching on something very delicate here.