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Training Day (2001)
Denzel Does It Again!
is all I gotta say! Just when I thought Denzel Washington with his electrifying acting abilities couldn't blow me away anymore than he already has in past films, he pulls up another trick through his sleeve and dazzles me with yet another powerful dramatic performance!
Washington plays an undercover cop teaching his rookie protégé Ethan Hawke the ways of dealing with the vicious streets of Los Angeles within a single day. As expected, Denzel is an amazing onscreen presence, but something is quite different here from his previous roles: he is the BAD GUY! Its quite refreshing seeing him stray off from the usual by-the-book-goodie-two-shoe guys I've seen him portray in his other movies. Washington has brilliantly acted any character from a freed Civil War era-slave, a South African anti-apartheid leader, a dedicated Gulf War colonel to a tenacious FBI anti-terrorist agent. Being a crooked officer in "Training Day" is a welcome addition to his fine resume of cinematic acting.
Denzel's cop is an intriguing exploration into the mind of a seasoned law enforcer bent on utilizing extreme and unorthodox methods of keeping the streets crime-free. It is quite disturbing and compelling how he attempts to lure Ethan Hawke into his grim underworld of police brutality. You may loathe his character, but you have to admit that Washington never lets up in keeping the audience entranced in the film.
Had Denzel failed to win the Best Actor Oscar for his awesome performance, I think the Academy should have been sued! And Ethan Hawke, with an almost equally strong performance (but not quite up to par with Denzel) as Washington's rookie trainee, just as well deserved his nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Here's hoping future cop thrillers will consist of the same caliber as "Training Day!"
The Ultimate Role Model of what a Sequel SHOULD BE!
The adventures of my idol Luke Skywalker continue in this installment in the classic Star Wars film trilogy. The tone of the series takes a darker turn as George Lucas's sequel masterfully delves into the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual developments of the lead characters and the ominous challenges they encounter.
In my opinion, "Empire" really set a standard for future sequels in other popular Hollywood franchises because of the fact that it was so different in style and mood from its predecessor. And beyond that, the movie reflects something else. In almost every popular legend, the hero of humanity must undergo a shadowy trial as a prerequisite to fulfilling his (or her) destiny of liberating a civilization, or in this case, a galaxy. From his survival on the ice planet Hoth, to his intensified Jedi training on Dagobah, to the shocking revelation of his father's identity at Cloud City towards the film's conclusion, the story of Luke manifests how much psychological obstacles he must confront before reaching full maturity as a Jedi Knight.
Another classic story element brilliantly woven into the film is the epic romance. As with the mythical love affair between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere of the King Arthur tales, Han Solo and Princess Leia embark on a journey to which they eventually discover a priceless treasure, their undying love for each other and the pain they must bear upon separation.
The introduction of the alien Jedi Master Yoda is a magnificent addition to the Star Wars saga. Joining Obi-Wan Kenobi as Luke's mentor, he is a much-beloved character with notable reason. Yoda to me represents a cultural embodiment of wisdom, patience and understanding. Thousands of years from now, when Star Wars to many people is the equivalent of what a classic literature piece like "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" is to us, Yoda shall remain a symbol and inspiration for knowledge, peace and guidance.
I found the acting and dramatic sequences here to be much more poignant, and I suppose that is to be expected when characters are to grow as a film myth like Star Wars progresses. Through such a cinematic formula, one can get really involved in the star actors of "Empire."
The same feeling of awe and fantasy felt in the first "Star Wars" can be found in "Empire," everything is technically dazzling. From Luke riding astride his Tauntaun on Hoth to the gleaming towers of Cloud City on Bespin, you'll truly feel like you've been transported to another time in another place, or better still: "A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away "
The Invisible Circus (2001)
I was simply touched! This film strongly reinforces the emotional power of rediscovering loved ones and one's self. For anyone who has ever suffered physical separation from siblings, parents or people whom you hold dear, I'm sure you could relate to the story of Phoebe's quest to seek out the truth behind her sister Faith's odyssey throughout Europe and her eventual suicide.
