Thursday, April 26, 2012

My coverage of "The Avengers"

When Marvel superheroes band together
By Raymond de Asis Lo L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated April 26, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

The Avengers is the best Marvel movie ever!

That’s how this writer greeted every cast member of the massive and spectacular action movie during last week’s junket in Los Angeles — it was strictly forbidden to tweet or post any review about the movie on Facebook until the movie would open in theaters (it opened yesterday in the Philippines and on May 4 in the United States) so I had to keep my excitement about the movie to myself but when I saw the stars the morning after the world premiere, I just couldn’t help myself but rave to them how much I had fun watching their movie.

This latest Marvel movie assembles all the biggest Marvel superheroes in one big giant movie that’s so grand and thrilling this writer, who, admittedly, can sometimes get too loud while watching a movie, joined nearly everyone in the audience cheering for almost the entire second half of the movie. It is so good I am so tempted to give it an A-plus rating. No one who watches this movie will leave the theater unsatisfied. 

The press day held at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills was just as epic as the movie. It was a hectic day. There were five 20-minute roundtables scheduled for the day, two 30-minute press conferences and two 10-minute one-on-ones with director Joss Whedon and with newly-minted action star Jeremy Renner, who was still raving about the Filipino hospitality he experienced to this day.

We started the roundtables with Brit Tom Hiddleston, who plays the nefarious Loki, the role he originated in last year’s box-office hit Thor. Tom was paired with Jeremy, who plays the sharpshooting Hawkeye.

“It was very, very challenging for me: Who’s Hawkeye? I was trying to figure that out,” Jeremy told us when asked how he felt now that he is officially a part of the current gallery of Hollywood superstars playing a Marvel superhero.

The star-studded cast also includes Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, the lone female superhero in the story. The gorgeous Scarlett did not join the press junket but was present at the premiere the night before. Chris Hemsworth and Robert Jr. skipped the print roundtables, too, but joined the press conferences held in the afternoon.

Tom and Jeremy mostly talked about how they were cast in the movie and the challenges they faced during filming, including the physically demanding stunts each of them had to do.

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Chris Evans as Captain America and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow
“I hurt myself when I was up against The Hulk,” Tom revealed. “Basically, I had to throw myself backwards into the ground and I smashed my elbow — it was like, ‘I’m an idiot’!”

“If you don’t get hurt, you’re not working hard enough,” Jeremy added before confirming reports that he suffered several concussions doing one very physical stunt with another character which I will not mention here so as not to spoil the movie. He also strained his neck after he twisted it too hard while doing his character’s signature archery move.

The cast had stunt doubles but like the superheroes they play, they opted to do most of their own stunts to provide some form of realism to the movie. “I get such a thrill anyway when I am in the movies and I am watching actors do their own stunts. I love it!” Tom said before declaring that he was a big fan of Jeremy’s stunts in the recent Mission Impossiblemovie.

When Chris (Evans) and Mark joined us next at the roundtable, the two had different stories to tell but most notably was Mark’s funny (or unfunny, depends on how one sees it) experience after reaching out to Marvel fans online after he was cast as The Hulk.

“I made the mistake of going online early on,” Mark recalled half-smiling. “I’ve never had a role that had more speculation and been more dissected before I shot a frame of film. I got my ass handed to me early so I learned pretty early on not to go online and look what the fanboys are saying.”

“It’s a slippery slope. It’s a dangerous game to play to go online and start reading opinions and get feedbacks,” Chris commented. “At the end of the day you are making a movie and developing the character with the director.”

It’s good that Chris had foreshadowed what might have happened otherwise he would have also seen firsthand how nasty, mean and zealously possessive some fans are of their favorite Marvel superheroes because some of the worst comments Mark read online were indeed really harsh: “How could Mark play The Hulk when he can barely talk? He sounds retarded!” were some of the bad ones Mark enumerated.

But if there was one group of fans that always believed in Mark, it was his three children, including his 10-year-old son, who he jokingly referred to as his inspiration when The Hulk starts losing control of his rage. “My son was like ‘yes!’”

Marvel fans have since mellowed and embraced Mark as the latest addition to Marvel’s gallery of superhero actors. “There was a lot of support, too. There was a lot of other good stuff but it’s funny, as an actor, you only remember the bad things people say about you. There was a lot to prove and I just hope we came through with it.”

“In my opinion these movies don’t get made without the diehard fan base,” Chris stated. “They are the ones who make these movies big box-office success. If you don’t try to meet their expectations in a small way, you miss the mark.”

