Saturday, February 02, 2008

2007: The Year That Was

Yes, I Saw All of Them in Person in 2007
(and that's only during the second half of the year!)

Charlie Kaufman
Although it was a fleeting moment, it was enough to give me a thrill to see one of my screenwriter idols in person while he was on location hunting for his directorial debut, Synechdoche, NY. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I had to forego a meeting where someone would have introduced me to him. I still feel bad about the missed opportunity to shake the hand of the guy behind the genius of Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich.
Tim Burton
In November 2007, I listened and watched Tim Burton in person as he was interviewed by Richard Pena, programming director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center in between clips from his films. As a bonus, we were also treated to a "first look" at Sweeney Todd. I didn’t realize that Tim Burton is a funny and warm person until that night.

Norman Mailer
I had the rare opportunity of listening and watching Norman Mailer in person last year. I could not forget his dramatic entrance. Without any fanfare, a short old man walked on the stage being propped up by a pair of canes. Following him were the three interviewers. It was probably Mr. Mailer’s request not to be helped as he walked on the stage. The discussion was very exciting, with someone in the audience even reacting quite strongly to Mr. Mailer's statements at one point. In between coughs, Mr. Mailer’s statements were as controversial as ever and his brilliance had not been dimmed by age nor by his failing health. Two of the films which he wrote and directed were shown after the interview: Tough Guys Don't Dance and Maidstone. These films were much ahead of their time and they’re so avant-garde that the average moviegoer would probably hate it. A few weeks later, Mr. Mailer was on the cover of New York magazine with some more controversial statements. A couple of months later, I felt a lump in my throat when I saw the morning papers’ front page. Norman Mailer is gone.

Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman
Marc Shaiman, together with his partner and collaborator Scott Wittman, showed up for a Sunday morning advanced screening of Hairspray. Marc Shaiman composed the songs in the movie and the Broadway musical of the same title. It was a very informative talk by Marc and Scott. Marc is a very pleasant guy and he sounded (no pun intended) truly dedicated to his craft.

Tom Dicillo
He wrote and directed the well-made indie film, Delirious with Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt. It was a very engaging film. Tom was interviewed after the screening of the film. Too bad, not too many people saw his film.



Zoe Cassavettes
The daughter of actor/director John Cassavettes (husband of Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby) and actress Gena Rowland, she also admitted that she is a close friend of Sofia Coppola, director of Lost in Translation and daughter of Godfather series director, Francis Ford Coppola. She directed the movie, Broken English. It’s a very engaging film. Zoe spoke before the advance showing of her film on a Sunday morning. She admitted that her movie is partly autobiographical. She said that for her first job in NYC, she worked as a receptionist in a small hotel, similar to the character of Parker Posey in the movie. She mentioned that her boyfriend was a bit player in the film. After the screening, the first thing that the audience asked was who among the bit players is her boyfriend. My suspicion was correct. It was one of the guys that the character of Parker Posey met in the bar. Zoe also mentioned that his boyfriend finally got a big break on TV which will have its pilot in a few days. His boyfriend’s name is Jon Hamm. Now, everybody knows him as the lead in the hit series, Mad Men which won as the best TV drama series in the Golden Globe Awards. The series also gave Jon Hamm the best actor trophy in a TV drama series, beating perennial winner Hugh Laurie of House and such great actors as Bill Paxton and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Jennifer Westfeldt
She was interviewed by film guru, Richard Brown, during an advance screening of the film which she wrote and starred in, Ira and Abby. She was very down-to-earth and smart. Her film was good, except for some writing flaws which I understood when I heard her narrate how she got into screenwriting.

Alan Alda
I didn’t realize how funny he is until I listened to him in person. He narrated interesting stories from his long film career. He also discussed his book, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. It was an evening of laughter and anecdotes.

Steve Martin
During a book launching of the children’s book which he co-wrote, The Alphabet from A to Y with a Bonus Letter Z, I had the chance to see him up close and I had his signature on the book to prove it. He was wearing a trench coat and a moustache similar to his character in Pink Panther.