The movie so profoundly echoes the consciousness of the 1960s American youth sub-culture. When many kids of that time lived a life of reckless adventure in a world they desired to socially transform for the better, and the disillusionment they experienced upon the failure of their intended dreams and aspirations in life. I felt that the family divisions influenced by those turbulent times reflected in the film through the death of their father and the subsequent parting of Faith, and later Phoebe, from their mother. I felt so dejected for Phoebe and her mother in their grief over the loss of Faith and their ambivalence towards the reasons behind Faith's suicide. But Phoebe's tale proved to be remarkably uplifting, as her character demonstrated. Phoebe's perseverance to spiritually connect with her sister, yet remain physically and passionately affiliated to the real world and her family, sends a positive message to today's generation of youth.
When I compare and contrast Phoebe and Faith, I saw both girls with golden hearts having a vision and a drive to excel and relish whatever they did in life. Both possessed the will to defy life's challenges despite their father's death. But wherein Faith chooses an independent path wrought with carelessness, Phoebe goes toward the direction of love and understanding, and sustains a responsibility to remain close to those she loves dearly despite her own tendency of emotional self-governing. Her own determined quest to retrace her sister's footsteps in Europe is compelling, and her infatuated experiences with Faith's former boyfriend do more than enough to draw the audience's attention throughout the film's entire run (its never boring, trust me!).
You may ask, "What about the title 'Invisible Circus'?" Good question. Perhaps its an allusion to the parade of neurotic pleasures we experience in our society, particularly when we're young and susceptible to the great deceits in life, when we are often unaware of the risks and harm which our own choices in life betray. This notion blends in well with the choices Phoebe and Faith made as a means of discovering purpose in their lives.
The main problem I had with the plot was the ambiguous resolution of how, if any, Faith's spirit had come to terms of redemption with Phoebe and her mother on any level in the aftermath of her departure and suicide. But then again, my own viewpoint could differ greatly from yours, I'll let you watch the film and decide for yourself!
Many people may have rushed to see this film for Cameron Diaz alone, but my primary reason was first and foremost: the lovely Jordana Brewster! The girl looks so beautiful in the film (as she always does in real life) and her raven-haired complexion gives her a sort of adolescent naiveté, just perfect for such a role. Brewster's portrayal of Phoebe is very genuine, and Diaz is pretty convincing in her supporting role as the ill-fated Faith. After seeing her vibrant side in "The Fast and the Furious," Jordana displays in "Circus" an unquestionable knack for serious acting, and her prominence among today's hottest young stars can only go nowhere but up.
For a great feel-good flick, check this one out, you might like it!
The Siege (1998)
We should've seen it coming!
There I was, having a normal dinner (Manila time) when suddenly my Mom hollered out to me about the news she saw on TV of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and my life as well as everyone else's in America was changed forever. As we witnessed on CNN the horrific destruction of the towers, the very first thing that popped up in my mind was this movie.
In sort of an ironic way, this film was prophetic in its message on the impending threat of worldwide terrorism and its roots. I first saw "The Siege" at a cinema in New York, the setting of both the film and last week's real terrorist strikes, when it was released three years ago. Director Edward Zwick may have originally intended this film to be a mix between political comment and thrilling entertainment. But I sensed something more, an underlying premonition. What I felt was a warning to American society and abroad, that zealots with clear fanatic intentions can and will do anything to make a statement, whether it means killing a dozen or a million innocent civilians at the most unlikely places. Another warning the movie conveys is the evil of violating civil liberties, in this case the Gestapo-like roundup by the U.S. military of Arab-American citizens in New York under suspicion of being terrorists.
