Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Margo Martindale story...

Another Justified performance from Margo Martindale
By Raymond de Asis Lo L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated June 20, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0)

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Margo, whose Justified character, Mags Bennet, has been likened to Tony Soprano, is expected to receive an Emmy nomination for Best Actress.| Zoom
It’s fairly common to expect by now that, in Hollywood, not every actor lives a glamorous life. Any committed actor would readily tell you that there’s a big difference between a celebrity who is famous for, yes, just being famous and a true actor who is not easily recognizable in public but provides his fans with memorable performances on movies and in television.

For every Hollywood superstar there’s a community of small actors running from one audition to another, happy to get that walk-on part or, if they get lucky, a speaking part with one or two lines of dialogues. These are the men and women who provide Hollywood with an enviable pool of talents that would guarantee the industry with a continuous supply of potential superstars for years and years to come.

This writer recently shared an elevator ride with a few of those actors after I graced a special screening (a promotional run-up to next month’s announcement of this year’s Emmy Awards nominations) of the hit television drama Justified at the Wilshire headquarters of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Foundation and, although I only exchanged terse greetings with them, their conversation, which I couldn’t help but overhear during the short ride, offered an interesting glimpse of what it is like for those actors who are still toiling in their craft and waiting for that break, that rare breakthrough that puts them under the cover of the spotlight and finally gets them the recognition, the adulation they rightfully deserve.

One of the stars of Justified belongs to those who didn’t give up and are now enjoying the spotlight all for themselves. That glare maybe lesser in scale compared to more established stars but it doesn’t matter; they get to have the stage to themselves as their fellow actors applaud their performances and try to get tips on what it took for them to finally find success in the business.

After the screening, star Margo Martindale did just that. Joined by lead star Timothy Olyphant and producer Graham Yost onstage, the actress took on questions from a roomful of fellow actors and it turned out to be a more revealing — and sometimes very personal — Q&A than what would have transpired if a group of journalists were asking the questions themselves. This writer and two other Asian journalists decided to keep quiet during the 40-minute lighthearted Q&A and let the actors do the grilling.

Margo started in the business doing commercials for a fabric softener in the 1970s. “I never did a Tide commercial,” she would correct one lady who asked if the commercial she did for the detergent was the jumping point of her career.  “I did the original Steel Magnolias and that was my jumping point into the movies,” she said.
The Texas-born actress, who was nominated for a Best Actress Tony for her 2004 turn in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, also credited her high school drama teacher and her mother for introducing her to the art of acting.

Margo’s name may not sound familiar to moviegoers but her impressive TV and film resume would make anyone an instant fan of hers. She was Miley Cyrus’ grandma in Hannah Montana and has appeared in Twilight and in The Hours with Meryl Streep.

She is quite affectionate in person but onscreen has this menacing presence (“because I am fat,” she would joke during the Q&A) about her that would make even the toughest man take a step back and reconsider whatever he is planning to do — this is very much evident in her scary turn as a fierce matriarch of a small town criminal family engaged in the illegal trade of moonshine, a type of banned liquor mostly produced in the southern part of the US.
Margo, whose character, Mags Bennet, has been likened to Tony Soprano in several rave reviews, is widely expected to receive an Emmy nomination for Best Actress. It is something the talented actress brushes aside with a smile and a nod.

The two season-old Justified ended its second season run in the US in early May and the episode shown during the special screening was episode No. 9 of the 13-episode season and it had a few explosive character and plot revelations that this writer would have been so inclined to share had the show already completed its second season run in the Philippines.

AXN Network subscribers can catch season two of Justified every Saturday at 10:45 p.m.

Justified is based on bestselling novelist Elmore Leonard’s short story Fire in the Hole and lesser-known novels, Pronto and Riding the Rap. It revolves around an ex-US Marshal named Raylan Givens, portrayed by Timothy Olyphant, who, after 20 years of service, was transferred back to his small Kentucky hometown against his will only to discover that his former friends still consider him a friend while his enemies remained just that, his enemies.

Timothy’s Raylan is Margo’s Mags main adversary in the show’s second season. In the episode that we saw, the two actors share several intense scenes together but the most engaging was the climactic confrontation between the two by the end of the episode after a violent scuffle involving Raylan and one of Mags’ sons turned tragic.

The two actors received extended applause after the screening for their excellent performances and should Margo receive that much-buzzed Emmy nomination on July 8, she won’t be the only one celebrating that day, there will be a whole community of character actors cheering her on.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Early - very early! - Oscar 2012 forecast...