One of the biggest reasons why all the Marvel movies have become huge successes can also be attributed to the passion and dedication of Marvel president Kevin Feige who spent nearly a decade setting up Marvel Studios. According to him he went from one studio to another trying to sell movie ideas for characters (like Fox’s X-Men and Sony’s Spider-Man) that have already been bought before realizing that he had some of the most popular Marvel characters in his catalog that are in need of a movie treatment.

The journey for The Avengers started more than five years ago when Marvel decided to produce the first Iron Man movie. That movie reestablished Robert Downey Jr.’s career and launched Marvel Studios as a big player in the business. When The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Thor hit theaters soon after, fans knew it was only a matter of time before they will see their beloved Marvel superheroes banding together in one movie.

Helping Kevin realize his dream of assembling seven Marvel characters in one movie was writer-director Joss Whedon, who is very popular among science fiction fans for his TV series Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and the cult favorite Serenity.

Joss wrote a screenplay that manages to provide the right tone and balance of a massive action movie and the awareness that each of the characters are still going to have their future individual adventures in their own movies down the road. “You have to take them on a journey but then still leave them in a place where they can go on another one,” he remarked.

Iron Man 3 starts filming in June. Captain America 2 will go into production later this year. And, who knows, there might just be a sequel to The Avengers soon, like real soon!

If the sequel does start filming soon, the cast couldn’t be anymore excited.

“It was great — we got along so well,” Chris offered when asked how it was like on the set. “We really got lucky. When you sign up for this multi-picture contract you know you are going to be working with these people for a potentially long time. It is a blessing when it happens and you get along with these people. We had a good time, it was like summer camp.”

With the popularity of superheroes at an all-time high, I asked the actors if there is still a need for superheroes in today’s very modern world.

Mark, who fans feared could barely talk as The Hulk, offered the most interesting reply: “This is mythology. This is no different to saints in the past. This is part of our culture. This is a way we work out things in our storytelling. I definitely think we need this kind of storytelling. There are some ideas that are timely and cloaked inside this movie and that people love these movies for a reason.”

True. I love this movie! And I don’t need to cite any particular reason only that I spent some of my best two hours watching this movie. No, make it four hours, because I am watching it again when it starts its regular run in theaters.

My 2nd interview with Amanda Seyfried (Gone)

What Amanda is scared of (But definitely not Lea Salonga, inset, who is her idol)
By Raymond de Asis Lo L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated April 22, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

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Amanda Seyfried plays a kidnap survivor in the thriller Gone.| Zoom
MANILA, Philippines - If you think Hollywood star Amanda Seyfried’s eyes can’t go any bigger then you are quite mistaken.
This writer saw recently just how more beautiful she looks when she becomes really amazed — her innocent expression of surprise is a delight to behold.

Amanda’s big and pretty doll-like eyes widened when I mentioned Lea Salonga’s name during a brief chat we had after our roundtable interview with her in early February. This writer met with the star during the junket for her current movie, Pioneer Films’ Gone.
Apparently, Amanda is a big fan of the Tony-winning Filipino actress. I asked her if she knows Lea personally but she said she did not. “Do I know her? No. Am I obsessed with her? Yes,” she exclaimed. “She’s Eponine! Oh, God, I love her!”

2012 is shaping up to be one particularly good year for the 26-year-old actress. With her solo starrer Gone now showing in theaters, she already has another movie in post-production — the highly anticipated biopic of Linda Lovelace, the iconic star of Deep Throat. And currently, she’s filming one of the biggest movies scheduled for release in December, the star-studded film adaptation of one of the well-loved Broadway musicals of all time, Les Miserables, the musical which Lea holds the honor of being the first Asian to be cast in two roles written for a Caucasian actor — Eponine and Fantine.

During the roundtable, even if we were there for her movie Gone, a thriller in which she portrays a survivor of a kidnapping who discovers one night that her sister was missing and may have been abducted by the same killer who tried to murder her the year before, the actress spent most of the 30 minutes we had talking enthusiastically about her casting as Cossette in the Les Miz adaptation.

“My favorite musical in the world is Les Miz,” Amanda gushed. “It’s always been that way. I saw it when I was 11. I was obsessed with it and I know every song.”

Amanda shared that she moved temporarily to New York last year to take voice lessons before she embarked on a month-long series of auditions that had her flying between L.A. and London.

