Monday, April 6, 2009

When Rape Becomes Rapture

By Clarence Yu

Can rape be equated to freedom?

The Rapture of Fe (Filipino title: Ang Pangagahasa kay Fe) is an independently produced Filipino film that has just recently started shooting on location in a northern province of the Philippines.
According to the film's official website, the screenplay is written by Alvin Yapan, a winner of the Gawad Urian award and multiple Palanca Awards.* The film will star critically acclaimed stage and film actress, Irma Adlawan (Stray Cats), in the title role of Fe. Fe is a former OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) forced to come home as she is laid off from her job because of the current global financial crisis.
Upon coming home to the Philippines, she is met with violent abuse by her husband Dante, played by Nonie Buencamino. Complicating her predicament further is her relationship with her younger lover, played by popular Filipino actor TJ Trinidad. Most mysterious of all, baskets of black fruits keep appearing at her doorstep.
Based on this, one can only surmise that Fe will deal with multiple issues confronting Filipino society today: the plight of Overseas Filipino Workers, domestic abuse, family role-reversals, extreme poverty, how these issues are currently being made aware to the general public, and how this movie is an attempt to portray these long overlooked societal problems in a different light.
As these issues have been at the forefront of many a human and civil rights' group's advocacy list, both Filipino and international, one might think that this movie may have nothing new to say. But what makes this film look interesting are the dual titles employed. Whether this is intended or not, it serves to give the film different perspectives from an etymological and linguistic standpoint. Consider the English definitions of the word "rapture":
1. The state of being transported by a lofty emotion; ecstasy;2. An expression of ecstatic feeling. Often used in the plural;3. The transporting of a person from one place to another, especially to heaven.
Essentially, these definitions suggest emancipation, or imply freedom.
Compare these definitions to the English connotation of the Filipino word "Panggagahasa": "The raping" or simply "rape."
Now, we repeat the question: can rape be equated to freedom? This comparison is obviously contradictory when performing a literal translation, but take on a much deeper meaning in a figurative sense.
It is this stark contrast in literal and figurative translation that gives a potential viewer like myself something thought-provoking to incite enough interest in the seeing the finished film. Let’s hope that this presumably mysterious film does not disappoint in trying to enlighten, entertain, and propel thoughts into action. The film is one of the ten finalists chosen to compete later this year in the Cinemalaya Film Festival staged by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
* The Gawad Urian Awards are annual film awards in the Philippines held since 1977. They are given by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (the Filipino Film Critics) which is currently regarded as the counterpart of the United States' New York Film Critics Circle. The Palanca Award is one of the Philippines' most prestigious and most enduring literary awards and is dubbed as the "Pulitzer Prize" of the Philippines

In the meantime, check out STRAY CATS, a previous movie by Irma Adlawan:

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Review: Ronnie by Ronnie Wood

This rock n' roll autobiography deserves more treatment, but is enough to placate.

By Clarence Yu
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The Glimmer Twins' (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) life stories have been so highly publicized that one feels that they need not publish their own autobiographies, thereby adding more stories to the mix. Bill Wyman has published his own revealing memoir (Stone Alone) which seems surprisingly bitter in tone and provides for a detailed inside look from the Stone who moved the least on stage but had the most groupies amongst all.

Now with Ronnie Wood's autobiography, simply titled Ronnie, what is being attempted here? For starters, Ronnie Wood is the third lead guitarist to fill the position, after the death of original Stone Brian Jones and the questionable departure of Mick Taylor, begging the question: what does it take to be a Stone besides being a good guitar player?

Ronnie provides the answers in spades. In a sense, this incomplete autobiography is much like his guitar playing — without the rhythm of Keith Richards' playing, the sound is only half-complete, shades of the complete painting that can only be revealed in a group autobiography.

Nonetheless, the writing is surprisingly candid. He gets along with all the Stones, taking a bit of a stab at each but never being bitter and remaining true to everyone, especially his mate Keith. This feat in itself is testament to the qualities that have allowed him to endure as a Stone and endeared him to his fellow Stones: be nice, don't overshadow, be amiable, and most of all, don't diss anyone.

For Stones fans, there is really nothing new, with the exception of how broke Woody (as he is endearingly called) really was all the time while playing with the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band, some personal tidbits about his family life, and his detailed account of his frightening imprisonment along with wife Jo on the island of St. Maarten in 1980.

