Saturday, March 31, 2012

My coverage of Titanic's 3D Re-release

Titanic makes nostalgic return in 3D
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated March 31, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

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The film, which launched the careers of relative unknowns Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (inset photo), resurfaces 15 years later — in time for the centennial of the sinking of the famous ship that inspired it.
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MANILA, Philippines - Sometime in November last year, this writer was invited by Fox Studios to an exclusive preview of the newly re-mastered version of Titanic, one of the biggest and most popular movies of all time, which Fox was planning to release to coincide with the centennial of the sinking of the famous ship on April 10 this year.

The screening was held inside the sprawling Fox lot in Century City. Everyone was excited that day because JamesCameron, the visionary director behind the movie, was going to be present to introduce the 3D version of Titanic before the screening and he was to hold a 40-minute Q&A afterwards with those who were in attendance. (The movie will also be released in traditional 2D, IMAX and Digital IMAX — any fan will have a choice of what version to watch.)

Journalists huddled a bit in the lobby before we were handed special 3D vision glasses and invited to take our seats inside the theater. I made a mistake when I dashed to the front of the theater thinking more of getting the best seat when James does his Q&A after the screening rather than considering the proximity of my seat to the screen. But I made my choice so I stuck with it.

As the clock approached the appointed screening time, James and his co-producer Jon Landau were ushered into an elevated platform next to the giant screen and welcomed us. He was like a gracious host welcoming us to his home. He thanked us for accepting their invitation. He spoke extensively about the movie, why they decided to make the movie in 1995 and the challenges they faced during the filming of the movie — he still couldn’t shake his disappointment about how harsh the US press were in treating his movie initially, particularly Variety and its famous “Glub, glub, glub” headline predicting that Titanic would be a colossal failure even before they’ve seen a single footage.

Initially predicted by the US press as a colossal failure, Titanic went on to become the biggest film of all time
The massive production cost of the movie, all $200M of it and the recent failure of Kevin Costner’s costly and ambitious flop Waterworld, were some of the reasons why the press were skeptical of the movie’s potential success. If they had the gift of enormous foresight, they would have sung hallelujahs every day outside James’ house because Titanic would later become a global phenomenon and would become the biggest movie of all time — a feat that would only be topped by another James Cameron title, that little movie called Avatar more than a decade later.

Because of the negative publicity the movie was generating domestically, James decided to hold the premiere of Titanic at the Tokyo International Film Festival and it was, according to him, one of their best decisions ever. “We felt that we had to make this a story for the world because the US press has had us tried and executed before the fact.”

The movie created such a mania in Japan that Leonardo DiCaprio, a relative unknown back then, became an overnight sensation and was even deemed a bigger star than the Emperor for a time during the record-breaking run of Titanic.

After Tokyo, they also held another screening in London, which elicited similar enthusiastic reaction from fans. The glowing reviews from London and Tokyo helped turn the tide of critical sentiment about the film in the US and the press finally embraced Titanic and the public soon followed.

So do you want to know how titanic this production of Titanic really was? Fox had to buy a lot — a huge lot! They built a huge tank — one that could hold 17 million gallons of water. And they built the ship — an exact 100 percent replica of Titanic! Filming lasted for months.

It was simply the most ambitious movie project ever.

Interestingly, however, the idea for Titanic was hatched way before the love story of Jack (DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) was developed. James, who is an avid diver, confided that he shot the underwater exploration scenes shown during the first minutes of the movie years before when he first explored the Titanic wreck. And his fascination with the enduring charm of the Titanic legend inspired him to make a movie about it.

Titanic director James Cameron 
After the introduction, James and Jon excused themselves so the movie could start playing.

The lights dimmed and the haunting musical score by James Horner slowly enveloped the theater. The soft hum that slowly rises to a melodious cry entices the audience to again travel back in time and experience the doomed story of Jack, Rose and the ship that sailed to history.

A different kind of nostalgia unexpectedly crept in to me as I was watching the movie so close to the screen. The first sight of the ship brought me back to that packed first night screening of Titanic at the old Greenbelt Cinema 15 years ago. I was with my friends then and we didn’t get to the cinema early so we had no choice but to squeeze ourselves into the remaining spaces on the floor next to the screen — why the theaters allowed what was clearly a huge fire code violation did not concern us that time — and savored what was then billed the biggest movie ever made.

