Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Our Own Oscars' Night In Seoul

I always look forward to watching the Academy Awards to see if my favorite actors and movies get to bring home the Oscar
And although I have seen a few Hollywood A-listers (yes, I have seen Nicolas Cage, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt up close) here in Seoul, I still would have wanted to be at the Kodak Theater to see them walk the red carpet on Oscars' night.
And so, to celebrate Hollywood and its movies, a few  Hollywood movie fans gathered to celebrate our own Oscars' night, not at the Kodak Theater, but at Fay and Pong's home in Hannam-dong in Seoul.

We all showed up all right, but not as ourselves. We came as a Hollywood movie character.

And since I have been busy at work, I didn't have time to look for a complicated movie character's costume. So I thought of the simplest one I could think of: James Franco in 127 Hours. I reviewed the movie and knew very well his look: a shirt, shorts and a stubble. And since I couldn't afford not to shave for 5 days, my razor stayed dry that morning.

And our hosts creatively transformed their living room into a mini-Hollywood with movie posters, a starry Walk of Fame, a long velvet strip of paper turned 'red carpet', popcorn and, of course, a mini-Oscar trophy (which I actually bought from a souvenir shop next to the Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood)

And that night, Marilyn Monroe, Lawrence of Arabia, the Black Swan and a very young White Swan, Red Riding Hood, Velma of Scooby-Doo, a Blues Brother, Johnny Cash, Helen of Troy, and the Phantom of the Opera and his bride all showed up at the red carpet, er, Fay and Pong's front door.

But like the Oscar after-parties, we had yummy food (and even yummier desserts!) and fun games. We had a name-that-movie-theme-song contest and movie charades in keeping with our party theme. 

And since it's an awards night, the Oscars were naturally given away to deserving 'Best' in something character. (Actually, everyone got an award!).

It was definitely fun playing some movie character, even just for a night. Now, I know how Cinderella felt. Ha-ha-ha!  And while she also lost one of her glass slippers, I lost my left boot.

Our own Oscars' night may not have been attended by the Hollywood A-listers, but at least we were able to celebrate, in our own fun way, our love of the cinema and a few of our favorite movie characters.
See you all at the Oscars!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Kim Yuna Is In The Haus!

I knew something was going on when I was entering through the front entrance of my office building that morning.

The revolving door was blocked by a tall Korean guy in black suit and overcoat. I immediately knew he was a bodyguard because (a) he had an earpiece, and (b) his hair was properly combed and sleek (and very un-K-pop-ish). Plus, he was trying to intimidate everyone with his cold stare. I stared back at him, letting him know I wasn't at all intimidated. After all, he's in my territory. Ha-ha-ha!

And when I entered the building through the other glass door, I saw all these posters of the most famous Korean athlete hanging from the railings of the second floor. There was also a simple stage with seats arranged like somebody was going to perform in the building's lobby later that day!

There's a sports gear shop in this building and perhaps, with all these blown-up photographs of the Vancouver Olympics' figure skating ladies singles' gold medalist, I was thinking she is now the new face of a track suit.

Kim Yuna is going to be in the house!

Well, I later learned that a press conference was going to be held that morning, and I just had to take a break for a few minutes and went down to take a peek.

Earlier that morning, the chairs in that area outnumbered the curious office people. But when I went down this time, it was as if most of the office workers in the building rushed down just to see her! I even noticed people from the next building sneaking in to join the crowd!

And when she appeared, a few aahs from the crowd and more clicking of the cameras from the photographers were heard. She stood there in front to showcase her new sportswear, and later sat down to talk about it. I didn't know how long her sales talk lasted. I was just interested in seeing her; I wasn't interested in her sports brand. (I have always been a Nike boy, unless her sports brand gives me something to change my mind. Ha-ha-ha!).

Well, when Yuna Kim skated her gold medal performance in Vancouver, she stopped the whole country for four minutes to watch her skate. But this time, without her ice skates (and only her track suit), she stopped work (at least for some curious salaried workers) in the building for about the same time.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

A Pinoy In The Movies: The Iron Lady

I wondered why CGV in Yongsan didn't carry The Iron Lady this week when it's supposed to be the best time to show it. It's the week before the Oscars!

That's why I had to hurry down to Landcinema instead. It's far, but I had no choice. I just had to watch The Iron Lady and learn a few years of British history. Margaret Thatcher was always on the news when I was still at school. Now that I'm done with school, she's no longer in the news but in the movies!

Sitting there at the spacious Landcinema Hall #8 (with my popcorn, Coke and about 40 moviegoers...only!), the film reminded me of events discussed in the classroom and on television. From the IRA bombings to the miners' strikes that almost crippled the British economy and to the war at the Falklands, the whole movie was a lecture on the British history and economy as well as the most brilliant performance of an actor in years. Not even Viola Davis (another favorite to win the best actress at the 2012 Oscars) can match what I think is a performance people will talk about until the 2013 Oscars.

