Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Journey to a world unseen

Journey to a world unseen
By Raymond De Asis-Lo L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star)

MANILA, Philippines - My recent shared elevator ride and brief but interesting conversation with British actor Jim Sturgess on our way to the mezzanine of the Hyatt Hotel during a junket in Century City a few days ago brought back a flood of memories from the days when I was just starting to write about Hollywood.

Having met countless actors and filmmakers and after doing over a hundred celebrity interviews in five years, one would be tempted to think that I would be jaded about all these by now. Thankfully, that’s not the case. I still get excited — and nervous, always! — everytime an e-mail pops up containing an invitation to cover a particular junket.

My very first interview was with the Backstreet Boys back when they were making their first comeback in early 2005. It was followed by an invite to interview the cast of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, where I first met a pre-adolescent Taylor Lautner, who, I must admit, never struck me that he would grow up to become the hottest werewolf after Michael J. Fox.

That junket was made memorable by two other reasons: it was the first time I shared an elevator ride with a certified Hollywood star! Kristine Davis of SATC fame just wrapped the final season of her HBO hit and was making the transition to film at the time when I interviewed her and I remember my friend Sally pressing me to ask Kristine what her secret was in maintaining her shiny flowing long locks which the pretty actress obligingly shared.

3D filmmaking was the other reason why that junket holds a certain memory: It was the first mainstream Hollywood movie in many years to experiment with the ’70s era gimmickry where images magically leap from the screen to sheer amazement by the audience — and, boy, look how that experiment turned out five years later. Technological advances have finally allowed Hollywood to reap tremendous amount of profits from that inspired decision by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.

When James Cameron perfected the process with his Avatar late last year and pulled in billions of dollars in earnings, a slew of movies were hastily converted to 3D to capitalize on the growing market demand and the results have been mostly disappointing. Many critics have lashed out at how Hollywood is indirectly destroying the long-term viability of this new lucrative platform as evidenced by the recent trend of declining 3D attendance, triggering alarm bells in the industry.

“Like everyone else, when you see a 3D movie, you kind of question the why of it,” says director Zack Snyder. “There have been a few films like Avatar where I get the 3D. I think the thing about Guardians… is that it is kind of built for 3D.”

The director of such blockbuster hits as 300 and Watchmen met with this writer a few days ago during the junket for the visually stunning Warner Bros. 3D animated tale called Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole, which is an incredible adaptation of a hugely-popular series of books about a mythical land inhabited by two groups of owls battling each other in a classic good versus evil conflict which interestingly draws striking parallels to the real-life struggle for racial and social equality today.

“Working on this movie, you really get to have a sense of how hard a process it is to make a 3D movie,” he confers, “and the 3D in this film sort of remind you how 3D can be cool. “

I must attest to what he is saying, I saw the movie a week before its US release and I was stunned by the marvelous work done on the movie. Had I not known beforehand that the movie was hand-drawn, I would have fooled myself into believing that the owls in this movie were real! And not only can they talk, they can engage in combat like the battle-tested Spartans of 300!

The process took three years to complete, acccording to Zack, who started working on the storyboards immediately after he finished 300 and before he started Watchmen. “There’s this other world, a spectacular world like you’ve never seen before: landscapes, mountains, giant trees, stone palaces and everything you can think of and the depths that the 3D create becomes the window into that world.”

Those familiar with Zack’s films would not be disappointed with the movie. His trademark “dust moves,” those slow-motion shots focusing on the details of an action scene like a sword cutting through the air or a feather falling to the ground, are present in this arresting movie.

After completing the storyboards, the Oscar-nominated artists behind Happy Feet came on board and started fleshing out the owls and the magical world of Ga’hoole. The impressive line-up of dedicated actors was finally cast midway through. Their voices and the delivery of the lines were painstakingly added into the facial animation. Zack shared that when Helen Mirren, who voiced the evil Nyra, sighed during her delivery, the artists redesigned the character to allow the pause into the scene.

Jim Sturgess, for his part, recalled working in the studio where he literally had to act like a bird flapping his arms while delivering his lines. “It was a lot of fun, there was a lot of standing inside dark empty room thinking ‘what am I (expletive) doing? I hope no one sees these tapes!’”

