Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Underrated Visual-Effects-Heavy Movies

It's a given that there are a lot of underrated movies out there, and I'm sure every casual movie fan has his own top ten, but it occurred to me that it doesn't really occur to that many people to consider effects-heavy films as "underrated." This is a word that, to my limited experience at least, seems reserved for more artsy fartsy fare like Merchant/Ivory flicks or something.

However, looking back over the last ten years, I feel that there are a number of commercial movies which did not quite get the attention they deserved, whether in terms of box-office take or peer recognition (i.e. Oscar nomination). Here's my list, in no particular order:

1. Casper (1995) - I realize it's nothing really new, given that ILM had already perfected the techniques used in this movie way back in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but it can't be denied that Dennis Muren and his crew had made a number of improvements over the previous melding of animation and live action.

2. The Frighteners (1996) - Okay, so the effects in this movie, while fun, were not terribly convincing, but the wizardry of WETA was already evident in the way they conjured up those specters. Way back then they were already cutting their teeth on this film in preparation for the monumental Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

3. The Fifth Element (1997) - My favorite Luc Besson film, although I've only seen three, including the disastrous Joan of Arc. The cab chase scene was incredibly slick and even holds up rather well against the oddly similar Coruscant chase scene, five years later, in Star Wars, Episode II. Although Digital Domain reaped awards and accolades that year for recapturing the sinking of the Titanic, for my money, this movie was a much better achievement. And all it got was a stinking Sound Effects Editing nomination...

4. Contact (1997) - Compared to Bob Zemeckis' more seminal films such as the Back to the Future trilogy and Forrest Gump, this movie is not one of his flashier pieces. However, other than the fact that it's a little simplistic in the way it reduces Jodie Foster's staunch empiricist to a simpering mess in the final act, this movie actually plays pretty well, thanks in large part to the impressive realization of the bizarre space travel machine which whisks Jodie Foster off to meet an alien being disguised as her father. This movie made use of three, count 'em, three major studios to bring its effects to life, namely Sony Pictures Imageworks, ILM and WETA, and Zemeckis, as far as the effects are concerned, is definitely in his element. Oscar recognition? Just a nomination for best achievement in Sound...

5. Minority Report (2002) - Okay, I would just like to say that it was absolutely criminal how this movie was overlooked for not just the visual effects oscar but for a number of technical achievements like cinematography, musical score and art direction. The funny thing is, it's not like Spielberg and Cruise need any kind of charity from anybody to call attention to their work, but I think that this movie deserved a lot more than the Sound-Effects Editing nomination it got that year from the Academy (ever notice how this seems to be some kind of "consolation nomination" for films that get shut out of the technical awards?) In fact, as a fan of the first Spider-Man movie I can say that this movie actually robbed M.R. of the nod it deserved.

Well, if anyone out there overlooked these movies the way I thought the Academy and audiences did, the DVDs are out there for the watching...

Monday, April 25, 2005

On Yearbooks

It's funny how certain things come to mind with the election of a new pope. When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, it was inevitable that, along with the outpouring of joy from the faithful, there would be a number of groups who would have their axes to grind with him, what with his being openly conservative and all. One such demographic was the gay sector, and here in the Philippines, one spokesperson for a gay lobbyist group echoed the apprehensions of gay communities the world over.

What he said, however, didn't leave nearly as much of an impression on me as who he was. His name, prominently featured in the article, was Jonas Bagas. Upon seeing that name, I couldn't help but think to myself: doesn't this guy owe my batch a yearbook?

It's been seven years since I graduated from UP Diliman with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, and two years since I graduated from UP's College of Law, and yet strangely enough it is only of the latter batch that I have a yearbook.

I've spoken to some people, UP graduates all, in the seven years that have passed since my college graduation, of different batches and colleges. Apparently, the unpublished yearbook is a fairly common phenomenon that occurs year in and year out. It goes like this: a college will form a committee to put a yearbook together, the committee will bitch and moan about how the yearbook can't get done because not everyone from the batch has paid, the batch will graduate, get jobs, get married, and move on with their lives, and forget about the yearbook, which incidentally never gets done (whether or not everyone pays), or else will figure that it's not worth the grief of chasing down the bastards responsible for its release. Oh, yes, and the money never gets returned. One night, within the last two years, I was sitting at a dinner table with several longtime graduates from UP and heard something that confirmed a suspicion I had long harbored about what yearbook committees actually do with the money: one guy in charge of his batch's yearbook admitted, rather nonchalantly at that, to spending all of the money.

