By Ruel S. De Vera Associate Editor I NEVER quite understood the saying “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” For one thing, I consider teaching on any level to be one of the most difficult disciplines to learn. Those who aren’t up to snuff simply will not last more than a couple of years at the job. The challenge isn’t just about instruction skill—though classroom presence and technique matter immensely—but about compassion. One of the most significant discoveries of teachers who endure is how to care just enough about the students. You need to care enough to want to see each one succeed, not let them get lost in the multitude of faces and students numbers—and yet not fall into the trap of taking each student’s story personally. There is no easier or quicker way to burn out than trying to be everything to all. The vocation of “saving” students is not exactly part of the job description. What should be is to inspire. I honestly believe that the worst students make for the best teachers, because they know what the students are really thinking, and not just the smart and eager ones. The unlikely ones often become the longest-lasting ones. Teachers get their techniques from all kinds of places. I think it’s invaluable to be interesting in the classroom, to be able to hold their attention. I found my style after perusing a lot of standup comedy, of Letterman and Leno, Robin Williams and Mitch Hedberg, and of course, the great Rex Navarette. A good grasp of “Shaider” and “Bioman” helps as well. I always thought the next step would be to learn to make balloon animals, do magic tricks and maybe eat fire. Let’s see the students sleep through that. Seriously though, people often develop their personal grasp on what teachers are and do from the movies they watch. Because of the nature of what teachers do, they are a favorite of movie makers. But the different movies often present different teachers and thus different teaching styles. Here are some examples: 1) “Dead Poets Society”: I put this first because it’s usually what other people mention as their favorite movie about a teacher. Sad to say, I have never seen it in its entirety. Yes, I know, horrible. But what I have seen tells me this Peter Weir opus is about inspiring boys with the possibilities of unfettered imagination and passion. As well as the benefits of standing on tables and reciting “O Captain, My Captain.” 2) “Stand and Deliver”: This 1988 project was the progenitor of the Tough Love style of teacher movies. Edward James Olmos is the curmudgeon Mr. Jaime A. Escalante who will lift the kids—and the young defiant Lou Diamond Phillips as Angel Guzman—by teaching them to stand up to reality. 3) “To Sir With Love”: Teaching the Other; that’s what comes to mind when I think about this 1967 movie directed by novelist James Clavell that features a lot of challenging British accents and the mesmerizing Sidney Poitier as the unforgettable Mark Thackeray. It also reminds us that standing straight, wearing suits and speaking in complete sentences will draw respect from any high schooler. 4) “Dangerous Minds” and “Freedom Writers”: These two movies are basically the same save that Michelle Pfieffer is a Marine and Hilary Swank is not. It’s about getting modern-day kids to trust that the teacher really does care, as well as how liberating learning to write can be for anyone. 5) “Finding Forrester”: This J.D. Salinger-like tale from Gus Van Sant has Sean Connery, basketball, the always excellent F. Murray Abraham doing Sallieri in the classroom and a manual typewriter. I can never think of this movie without hearing Connery’s inimitable brogue. It also has amazing insight into the writing process and a killer song in Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s plaintive take on “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” 6) “Remember The Titans,” “Gridiron Gang,” “Glory Road” and “We are Marshall”: Coaches are teachers in more than one way and these well-made true-to-life sports movies show just how much a difference they can make. 7) “Coach Carter”: Why separate this one from the others? Because the similarly true-to-life “Coach Carter” made a difference not just because of his offense-to-defense ideas, but because he stood up for the idea that grades are particularly important for athletes. Plus Samuel L. Jackson is electric in this. 8 ) “Mila”: The idea of the Teacher as Bleeding Heart isn’t new, but this Maricel Soriano starrer is a cautionary tale about how far we might go to save our wayward students. Soriano is really good in this Joel Lamangan tearjerker and a fine example on how saving others can turn into losing yourself. 9) The Indiana Jones movies, the Robert Langdon movies and “21”: These seemingly surprising addition shows the teacher as adventurer, possessing a truly practical approach to their teaching. Harrison Ford’s Jones is a treasure hunter, Tom Hanks’ Langdon is a symbologist/world saver and Kevin Spacey’s character Micky Rosa masterminds a team of MIT students in counting cards in casinos. 10) “The Sound of Music” and “The King and I”: What is a family-friendly fave from 1965 and Yul Brynner’s 1956 Oscar winner doing on this list? Governesses are teachers in many ways and here they brush up against authority and deal with it by song and affection. Plus the songs are really good. Let’s say you are the only person on the planet not to be charmed by Julie Andrews’ pixie hairdo, surely the magnificent Deborah Kerr will win you over. There are many more, of course, but this is how I would start. What about you? Never forget what “Dead Poets Society’s” John Keating said: I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself. Read all about some amazing teachers in the Sept. 20, 2009 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