And the experience was unbelievable! For three hours, we sat there on the floor rapt in the story of Jack and Rose and the inevitable heartbreak that would come by the end of the movie. I may have watched the movie four more times before it finally ended its theatrical run in Manila.

Watching the re-mastered Titanic on the big screen is like watching the movie for the first time. The added depth of the 3D technology further enhanced the viewing experience but it was really the star-crossed love story of Jack and Rose that keeps the movie virtually timeless. When Jack threatens Rose that he, too, will jump off the ship if Rose does still elicits the same audience reaction like it was 1997 again. When the ship cracks in half and slowly sinks to the bottom of the ocean, there’s an added sense of fear and panic now that the viewer feels like a helpless witness to the enormous tragedy.

During the Q&A, James explained to us the painstaking process of transforming each frame of the entire movie into 3D. The process was highly technical and all I understand from it was that this version of Titanic has more 3D per frame than Avatar.

One journalist told James that just like there were people who were disapproving of the project in 1997, there’s also a cynical group of people who maybe wondering if the real intent behind the re-release of Titanic is just to really add more cash to the producers’ pockets.

“Yes, I need the money!” James jokingly replied.

“I don’t care about them. If I could wave a magic wand and give everybody in the world an orgasm simultaneously, there would still be cynics looking for a way to criticize that.”

He went on to explain that this conversion of Titanic took 60 weeks to complete — longer than what a regular film shoot would usually take — and it created many jobs for people in the industry. The producers spent tens of millions of dollars to realize this conversion and there is nothing wrong in trying to get that investment back plus a little more in order to produce more movies.

And when James was asked why the sinking of Titanic is still a compelling story today, a century after it sunk, he replied, “It’s because it is almost like this perfectly written novel that really happened.”

Released by Fox, “Titanic” will open in theaters on April 7.

My interview with Milla Jovovich

Milla: Motherhood tougher than fighting 'zombies'
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated March 30, 2012 12:00 AM

Photo is loading...Milla Jovovich is the zombie slayer Alice in theResident Evil franchise.
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Milla Jovovich has been battling zombies for nearly a decade now in the Resident Evil franchise that it was nearly inevitable that one decidedly cheesy question would be asked during last weekend’s roundtables for her current movie, the fifth in the series, Resident Evil: Retribution at the annual WonderCon event which is being held temporarily in Anaheim this year because the event’s home in San Francisco is currently under renovation.

Milla is a mom to her and Resident Evil director Paul W. S. Anderson’s four-year-old daughter so naturally one curious journalist from Europe asked her this question: “What is more difficult, raising a child or fighting the undead?” The question elicited a brief smile from the pretty Ukrainian-born star before obliging the journalist with an answer.

“You know, I always compare young children to sharks,” she started with a smile. “As soon as they smell blood, they go immediately for the jugular so you got to be on top of it. So, definitely, I think, being a mom in real life is more difficult than fighting pretend zombies.” She added that she has a video of her daughter proclaiming, “Zombies are my best friends!”

Sony Pictures’ Resident Evil: Retribution is not set for release until later this year but fans of the popular series who attended the WonderCon showed up in droves and queued for hours just to get into one of the huge ballrooms just to catch a shortclip from the movie and to have a chance to converse directly with Milla and Paul during the much-awaited panel discussion scheduled after the preview.

Fans who came in costumes as varied as Iron Man and Belle from Beauty and the Beast crowded the packed ballroom. The series has achieved such loyal following that two of my friends, Rjay and Robby, who went to WonderCon with me (sans costumes) and who are self-confessed die-hard Resident Evil fans even fed me questions to ask Milla during our private interview which preceded the panel discussion. Alas, the roundtable was commandeered early on by another journalist that I only managed to get in three questions.

Milla at the annual WonderCon — Photo by Gage Skidmore
The actress and her director-husband disclosed that much of the success of the Resident Evil franchise is due to the legion of fans that are constantly giving Milla direct feedbacks through her Twitter account. Paul also revealed that they do listen to popular fan sentiments and they try very hard to accommodate whatever they clamor for into the movie’s storyline.

In fact, some plot developments for the fifth installment of the franchise were based on suggestions from fans: Key characters like Leon, Ada and Barry are going to reappear in the latest movie, according to Paul, because fans wanted them to return.

Milla also believes that another reason why the franchise has proven to be very successful is how Paul has approached each of the four previous installments with utmost respect to the core Resident Evil universe that made the original video game a blockbuster.

Each of the Resident Evil movies have grossed bigger than the previous one with the last installment, Resident Evil: Afterlife, the biggest of the four movies so far.