Personally, I would like to see my yearbook. I graduated cum laude from UP that year (a feat I was not able to duplicate when I finished law school) and would like a somewhat more aesthetically pleasing reminder other than my diploma and transcripts. It would also be nice to have a look at the people I graduated with (in case I run into them in the street years from now and am unable to remember their names, which has already happened an embarrassing number of times). But what bothers me most is that this annual yearbook scam has become so commonplace that most people are willing to just let it go. It strikes me how UP graduates like a lot of these yearbook committee people have the temerity to join or even stage rallies against corruption when they are blatant practitioners of it.

It's been seven years. No one I know from my Poli Sci batch (which is a considerable number of people given that, like me, many of them have gone on to become lawyers) has seen neither a yearbook nor a refund of his money. I heard one rumor that the money was no longer in Jonas' hands. The fact remains though, that the yearbook, and our funds, were, excuse me, ARE his responsibility.

One would think that the guy would at least have the decency to keep a low profile, but to make statements for the newspaper, where everyone can read his name? That kind of adds insult to injury as far as I'm concerned.

I know the members of my batch have gone their separate ways and are not likely to bring suit against this guy (although really, there's still time, people, because the period for estafa has not yet prescribed), but I would really like to take this opportunity to admonish future or newly graduating batches, don't let this happen to you. Stick up for your rights, and don't let some scam artist blow your money, whether it's on his boytoys or on anything other than the YEARBOOK he/she or they are supposed to be publishing!

This is an unfortunate dimension of our culture of corruption (yes, Raul Roco, it does exist) because it takes place in the academe, the supposed bastion of idealism, and so it must be stamped out as soon as possible.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Anatomy of Untruth

Perhaps the complexity of living out a lie can be most comically illustrated in the film "Waking Ned Devine." It's a delightful, if slightly naughty film about an entire Irish village that conspires to conceal the death of one of its residents in order to claim from the national lottery authority his winnings in the lotto. It's hilarious and nail-biting at the same time, and while we certainly root for the main characters, we realize after the end of the movie just how difficult, if not implausible, such duplicity would be in real life.

While there are admittedly many species of lies, classified primarily by their most visible effects, all of them are composed essentially of the same element: the alteration of the truth. Some lies are a slight distortion of reality while others basically throw it out the window. Some of them are one-time deals while others need to be carefully and painstakingly perpetuated, and it is this that I feel the need to discuss.

One-time lies are easy to churn out and forget, but the funny thing is that they are, in the long-run, actually very uncommon, because once a lie gets out there, it has a tendency to come back and bite its source on the butt. This may only occur once or twice, or many times in one's lifetime.

The mother of all lies, though, is the one that requires perpetuation, because too often it demands an almost slavish dedication to consistency and a willingness to structure one's waking reality around that lie. What if one cannot? What happens to the lie then, white lie or otherwise? It collapses under the weight of its own inconsistencies.

...and yet, so many people out there, some of whom I know, would prefer to take their chances with building up a lie that will eventually come crashing down on their heads than deal with the truth.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

About Abolishing the Bar

I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with Miriam Defensor-Santiago on anything, but last Sunday, a little over twenty-four hours after I learned that I had passed the bar, I found myself doing just that, but only to an extent.

The original tantrum-thrower (and the best one in the game, at that), Miriam has decried the bar as a deceptive and ultimately limited barometer of one's fitness to join the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and has boldly proposed to junk the bar examinations in favor of a system that will supposedly gauge more accurately one's fitness to practice law. Her idea is to replace the bar exam with a law school aptitude exam that is a bit like the NMAT taken by aspiring medical students before they can get into med school, and a one-year internship.

Even as someone who suffered two years in a row to finally earn my stripes and pass that holy terror of an exam, I have to say that I found myself agreeing with some of her arguments. Indeed, the bar exams tend to ask too much of the examinees, that is to say, they expect the examinee to know everything at one given time. They really do put undue premium on memorization and offer no real demonstration of one's skill in practicing law.

But the extent of my assent kind of stops there, because the system Senator Santiago is proposing just doesn't ring true for me. For one thing, she seems to contradict herself. On the one hand she asserts that her proposed system will help weed out those who are not fit to practice law, but on the other hand she laments how, almost invariably, about two-thirds or more of any given batch of examinees fail it, year in and year out. If a number of people incapable of expressing themselves in the English language or of articulating issues of fact and law are prevented from hurdling the bar, wouldn't this have the same effect as her proposed aptitude test?

