May 28, 2006

Pass the cheese, please.

Before I forget, another line from X-Men III that had me cringing:

Logan, ending his version of a pep talk to Bobby Drake, who had correctly pointed out that there were only six of them to Magneto’s Army, “We’re X-Men.”

Whoa.  Is that supposed to make me, like, fearless, bub?  

I wanted to laugh out loud but my companions and everyone else behind me probably would have stoned me as it was apparently the dramatic high-point of the “action” movie (similar to Filipino movies where the lead explains the whole plot while hiding behind a crate and shooting an unextinguishable clip of bullets), so I kept my peace.  But, man, that was such a cheesy line.

Maybe if Logan had been told that X-Men in the Philippines has been taken to refer to persons of chosen gender, he might have hesitated before saying that line.

Still and all, X-Men III is worth watching.  Don’t mind me, I just have a terminal aversion to cheesy movie lines.

X-cited!

I grew up on books and comic books. For the longest time, I could remember my brothers and me waiting for each to finish so that we could swap issues. And, for the longest time, I could remember being very selective about the comic books I read; I was never a big fan of Superman—he was bland, shallow and too good to be true—and besides, he’s not even from earth. I was a bigger fan of Batman—now, that’s a superhero—who continues to do battle not only against crime but also against his own self and often straddling the line between giving in to his twisted side and letting his dark side win. For a young kid, that was something that caught my imagination.

One other title that caught me early was The X-Men. And I’m referring to the original team of Professor X (as he was then known), Scott Summers aka Cyclops (the team leader), his girlfriend then Jean Grey, Henry “Hank”McCoy aka The Beast (the team’s brains apart from Xavier), Warren Worthington III aka Angel and Bobby Drake aka Iceman. At that time, the word “mutant” was not too frequently used and they were just known as a group of youngsters under Xavier’s tutelage. Magneto was already around, together with his children, Wanda aka Scarlet Witch (who would team with The Avengers) and Pietro aka Quicksilver (who would start out as a villain and later join up with The Avengers and later become an X-man). It would also be during this period that villains like Juggernaut (aka Cain Marko, Xavier’s half-brother) would be introduced.

Years passed and the comic book needed to be revitalized and, thus, The Uncanny X-men came along with new members coming in and old members leaving. The very first issue saw Angel, Beast and Jean Grey leaving and Cyclops and Iceman remaining; for the first time, we saw people like Ororo Munroe aka Storm and Logan aka Wolverine (who had previously debuted in The Incredible Hulk as a villain) and Pyotr “Peter” Rasputin aka Colossus; much much later, we would get Kitty Pryde aka Shadowcat, Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler, Rogue, Forge, Cable, Gambit, Longshot, Dazzler and many, many others. The word “mutant” would be used more and more often and The X-men (and many other related X-titles or mutant titles such as X-Factor, Excalibur, New Mutants and Alpha Flight) would blaze the trail for issues and topics hardly ever discussed in comic books; even before the world spoke of Aids, the X-men were already grappling with the Extermination agenda, a virus so lethal that it could wipe out mutants; it was already grappling with hate, bigotry on top of the daily angst that teenagers thrust into superhero work went through. It helped that the comic book was written by many good writers, among the best of whom was Chris Claremont, and that it was drawn by many good artists.

Imagine my excitement when X-men finally hit the big screen. Although, I knew not to expect the heroes of my childhood to be portrayed in the same way, it was still so cool to see on live action something that I, as a kid, only imagined growing up. So while Wolverine was this 6 foot plus lean Australian hunk instead of a short, squat and swarthy Canadian and Scott Summers, whose mutant power aside from laser blasts for eyes was his leadership, was portrayed as a wimp, I suspended my disbelief and just simply enjoyed myself.

I recently watched X-Men III (aka The Last Stand) and thoroughly enjoyed myself. There is hardly any dialogue (except one, which I will talk about later) that matters as it is the action that moves the film and move the film, it does. Brett Ratner knows where he is strong and he capitalizes on that in this third installment of the X series. From start to finish, it is action-packed and X-afficionadoes are treated to many, many more mutants not revealed from X-Men and X2.

Worthy of mention is a delightful Kelsey Grammer (aka Frasier) as Hank McCoy; he is great in the role. Not so notable is Ben Foster as Angel, who is hardly given anything to do (compared to hism comic book treatment as one of the original X-men and who later turns to evil after being taken and changed by Apocalypse into Archangel. . . but that is several X movies down the line, I think).