Much expected but not present were more of Ronnie's artistic frustrations, which are only written about in passing. Colorful characters ranging from Anthony Perkins and Muhammad Ali to John Belushi all pop in for visits but all deserve chapters in their own right. Chapters are written in mostly non-chronological format, which gives the book an improvised feel. One has the feeling that Woody wrote this on the fly. In the end, he claims sobriety after years of excessive substance abuse and professes undying love to his wife Josephine, but today's headlines are rife with speculation about his affair with a much younger woman and his rumored relapse into alcohol abuse. Then again, the Stones have always been masters of media manipulation.

Like a work of art, this has to be taken in slowly. Ronnie's Ronnie manages to pull everything off without a feeling of discontent. We love you even more, Woody! Now, if only you could get Charlie Watts to write his memoirs. That would really be something of an achievement.
The Beatles Will Soon be Playable

The Beatles officially join the video game world. Why?

By Clarence Yu
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The band that John Lennon once described as more famous than Jesus Christ will soon be available as a video game as The Beatles: Rock Band.

According to this article from the Rolling Stone website, the game will be available for play on Xbox, Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 and will be released on September 9, 2009.

Developed by Harmonix Music Systems and published by MTV Games, Rock Band is a popular music video game that allows players to play as a band unit — guitars, bass and drums, unlike the rival Guitar Hero game series by Activision (until the recent release of Guitar Hero World Tour) only allowed players to interface with the game as a guitar player.

This will be the first Rock Band video game devoted solely to a band, and will reportedly cover material from the Beatles' first album, Please Please Me, to their final album, Abbey Road.

This development continues the trend of artists who are diversifying their channels of distribution through the gaming industry. Previous artists who have done so include Aerosmith and Metallica (through the Guitar Hero franchise).

One can have mixed feelings about this kind of medium being used by artists to enhance their popularity and sales. For one thing, it certainly is proven to work well for big-name artists. With Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, the band garnered more sales from the game than from any individual album they recorded. It also worked to boost their catalog sales by giving gamers an increased awareness of the band's past music.

While this is a great way to learn about an artist's music, it might not be the best way to learn an instrument. For example, given the big differences between the game guitar controller and an actual guitar, it might be easier for a gamer just to play the video game. But as a form of expression and creativity, the game might be utterly useless. The only good thing that can be seen at the moment about this from a musical standpoint is that it might spark the interest of gamers into picking up an actual instrument.

The Beatles certainly do not need the money or the added popularity. Hopefully, one can only imagine that they are getting into this project to incite more interest in the art of writing and creating music, which would then lead to a boost in more bands and more recorded music. Just like the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which launched thousands of bands and inspired even more kids at the time to pick up an instrument, one can only hope that a similar revolution will occur with the game's release.

In the meantime, it would be interesting to see the kind of reaction this game will elicit from hard-core Beatles fans, gamers, and music industry insiders, and how much Apple Corps Ltd. (the Beatles-owned record label) would stand to gain from a business standpoint, and how other legendary bands would react. Rock Band: The Rolling Stones, anyone?
Concert Review: Journey At Mall of Asia, Manila, March 14, 2009

Journey stays true to their roots in their first concert in Manila with new singer Arnel Pineda

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by Clarence Yu

All roads led to the SM Mall of Asia (MOA) fair grounds as Manila’s mostly upper crust and middle class crowd witnessed rock band Journey’s first Asian date in support of their Revelation album.

An announcer mentioned to the audience that the concert was being filmed for a special DVD and asked the crowd to perform two cheers for filming purposes.

Led by native son Arnel Pineda on vocals, the band took the stage at approximately 8:50 pm and erupted into "Never Walk Away" off the Revelation album with all cylinders firing, followed by "Only The Young," a sufficient one-two salvo to keep the crowd on its' feet.

The legendary rockers mixed the old with the new. Instead of trying to please the crowd with a potential wall to wall greatest hits concert, the band admirably dug deep into their newest release, with songs like the rockers "Change For The Better," "Where Did I Lose Your Love," and the tear-jerking ballad "After All These Years," intermixed with old gems like "Ask The Lonely," "Stone In Love," and the ever crowd rousing "Separate Ways." This brought the crowd on and off their feet; for every hit like "Open Arms," which had everyone screaming, there was a "Wildest Dream" which kind of flew over the audience's heads.