Oscar prognosticator and Hollywood Reporter writer Gregg Kilday gets the Oscar talk going early with his mid-year predictions for next winter's Oscar contest. Here's the story:

Why Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio could get Oscars
By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Sure, the 84th Annual Academy Awards won't take place until February 26, and the serious jockeying won't begin until September, when the festival trifecta of Telluride-Venice-Toronto gets under way.

But it's never too soon to start drawing up those tout sheets, especially because this year's would-be contenders include such master moviemakers as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick and Roman Polanski, as well as Jason Reitman, George Clooney, Alexander Payne and Cameron Crowe.


Since the best picture field was expanded to 10 nominees two years ago, there has been room for at least one blockbuster like "Avatar" or "Inception." Which film has a chance at securing that slot this year?

Look for Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" to give it the old college try.

Although a Warners insider says, "Right now we're focused on releasing the movie, and then we'll think about awards," the final Potter pic will offer the Academy its last chance to recognize a franchise that has taken in almost $6.4 billion in worldwide box office. The challenge, though, is that previous Potter movies have earned only scattered nominations in the technical categories, so the valedictory "Hallows," opening July 15, will have to strike an especially emotional note. The other movie that could position itself as a populist entertainment is J.J. Abrams' current box office champ "Super 8." After all, it was designed as a tribute to Steven Spielberg's early movies such as "Jaws" and "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," and both of those films earned best picture noms -- even during the more restrictive days of five nominees.


The Academy doesn't always listen to the critics, but a solid critical push never hurts, either. Coming off its Palme d'Or-winning debut at the Cannes Film Festival, Malick's "The Tree of Life" has already established itself as a must-see movie. In his largely celebratory review, The New York Times' A.O. Scott called Malick a "visionary," though the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan (perhaps foreshadowing Academy taste?) faulted his "opaque, distancing style." Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" has been greeted with more unanimous applause, and French silent movie "The Artist" could enjoy a similar reception. The fall will bring a bumper crop of movies jostling for critical attention: The "Juno" team of director Reitman and writer Diablo Cody are reuniting for "Young Adult," starring Charlize Theron; "Sideways'" Payne will open a new movie, "The Descendants," starring Clooney (who also has directed a film of his own, the political drama "The Ides of March"); and Crowe will return with "We Bought a Zoo," starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson.


It could finally be Leonardo DiCaprio's time. Every year, a consensus develops that at least one performer or filmmaker is "due." This year, that drumbeat could go to DiCaprio, who has a potentially plum part as J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood's "J." Edgar, which opens December 14. He has been Oscar-nominated three times but hasn't won, and that could put him on the Academy's Most Wanted list.
Meryl Streep can't say she has never won an Oscar -- she scored a supporting actress trophy for 1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer" and best actress for 1982's "Sophie's Choice" -- but since then, she has been nominated 12 times (for a career total of 16 nominations) without being called back to the stage. Based on word of her turn in "The Iron Lady" as steely former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher -- a promo reel was shown to buyers in Cannes -- rival studios are penciling her in as a favorite.

Veteran Christopher Plummer got one of those "he's due" pushes when he received his first Oscar nomination two years ago for "The Last Station," but because he didn't win, there's sure to be a repeat of that refrain for his performance as a widower who comes out as gay late in life in "Beginners."


Just when 3D movies appear to be encountering resistance at the box office, Scorsese is out to prove that 3D should be taken seriously as Paramount releases "Hugo Cabret" on November 23. While James Cameron's "Avatar" and Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" mixed live action with performance-capture sequences, "Hugo Cabret" will be the first purely live-action 3D movie to make a bid for top Oscar honors. (Films like "Saw 3D" don't count.) Based on Brian Selznick's award-winning children's novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," the movie promises a softer, more family-friendly tone than the Oscar-winning director of "The Departed" usually delivers. It tells the story of a young boy, living in a Paris train station in the 1930s, who has a magical encounter with pioneering filmmaker Georges Melies (played by Ben Kingsley), who has become a down-on-his-luck toymaker. Scorsese, no stranger to cutting-edge visuals, has enthusiastically embraced the new medium. "Every shot is rethinking cinema," he has said of shooting in 3D, "rethinking narrative -- how to tell a story with a picture."