The Rogue-Bobby Drake-Kitty Pryde tri-angle is well-made and quite realistic; Rogue’s angst about not being able to touch Bobby (because of her mutant power to absorb the life essence of anyone she touches with her bare skin) is quite moving and is one of the real reasons why the “cure” spoken of in the film becomes relevant. Her decision and her dialogue with Logan (who enjoys a paternal bond with her, as shown in the previous films) is quite compelling; Ana Paquin may not have done much with her powers in this film, but she does quite well as the tortured Rogue.

The actress who plays Kitty Pryde is well-cast. She calls to mind the playful child in the comic book who can phase through walls. Colossus is . . .well. . . big and metallic. I did have a hoot though with the “fastball express” (comic book readers will know what this is) between Logan and Peter and this happens twice—at the start and at the end—and enjoyed seeing this scene, done in so many comic books (and even filched by Peter Jackson in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; see the part where Gimli tells Aragorn to throw him), come to life on the big screen.

My main complaint is Phoenix and the way they explained her. It’s lame. The entire Phoenix saga is one of the X-Men’s highest points and to have it reduced to Jean Grey having a multiple personality is a big let-down. Famke Jannsen is appropriately menacing as Phoenix and while she doesn’t really say much, the characterization of Phoenix as the mutant everyone (including Xavier and Magneto) is afraid of is quite good.

The part where I went “Oh man” is near the end when Logan, as the only one impervious to Phoenix’s power because of his mutant healing factor, manages to draw himself close enough to Phoenix to kiss—or kill—her is asked, “would you die for them?” Predictably enough (and even before this scene, I was cringing already waiting for some sappy ending between Logan and Phoenix), the response from Logan was sappy, “no, I’d die for you.” At least, it wasn’t the sappy ending I was dreading—Phoenix backs down because Logan affirms his love for her and yada yada yada yada and all that bunk; but it was bad enough.

Still and all, X-Men III manages entertain those not familiar with the series; it manages, as well, to placate a grizzled X-fan like me into really enjoying the film. Can’t wait for the next one; if not an X-movie, possibly a Wolverine movie.

(deleted for being a spoiler; sorry, didn't realize it when I first posted it.)

Oh, and by the way also, wait for the credits to end before leaving the movie house.

May 27, 2006

Bonfire of Inanities

I am a Catholic—a renewed Catholic at that. I am also a lawyer—a human rights lawyer. Let’s get those two things out of the way at the start.

I will never condone, tolerate, allow, leave unaddressed any challenges to my faith; I love being a Catholic and I will use every ounce of my strength to defend it.

But I draw the line at book burning. The Philippine Daily Inquirer today carries a story about a group burning copies of the Da Vinci Code, in book form as well as in bootleg DVD form.

I draw the line at any book burning because it is censorship and it violates the right to free expression. I AM ABSOLUTELY AGAINST ALL FORMS OF CENSORSHIP (yes, that’s why I tolerate Kris Aquino and Boy Abunda being on the air; I exercise my right to free expression by switching the channel and not watching anything with them on it. I will, however, not interfere with any one else’s right to be “entertained” by Kris Aquino or Boy Abunda and their ilk.)

I previously posted that I would watch the Da Vinci Code (I read it many years back and found it a delightful suspense thriller with an ingenious plot albeit with sophomoric and quite shallow writing—Dan Brown is no Ellery Queen, he’s not even close to John Grisham, who’s good for comfort room or airplane reading—that’s how quickly you can read his books) and I did. I found it the worst movie I’ve watched this year (my review of DVC in two words for those who don’t want to go to the previous post: IT SUCKS!).

I see no reason (good or otherwise)—other than publicity—for book burning. For one, you destroy the environment by polluting it; second, ultimately, you waste the sacrifice of the many trees they cut down so that Dan Brown could come up with his books.

Burning books is a throwback to the burning of witches, which symbolizes a fear of the unknown, a fear of matters we cannot address; in the olden days, “witches” would be burned at the stake on mere suspicion. In 2006, a book is being burned unread by those burning it.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, goes a child’s taunting chant. And, yes, there is a lot of truth to that.

If we have faith smaller than a mustard seed, it would still be enough to counter the lies of Dan Brown. Burning books and DVDs is not the solution. A little more RESPONSIBLE READING and RESEARCH is; motherhood statements about blasphemies is not the solution. A little more effort at EXPLAINING THE FAITH TO OTHERS IS.

