05 February 2006

dibeedee dibeedee

By way of jumpstarting the Oscar season in our home, my sisters and I bought dvd copies of some Oscar nominees this week---Memoirs of a Geisha, Pride and Prejudice, and Capote in Makati Cinema Square, a pirated dvd haven sans the heat and muggers that one usually encounters in Quiapo.

Quiapo dvd vendors have tons more stocks and can sell the latest movies for as low as Php 50 (less than USD 1.00), but it's such a hassle to go there. The last time I went, I was able to get copies of The Motorcycle Diaries and Girl With A Pearl Earring--and got dehydrated in the process due to the cruel heat of the sun. Dvd shopping in Quiapo? Never again. I'll just take my chances with Makati Cinema Square and my very nice Muslim suki there (who gives me a small discount and religiously updates me with the latest films in stock).

Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha was, well, just okay. The female actors still look Chinese under all that cumbersome Japanese costume and make-up. Michelle Yeoh, for me, is the real star of the show as the poised and regal geisha Mameha, and she still manages to get away with the irritatingly stilted 'Japanese English' dialogue that's heard throughout the movie. Acclaimed Japanese actors Ken Watanabe (The Chairman) and Koji Yakusho (Nobu) turn in good and subdued performances but aren't utilized well enough by director Rob Marshall, considering they're such great actors. (Come to think of it, Watanabe seemed to be under utilized as well in Batman Begins but then, I'm not a Batman fan to make such an opinion).

I haven't read the book by Arthur Golden, and I haven't been to Japan, but seeing the movie made me wonder if Rob Marshall's Japan--where cherry blossoms seem to be in every movie frame, and people open and close the sliding doors of their houses just like that without ever needing locks (gee, they must have a low crime rate)--even comes remotely close to the actual pre-World War II Japan. It all seems contrived somehow. It's no surprise then that Memoirs of a Geisha isn't included in the running for the main Oscar awards and was instead nominated for categories such as Costume Design, Sound Editing, and Best Original Score.

Pride and Prejudice
I watched Pride and Prejudice this morning, and as always, I'm pleasantly surprised with how Jane Austen's novels translate so well into film. Her books are quite dull (even for someone like me who enjoys reading 19th century classic literature) but the movie adaptations I've seen so far (e.g. Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility, Robert Leonard's Pride and Prejudice filmed back in the 1940s, Mansfield Park which stars Frances O'Connor, and Douglas McGrath's Emma with fine actors Jeremy Northam, Ewan McGregor and Alan Cumming) make Austen look incredibly good and timeless.

This latest adaptation by director Joe Wright is a great and faithful effort. At first, I was taken aback by the somewhat dishevelled looks of the Bennet sisters and the rundown appearance of their house but then I realized that this shabby genteel setting is probably truer to the novel than any previous P&P film adaptation. I guess I just got used to the fantastic cinematography and pretty costumes in Lee's Sense and Sensibility.

The movie is long, but that's to be expected of a period film, especially one that takes up a Jane Austen novel. There's a considerable amount of dialogue that's actually lifted off the book, so I'm assuming the scriptwriter must be an Austen fan. Keira Knightley (who resembles Winona Ryder here) and Matthey Macfayden (who uncannily resembles John Cusack) exhibit good screen chemistry as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy respectively, and keep up the love-hate tension that's as great as that of Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson in the 1940s version. The Knightley-Macfayden chemistry is so good that I wasn't even disappointed when their characters didn't kiss in the end. In fact, there were no kisses at all in the movie, and that's just fine because a really good love story doesn't always have to be peppered with dramatic Hollywood kisses. The crucial love scene in the end was beautiful and touching in an understated way. Just like the Jane Austen novel, I suppose.

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Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet is a stellar actress as usual, while Judi Dench (Lady Catherine de Bourg) is unmistakably one of the best. Give her only a few minutes of screen time and she's sure to make her mark. I have to also mention here Donald Sutherland, who gives a suprisingly charming and muted performace as Mr. Bennet. I've always considered him as the king of B-movies because of his bad acting but he seems to be at home in this particular movie. He should probably just stick to period films then.

The funny thing about this movie though is that it seems to be full of look-alikes. Simon Woods, an actor who's no stranger to period films and who plays Mr. Bingley in this Pride and Prejudice adaption, looks like an uglier Prince Harry here with even more dishevelled hair. And Tom Hollander looks like a less attractive Rob Lowe but he shines as the comically ridiculous Mr. Collins. The funniest look-alike is Rupert Friend, who plays Mr. Wickham and bears a striking resemblance to Orlando Bloom's Legolas. It must be the blond wig.

Pride and Prejudice is nominated for Best Actress (Keira Knightley), Art Direction, Costume Design, and Original Score (although the movie seems to just play one piano piece all throughout). Excellent film by Joe Wright.

I have yet to watch Capote, but I'm sure it's going to be awesome. It's about time Philip Seymour Hoffman shines in the spotlight.

By the time, the Academy Awards is shown live on TV, I should have at least watched other movies such as Munich (which looks depressing but very promising), Walk the Line, Crash (a movie I know nothing about but it must be good because it's nominated in major categories), Syriana, and of course...Brokeback Mountain! The pirated dvd copies of Brokeback Mountain were selling like hotcakes in Makati Cinema Square, but I refused to buy one because I'd rather watch it for the first time on the big screen with A. Besides, it'll be too uncomfortable to watch it at home where my conservative mom would probably shriek all throughout the 'lovemaking' scenes and declare it a work of the devil.


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