For another thing, I think that this proposed initiative, while theoretically rather admirable, and with existing precedent in other countries (e.g. Australia) is not culturally appropriate to the Philippines. It's been lamented that year in and year out, fraternities and powerful segments of the lawyer community conspire to cheat in order to ensure that their young proteges (i.e. brods) make the grade. Miriam's proposal of internship and merely submitting papers only opens the door for more rampant corruption and duplicity.

There are at least 75 law schools that fielded candidates for the last bar exams. Of these, how many UPs or Ateneos or even San Bedas are there? How many, on the other hand, are not afraid to graduate students who are willing to pay a handsome sum for such a privilege, even though they don't deserve it? In a culture where thesis papers, and sometimes degrees, are open-market commodities, it is dangerous to leave in the hands of the schools the determination of whether or not one can be a lawyer. Corruption, even in the academe, is simply to well-entrenched to ignore.

Furthermore, as flawed as it may be, the bar is the only effective existing measure by which the Supreme Court can separate the wheat from the chaff. Take away the qualifying exam and any Tom, Dick or Harry (epsecially those willing to bribe their way through can become a lawyer. Not even the people on the streets see the point in abolishing the bar; they say it's one of the only ways for them to know just how good a lawyer is.

Personally, I vote to keep the exam but to change its format. That's about it, really.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Thanks All Around


Passing the 2004 bar is easily my greatest personal triumph ever. Graduating cum laude from college and making it into UP Law suddenly seem strangely trivial in perspective. Even though I know I worked hard for the former and really got down on my knees and prayed for the latter, passing the bar results involved an intensive combination of both hard work and incessant prayer, so it just feels that much more significant.

Although thanks are certainly in order, I don't really feel like reading off an Oscar-style laundry list of people to thank, so much as give a little discourse on how very specific people played very specific roles in this brilliant achievement.

I want to thank my former officemates at Tan and Venturanza Law Offices, as well as the partners who at the time of my debacle were highly supportive of my efforts to conquer the bar once and for all. From the books some of them recommended I read to the techniques, to the scheduling, they really helped me find my way.

I am also extremely grateful for my former blockmates who dropped in on me during either the first or second weekend with some heartwarming words of encouragement. I may not have graduated with you guys (or taken my oath with you) but I love you all just the same!

Two of my close relatives, my first cousins to be exact, let me stand on their shoulders for the entire duration of my second review: my cousins Laurence and Bopeep Arroyo, who in addition to the financial support they gave without hesitation, never hesitated to offer words of encouragement, during the review and the bar, and who shared in my jubilation at my moment of triumph.

Another group whose help I could not possibly have done without my lovely wife's similarly lovely bevy of "sisters," the UP Portia sorority. For two years---two years!---they threw their support behind me, doing much the rather crucial legwork needed to get me accommodations, to ensure my application, and to make sure that, on the night before each pair of exams I had all the tips and reviewers I needed.

Penultimately, I'd like to thank Tito/Dr. Tony Guerrero, my Tita Sonia's husband and my voice of reason. It was his shock therapy/pep talk that got me off my self-pitying butt and back in the game. Passing the bar, in retrospect, is at least 50 percent attitude, and without a doubt Tito Tony's help infused me with exactly the attitude I needed to sit down and just freaking STUDY, and then to TAKE the exam and PASS it.

Finally, there are not enough words in the dictionary to describe what my loving wife, Theia, was for me in what was easily the most trying year of my life. My lover, my dearest friend, my foil, my son's nanny, my just-about-everything-you-can-think-of. Two years in a row she sacrificed her own bar bid to let me take my shot, and it was one of the bigger sacrifices she ever had to make. She took care of me in a way that I know I could never hope to duplicate as we now begin preparations for her bar exam. I will certainly try to be for her at the very least a fraction of the bastion of support that she was (and still is) for me.

Of course, thanks go out to all the well-wishers, my parents and other relatives who prayed and offered moral support, but to my mind these people really stand out in my mind and heart.

Thank you all, and God bless.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Everybody's Pontiff

While I once devoted an entire post to my anger over the Church's staunch opposition to the use of contraceptive devices, I have to respect the passion that the late Pope John Paul II infused in his campaign against it, which was almost as passionate the way he railed against Communism. I haven't changed my mind in the least about contraceptives just because he's dead, but he was easily the biggest and most formidable adversary in the world of contraception proponents everywhere, and we must all take pause.

It is certain that blogs everywhere are chock full of reflections on the passing, and life, of Pope John Paul II. Personally, I am certain that not only Catholics, devout or otherwise, or members of the clergy have found things to say about this man and his impact on the world. I am certain that Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and members from almost all denominations of all religions have thought of something, whether not they've seen fit to post their thoughts online.