“There was a point when I thought I wouldn’t get it,” she confided. “I was exhausted. I’ve been to London twice. I auditioned in LA. I spent so much money on this audition that I can actually say that I did my best and my hands are clean — and a month after I auditioned Tom Hooper (the director) called me.”

She said she was getting bitter about the process and the call from the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech just before Christmas last year was one of the best news she ever received — only she can’t tell anybody yet about it. She was told to keep it a secret until all parts have been cast and the director has made the formal announcement.

“It’s so hard!” she exclaimed. She had a cover interview for Glamour magazine earlier this year and she had to “lie” to the journalist when she was asked if she got the part already because she was still taking singing lessons. Fortunately, the announcement came four days later and the magazine was able to insert the piece of good news in their story.

She won the part over Taylor Swift. “I auditioned with Samantha Barks (the British actress who got the plum part of Eponine) and she was incredible. That’s all I am gonna say.” Also in the cast of Les Miz are Hollywood biggies Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.

“People trust me to do these things so that must mean something — that gives me confidence. But at the same time, it’s a responsibility… playing these characters and straddling around from movie set to movie set is really about just the experience for me,” she added.

Who knew that after only seven years, she would be a bigger star than Lindsay Lohan? Amanda’s big break came in 2004 when she was cast in a small part in Lindsay’s Mean Girls. Her star continued to shine brightly after, while Lindsay struggled with drugs and alcohol.

And while Lindsay is still trying to settle all her legal troubles, Amanda is on her way to become a much bigger star — and if the stars truly align, she could even be an Oscar contender next year!

After Gone, her new movie Lovelace is set for release in the fall and the buzz all over Hollywood is about her revealing performance in Lovelace and the sizzling scenes she shared with her co-star Peter Saarsgard.

“She has an amazing story,” she said when asked about the biopic. “I think it is amazing how far someone can go on a journey that is so negative. It’s a powerful story.”

And because Lovelace is based on the woman that brought pornography out from the seedy video shops and into the mainstream, people are wondering if Amanda would be as daring as the real-life Linda Lovelace.

“If it’s necessary I would do it,” she replied. “But I don’t want to show my vagina and it has nothing to do against anybody that has. It’s wonderful but if you work with a good filmmaker anything goes.”

But before moviegoers get to see her naked in Lovelace and singing in Les Miserables, Amanda is set to keep audiences on the edge of their seats in Gone.

Those who will watch the movie will be amazed at her dedication to her craft. In Gone, she is in almost every frame of the movie. From the first shot of her scouring a forest to the last shot of her with that knowing grin on her face. (No spoilers here, sorry.)

“It’s hard,” she revealed when asked if it was a difficult shoot. “I wanted to be every part of every frame… It’s like a puzzle and you want to keep the audience with you at all times. You don’t want to lose them at any point.”
The main challenge for her was how to stay warm in the cold. She was also on guard to not let her character’s paranoia get to her.

“I am not that paranoid but I am scared of the future. I am scared of death. I am scared of sickness. I am scared of the decline of the people I love.”

But she did have a story to tell about a wannabe stalker who tried to ask her out on a date one time. Good thing, the guy was sane enough to leave her alone after. She added that she feels most relaxed when she is on the set.
And when asked which among her three big movies this year would she consider her most favorite, she immediately proclaimed Lovelace because, according to her, she got to work with Peter.

“Peter Saarsgard is the best actor I’ve ever worked with,” she declared. I reminded her that Gary Oldman, who was her co-star in last year’s Red Riding Hood, may not like her saying that but she only smiled and this time, her eyes did not grow wide anymore.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Zac Efron Interview (The Lucky One)

Ready for a sexy Zac Efron?
By Raymond de Asis Lo/L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated April 19, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

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In The Lucky One, Zac not only shows his mature and muscled 24-year-old side but he also bares (nearly) his backside before the camera during an intense and lengthy love scene with his leading lady, Taylor Schilling.| Zoom
MANILA, Philippines - Do you think fans of Zac Efron are ready to see him all grown-up on the big screen? The boyish Hollywood heartthrob thinks so. “I think they’re excited. I think they’re very excited,” he stated during last week’s junket for his new movie, the romantic drama The Lucky One, a Warner Bros.’ adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks bestseller where the actor not only shows his mature and muscled 24-year-old side but he also bares (nearly) his backside before the camera during an intense and lengthy love scene with his leading lady, Taylor Schilling, that serves as one of the movie’s biggest highlights.