At the risk of sounding self-righteous, perhaps those who allow themselves to be affected by a badly-written work of fiction and a badly-made film without reading the book or watching the movie have faith even much smaller than a mustard seed. Sticks and stones may indeed break our bones, but will words like Dan Brown’s hurt my faith?

Not if we are zealous at defending our faith through a clear, well-discerned, well-presented and sober discussion on why Dan Brown is lying and why his book should be read as fiction (and perhaps fittingly so, only in the confines of the comfort room)—not with burning of books and censorship. Even the Vatican has not called for a ban on the book or the film—and who are we to be more pope-ish than the Pope?

Instead of burning the DVC, whether symbolically or otherwise, why not read the repository of ALL TRUTH? My book burning friends, have you read your (and I’m presuming here) Bible lately?

Instead of railing on tv and radio about the lies being propagated by Dan Brown (who’s laughing all the way to the bank), why not go on tv and radio to share about the beauty and the power of God’s transforming love?

Instead of misleading the faithful about a book you have not read and a movie you have not watched, why not lead the flock to a better understanding of God’s Word and God’s Love.

But, then, these would be a lot harder than burning books, wouldn't it?

May 22, 2006

Identity crisis

I’ve never been overly-concerned with my identity in the sense that I’ve never really taken people to task for mistaking me for someone else. And believe me, that happens to me quite often.

One of the most amusing episodes happened in the gym.While at the drinking fountain, a lady approached me and said, “I know you, you’re that lawyer. What’s your name now?” I replied, with a sheepish grin, “I’m Atty. (and I gave my name).” Then she replied, “No,you’re not. You’re Atty. Fortun! (the reference is to any of the two Fortun brothers who garnered their share of fame or notoriety, depending on which side you are, because of the impeachment trial of Estrada)” Honestly, I didn’t know how to react to that.

Ironically, I would most often be identified with the younger of the two Fortuns; although people also mistake me for someone else less “notorious.”

On Mother’s day last week, while waiting for my family at Gateway, I heard someone say toward my direction, “Hi Fr. Jboy!” (the reference is to Fr. Jessel Gerard “Jboy” Gonzales, SJ, who, at a young age, is already gaining a reputation for being a very inspired and inspiring homilist; check out his blog here.) He’s a good friend of mine so I turned to see where he was before I realized the lady was in front of me and was greeting ME. We both had a good laugh when she realized I wasn’t him and I realized she mistook me for him!

Only yesterday, after mass, another lady accosted (she came up to me, blocked my path and “forcibly” shook my hand) me and said, “Hi, I know you. You’re Atty. Fortun!” Again, I didn’t know how to react to that.

Mistakes in identity happen. They’re often funny (as in my situations) but they can also have serious consequences--I’ve had many cases involving mistaken identity where people were arrested, tortured, killed or disappeared. Despite the differences in features, personality, look, these mistakes happen and its part of life on earth so we don’t really need to get so strung out on these mistakes.

I rest assured though of One who never mistakes me for anyone else. The One who knows me inside and out, who never fails to pick me out in any crowd, the One I can never fool regardless of what I put on or become, the One who knows my heart and its ways (Ps 139:23) because He has made me fearfully and wonderfully (139:14). My One Lord and Master. Before Him, I need not be anyone else for my identity is secure, my identity is clear, my identity is precious: I am His beloved. He has called me by name and I am his (Isaiah 43:1) and no one on earth can take that away from me.

I thank You, Lord, for giving me this unmistakeable identity as Yours. May I respond in a manner befitting Your call to me.

What's the fuss? Tell me whats-a-happening?

The title comes from a song in the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber 70s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar which, during its time, earned (undeservedly) its share of brikcbats as it showed an all-too human side of Jesus. The song is sung by Magdalene, Peter and the apostles and is one of the catchiest songs in the entire musical. I thought of that line while watching another film about Jesus's humanity which has earned (deservedly) its share of criticism.

I watched The Da Vinci Code yesterday and truly regretted it—it was a waste of hard-earned money and precious time.

Without a doubt,--and please quote me on this--, it is ONE OF THE WORST MOVIES TO COME OUT THIS YEAR! Considering that it is Oscar winner Ron Howard who directed it and it has in its smorgasbord of stars, Oscar winners Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen and established veterans like Jean Reno and an intriguing Paul Bettany, it is a movie that truly disappoints.