Recently in My life as a movie Category
By Ruel S. De Vera, Associate Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine THE tenuous connection between All Souls Day and scary things gets even more muddled every year as the Philippines seems to move closer and closer to a Halloween that is American in almost every single way. What has always been interesting is how TV revels in this by sending up their "scary" stuff. Remember the "Magandang Gabi, Bayan" Halloween episode? Spooky. The channels would also roll out their menagerie of Filipino horror films, including some very old and some very funny ones. So let's ask ourselves what are the ten scariest films we have ever seen. Take note, if I seem to be missing a scary movie on this list, it's because I probably haven't seen it. Horror movies seem to be the single most profitable genre now, so everyone is making them one after the other, especially Asian countries. I simply haven't been able to watch all of them despite my best efforts. Plus, I try to tune out the Hollywood adaptations. You will also notice a preponderance of zombie movies on this list -- that's because I simply can't stop watching them. Here they are, in no particular order: 1. "Night of the Living Dead": I’m talking about the original 1968 version. What George Romero distilled was a new way of projecting fears about the era we lived in. But what has endured is a fear of flesh-eating corpses that shamble around, waiting to turn you into one of them. The 1990 remake may have been in full-color, but the original black-and-white experiment carries an edge and moodiness that defy time and taste. 2. "28 Days Later" and "28 Weeks Later" (Counts as one): Just as Romero defined zombie movies, these two movies redefined them, unleashing two innovations: 1) zombies which run very, very fast and 2) the zombie movie as art. Both British products with quite an artistic pedigree: 2002's "Days" was directed by Danny Boyle and written by novelist Alex Garland while 2007's "Weeks" was helmed by Spaniard Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. The movies took advantage of millennial dread and used a virus called Rage; note that the zombies are never referred to as such, they are simply "The Infected." Between the empty London landscapes and the eerie music by John Murphy, these movies prove that the horrifying can be beautiful. 3. "Dawn of Dead": This time, I'm referring to the 2004 recreation by Zack Snyder. Back then, Snyder was a hotshot video director, but it was this movie that established him as a kinetic, visual filmmaker who would go on to helm both "300" and "Watchmen." Totally owning the idea of the mall as apocalyptic shelter, this movie runs at ten times the speed of the Romero original, pushing the speedy zombie to its maximum, while pushing the envelope with zombies of all shapes and sizes. 4. "Life Force": This 1985 production is British in feel and spirit -- yet it was actually directed by Tobe Hooper, the Texas-born mind behind the original "Texas Chain Saw Massacre." Sleek if somewhat ludicrous, it brings what can only be described as space vampires into the forefront with a surprisingly good cast (Patrick Stewart before he was Picard! Peter Firth! Mathilda May!), it mixes a bit of sexiness and a lot of sci-fi into a modern gothic movie. 5. "The Thing": There is no more grotesque, more paranoid product that John Carpenter's masterwork. That "thing" (really what other way can it be described) waiting under the arctic ice in this 1982 screamer really carries out its mission in the goriest, grossest way Possible -- taking the whole "it disguises itself as you" aesthetic to new depths. And that last scene -- craggy Kurt Russell and granite-hewn Keith David back-to-back, clutching their weapons as the snow comes down, listening to the darkness, clutching their weapons just in case, all the while we've hearing Ennio Morricone's (yes, that Ennio Morricone) heartbeat of a theme ticking way -- is a reminder of how mindbending these movies can be. 6. "The Sixth Sense": M. Night Shyamalan's first movie was his best, and the twist awaiting Bruce Willis at the very end, mixed with Haley Joel Osment's eye-opening performance, make this a solid movie, period. But it is what Shyamalan does with movement -- just a little – that makes this a winner. The sudden, furtive movement behind Osment as he's peeing in the bathroom. The rustling under his bed. The slow rocking of something in the rafters. Scary. 7. "The Others": Just perhaps the most underrated, underappreciated horror movie imaginable, this 2001 movie from Chilean writer/director Alejandro Amenabar is the exact opposite of "The Sixth Sense." It is a very still movie—and has a whopper of a twist at the end that rivals that of "Sense." It uses shadows and stillness instead of light and movement. Nicole Kidman and her kids make this a horror masterpiece that is sad as well as scary -- and quite possibly the single movie you should not alone at night. 8. "Shake, Rattle & Roll": The granddaddy of all Filipino modern horror—and the best of them all. This 1984 trilogy featured the definitive combination of séance voodoo (and a cautionary tale for all Spirit of the Glass sessions) with Emmanuel H. Borlaza's "Baso," a fear-the-aswang chase in Peque Gallaga's "Manananggal," and—the most inventive idea of all—haunted appliances in Ishmael Bernal's "Pridyider." Janice de Belen's turn as the victim dared viewers to go and get a cold drink after watching this. The tenth "Shake" comes out this year, but the original is still the mightiest of all. 9. "Jaws": Any movie that makes you scared of jumping into the swimming pool has to be on this list. This is the movie that made Steven Spielberg big and essentially created the event movie. Yet it is uncanny how a malfunctioning mechanical shark and Spielberg's decision to shoot around it made for unforgettable seaside violence. 10. "The Exorcist" and "The Omen" (Counts as one thematically): A confession: To this day, I cannot watch the originals from start to end. These devil-oriented movies remain as terrifying today as when they first came out (William Friedkin's "Exorcist" in 1973 and Richard Donner's "Omen" in 1976) and the names Regan and Damien became scary forever. Read about the scariest movies in the October 26 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