“There were times when Zack and I would be in different countries while I was recording for my scenes,” he added. “Just the pure nature of it forces you to use your own imagination because there was nothing to react to but the best part of it is to be able to sit in a cinema and just watch this whole thing come to life and I am just honored to be able to voice one of the most beautifully-crafted creatures — I was totally floored by the film, I thought it was incredible!”

For those not so familiar with Jim, he was the starry-eyed protagonist of the Beatles-infused love story Across the Universe with Evan Rachel Wood. In this movie, the actor voiced the character of Soren, a young adventurous owl who can barely fly but whose rich imagination, fuelled by the stories about the legend of their ancestors, take him to an adventure of his life similar to the heroes in his favorite tales.

Fellow Brit, Ryan Kwanten of True Blood fame, voiced Kludd, Soren’s older jealous brother, shared his similar experience working on the movie: “From the outside perspective, you would really think like you are disappearing into another world where I would be running around, sweating profusely, making all sorts of ridiculous noises. You really have to suspend disbelief, ‘I am in that world, I am an owl, I possess all those qualities and I am gonna go there,’ because the moment you don’t believe that, the audience will see that, they will hear that.”

The rest of the impressive cast includes Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, David Wenham and Matrix-villain, Hugo Weaving.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole is currently playing in theaters.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere" wins Venice top prize!


US director Sofia Coppola on Saturday won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival for "Somewhere", a father-daughter drama set in Hollywood.

"From that first enchanted screening it grew and grew in our hearts, in our minds, in our affections," said jury president Quentin Tarantino as he announced the top prize, adding that the decision had been unanimous.

The Silver Lion went to Alex de la Iglesia of Spain for his dark comedy "A Sad Trumpet Ballad", a love triangle in a zany circus setting which the director said was an attempt to "exorcise" the enduring pain of the Spanish Civil War.

Jerzy Skolimowski's "Essential Killing" about an American Taliban who is captured in Afghanistan, "rendered" to Poland, then escapes into an endurance test in snowy mountains, won the special jury prize as well as a best actor award for Vincent Gallo.

Tarantino also announced a "Special Lion" for cult director Monte Hellman, who was in Venice with "Road to Nowhere", a complex romantic noir thriller.

"This director is both a great cinematic artist and a minimalist poet," Tarantino said. "His work was an inspiration to this jury and it is our honour to honour him."

The veteran US director was the executive director of the 1992 crime flick "Reservoir Dogs", Tarantino's debut film.

"Somewhere", which reflects the peculiar desolation of the Hollywood lifestyle, is about A-list actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and his daughter Cleo (12-year-old Elle Fanning), adrift in the lonely world of Hollywood movie-making.

Coppola, 39, wearing a strapless green and black dress, said on accepting the award: "This means so much for our film."

Among the people she thanked was her father Francis Ford Coppola, whom she thanked "for teaching me".

Coppola, who won an Oscar for "Lost in Translation", said ahead of the screening here at the world's oldest film festival that she had won her dad's seal of approval for "Somewhere".

The multiple Oscar winner "thought it could only be made by me, and we should all make the movies that only we can make", she said.

Iglesia, 44, said ahead of the screening of "A Sad Trumpet Ballad" that it was "an exorcism of anguish through humour, irony, comedy mixed with the noir genre so everything can have a proper burial".

The Spanish director, whose 1995 horror comedy "The Day of the Beast" won cult status in his homeland, added: "This is a love story, a crazy, ruthless, wild kind of love. The anxiety and the search for revenge lead to the destruction of the object of love."

An award for best photography went to Mikhail Krichman in the film "Silent Souls" by Russia's Aleksei Fedorchenko, the tender story of a member of Russia's vanished Merya minority who drives thousands of miles to bury his wife in a sacred lake according to ancient pagan rituals.

The visual and lyrical feast for the senses paints a compelling portrait of a people long ago assimilated into Russia's Slavic mainstream who nevertheless retain their myths and traditions.

Ariane Labed of France won a best actress award for her role in the experimental film "Attenberg" by Athina Rachel Tsangari of Greece. - AFP

Sunday, September 05, 2010

My Drew Barrymore story...