In The Lucky One, the former teen idol portrays a US marine sergeant who returns to America from his third tour of duty determined to find the mysterious woman in the picture he discovered in the rubbles after a violent standoff with Iraqi insurgents. The role marks Zac’s transition to more mature parts.

He recounted feeling excited when he was offered the part. “I was very scared initially about playing a marine. I was kind of shaking my head at the part, just saying, ‘I’m not right for this.’ I don’t think I’m right for this role. And then after I saw Scott’s movies, I realized that he had taken a lot of different actors on journeys that they weren’t, you know, I didn’t see them in… And when I saw Shine, I just realized I’d be lucky at any point in my career to work with a filmmaker like this. And if it wasn’t scary, then I shouldn’t be doing it. So, that was when I realized that this was the part for me.”

Scott Hicks is the Australian director whose previous movies include the Oscar-nominated Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars and the Anthony Hopkins coming-of-age drama Hearts in Atlantis.

Zac also recalled that as part of his preparation for his role he went with the director to a marine camp in San Diego to meet with the soldiers in person to allow him to get a feel of his character in real life.

“I went to Camp Pendleton with Scott. And that was the first day where it really hit home — ‘What kind of guy this guy was?’” he remembered thinking to himself. “You know, all of our forces and our troops are of a different breed — they were real men! They were my age. I was 22… 23, maybe — and they were my age!”

“They had been on three or four tours, you know, and had already been out there and become men on that journey. And seeing them, just through osmosis and being around them and hanging out with them, I was able to sort of pick up on what sets them apart, you know.”

The time Zac spent with the marines opened his eyes to the world of these unsung soldiers who risk their lives and leave their families behind to fight terrorists thousands of miles away just so we can all feel safe and sound in our own homes. “It was powerful. It was neat watching them recount stories. Their sense of memory and the way they would feed off of each other. Some of them had been in combat together, you know, and we were just like sponges. I don’t think I took a deep breath the whole time I… It was so amazing.”

Asked how it was like to transition from being a teen idol to playing his first grown-up role — an ex-marine, for that matter, the handsome actor flashed a smile and nodded. “It was neat,” he replied. “Logan (his character’s name) is a very sort of sensible, very, very noble character. He has what I think is just like real, a different kind of integrity. He always does what’s right, you know.”

He added that he enjoyed playing his character even if Logan had less humor and had less of the regular song and dance that’s a staple in his previous movies.

But when asked about the daring love scenes, Zac blushed, turned a bit shy, and could only manage to describe the scene as “very nice.” The smile on his face, however, spoke volumes.

Meanwhile, his leading lady, Taylor, thought those intimate scenes were “easy” to shoot. “Zac makes it easy,” she said. “Yeah, those scenes, I think, when you’re lucky to work with somebody that you feel comfortable with… they can be easy days at work.”

“Yeah, (Because) we didn’t have any lines,” Zac joked before breaking into a hearty laugh.

Before one concludes that those love scenes were written into the story just so fans of Zac would see him in the buff, one should be reminded that these scenes are very essential to establish the all-conquering love story that’s typical in every Nicholas Sparks novel. Taylor explained that The Lucky One is “this beautiful fantasy of meeting somebody who (finds) that true love that can, kind of, heal all and conquer all and I think we got a chance to really explore that within the scenes with each other.”

Zac admitted being drawn to the love story as well. “I think that what was so neat about Logan as a character is after all that he had experienced, that he still had the drive and purpose to, you know… that there was a higher calling for him. There was something, another reason for him to be here. His mission wasn’t over yet.”

Like his character in the movie, the actor somewhat believes that we are all controlled by a fate and destiny that’s already been pre-designed for us.

“I believe in it at the end of the day,” he said haltingly. “I think that there’s something there… I look back at all the… So many different times that you could take the easy road that would have been… I don’t know, it could have ended things. But… I don’t know. There’s something, something guiding me?”

Whether there’s something guiding him or not, the grown-up Zac is fully in control of his career. He has just recently put up his own production company and will start developing movies for himself and for other actors. He just wrapped up a movie with Nicole Kidman. And, just recently, he will grace the Philippine ad campaign for Penshoppe.

But then you would ask: If he was really in control whose fault was it when he supposedly dropped a condom during the red carpet for his recent movie The Lorax?

I guess, the best answer to that is actually very simple: Zac, the former teen idol, is now a grown-up — responsible and mature. That’s all.

The Lucky One opens today in theaters. - entertainment