But just like every popular movie franchise, the series is also headed to its eventual end. Not very soon, of course, but the director wants to inform the fans that the end is almost near.

“This is very much the beginning of the end,” Paul revealed. “This is setting up for an epic showdown where there will be a lot of people dead and a lot of blood spilled.” But he wouldn’t say whether there would be just one or two more movies left in the series. “When we did Resident Evil: Afterlife, we said it would be nice to do another trilogy to bring everything to an end. Loose ends are coming to an end and everything is, kind of, getting tied up.”

To excite the fans, Paul teased that Alice, Milla’s character, will be “pretty much in the belly of the beast” when asked how close will the heroine be to the Umbrella, the powerful organization in the franchise that protects the evil zombies. “Alice is going to bring it all down that’s why the title is called ‘Retribution,’” he said.

Whatever happens — whether Alice survives in the end or not — the franchise will go down in film lore as the series that made zombies such a rage in movies and in television again. Before the success of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and the hit TV series The Walking Dead, Alice was already waging war against the undead in Resident Evil.

But what is perhaps the biggest reason why the franchise has been so successful is the off-camera relationship between Milla and Paul.

The actress and the director met and fell in love while doing the series. They have been together for a decade now and it was very apparent during our interview how much respect and love both have for each other. Listening to how Milla lovingly describes her husband (and Paul doing the same) was quite a refreshing off-topic that took us away from the gory world of the franchise, if for just a little bit.

“What I love when Paul writes these movies is that you don’t know if it’s gonna be out next year or in two years or in three years,” she said gushing. “It is not forced, it is very organic and it’s very natural.”

Paul responded by declaring, “Milla is really the heart of this franchise. She brings an emotion and a heart to the film that is very touching and what is often lacking in male action heroes.”

“She brings 150 percent effort every day,” he added. “She makes you believe the world (the Resident Evil universe) because, you know, they are not the undead and they are not terrifying. They don’t want to eat your brain. They are just some extras with their make-up on talking on their Blackberry (phones). They are not scary but it is Milla’s reaction to them that makes you believe that the creature is right there. Milla is terrified and the world you see in her face is real. She makes you believe it.”

But when asked who is the director at home, both of them just laughed.

“Need you ask?” asked Paul. “It’s our daughter, of course!”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My 84th Oscar Awards Predictions

Guide to the 84th Oscars
By Raymond F. Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated February 24, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments
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Expect glitz and glamour that only the biggest award show on earth could offer.
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MANILA, Philippines - Because the 84th edition of the Oscars is set on Sunday night (Monday morning in Manila), film buffs all over the world are in a whirl of excitement and anticipation trying to determine which among the nominated actors and movies will walk away with arguably the most coveted prize in the world after the Nobel Prize.

Per tradition, this writer is giving The STAR readers a quick run-through of which performers and movies could win in the major categories come Sunday. But before that, here’s a quick trivia: Who is the only actress to have received at least oneOscar nomination for every decade since the ’70s? If you answered Meryl Streep, then mark one correct answer for you.

The chameleonic actress, who began her record-setting Oscar haul of 17 nominations during the latter part of the ‘70s in the Vietnam drama The Deer Hunter, ushers in the second decade of the new century with a new nomination for her magnificent portrayal of England’s Margaret Thatcher in the biopic The Iron Lady.

Ironically, Meryl has amassed so many Oscar nominations that many people think she already has a shelf-full of golden statuettes at home. The sad truth is that she has not won an Oscar since winning in 1982. Consider this: She has been nominated 12 times and also lost for 12 consecutive times since then.

On Sunday night, the greatest American actress in history is poised to finally end the drought and make her 13th nomination since winning for Sophie’s Choice her lucky outing. But many Oscar prognosticators aren’t so sure though. Meryl is facing stiff competition from Tony-winner Viola Davis, whose star-making turn in The Help has already earned her a Best Actress trophy from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the all-important precursor award seen by many Oscar-watchers as the only accurate predictor of the Academy Awards.

Admittedly, this writer is one of Meryl’s biggest fans and every time she gets a nomination I always predict a win for her. Two years ago, she had the best chance of winning but Sandra Bullock had the best year of her career and that goodwill carried over to the Oscars. Sadly, the story from two years ago rings similar to this year’s race: Viola is enjoying her best year and the Academy may be inclined to crown that year with a Best Actress award for her.