We are all used to Meryl Streep's roles where she adopts an accent, perfect a language and immediately disappears into her character. And sometimes, her unfortunate co-stars would just pale at her brilliance, making us forget the rest of the cast (and they would just say it was an honor working with her).

As the Iron Lady, Meryl Streep disappears behind the coiffed hair, the pouting lips, the twin pearl necklaces, the overbite and the screeching voice. Gosh, she was even able to pin down the swaying of Thatcher's head! And as the retired Thatcher, Streep made me sympathize with the elderly as she struggled on the screen with old age and dementia. Watch how she walks like an old lady, with those small easy steps, drooping back and wandering eyes.

The movie narrates how Margaret, as a young lady from Grantham, made her way through British politics until she finally became the prime minister in 1979 by bringing the audience back in time through flashbacks showing the highlights in Thatcher's life and political career.

I especially enjoyed those memorable quotes from Thatcher which showed off her wit and toughness as a woman and as a leader. "It's time to put the 'great' back into Great Britain.", she said.

The movie is also quite a lesson on leadership and the acceptance of the female gender as an equal (the male- dominated Korean society could also learn a thing or two from the movie)

The British are lucky Margaret Thatcher wanted her life to mean something. She became their prime minister. I, too, am lucky, as her life is now a must-see movie!

Although I haven't seen the other Oscar best actress nominees' performances, I wouldn't be surprised if Meryl Streep wins her third Oscar. With her 17 nominations, it seems that it's already a habit for her to produce a performance year after year with which others have to try to measure their own performances. 

Good luck, Meryl! And if Margaret Thatcher were an Academy member, she'd definitely vote for you, too. 

Monday, 20 February 2012

Salonga, Estrada And My Iced Cafe Mocha!

These winter Sundays have always been lazy. These negative temperatures could not just let me enjoy going out to play tennis or just move around the city. So, the best thing is usually to stay warm indoors. 

I always say that the best weekends are not always spent at home. They're spent....in bed. Ha-ha-ha!
But I've been sleeping all day already, and memorized all the movies shown on TV lately. So, I decided to leave my apartment and catch up on my reading at the neighborhood cafe.

Picking a book of read wasn't difficult. With the impeachment trial going on in Manila on a stubborn chief justice, I brought along Jovito Salonga's book on the impeached former Philippine president, Joseph Estrada.
Gosh, even as I sipped my iced cafe mocha which was overflowing with whipped cream, I was squirming as I read the pages of corruption and the absence of morals. Abuse of power, dishonesty and extravagance were like a collective slap to my face as I sat there at the coffee shop realizing that I am working my ass off to make a living, while these corrupt officials helped themselves to millions, milking the government and abuse their positions like it was their own sari-sari store.

I stopped reading, but continued to sip my coffee. And instead of savoring the sweetness of the whipped cream and the mocha, I tasted bitterness in my mouth from the detailed corruption in the book (and that's just a few chapters!). I should have ordered cream and read a comic book instead.

And everyday, as the impeachment trial for the current chief justice continues, perhaps a new page detailing abuse of power, corruption and the absence of delicadeza in government is being written, not on paper, but in our minds as citizens.
I certainly deserve this iced cafe mocha on this lazy Sunday afternoon, but I certainly do not deserve a corrupt government. 

PNoy, clean it up for me, please. And I will treat you to an iced cafe mocha. Topped with whipped cream, of course.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Alcione In The Cold Corner

I woke up late Saturday morning after sleeping late from finishing last night's War Horse blog. I just had to finish that homework before I cram into another movie.
But sleepiness plus the freezing day outside just forced me enjoy my thick blanket and a couple of movie channels until...
...I got a call late in the afternoon from my friend Seung-ho who was driving past Hannam-dong, and wanted to chat with me for an hour before he headed to COEX for an appointment.
Oh well, there goes my hibernation and CSI reruns.

I met him at the main road and headed to the Richensia side to find another cafe. I already knew the ones nearby were already full. And what we found was a new cozy, warm Alcione cafe, which was near the back entrance of Richensia. It was hardly noticeable, as if it was hiding in a cold corner.
We just ordered cafe mocha and chatted. Mine was, of course, the iced cafe mocha. I just wanted to extend the cold weather into my coffee. 
The all-girl Alcione crew told me their coffee shop has strong wi-fi (a plus), but sadly, no electrical socket if you have a laptop running out of power (a plus if they install now. Ha-ha-ha!).

The place is relatively quiet (I like!), but sadly, they close at 9PM (how early!)

I'm not sure if I would venture into that cold corner of Richensia again. But I now have an alternative cafe when the ones on the main road are not just full, but full of noisy people.
Now, back to my thick blanket. And my movie channels.