When it first came out, "The Siege" was such a controversial film largely because it dealt with stereotypical issues associating Arabs with terrorism. Yes, the script had its problems, I honestly felt the plot concerning the search and capture of the bombing suspects could have been more compelling. But overall, it makes its point across, that modern society in America and elsewhere needs to be vigil, especially in these times of crisis which we are living in. Vigil in all ways of life, that is, to always be on the lookout for people with the potential to kill, yet prevent unnecessary anger to be taken out on members of a particular ethnic/religious group just because people from their own group are guilty of heinous crimes. I myself have close friends who are Muslims and I know them to be good-hearted souls who support the United States and its stance as a bastion for freedom-loving people around the world. I wouldn't want any officer from the higher levels of U.S. bureaucracy to turn into reality what transpired in the movie, specifically the callous acts of Bruce Willis's military general against Arab-Americans residing in the Big Apple.
"The Siege" has an interesting gallery of quality actors. Denzel Washington has, well, a dignified screen presence here as with most of his characters in his other movies. Washington's FBI agent Hubbard brings a desperately needed sense of moral authority and direction in the film, and he is as tenacious and determined to track down the cinematic killers as every FBI agent in the U.S. looking for the real murderers should be at this moment. Annette Bening gives depth to her politically ambiguous CIA operative who possesses much information on the background of the terrorists and their actual motives. Bruce Willis's rogue general doesn't have as much screen time, but as I said earlier, his character is a reflection of the dangers of how American society can react to such a situation if succumbed to hate and prejudice. Arab-American actor Tony Shalhoub rounds up the main cast as Frank Haddad, the dedicated FBI partner of Washington, a significantly non-stereotypical role.
Having been born and raised in the U.S. for most of my life, I can easily identify with the American experience. I grew up in the country during some harrowing episodes, like the Gulf War and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, but nothing prepared me for what has happened in New York and what difficult times may lie ahead for America and the world in the global fight against terrorism. "The Siege" doesn't offer the best solution as to how the nation should combat religious fanaticism, but it does provide insight into the root causes of some of the worst evil this world has ever seen. If every country on earth needs a scenario (asides from the collapse of the twin towers) of what would happen if nothing is done to eradicate terrorism, this film should serve as an exceptional guide. How I wish we heeded it's warning sooner!
Pitch Black (2000)
Pretty good sci-fi flick about a space convict with ultra-cool eyes that can see anything in pitch black. Along with other crew members, he gets marooned in a starship on a desert planet where nightfall is extremely dark, and must use his special abilities to assist his companions to survive an onslaught of creepy nocturnal aliens.
The story's premise might seem a bit of a rip-off of "Aliens" the movie, but its still interesting to watch. The show entirely belongs to Vin Diesel. This was the second time I've seen him perform, and I must say the guy rocks! After seeing him in "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Fast and the Furious," he surely has all the signs of becoming the next cinematic all-American antihero, with his husky voice and scowling features.
Here's hoping a sequel will follow the adventures of Diesel's brooding night spaceman.
Independence Day (1996)
A bit too Hollywood, but that's OK! :)
The movie trailer shows a picture of the White House...all of a sudden, its blown into smithereens by a laser blast!!!
This popcorn flick was all that I hoped for, nothing but 100% of everything: action, drama, humor and suspense. Many people are justified in stating that the success of "Independence Day" comes from the fact that its nothing more than what its intended to be: FUN, period.
However, in this day and age of constant threats to modern society from epidemics such as war and disease, "Independence Day" can suddenly mean more than just a cinematic escape from reality. Perhaps it symbolizes the power and determination of the human spirit to prevail against all odds. Well, I most certainly think so! Just observe the plot and you'll find out what I mean:
Several gigantic UFOs, dwarfing anything which mankind can possibly conceive, suddenly hover above major cities all over the world. Without warning, these alien ships simultaneously strike the heart of the cities with awesome laser beams, causing vast proportions of horrific destruction. Just when it seems that all is lost for the citizens of the Planet Earth, a courageous band of human rebels join forces to combat this seemingly impregnable terror. These rebels come from all walks of life, from the dead serious to the outrageously funny. You've got Will Smith, a fighter pilot with a mouth of a wise guy but having a heart of gold; Jeff Goldblum, the computer nerd who knows how to decode the alien bad guys; and Bill Pullman, the dedicated U.S. president who will stop at nothing to preserve the survival of the human race. Put them together and you have a trinity (respectively the heart, mind and soul) of the ultimate good guys to rally "mankind," a word as Pullman in the film eloquently states, "should have a new meaning to us all."