The plot is confused and confusing (Akiva Goldsman, another noted screenplay writer, disappoints with this outing); the characters are very shallow and the pace is uneven and at crucial stretches dragging; I nodded off at the pivotal scene among Leigh Teabing [McKellen], Langdon [Hanks] and Sophie Neveu [aka anak ni Jesus, Audrey Toutou] where Teabing discourses about Mary Magdalene and Jesus and the Knights Templar and even the part (inserted by Goldman and Howard) where Langdon debates with Teabing (not in the book). It is that boring and that dry.

Midway through the film, you start to ask yourself, what’s the fuss all about? The movie does not even explain valuable premises and leaves the audience to wonder what the characters who, owing to the heavy French accents and overtones apparently keep mumbling to themselves about many things (if you want to see two excellent movies about mumbling, see The Godfather and The Godfather Part Two and even the particularly refreshing and delightful licensed parody The Freshman with the always delightful Matthew Broderick and a very hammy—in many ways than one-- Marlon Brando. But I digress.)

You never get to the thriller part—as in the book, which, at least is a good suspense-filled read—because every scene is so predictable. You also never get to the faith part because by then you’ve probably nodded off. Even the treasure hunt that is the basic premise of Dan Brown’s novel is shallow—I’ve seen better treasure hunt premises in The Amazing Race and Alias.

Ron Howard tries to stave off controversy involving the Opus Dei and the Vatican as well as from Christians worldwide by making Langdon a more sympathetic figure—at one point, he even challenges Teabing on the latter’s belief—and makes the Langdon character’s views less dogmatic (which, in the book, is clearly held by the Langdon character with all the lectures the character gives there). In doing so, Howard misses the entire point of the book. In trying to make it less controversial, Howard misses Dan Brown’s point—he (Brown) truly believes in what he wrote (don’t believe the balderdash that he is merely echoing the words of others; if Brown were a man of integrity—which he obviously is not—he would stand by what he wrote, especially in the first page where he says everything contained in the book is true). By trying to make the movie less controversial, Howard manages to confuse everyone and, in the process, comes up with one of the lamest excuses for a movie in recent years. What makes it truly confusing is this: in the end, Langdon “kneels” before the sarcophagus of Mary Madgalene and, in the process, reveals himself to be a believer and, thus, reveals the intrinsic and patent flaw of the characterization.

All in all, The Da Vinci Code (The Movie) sucks. Please quote me on this: it sucks. You would be better served to watch another movie or read the best selling book of all time (hint: its not by Dan Brown).

So tell me, what's the fuss? tell me whats-a-happening?

May 18, 2006

Love in the Open Hand (John 15:9-11)

The Gospel reading for today (May 18, 2006) is taken from The Gospel According to John (15:9-11).  It is very short and  familiar:

“(9)As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (10) If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments  and abide in His love. (11) These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.”  (ESV)

Yet, despite its familiarity, abiding in God’s love is something that I’ve not been able to truly grasp and personalize many times.  Perhaps it’s the lawyer in me—whenever I see a “condition” (clue:  it usually starts with “if”) like “(i)f you keep my commandments. . .”, I start to analyze what is being asked of me.  Frequently, this passage makes me reflect not so much on the extent and nature of God’s love but on what it demands of me—the “if” that is written so prominently in Jesus’s exhortation at verse 10.

Jesus says I will abide in His love “if” I keep His commandments.  Again, being a lawyer, I have to be obsessed with rules—nothing gets me going more than a good debate on the law and its many “ifs” and “buts.”  Yet, all that Jesus commands me is this:  

“(34)A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:  just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (35) By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  [John 13:34-35, ESV]

Simple. Straightforward.  A commandment after my own heart—uncomplicated yet complex;  terse but true.  All that Jesus commands is that we love as He has loved us.  And that is what terrifies a lot of people; okay, it is what terrifies me.  To love as Jesus has loved me.

Today, as I reflect on that love, I remember a poem that a friend gave me some time back;  it came with a homily which was the same title as the poem, and which I have appropriated as well for this post’s title—“love in the open hand.”

The poem is a sonnet attributed to Edna St. Vincent Millay and is written from the point of view of a young girl speaking to the man she loves;  while it may speak of love that is eros, it also speaks truly of what love is—or should be—and how Jesus has loved me—us—and continues to love me—us.  It speaks to me of love that is agape--love in the open hand, indeed.