By Ruel S. De Vera, Associate Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine THERE'S an interesting buzz surrounding Lav Diaz's eight-hour film "Melancholia," which, it must be noted, is NOT being shown in Metro Manila. The MTRCB has, apparently, not been able to watch it and thus give it a required rating, even while the MTRCB chair Consoliza Laguardia denies it's not because it's too long. The buzz is interesting because Diaz's film received the Orizzonti Grand Prize of Mostra 2008--yet we won't get to watch it. The other buzz comes from the sheer amazement of people that someone actually made an eight-hour film. It boggles the mind for some. So we think of the longest movies ever made. According to Wikipedia, Diaz's film does not even come close to the longest movie ever made, the 27-hour long Chinese silent film "The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple." The movie was released in two parts, in 1928 and 1931. One can only imagine there was not all that much to watch at the time in China, but I'm just guessing. There is a bunch of European films ranging from 25 to 5 hours or so. Length isn't always a bad thing. Many of the greatest movies made were long. In fact, there was often an intermission between the two parts. The movie musicals even had an overture at the start. "Gone With the Wind" is over three hours long. So is "Lawrence of Arabia." Running just under three hours are "The Sound of Music" and "West Side Story." Of similar length are "Dances with Wolves" and "Saving Private Ryan." Of most recent vintage, "The Dark Knight" clocked in at two and a half hours. The movie with the highest all-time gross, it has to be noted, is 1997's "Titanic," which ran just over three hours. Of course, length is never an automatic sign of a good film. Kevin Costner's "The Postman" ran over three hours long and even if "Waterworld" was much shorter, it sure felt longer. Wolfgang Petersen's "Troy" is almost three hours long--I mean, it is about the Iliad. But when it's three hours that deviates ridiculously from the Iliad (how the heck does Agamemnon die in Troy? How do we go from there to Medea? Is he resurrected as a Greek zombie?), that has to be considered a bit excessive. For all the people who complained about the length of "The Matrix Reloaded" (two hours plus) and "The Matrix Revolutions" (almost the same), consider that most of that time was taken up with big machines going klank, people going whoa and cars going crunch. Besides, I actually like all three Matrix movies (then again, I might be the only fan of Keanu Reeves' earlier steampunk joint, the universally reviled "Johnny Mnemonic"). What it boils down to ultimately is your enjoyment will of course vary on your taste. Maybe it is time to go back to the grand three hour movie, with the intermission in between. Maybe it really did make movies a true night out, an event. I would argue in fact that people feel much better about long movies than short ones--you surely won't feel shortchanged for an eight-hour movie if you pay the same as for the hour-and-a-half variety. I just like having the choice, so I hope "Melancholia" is eventually shown in theaters here, no matter how few viewers there are, once it passes MTRCB rating, of course. After all, we should count ourselves lucky. Wikipedia says that the 2006 German experimental film "Matrjoschka" which ran 95 hours long. Whoa indeed. For more about Lav Diaz and his film "Melancholia," check out the October 12 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
By Pennie Azarcon-dela Cruz, Executive Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine REMEMBER that old saw about making sure you’re not hungry when you go shopping? Well, my corollary to that is, never never watch “Eat Drink Man Woman” when you haven’t had a meal. The first time I caught this Ang Lee movie on late TV was way past dinner, so that by the end of the opening scene where this longtime widower is shown filleting fish, blanching vegetables, chopping squid, delicately twisting siomao wrappers and deep frying the Peking duck that he had just blown up like a balloon, I felt like licking the TV screen, drooling desperately for some Chinese food. How can you resist such a tempting premise? You know that the deft slicing, chopping and kneading of meat, vegetables and dough are a prelude to something even better. Like the isolated notes on a music sheet, you just know there’s a symphony waiting to float out into the air once those notes are strung together on an instrument. The promise of several sumptuous dishes are evident behind all that steam and sizzle and in the furrowed brow concentration that the aging Chinese chef invests on his kitchen labor. But if there’s one scene that instantly activates my salivary glands, it is that which shows the elderly Chinese patriarch lifting a slab of fatty pork from a vat of boiling oil. Turning to a bowl filled with water by his elbow, he quickly dips this chunk of pure cholesterol into the icy bath, producing a sizzle so