The spirit of this movie owes much to past multi-character disaster classics such as "Earthquake." If you are an avid fan of sci-fi flicks, the content and material of "Independence Day" might be familiar territory for you, but it's a treat to watch nonetheless.
So, do you feel the need to ignite that "fighting human spirit" in you? Then its time to rush to your nearest video store and celebrate your "Independence Day"!
Planet of the Apes (2001)
The Evolution of the Ape...
Those of you who watched this version of that 1960s sci-fi classic about intelligent simians on a mysterious planet having dominion over mankind in the distant future were probably in for a little surprise (assuming you've seen the original).
I would have to say that this latest film incarnation by Tim Burton is not at all a remake, but rather a retelling of the apes story from a perspective of pure fanfare and entertainment. Yes, there were several references throughout the movie on the morality of treating fellow humans, apes or any walking-and-talking being alike with respect and contempt. But there is a difference between this year's version and the original classic starring Charlton Heston.
In 1968, the original `Planet of the Apes' revolutionized the sci-fi genre through its shocking image of mankind's future on the Planet Earth. Of how an inferior species such as the apes could grow in power and intelligence to rule over humans, largely because mankind itself had used weapons of mass destruction on each other, therefore contributing to a series of events leading to ape domination. Because the 1960s were such a turbulent time both politically and socially for the American people, the youth could especially empathize with the film's antiwar message. I'm sure no baby boomer will ever forget the gut-wrenching conclusion of Heston pounding his fists on the beach sands and damning all of humanity to hell after feasting his eyes upon a half-buried Statue of Liberty. Such scenes reflected the frightening times of the Cold War and Vietnam War, both looming as a shadow over the U.S. and other countries during that decade, and the whole movie itself directly reflected the mood of the times.
Burton's version is quite a departure since it focuses on simple adventure entertainment and stunning visuals rather than any symbolic metaphor on the dangers of a worldwide engagement in nuclear war, or for that matter, any epidemic. Instead of Planet Earth being the venue, Burton seems to have taken us to another world in another galaxy, therefore giving us a fresh take on the apes story. At least this time around, the human slaves have the ability to talk. I will never forget such scenes as Mark Wahlberg's pet chimpanzee landing in his space capsule from the sky during the climax of the ape-human battle. These and other highlights made `Planet of the Apes' the escapist formula it deserves to be. There are many inside dialogue references to the original `Apes' film, but I suggest you go see that version first in order to catch them all here.
The movie is also blessed with a bunch of gifted performers. Mark Wahlberg is OK as the chief protagonist. But Tim Roth practically steals every scene he is in as the villainous ape general Thade. With his experience as a stage actor, Roth magnificently portrays an enemy who is thoroughly corrupt and demonic with no hint of remorse. Helena Bonham Carter provides an example of simian benevolence through her open-minded chimpanzee character. And Michael Clarke Duncan, being the huge man that he is, is at times terrifying as a gorilla commander. Oh, and yes, keep an eye out for cameo appearances by Heston and Linda Harrison, stars from the original `Apes' movie.
One common element between the two versions of `Planet of the Apes' is that both have a shocking finale, but for those who have not seen either, I will go as far as that! For sheer pleasure, I rate this 8/10.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
WHAT A RUSH!!!
You know, I've been noticing a trend. These past few summers, at least one action flick stands above the rest. "The Matrix" for 1999 and "X-Men" for 2000. After seeing this, without a doubt, "The Fast and the Furious" is THE best action film of Summer 2001!
