Over the holiday break, as I read fellow columnist Bong Austero’s two-part assessment of the 2009 Metro Manila Film Festival, I sighed and thanked my lucky stars that my family opted to do our film watching at home. In DVDs. No need to jostle with the crowds, there are more titles to choose from and the cost is much cheaper.
Original DVDs of not-so-recent movies are perennially on sale (buy one, take one in many cases), the average price is around 300 pesos and you can watch the film as many times as you like. You can even put the machine on pause if you want to get a snack or go to the bathroom.
Compare that with going to a movie house, paying 275 pesos per head (more if the film was made for 3D viewing), killing your bladder and bearing with irritants like bowling toddlers, ringing cell phones and fellow movie goers who think that back rests were made to serve as foot stools.
Of course, there are films worth watching on the big screen. We’re going to see Sherlock Holmes — we’re just waiting for the crowds to thin out a bit – but Bong Revilla in “Ang Panday”? No, thank you. If I wanted to be amazed at special effects and production sets, I’d play my DVDs of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Harry Potter movies which, according to Bong Austero, were blatantly copied in Ang Panday.
So, we like DVDs. And because I have a daughter who will pursue a course in film, our collection now includes classics like “Casablanca,” “Cinema Paradiso,” “Platoon” and Frank Capra’s opus, “A Wonderful Life.” And because I have another daughter who has a fixation on horror films, we have a huge collection of horror movies, from the classics to the stomach churning “Saw” and its sequels. Here are some of our most recent buys.
Hard to find. Either it’s not a sought-after title or it is so popular that it’s often out of stock. A couple of nights ago, after so many decades, I saw the film again. It’s different watching it as an adult. Compared to the fast-paced, gore-filled horror movies of today, “The Exorcist” builds up the story as well as the horror. Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, it is about the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and the exorcism performed by an aging priest and another who has been slowly losing his faith.
As an adult, I wouldn’t call it a horror film. It was more disturbing than horrific. Disturbing because of the theme but even more disturbing because a child was cast in it and made to deliver lines and perform acts that were, well, rather difficult to watch without flinching. It wasn’t the gore that made me cringe. It was scenes like the possessed girl using a cross like a knife and plunging it in her pelvis while screaming, “Let Jesus fuck you.”
And if you read the write-ups on how director William Friedkin manipulated both actors and sets to get “genuine” reactions, you’d feel even more disturbed. Painful screams were elicited by yanking Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair in harnesses (resulting in back injuries), refrigerating the set to get real icy breaths and even slapping an actor to get a solemn look.
The Good German
Starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire, and set in post-war Germany, the film was shot in black and white apparently to give it the look of 1940s noir films. Visually, it was effective. If the viewer didn’t know the actors, he might have mistaken the “The Good Shepherd” for a real 1940s movie.
Based on the novel by Joseph Kanon, the good German refers to mathematician Emil Brandt wanted by the Americans, the British and the Russians. Brandt was the assistant of Franz Bettmann, Chief Production Engineer of the V-2 rocket produced in Camp Dora, a concentration camp built with slave labor. Bettmann, kept by the Americans at a safehouse for transport to the U.S. to work on its own rocket program, was therefore an unemployable war criminal, a status that could only be proved by Brandt, the only remaining survivor of Camp Dora. The Americans wanted to find Brandt to kill him.
The search for Brandt is intertwined with the lives of his wife Lena (Blanchett), former “stringer” and lover of American war correspondent Jake (Clooney).
A Knight’s Tale
Most people remember Heath Ledger for his roles as a gay cowboy in “Brokeback Mountain” and as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” but I love him best in “A Knight’s Tale.” It’s a feel-good movie, no doubt, a Cinderella story but instead of a poor girl turning into a princess, it’s a knight’s servant becoming a knight.
The tale takes place in Medieval Europe in the 14th century. A jousting knight, Sir Ector, dies leaving his three servants unsure about where to get their next meal. William decides to pretend to be Ector, learn jousting, and survive on the tournament prizes. Along the way they meet a gambler and poet, Geoffrey Chaucer (played by the often underrated but really amazing Paul Bettany) who boosted crowd support for William with his emotional introductory speeches.
A Knight’s Tale is especially memorable for its mixture of old and new. Despite the 14th century setting, the music was contemporary. Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” David Bowie’s “Golden Years,” and Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” provided the upbeat note that made scenes more lively and entertaining. I’ve seen the film so many times but, each time, it still makes me smile.
Films are a good entertainment medium. Instead of obsessing over seeing what’s the latest, you might want to go the opposite direction and comb through real gems from the past fifty years. Try “Roman Holiday.” Or Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” They just don’t make films that way anymore.