Julianne Moore
It was an early morning launching of her children’s book at Barnes and Noble. I didn’t realize that her face was filled with freckles. She also has red hair. Her book is clearly autobiographical. Its title? Freckleface Strawberry. I've always had a crush on her, so it was really a thrill to see her up close.

Sarah Crichton
She co-wrote the memoir, A Mighty Heart with Mariane Pearl. The book was about the murder of Mariane’s husband, Danny Pearl, a Wall Street journal reporter who was murdered in Pakistan. The rights to the book were bought by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and they turned it into a great movie. Angelina Jolie and Mariane Pearl became very good friends during its filming. Angelina Jolie was nominated for an Actors Guild Award for her portrayal of Mariane Pearl in the movie (but she lost to Warren Beatty's great love, Julie Christie for her movie Away from Her).

Irvine Welsh
He is the writer of the novel from which the movie, Trainspotting (starring Ewan McGregor) was based. The launching of his book at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square brought the house down. His book, Bedroom Secrets of Master Chefs, was riotously funny. He read excerpts from his entertaining book.

Chuck Palahniuk
He is the writer of the novel from which the movie, Fight Club (starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton), was based. He had his book launching of his new book, Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square together with Irvine Welsh. It was a the most fun book launching I ever attended. He narrated awesome anecdotes. He gave away bouquets, huge rubber hamburgers and life-size rubber body parts.
James Lipton
His book, Inside Inside, takes a look at the behind-the-scenes of his hit TV show, Inside The Actors Studio where he interviews big Hollywood actors for his graduate class. During the book’s launching at Barnes and Noble in Lincoln Plaza, he admitted that he once worked as a pimp in Paris. James Lipton signed my copy of the book and he even obliged to draw a doodle of himself.

Leslie Uggams
Together with other Broadway actors, actress and Broadway star Leslie Uggams read scenes from the plays of August Wilson. It was a great experience.



Lea Salonga
I saw the Broadway star during her last week of performance as Fantine in Les Miserables. Clutching a bag of baby diapers, she graciously signed autographs and posed for photos at the artists’ entrance of the Broadhurst Theatre in Broadway. Everyone knows that she invaded Hollywood when she did the singing voice of such Disney heroines as Mulan and Princess Jasmine in Alladin.


And I Also Saw All These Films in 2007
(and yes, only during the second half of the year!)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Great writing. The book seemed impossible to turn into a movie but the amazing team of Director Julian Schnabel and screenwriter Ronald Harwood turned this into an engaging film. Had I read its synopsis before watching it, I would have definitely avoided it. But I'm glad that I had the opportunity to watch it in my film class at NYU. Except for the Lourdes sequence which seemed to have just slowed the film down, it was one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2007. Funny and touching at the same time. I like this more than Schnabel's episodic Before the Night Falls which gave Javier Bardem (nominated for an Oscar for his terrific peformance in the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men) his first Oscar nomination.

Delirious
Funny and touching film. A well-made indie film. I like this film very much. Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt have great chemistry.

Broken English
Well-made. I just didn’t get the part where they had to deliver a package. I was expecting a big revelation at the end of the sequence. It didn't move the story forward nor established character (translation: it's unnecessary). But it's a highly entertaining film.

Redacted
Except for the ending, I like this film although most critics would probably disagree. Director Brian de Palma’s use of pseudo-documentary style for this film was very effective.
Cassandra's Dream
I'ved always been a big Woody Allen fan. His latest film which, like Match Point, was not filmed in Allen's beloved NYC is highly entertaining. It's theme reminds me of Allen’s two other films: Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Crime pays.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
This is one of the most enjoyable Lumet films that I’ve seen in years. Its theme is very similar to Allen's Cassandra’s Dream.

Persepolis
A surprisingly entertaining film done in the old fashioned animation method.

Ressurecting the Champ
Since I did not know much about the film, the twist towards the middle of the film was a pleasant surprise (at least for me).

La Vie En Rose
The episodic structure and problematic screenplay diminished the power of this film but Marion Cotillard’s excellent performance more than made up for it. I didn’t even know that she is very young until I saw her at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (where she lost to Julie Christie). But she won the Golden Globe Award for best actress in a musical or comedy.