powerful it still inhabits my dreams. Suddenly the smooth pork rind erupts into rough craters that you just know must have made for the crispiest lechong kawali hereabouts. If Freud were to psychoanalyze my fascination for today’s cooking shows, he would have run smack into this movie that, looking back now, fairly describes my life so far. Well, a fairly accurate recipe of it, anyway. Basically, the movie follows a Chinese family -- a master chef and his three grown-up daughters as they partake of a festive Sunday lunch painstakingly prepared by the widowed father. Some reviewers see the huge mounds of food as an inadvertent barrier that block off conversation among the diners, who each nurse secret dreams and frustrations they’re too polite to articulate. The movie, Ang Lee himself admits, is about families and how they communicate. “Sometimes the things children need to hear are often the things that parents find hardest to say, and vice versa. When that happens, we resort to ritual. For the Chu family, the ritual is the Sunday dinner.” Ang Lee might have been talking about our own Sunday dinners back when I was young and single and sharing meals with my parents and five other siblings in our renovated home in Tondo. In the movie, the chef’s passion for cooking hides his inability to express his affection for his three daughters. In our household, Nanay’s passion to fire up the stove parallels her desire to make her daughters meet the accepted standards of the day. In cash-starved Tondo, this meant robust cheeks, glowing skin and well-groomed hair that marked one as well-nourished (read: rich) and not coincidentally, blessed with an ideal mom who is also an accomplished cook. It must have pained Nanay to think herself being publicly judged by her daughters’ unfashionably-thin arms and scraggly hair, so Sunday lunch often meant such calorific offerings as either pinatisang baboy (porkchop steeped in patis and calamansi and fried to a crisp), nilagang manok, the soup redolent with the native chicken’s yellowish fat, her suicidal kalderetang baka made thicker and richer with coconut milk, grated cheese and chopped pork liver, and her specialty, tinumis, a thick stew of pork, liver, spleen and blood much like dinuguan except it was chunkier and infinitely more lethal. Few words were exchanged over this family feast, not because we had trouble communicating our thoughts but more because our mouths were too full and busy for talk. If there were any festering frustrations kept under lid, that would be Nanay’s, who was probably thinking up more deadly dishes to fatten up her daughters. Or okay, mine, thinking of how it would be so embarrassing to bring such leftovers for school lunch when my classmates had hotdog, spaghetti, pork and beans or fried chicken, newfangled dishes that these Americans were eating in such popular TV shows at that time such as “Leave It to Beaver” and “Bonanza.” Talk about family legacy! The huge Sunday lunch eventually found a permanent niche in my hips and waistline. Nanay’s passion for cooking similarly rubbed off on me, maybe through osmosis, although the calorific dishes remain mostly in the realm of my fantasies and childhood memories in deference to the fitness lifestyle we’ve been trying to maintain. When time and schedule permits, I still cook a festive Sunday lunch and, like “Eat Drink Man Woman,” the meals are quickly consumed in silence. That is, if burps, slurps and the clink of dueling spoons and forks don’t count. For more sumptuous offerings on screen and how these movies have become a ritual of sorts for most Filipinos, read the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. Out this Sunday with your copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
By Ruel S. De Vera, Associate Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine WHENEVER I ask people what their all-time favorite movie is, they will invariably respond with “There’s just too many.” Now, despite the clarity of my request and the frustration I feel whenever someone can’t give a simple answer, I actually completely understand this feeling. Our favorite movies are so important to us that to name one haphazardly feels unfair not only to that movie but to the other movies which might have been overlooked. So let us change the question. If you were a movie, which one would you be? Now there’s a compelling quandary. I’d like to think of myself as a biopic, like one of those movies where a damaged person overcomes everything somehow, like “A Beautiful Mind” or “Seabiscuit” (yes, he’s a horse, I know that). Sometimes I’d like to think of myself as someone overflowing with snarky dialogue and observations, like “Juno” or even “Iron Man.” I’d like to imagine I have a powerful sense of wonder, like “Finding Neverland” or “Shakespeare in Love.” Luckily, my all-time favorite movie remains the one I identify with closest. The Wachowski brothers’ masterpiece “The Matrix” has received many brickbats, most having to do with its (in my mind, underrated but certainly) inferior sequels. But the core of the Matrix, about choosing to wake up even if the dream is bliss, of fighting back when you discover the deception, especially when others decide to go on with the subterfuge, is so authentic, the movie still matters. It’s a remix of so many elements (comic books, cyberpunk, anime), all of which I love, but it’s also about choosing to be an individual, not just different, amid a world of sameness. That’s something I can really believe in, a pill I’m most willing to swallow. For more on movies -- memorable movie lines, the Filipino as moviegover and great Pinoy moments in global cinema -- check out the June 1 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.