No matter. The sound was all-professional, solid, and tight.

The band also added new bits into their old songs. "Separate Ways" had an interlude during Neal Schon's blistering solo, and "Wheel In The Sky" began with Jonathan Cain on harmonica and Schon on acoustic in a country-honky tonk jam. Bassist Ross Valory was cool and collected, holding down the bottom end while entertaining the audience with his comical facial expressions.

Drummer Dean Castronovo sang lead vocals on several songs, the most impressive being "Mother Father" off the Escape album. Castronovo proves not only to be a great drummer but an excellent singer as well.

Finally, lead vocalist Arnel Pineda was a ball of fire throughout the whole show, jumping all over the stage and hitting all the high notes with his more than apt voice. Confident and equipped with the obligatory arena rock star charisma and moves, Pineda was visibly charged and emotional in his first concert with Journey in his native land, and dedicated the 1996 ballad "When You Love A Woman" to "all the women out there" and "to my wife."

Understandably, though most of the crowd was there to see Mr. Pineda, Journey proved that collectively they are still a serious band to be reckoned with. This was no sentimental tour. Albeit boring the crowd somewhat with their new songs, the band showed no compromise, proving in the end that they are still firmly entrenched in their roots and are looking forward to a longer career ahead of them.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Movie Review: "The Wrestler" Is Simply Powerful

by Clarence Yu
The Wrestler tells the story of Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a professional wrestler 20 years from the peak of his career in the 1980s. Once famous the world over (think Hulk Hogan), he is now reduced to participating in independently staged matches and holding a part-time job to eke out a living.

He is estranged from his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), and the only person he can confide in is an aging stripper named Cassidy (Oscar winner Marisa Tomei) who is also past her prime. Unlike Randy, who is living in the past, Cassidy has a firmer grip on reality and is looking to finish her career as she realizes that she cannot sustain her job on her fading looks. Randy, however, is stuck in the past, reliving his glory days by taking steroids to sustain his aging body, and following a regimen that includes pumping iron and tanning himself in a salon to keep up appearances.

A shot at his former glory, a re-match with his former nemesis "The Ayatollah," is derailed by a heart attack, forcing Randy to stop wrestling, instead taking up a full-time job at a deli counter. He faces issues of his own mortality and tries to patch things up with his daughter while attempting to pursue a romance with Cassidy. Things not being so perfect for him, he defies all logic and resumes his match with his former rival in the face of tremendous risk.
Mickey Rourke delivers a powerful performance as "The Ram" — his Frankenstein-like appearance and over-muscled physique belies the childlike tenderness and warmth of the character; the dreary world-weariness, confusion, and emotional pain he projects on screen is so real that it almost seems that he has lived the role. Best known for his role in the erotic drama 9½ Weeks and his critical acclaim as a cool, suave leading man in the 1980s, he completely disappeared from public view to pursue a career in boxing. The last time I saw him in a movie was opposite Don Johnson in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (which despite its tackiness was still entertaining). In playing "The Ram," a role completely against his conventional eccentric type, many have proclaimed this to be Mickey Rourke's comeback, and I definitely agree with this view.

There are just so many good things to say about this film that it completely outweighs its relatively few faults. While the plot is quite simple and has its share of loopholes (there is no emotional closure for the Wood and Tomei characters), the performances by Rourke and Tomei put the movie past this hurdle and keep the viewers glued throughout. Director Darren Aronofsky employs visual surprise to set the tone and pace of the movie. The physicality of Rourke and Tomei is such a sight to see. Tomei lives up to her Oscar-caliber acting (My Cousin Vinny) in her portrayal of Cassidy — go to any sleazy strip club and you will know what I mean by this. Superb cut and paste frame editing, and close, tight camera shots give the movie a semi-documentary feel, making the fine performances seem even more real. Some might expect a Rocky-esque ending, but simply put, there is no hook in this film.

Fans of wrestling will find delight here as the bloodsport aspect of wrestling is revealed with such realism. Those not familiar with wrestling culture will be thoroughly educated. Add to this a stellar soundtrack consisting of classic '80s glam rock gems and an original song by Bruce Springsteen and you've got one hell of a rough and touching movie. This is one you should not miss.