And this, I think, will forever be JPII's legacy. According to what I've read, and what I've seen in my lifetime, he was, more than any other pontiff in the history of the papacy, a pope for everyone, not just us Catholics. The way he reached out and touched as many lives as he did, whether or not these were of the Catholic faithful, is something which, I believe, no pope after him, or any religious leader, for that matter, is likely to do, at least not in this lifetime.

Friday, April 01, 2005

padded storytelling in comics: a matter of fact or a matter of taste?

I'm of two minds when it comes to comic-book plotlines. Part of me is all for the six-issue storyline because I feel there's more room for twists, turns and character development. Another part of me loathes stories that are too long because, for one thing, they hurt my wallet, and for another thing (historically) the longer the storyline stretches, the more an artist's work tends to deteriorate in the process. But I've never really joined the "padding" bandwagon.

The latest comic book series I've only just started which may be accused of padding is "Ultimate Secret" which boasts probably the best pencil-and-ink art in comics today. It's a four-issue miniseries and is supposedly the second part of a trilogy, the first of which comprised five issues. Now, I didn't check out the first series (because Steve McNiven didn't draw it) but I've read how some people were really not please with its pace.

The truth is, were it not for the sheer economics of it, I think that stories that stretch out over four, six or even eight issues are actually pretty good ideas because writers aren't under too much pressure to truncate the story's major developments into so many issues. Sometimes, a story arc that's too short feels anti-climactic. Some examples of this, I feel, were a few of JMS' Amazing Spider-Man story arcs, and the first arc of Image Comics' Aria. There was potential for epic storytelling there, but whether by editorial directive or writers' prerogative, the story was just cut short.

Besides, story arcs that span four to six issues give us a very nice showcase of talented artists' work, without necessarily overextending them or running them into scheduling problems. Jim Lee, especially on his X-Men days, tended for some reason to deteriorate as his storyarcs dragged on, which is why what DC did with his Batman work, namely giving him several months of lead time before they released his first issue, was brilliant. (Too bad it hasn't worked out that way with his Superman stuff, which has also tapered off a bit in terms of quality). It's nice to see up-and-coming geniuses like Steve McNiven stretch their legs for four, five or six issues, rather than cram everything they've got into one-shots, the way Art Adams, who couldn't do a monthly book if his life depended on it, used to do with the X-Men annuals.

On a final note, I think that the so-called "padded" storytelling makes for a more cinematic approach, in that there's more "show" and less "tell." It's easy enough for a writer to cram each individual issue with exposition, but in some ways it's more fun to let pictures/panels tell the story. Which is not to say that it doesn't ever drag, because sometimes it can.

Well, basically my only complaints with "padded storytelling" would be that it isn't exactly cheap to follow, and that artists can sometimes slack off in terms of quality (or worse, get fill-in artists), but other than that I think writers and artists should be free to tell stories at their own pace, without having to worry about how many issues they can cram a single story into.

Then and Now

It's official; sometime (presumably) late next week I will find out if I will be able to take my attorney's oath this year. After all the false alarms and rumors and "reliable sources" I have finally heard a categorical declaration from no less than the Supreme Court that the results will be out next week. Up until today the responses I got from the Bar Chair's office had been utterly noncommittal. Now it's absolutely certain.

In all honesty, I haven't felt this way since I was waiting for the results of my Law Aptitude Exam. I didn't even feel this way last year; the bar was just something I wanted to get over with. Now, it's more than that: a large part of me wants to pass the bar more than I want air itself. Pretty messed up, huh?

I can't help but look back on how different things were then from the way they are now. The regimes of government, my relationship...excuse me, my CIVIL...status, the movies that were out, the music people were listening to, hell, even the comics (some of you could have seen that coming, I'm sure).

Through it all, though, I've pretty much stayed the same, except for a few rude awakenings here and there, but man, what a journey it has been. I guess I'm finally starting look back with some fondness on those years, because as presumptuous as this may sound I truly feel that I can finally close the chapter of my life which I spent studying to become a lawyer, and can now move on to the various other chapters of my life.

One constant I'm happy to have had all these years is my family and my core group of friends. Happily, my years in law school saw the introduction of another constant in my life, my beautiful and feisty (sometimes to a fault) wife and my son (with another baby on the way). Life has changed, as it is supposed to, but having a number of nice, solid constants has surely made the transition that much easier.

Here's to life and all it yet holds in store.