Theirs is an epic Oscar rivalry. New York-based producer Scott Rudin took home the best picture trophy for 2007's "No Country for Old Men." This year, though, it was Harvey Weinstein, who distributed "The King's Speech," who seized the crown, beating out Rudin's "The Social Network." This year brings another rematch. Rudin has produced three potential contenders: the baseball drama "Moneyball," starring Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane; David Fincher's screen adaptation of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"; and Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's post-9/11 novel "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Meanwhile, the Weinstein Co. has not dated all of its releases, but it's preparing "The Iron Lady"; "The Artist"; "My Week With Marilyn," starring Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe; and could push John Hillcoat's Depression-era drama "The Wettest County in the World," if it's ready for a 2011 bow.


Stage-to-screen transitions can be treacherous, but Spielberg and Polanski are looking to beat the odds. Spielberg is tackling "War Horse," which DreamWorks opens December 28. It's the tale of a horse drafted by the cavalry to fight in the trenches of World War I and the boy who goes in search of his steed. The filmmaker is working from Michael Morpurgo's children novel, which was adapted for the London stage in 2007 and this year hit Broadway, where it has been nominated for five Tonys. Onstage, the horse is brought to life by a team of puppeteers in a coup de theater that's hard to duplicate on film, where real horses will be used.

Polanski faces a different challenge with his screen adaptation of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage, a tale of two well-heeled couples who meet to sort out their children's schoolyard squabble, only to descend into savagery themselves. Onstage, the entire showdown takes place in a minimalist living room, and the tone strikes a balance about halfway between the jocular Neil Simon and the darker Edward Albee. Polanski's version, which will simply be titled "Carnage" when it is released by Sony Pictures Classics, could be darker yet.


At the 2007 Oscar ceremony, "Happy Feet" beat out "Cars" for best animated film. But even though this year brings "Cars 2" and "Happy Feet Two," don't expect a repeat of that showdown. Amid a plethora of sequels, Fox's colorful "Rio" can claim novelty, and Paramount's "Rango" is full of Western references to movies like "High Noon." The big question mark is "The Adventures of Tintin" (December 23), which boasts Steven Spielberg as director (and a producer with Peter Jackson). To animate the Herge comics, Spielberg used performance capture, considered controversial by animators who still haven't accepted that "Happy Feet," which also used motion capture, beat "Cars." Although an Academy rule states, "Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique," it also doesn't disqualify a movie that uses motion capture as long as it employs other frame-by-frame animation techniques.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

My Kung Fu Panda 2 Story

Crystal noodles, steamed pork buns and Kung Fu Panda
By Raymond de Asis Lo, LA Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated May 29, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

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Po the Panda and friends, including Jack Black (inset) who voices Po.

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MANILA, Philippines - In early April, DreamWorks Animation opened its doors to this writer and a hundred or so other journalists from all over the world to unveil its slate of two high-profile animated films for 2011. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of DreamWorks Animation and the “K” in the “Dreamworks SKG” company name, was present to introduce the 65-minute reel of Kung Fu Panda 2, the sequel to the hit 2008 movie that featured the voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman and Jackie Chan. A gorgeous 25-minute footage of
Puss N Boots featuring Antonio Banderas’ plucky and dashing cat from the Shrek movies was presented later in the day.

The press tour was a whole day affair. The journalists were requested to check in at 11 in the morning and we weren’t done until after six in the evening. The whole compound was decked in ornate oriental decorations, red lanterns mostly. The pond located in the sunken part of the compound was converted into a Chinese village where Asian dishes like crystal noodles and steamed pork buns were served all day.

The tour of the working studio started with the screening of Kung Fu Panda 2 at noon. The clip that was shown to the press that day was the first half of the movie where a new villain, a wicked albino peacock named Lord Shen, is revealed to have had a hand in the fate that brought Po, the titular character, to the care of an old goose named Mr. Ping, who runs a noodle restaurant in the Valley of Peace.

In the sequel, Po has come to revel in his new role as his village’s chief protector until an enemy from his past reemerges and threatens to rule all over China by unleashing a new and powerful weapon that has the potential of finally defeating the ancient art of Kung Fu. Po and the rest of the Furious Five – Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey – must journey across China to face this new enemy and destroy this secret weapon.

The animation in Kung Fu Panda 2 (we saw the version rendered in 3D) is impressive to say the least. The characters and locales come alive in vibrant colors and the 3D effect employed less of the usual “objects-leaping-out-of-the-screen” gimmicks and it made for a truly incredible visual experience. Though we only caught the first half of the movie, the filmmakers assured us that the second part would have even more action and would finally unlock the mysteries of Po’s mythical beginnings.

A 45-minute press conference was held inside the Campanile Theater following the screening. After the press conference, the journalists were assigned to several groups that would be taken around the studio compound for a mini educational tour ala Animation 101 for most of the afternoon.