Movie Review: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttom" Has No Merit At All

by Clarence Yu

From my personal notes:

Director David Fincher re-teams with Brad Pitt, who re-teams with Julia Ormond and Cate Blanchett, in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Brad Pitt should have won an Oscar a long time ago for his role in Legends of the Fall, when he was still a young actor full of raw emotion. This attempt at redeeming that lost award is obviously framed at capitalizing on Pitt's current super, uber-celebrity status.

To see a movie where Angelina Jolie's hunky, chunky husband is portraying an old man who ages into youth is exactly the kind of clich├ęd fluff that will capture the hearts of the multitude of viewers that flocked to see Titanic, and will try to capture the minds of those who awarded Forrest Gump.

The premise of the movie is nowhere near the story of the original 1922 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It's merely an excuse to create a movie that tries to combine elements of fantasy, a sense of the epic, drama, humor, and love. The result is one big mess of splattered bird droppings, salvaged by excellent make-up and special effects.

Cate Blanchett lays her acting credibility to waste here in a role that would have been more suitable for Lindsay Lohan or Emma Thompson. Brad Pitt tries to channel Val Kilmer, James Dean, finally, himself, but fails miserably. Memo to Mr. Pitt: you will be better off sticking to pretty boy roles (Ocean's Eleven, Thelma and Louise) if you want to win an award. Your asset is your charm and movie star charisma, not this 180-degree turnaround against type. If you do happen to win, I'll quit watching your movies forever.

Why is Hurricane Katrina involved, and what's with the insulting and highly irritating New Orleans-Creole accented narration that you hear throughout the movie? Beats me. Again, a wild guess: Titanic and Forrest Gump.

I'm slowly losing my mental acuity and developing a curious case of narcolepsy in the middle of this long, long movie. I'm half-considering leaving the theater to buy the Back to the Future trilogy DVD to get my senses back to life. But I'm still waiting to see Blonde Brad as he ages into his present state, the way I see him on the front pages of every tabloid publication nowadays.
I'm curiously reminded, out of the blue, of a techniqu used in recording music called backmasking. I wonder what we will see if this movie is played backwards. Does it become a watchable movie at all?

The wretched gift this film gives is its interesting title, which will surely remind me of this unpleasant experience till the end of my days.

For the Academy's consideration: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Case dismissed, no contest.

Book Review: Robert Kennedy: His Life by Evan Thomas

by Clarence Yu

Any discussion of Barack Obama's message of hope would not be complete without the inclusion of Robert Kennedy, whose life was cut short by an assassin's bullet on June 5, 1968 at the age of 42. Award-winning journalist and Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas chronicles the life of this peculiar man who lives on in contemporary mythology as a figure of tragedy and a symbol of unfulfilled greatness. Drawing on unprecedented access to Robert Kennedy's personal papers, Thomas (who shares the same alma mater as his subject, University of Virginia School of Law), creates the most definitive biography of RFK since Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s Robert Kennedy and His Times.

Thomas details Kennedy’s life from his unpromising beginnings as the third son of former Ambassador to England and businessman Joe Kennedy; his rise to power as Attorney General to his brother President John F. Kennedy; his fall from grace following his brother’s death in 1963; his career as a US Senator; and finally, his entrance into the 1968 presidential race under the banner of the Democratic Party.

Insightfully, Thomas examines the transformation of Kennedy through various stages of his life. Kennedy was not a perfect man by any measure, but the circumstances surrounding his life brought out the one thing he was least prepared for: direct leadership. Thomas cites that most of RFK's life had been in the shadows, operating behind-the-scenes, and staying out the limelight in favor of his brother's political ambitions. When the President was dead, Kennedy had two choices: to withdraw from political life, or to capitalize on his dead brother's martyrdom.
He opted, albeit subconsciously, for a third alternative, borne out of an existentialist nature: he suffered, experienced much about loss, and ultimately, in his pain, connected with the American people and much of the world in a way that few other politicians ever could. Thomas' excellent perspective on the matured Kennedy's multi-faceted, often self-contradicting personality gives the reader a closer look at the man who could have been a great President. In this sense, His Life reads like a classical Greek tragedy, like the many that Robert Kennedy himself carried around for inspiration.

Relevant now more than ever, His Life gives readers a profound glimpse into a man who really promised hope in the turbulent world he lived in, but who never had a chance to carry his message into action. To fully appreciate the meaning of hope and change, read and re-read this excellent book.