In the last part of the sonnet, the young girl tells the young man she loves that she gives him a very simple thing:  “love in the open hand, nothing but that. Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt.THAT is how Jesus loves—and that is how, in the Gospel today, He asks us to love as well.  Love that is open, unhidden, unadorned—generously offered in its entirety. Love in the open hand.

During lent, Fr. Mon Bautista, S.J.  spoke about loving like Jesus.  He said that  to love like Jesus is to become vulnerable like Him;  the measure of Jesus’s love for us is that He gave it all to the point of becoming vulnerable.  THAT is how love in the open hand is—to offer it all to all.  Free to be accepted by all;  free to be rejected by all, as well.  We cannot choose to whom our love is to be offered, we cannot choose, as well, who will accept our love. If our joy is to be full, we simply must just love.

Oftentimes—okay, many times—we fail to just love.  We keep our love locked away; we keep our love in a clenched fist because we choose to whom we want to give this love, we choose to what extent we wish to love, we choose under what conditions we wish to love, we choose when we wish to love.  

I’ve raised my share of clenched fists as an activist and I’ve discovered that it is difficult—if not impossible-- to love with a clenched fist.  

A clenched fist cannot caress. A clenched fist cannot wipe away tears. A clenched fist cannot hold another’s hand.  A clenched fist cannot pat another on the back. A clenched fist cannot pick another up.  A clenched fist cannot share love.  

Only an open hand can.

Similar to the young girl who speaks to the man she loves in the last line of the sonnet—“look what I have!—and these are all for you.”--let us love in the same way.   That we may open our hands as generous bearers of God’s love to all, reflecting our own experience with God’s love, and that we may say to all that we meet, in the same way that Jesus says to us today and everyday: look at what I have and these are all for you.

I pray for the grace to allow my clenched fists to be opened into open palms bearing love;  I pray for the additional grace that my open palms may be clasped with other open palms so that love may be shared; I pray also that, having so shared love, my clenched fists may become open hands clasped in prayer or open palms outstretched in supplication, in praise, in offering.

May 07, 2006

Felicity, Alias, Lost and now MI3

(For my 3 readers who have been asking me to comment on 464, CPR and 1017, sorry, that post is forthcoming; in the meantime, something light.)

I was prepared to hate it: MI3. I don't particularly like Tom Cruise (the only movies with him in it that I liked were Collateral--and that was because of Jamie Foxx--and Magnolia--and that was because he was so not Cruise), I think he's over-rated. I was intrigued however by one credit in MI3: JJ Abrams.

Now, my 3 regular readers know that I'm a big Alias Fan (that's primarily because of JJ Abrams) and the thought of JJ Abrams handling this franchise intrigued me.

From the very first scene, I knew I was going to love this one--it is so Abrams (those who watch Alias will know what I mean; I won't describe it as it might be a spoiler to those who haven't watched it yet). The frenetic pace, the beautiful and strong women (Keri Russell bka Felicity, Maggie Q; incidentally, Felicity and Alias are Abrams creations), the intelligent plot complete with twists and turns and the out-of-this-world situations packed into almost two hours--that's so Abrams.

MI3 does not disappoint. Unlike MI2, which, despite John Woo, never took off and MI which was mired in too much introspection and the most funereal pace, MI3 just establishes a very simple plot and lets the action rip. You hardly notice Cruise (that might be why I liked the movie) because the action is the star and for an action movie, that should be the case.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is appropriately menacing; Ving Rhames is consistently good; even Laurence Fishburne, despite the short airtime, is striking. But again, what makes MI3 good is the pace, the action and the "intelligent" suspension of disbelief that Abrams asks the viewers to go through. His scenarios make sense and the twists and turns don't appear contrived.

I just have one beef: the woman who played Ethan Hunt's wife (Maggie somebody) suddenly became a great shot despite being told how to handle a firearm a few seconds back. And a beef and a half: they should have given Keri Russell more scenes--she filled up the screen in the minutes she was there (perhaps they could give her a series similar to Alias, now that its off the air, Russell has shown that she can hold her own in action and not just in pop-drama).

I left the moviehouse feeling that the money I spent was worth it. Can't wait for Star Trek to be directed by Abrams--in 2008.

May 03, 2006

Blogger's block

Haven’t blogged for some time now.

There’s been a lot on my mind and on my plate and while there is sufficient pc time and opportunity to blog, I think I have blogger’s block.  There are so many things running through my mind that I want to blog about but when I sit down in front of the screen to write about them, the words come out stale and bland.

I know this blogger’s block will disappear soon.  Until then. . . God bless you.