I began my weeklong vacation in New York just before the weekend this movie was released. I was lucky enough to catch one of the first showings with a bunch of my cousins from all over the country. We were having a family reunion that weekend and we agreed that "F&F" was the film we needed to see as part of our celebration of togetherness. And in light of the fact that we were all guys (not to say that girls won't enjoy this film), we all knew we were in for a real treat because the movie deals with one subject of fascination to many young males: street racing.
The opening highspeed carjacking sequence showed us that everything from then on would be pure hype and adrenaline. It didn't seem to me that this film has a solid plot, save for the storyline of actor Paul Walker's character and his mission to probe and catch the carjackers from the opening scene. But that hardly matters if you came to see this movie for pure popcorn entertainment. If you worship cars and love beautiful babes, then you'll love "F&F"!
Through intense and often exhilarating speeding visuals, director Rob Cohen does a great job in giving the audience a first-hand experience of what it is like to actually sit behind the wheel, turn on the engine, and literally go VROOOMMMMM!!!!!
The actors perform pretty well with their tough but enjoyable attitudes. Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez are perfect and sexy as the girlfriends of Walker and Vin Diesel, respectively. Diesel has such a formidable and commanding onscreen presence, and I'm sure that the box office success of "F&F" will only further catapult him to Hollywood superstar status. And rapper Ja Rule has a short but memorable cameo appearance as a contestant in the film's first superhype drag race sequence.
For its amazing street racing and the coolest cars on the planet that I've ever seen, I vote for "F&F" to be the must-see action flick of 2001. To those other so-called "racer" films like "Days of Thunder" and "Gone in 60 Seconds," I've only got this to say: EAT YOUR HEART OUT!
Star Wars (1977)
Science Fiction at its BEST!
Being a devout movie freak, I often stumble upon the question just what exactly is my favorite movie. Without a doubt, I would have to vote for this first installment of my favorite film trilogy ever.
I first saw "Star Wars" on video when I was about 10 years old, barely a decade when it was first released, and since then, I have never grown tired of watching it! Seriously, I can watch the entire saga trilogy a thousand times and each time is like a new adventure for me. I first watched "Star Wars" on a very poor quality VCR, but the interesting characters, colorful aliens and awesome starships keeped me glued to the TV set.
Nowadays, I've asked people what is it about this movie that they love so much? Some people told me they loved it because of the set designs, others told me they admired the special effects. For all its entertainment value, I have to agree with all those points. But the legacy of "Star Wars" for me goes beyond mere cinematic breakthroughs in technology and visual effects. Yes, American cinema was never the same again because of this classic, and its not just because it successfully resurrected the sci-fi genre, it was able to convey an epic story of good versus evil on a grand scale through a combination of many symbolic elements borrowed from such classic legends as King Arthur and the ancient Greek heroes, something which all of us in one way or another can relate to. I don't think any space movie which came out before this flick was released could ever match its magic as an American cinematic saga.
All of us at one point or another have felt a need to find out what is our true destiny and purpose in life, and the story of Luke Skywalker's quest to travel beyond the stars to become a Jedi has a universal appeal in this sense. And that is exactly why I love this film and its sequels so much, its symbolic message to all of us to find our purpose and belonging in this world is a message of eternal relevance. Being an admirer of Luke Skywalker, I feel even now that I am on a destined quest to find out my true destiny in life and to do good to make a difference in this world, just like Luke made a difference to help save the galaxy. Whenever I've had moments where I've felt confused or hopeless as to which path I should take in my life, whether it be personal or professional, I've always looked to "Star Wars" as an inspirational guide. Because if Luke Skywalker could determine his destiny, then so could I.
For any of you who would like to be educated and entertained at the same time, you gotta watch "Star Wars" because it is science fiction at its very best. Believe me, the experience of this movie saga will stay with you for a lifetime!