But being a fan, I can always spin a story favorable to Meryl’s cause. Yes, Meryl will win but not because she hasn’t won in 30 years. She will win because she delivered the best performance of the year and because her turn in The Iron Lady is her best ever! Her towering performance offers many would-be actresses a clinical lesson on how to act.

Other actresses competing with Meryl and Viola for Best Actress are Michelle Williams, who was brilliant as the tormented Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, Glenn Close, who earned her sixth nomination for her gender-bending role in Albert Nobbs and first-time nominee Rooney Mara for her fierce and brave performance in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Best Actress prediction? I am going against the SAG and I predict that Meryl will win her well-deserved third Oscar.

In the hotly contested race for Best Actor, George Clooney and Brad Pitt are undeniably the most popular contenders among the five actors in the race. The Hollywood superstars, who are great friends in real-life, are competing for their masterful turns as fathers-in-crises in The Descendants and Moneyball, respectively. However, the frontrunner in this category is an otherwise unknown French actor named Jean Dujardin whose charming turn as a fading silent film star in the silent movie The Artist has already been recognized by the SAG and the British Academy.

George is tipped by many to win his second Oscar but Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor will most likely spend the evening smiling before the camera while stuck to his seat if the predicted sweep of The Artist materializes and Jean waltzes his way to the stage to collect his Oscar on his very first nomination.

The two other actors nominated in the category are also first-timers: Mexico’s Demian Bichir, who delivered a heartbreaking performance as an illegal immigrant caring for his son in A Better Life, and, surprise, surprise, Gary Oldman! Yes, the actor, considered by many critics as the greatest European actor of his generation, has never received a nomination until this year. The actor was cited for his understated but powerful performance as a master spy in the British adaptation of John Le Carre’s classic novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

My prediction for Best Actor: Jean Dujardin.

While the Best Actor and Best Actress races are difficult to predict, the race for the supporting performances has been virtually decided months ago. Octogenarian actor Christopher Plummer is set to become the oldest performer ever to receive an acting Oscar for his delightful turn as a widower who came out as a gay man to his son during the last days of his life in the acclaimed movie Beginners.

Chris is competing against Max Von Sydow (Extremely Close/Incredibly Loud), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Jonah Hill (Moneyball) and Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn).

In the Best Supporting Actress race, character actress Octavia Spencer is also virtually guaranteed to receive an Oscar for her affecting and audience-pleasing performance as a feisty maid in The Help. Octavia is joined in this category by her The Help co-star Jessica Chastain.

Other actresses nominated in this category are former nominee Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs, Berenice Bejo for The Artist and Melissa McCarthy, whose scene-stealing turn in Bridesmaids is the only comedic performance to receive a nomination this year.

The race for Best Director pits four of Hollywood’s legendary and greatest directors against a Frenchman, whose homage to silent movies could also sweep the Oscars.

French director Michel Hazanavicius, who was declared winner by the Directors Guild of America, is tipped to also win the Oscar for his work in The Artist against Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terence Malick (The Tree of Life) and Alexander Payne (The Descendants).

Alexander and Woody are most likely not going home empty-handed because the nominated directors are also nominated and are expected to win for their writing works on their respective movies.

For the nights’ biggest award, the Best Picture race, nine movies are in competition this year: The Artist, Hugo, War Horse, The Help, The Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, Extremely Close/Incredibly Loud and The Descendants.

My predicted winner for Best Picture is The Artist. But if there will be an upset, look out for either The Help or The Descendants to pull the trick. If Hugo pulls the unlikeliest of upsets and win Best Picture, I will be happiest.

In the animated feature film category, the western Rango is expected to win in a category where the only other mainstream nominees are Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots.

Only two movies are expected to duke it out in the other categories. The Artist and Huwill most likely split the awards haul with the latter taking most of the technical awards.

The Iranian film A Separation will most likely score a historic win for its country in the Best Foreign Language Film category. However, Poland’s entry In Darkness, which is based on a harrowing true story about the Holocaust, is a dark horse contender that could very well be the surprise winner in the category — and I will be disappointed, if that happens.

Final count. Hugo: Six wins. The Artist: Five wins. The Iron Lady: Two wins.

Beloved comedian and veteran Oscar host Billy Crystal will again take over the emceeing job Sunday night.


Author's note: I got all ten major categories right. And in the distribution of most Oscars, only the surprise win of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" for Editing spoiled my predicted count, otherwise i would have been perfect! :) - entertainment