Monday, January 22, 2007

The Reel Life: Of Monsters and Men

As the year goes, it looks like movies I've watched in 2007 is starting off well.

The first one I quite enjoyed was something I heard online that was suposedly good: The Host (Gwoemul, 2006). The fact that it was a Korean movie was an added bonus since [identity-protected's] sister is currently enthralled by Korean movies; I asked for and got a copy last year.

My assessment? It's very good, as good as the reviews say.

Director Bong Joon-ho's movie is, at its core, a monster movie. A chemical spillage from an American military base in South Korea creates a monster that terrorizes the river Han. However, this movie is more than about a CGI-monster (and a well-crafted one, too, this ain't no rubber-suit lizard or Boa vs Python) as it details a dysfunctional family's efforts to rescue one of their own from the slimy beast's clutches.

Moreover, the movie has a humorous bite to it, ranging from the distraught father's (whose daughter it was that was snatched) Kafkaesque's experience at the hands of the American and South Korean military to the same family's expression of pain inside an auditorium full of grief-stricken survivors.

However, it's the human drama of the long-suffering grandfather, the slow-witted yet loyal first son, the angry second son, the talented yet shy daughter, and the granddaughter's fragile strength to survive the trials that makes this a must-watch movie.

In other words, this is a monster movie wherein the humans aren't just snacks, they're real people too.

On the other hand, Alfonse Cuaron's Children of Men, based on the novel by PD James, isn't a movie that will survive close scrutiny, given its premise of a world on the brink of collapse. At the movie's start, the human race is trying to deal with its own infertility, with no baby being born in the last 18 years.

Centering on a totalitarian Britain (reminiscent of V for Vendetta) that has targeted immigrants as their enemy, Clive Owen plays a jaded, former activist-turned-bureaucrat who must deal with the fact that a young black girl is pregnant even as he tries to smuggle her out of the country.

Cuaron diverts the watcher's attention from possible questions about the said situation (i.e. why are people infertile?) by combining dark, grimy shots of London and its towns, almost-ridiculous yet quite effective chase scenes (see the protagonists' escape from the rebels by pushing their stalled car downhill), and a bloody showdown at a refugee camp.

And again, it is the characters that make a difference in this movie with Owen playing a man out of touch dumped smack-dab in the middle of the confusion thanks to his ex-wife, (played by Julianne Moore) who also happens to be the leader of the rebel group, The Fishes.

Despite their short film-time together, the scenes between the two are quite poignant as they ricochet between sentiment (their dead son Dylan), argument (who was at fault for their split) and pragmatism (money in exchange for papers).

Likewise, Cuaron has a soft touch, especially the surreal moment when the baby makes her appearance in a battlefield and her cries silence the guns between goverment soldiers and rebels.

Watch this movie but be warned: this is a heavy popcorn movie where you have to leave the popcorn at the door.

(In real life, I also watched some movies as exciting as a burning house. Much-looked for Happy Feet had really cute baby penguins and chicano penguins; however, the enviromental ending was a bit heavy-handed and abrupt for my taste. Likewise, Night at the Museum didn't really grab me as I'd seen it all already in Jumanji. Sorry, Rexy.)

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