Drew on Justin: Mystery is sexy
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated September 05, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

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Drew Barrymore (with Going the Distance co-star Justin Long, inset): ‘I think I know what I personally want in my life to make a relationship work or what makes me happy.’
MANILA, Philippines - Drew Barrymore and Justin Long have been tabloid fodder for sometime now. They have not publicly addressed their relationship but if the Internet is to be believed, Drew and Justin have broken up and made up twice already. “Mystery is sexy,” Drew tells this writer. Currently they are said to be just friends.

This writer spoke with the couple two weekends ago in Beverly Hills during the junket for Warner Bros.’ latest romantic-comedy offering Going the Distance.

No, they were still mum about their special relationship although they playfully admitted to Access Hollywood during their interview before me that they drew inspiration from their personal lives. “Everybody knows we have a history together and I just thought, ‘Oh, you know what? Let’s exploit it,” Drew quipped.

“We never talked about when we were together or when we were not. It never ever will be addressed,” Drew told this writer when I had the opportunity to ask her myself. “I definitely think it was a benefit that we knew each other so well. The laughter was genuine; the struggles we understand. It is very rare for me to ever walk into a set and have such an honest, amazing chemistry with someone. It was such a blessing and a gift and I really felt very lucky.”

Justin added that whatever special relationship they had, it helped him prepare for one of the most memorable scenes they had together. “It wasn’t an effort to look at her during the scenes and just feel completely vulnerable and abandoned. It was not a stretch,” he said referring to the scene where his character and Drew’s character had to make a decision on the fate of their relationship.

“Abandoned like free, right?” Drew clarified Justin’s statement and both broke out laughing.

In Going the Distance, Drew and Justin portray two lovers engaged in a long-distance relationship. Drew’s character Erin is based in San Francisco while Justin’s Garret is a true-blue New Yorker. They meet one summer in the Big Apple when Erin was trying to complete her internship at one of the biggest newspapers in New York while Justin was nursing a broken heart.

The movie looks at the hilarity of maintaining a long-distance relationship in an age where modern communication tools that make it easy for lovers to tap a smart phone and find their beloved all smiles on the other end of the line can be utilized to perform the more traditional methods of courtship and, yes, even phone sex!

Asked if they’d ever had successful phone sex in real life, Drew, ever honest and forthright, admitted to have done it successfully once before. “I did at one moment in my life… to give hope to someone.”

The movie also sheds light on the sexual phenomenon that is dry-humping. Dry-humping, simply, is having sex while fully clothed.

“Yes. Lots and lots and lots,” Drew happily replied after being asked if she ever had a successful dry-humping experience. “Dry-humping is good!”

“I’ve been kicked out of Disney World a few times,” Justin tried to joke while evading the question. “Dry-humping can only be unsuccessful if you do it enough, right?”

This writer first met Drew in the fall of 2003 when she sat next to us while we were having lunch at Chin Chin in West Hollywood. She was with her boyfriend, rocker Fabrizio Moretti, at the time and she graciously struck a conversation with us.

Drew has had her share of relationships so we asked for her thoughts on relationships and how to make it work, the pretty actress paused and replied, “Nothing.”

She, however, immediately smiled and picked up after her terse reply and offered a lengthy response: “In all seriousness, I am very excited to be in my 30s and not stand on a soap box and brag what I am now. I think I know what I personally want in my life to make a relationship work or what makes me happy but I feel like I am no authority on how it is supposed to work.”

“I don’t mean it to sound like a really depressing answer — I don’t mean for that. The obvious things — of what it takes for someone to make you feel great, empowered and then loved — I definitely don’t think like I am on any brilliant secrets right now. I feel humbled. I feel like I’ve got a lot to learn.”

How about long-distance relationships?

“I think they can work,” she replied. “I don’t know actually. I know what I would want to make one work, like letters and surprising each other and making plans — things that make you feel great and alive — like, you know what’s happening and it’s not sort of dizzying and unknown and you feel really special and you are walking around sort of blissful, thinking that you are a part of this unit and it’s not a phantom thing. One of the real pitfalls of long-distance relationship is the not knowing of, and the inconsistency of it.”

Going the Distance is now showing in theaters.

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