Did you know that a typical animation movie, the big-budget ones, takes no less than four years to make? Kung Fu Panda 2 started pre-production even before the first Kung Fu Panda was shown in the summer of 2008.

“The origins of Po and his story actually go back to something we always hoped and imagined had 6 chapters to it,” Jeffrey told the press. “The writers actually mapped out what is an arc to Po and hisstory that would take place from the moment we meet him and his origin to basically a full journey for him and we know that at the end of this movie is the first peek through the window of what chapter 3 is.”

Yes, there will be a Kung Fu Panda 3 and work is already underway on it and there will be even three more after! “Let’s say, four time four is sixteen years, are you guys down with that?” joked Jeffrey, referring to how many more years the production will have to spend working on four more sequels.

Making a DreamWorks animated film is by no means an ordinary journey. An entire building, all four-stories of it, is assigned to just one project. There’s an entire department that does the pre-visualization phase of the movie. Another floor houses all the various artists who work on just one character – how that character moves, talks, flies, cries, smirks, or kicks enemies, for the entire duration of the production process. There are sections that are dedicated solely in rendering the cinematography (yes, animated films have their own cinematographers, too, just like its regular live-action cousins), music, sound, and editing. The day of our tour, the studio was abuzz with the final post-production work on “Puss N Boots”.

Care for another impressive fact? There were more than 400 artists and craftsmen who spent hundreds and hundreds of hours to complete work on this ambitious sequel and at the helm was a petite Korean director, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who was given the rare opportunity by Katzenberg to direct the sequel after working on the first movie as the head story writer.

Jennifer, Jeffrey, and the main voice cast were present during the press conference. Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie, who provided the voice for Tigress, attended the press conference but skipped the press roundtables held later in the day. Jack Black and Gary Oldman did the press roundtables.

Kung Fu Panda 2, released locally by United International Pictures, opens simultaneously in Manila and in the USA on Thursday, May 26th, and for those who are unfamiliar with the first Kung Fu Panda here is a guide on who did what character’s voice in the movie:

Jack Black is Po, the giant panda and main protagonist in the movie. His personal history was purposely kept vague in the first movie but in the sequel, his past is finally unlocked when an old enemy resurfaces. Jack has enjoyed an impressive career in Hollywood but his titular role in Kung Fu Panda brought him the most success, according to him.

“I have received tremendous amount of recognition for my turn as Po, and the kids, in particular, are an awesome audience to have on your side. They’re fun to high five and give autographs to and I never get annoyed by the good vibes I get from the kids,” Jack said.

Dustin Hoffman returns as Master Shifu, the trainer of the Furious Five and mentor of Po.

The Furious Five, the movie’s homage to the five styles of Kung Fu, are still voiced by the original actors from the first movie. Jackie Chan provides the voice of Monkey. David Cross, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, and Angelina Jolie provide the voices of Crane, Viper, Mantis, and Tigress, respectively.

Angelina, who was resplendent in beige pants and blazer that day, shared her thoughts on the movie’s dominant theme of foster parenting and the pursuit of that elusive “inner peace” during the press conference as well but declined to show us her own kung fu moves after Jack did an impromptu exhibition after we asked him to do a sample demonstration. Jack did a couple minutes of reasonable kung fu technique.

“I just had a cheeseburger panini,” Angelina exclaimed, echoing Jack’s earlier excuse, and did not give in to our request but she said that she found the Kung Fu Panda series quite “lovely.” “My children have seen it, they loved it and they laughed out loud. I was very curious how they reacted to the family themes a bit. My character was raised in an orphanage and adopted by Shifu and in this one Po discovers that he is adopted and it’s about a search for self.”

The actress added that “we make the choice” in life. It doesn’t matter how one was born or one comes from, what matters is “who we are and who we decide to be in life and not defined by our parents or our past.”
Playing the movie’s main villain is Peacock, voiced by current Hollywood go-to villain and critically-acclaimed character actor Gary Oldman, who insisted that it was wrong for anyone to suggest that he is Hollywood’s primary villain.

“I try my best to inhabit the fur of my character!” Gary proclaimed in mock displeasure. The actor was the only one considered for the part and he said he was thrilled to be in the movie even if it was in 3D, a format he was not really comfortable with. “I asked my agent what the role was, and I was told he was a villain!”

“I liked the character of Po and the imagery and the story. There’s a lot of movies now that are supposed to be for kids and I find them a little cynical, a bit crude,” he shared. “But this is one is different, I am proud of it, to be involved with it.” - entertainment