A Pinoy At The Movies: War Horse

If there's cramming before an exam, there's also cramming before the Oscars.

It's Hollywood's biggest night in a week and I haven't even been able to watch the best movies of the year yet. Why? One, most art films are not shown in Korea, especially if they're not commercially viable; they're only shown if they win an Oscar or maybe if the cinemas don't have anything else to offer. 

Two, I have totally forgotten that there's CGV and Landcinema in the neighborhood!

So, off I braved the -3'C degree temperature (and the KRW8,000 movie ticket!) just to catch War Horse, which was on its last days at CGV Yongsan.  I decided to watch it since the only horses I have seen in Korea are the ones that pulled those lighted carriages along Cheonggye Stream (and they're all hiding in winter). And even if my eyes were still blurry from work, I had to force them to watch a movie whose main character wasn't human: a thoroughbred!

Luckily, I was able to sneak into the theater just as the opening credits were running down the screen, or I would have regretted it! Why? The best sceneries in the movie were in the early minutes! Those aerial shots of the hills of Devon just made me want to visit this county in England. That's where the horse was born, and where the movie actually starts and eventually ends.

I'm not really going to spill out the storyline as it would take me 146 minutes and a world war to do it.  Mr. Spielberg, as usual, impressed. As I sat there, still thawing my limbs early on in the movie, I could already see the Spielberg touch. The guy always brings it on in his storytelling.

As the title goes, this movie is about a horse which went to war. World War I, that is. The horse, named Joey, was born, sold, raised to plow the field, sold again, and then went to war.

If you happen to have seen The Red Violin (another favorite!), this musical instrument went through the ages touching the lives of the people into whose hands the violin fell. In War Horse, Joey went through World War I and touched the lives into whose hands his care fell.

Although it's a war, Spielberg never showed gore, but still ended up incredibly realistic. Even the moment of execution of two German boys (who also took care of Joey) was creatively covered by a wind mill. And if you see a bomb blast at the trenches, you would see bodies gracefully flying and not cringe at the sight. Gosh, he even made no man's land, that patch of muddy land between German and English soldiers that's full of barbed wires and dead bodies, look like a stretch of mud flats from the Boryeong Mud Festival.

And do watch out for that clever transition when Albert's mother, played by Emily Watson, was knitting. Her knitted 'something' would turn into a plowed field! Amazing! It reminded me of another clever transition in Bram Stoker's Dracula (by Francis Ford Coppola) where the eye of the wolf turned into a huge setting sun. Emily Watson's acting, by the way, was unremarkable. Maybe because she resented playing a rural English housewife married to a disabled alcoholic. Lindsay Lohan could easily play her, and make both of them a believable alcoholic couple.

Albert and Joey made a good match and early on in the movie, Albert emphasized that his horse wasn't a dog. I was also amazed on how they were able to get these horses do what they had to do. Especially plowing!  

One face I immediately recognized was David Kross, the elder of the two German brothers who deserted their posts. He was the lad opposite Kate Winslet in The Reader. They both went naked in that movie. But only Kate won the Oscar. Not fair.

The scenes in France between a grandfather and his granddaughter were like a respite in the middle of the war. They still were able to gather strawberries and make jams! Even if the bombings were within their hearing distance! Their English with a French accent was cute, though (Their accent reminded me of my French teacher Solane).

But the funniest scene was between an English and a German soldier who, in the middle of no man's land, worked together to untangle Joey from the barbed wires. You just have to watch the scene: the white flag, wire cutters, and flipping a German coin. Colin, the Brit, and Peter from Dusseldorf, for a moment, made World War I look like friendly match. I had to laugh when Colin, not knowing Peter's name at first, called him Fritz (which, I guess, is a common nickname in Germany), and Peter loudly resented for calling him that. 

And do watch out for the musical score. Unmistakably John Williams!

I was happy I braved that freezing temperature and gave up W8,000 to CGV for watching War Horse. The story may be sad and endearing, but Spielberg's storytelling was incredibly delightful.

I'd rather you brave the winter winds, too. You won't be disappointed. Just make sure you make it before the opening credits.


Friday, 17 February 2012

Preparing For the Winter Olympics At The Seoul Plaza?

For only KRW1,000 you can now practice your triple Axel jumps in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games or the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang.  How cheap, no?!

But I didn’t see anybody doing triples that morning when I passed by the Seoul Plaza skating rink where kids were taking lessons and teens warming up the ice with their respective dates.

The freezing temperatures in Seoul have been kind enough to keep the ice frozen and the kids happy as they no longer need to go that far to glide on an ice rink.

I wonder if those kids on the rink taking lessons that day would someday end up as Olympic champions themselves.

And seeing a lot of their moms watching from the benches, I have a feeling maybe, just maybe, they would.

The PyeongChang Winter Olympics are just six years away. I guess they have time to prepare. They just need a lot of W1,000 for the skating rental.