Knocked Up
Funny and well-made. Seth Rogen is the man!

Becoming Jane
James McAvoy stole the film. This is the first time I saw him and he had a magnificent screen presence. His follow-up film, Atonement, is a big boost to the acting career of this exceptional actor.

Ira and Abby
Interesting and funny indie film with some good scenes.

Hairspray
Well-made although this did not really excite me.

The Orphanage
I think this film was overrated. It was a polished film but I was bored.


Love in the Time of Cholera
Based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's bestselling book, this is the most boring film that I’ve seen last year. The great Javier Bardem did not salvage the film. The problem is inherent in the film's material. It is not cinematic. The lead character was the finest example of a passive hero. His goal was to have Fermina but he did nothing to have her. Instead, he had affairs with several women, not really pursuing his goal. He just waited for Fermina's husband to die. The main character’s goal and his actions throughout the film are off tangent and out of sync from each other. Now, how could a story like this hold the viewer’s interest? I could not believe that this film was written by the same guy who wrote the excellent screenplay of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (And I couldn't help but smile whenever I am reminded of the time when I saw this book on the Health Books section of a bookstore.)

Images from
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Sunday, November 12, 2006

My Five Films with the Best Twists

Images from amazon.com, andrew.cmu.edu,cinemapassion.com

Why These Five Films Have the Best Twists

5. LES DIABOLIQUES
(Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot / Screenwriters: Henri-Georges Clouzot, Frederic Grendel, Rene Masson / 1955)
The ultimate classic twist. A trailblazer.



4. MULHOLLAND DRIVE
(Director & Screenwriter: David Lynch / 2001)
In a class of its own. Truly original and engaging. There’s nothing like it. Very powerful film. It stayed with me even long after I saw the film. (Naomi Watt’s unexpected exposure serves as a terrific bonus.)


3. VERTIGO
(Director: Alfred Hitchcock / Screenwriters: Alec Coppel, Samuel Taylor / 1958)
Well-written screenplay with an awesome surprise. It blew me away.


2. HOUSE OF GAMES
(Director & Screenwriter: David Mamet / 1987)
A smart and highly enjoyable film (a rare combination these days). David Mamet in his best form. (But its last few minutes prevented me from giving it the top spot.)


1. NINE QUEENS
(Director & Screenwriter: Fabian Bielinsky / 2000)
A brilliant film which I wish I could have written myself. Unbelievably tight screenplay. Neatly plotted. Every second is enjoyable. I never get tired of watching it again and again. Great!
Images from moviemail-online.co.uk, IMDb.com, kinexis.com, amovies.com

WHY THESE TWELVE+ OTHER FILMS WITH GREAT TWISTS DIDN’T MAKE IT TO MY LIST (Spoiler Alert!)

1. THE SPANISH PRISONER – I could not figure out how the book was switched when the book remained in its place during the entire scene when the switch was supposed to have happened. Otherwise, it's a brilliant film. A perennial favorite among film students.

2. THE STING – With a title like that, the element of surprise is completely lost. You just anticipate the twist every step of the way. But it is admittedly a well-made film.

3. MATCHSTICK MEN – Enjoyable and highly entertaining but the plot is too familiar (read: derivative of other con films) to still warrant surprise and excitement.

4. DEATHTRAP – Since it was adapted from a long-running stage play, it was too static and claustrophobic despite director Sidney Lumet’s efforts. He could not do anything about Ira Levin’s cardboard characters either. Highly entertaining though. A must-see for aspiring screenwriters who want to be entertained.

5. THE SIXTH SENSE – When the opening scene jumped in time to the next scene and did not explain what happened to Dr. Malcolm Crowe after he got shot, I already smelled something fishy. Call it either manipulative or bad storytelling. Take your pick. Besides, in terms of structure, it appears to have been copied from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I admire M. Night Shaymalan as a filmmaker though.

6. THE OTHERS – Undoubtedly well-made. But since it came out in the heels of The Sixth Sense which somehow employed the same gimmick, it didn’t garner the attention that it deserves.

7. THE VILLAGE – The plot seems unlikely. Besides, it really looks like an adaptation of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s children’s book, Running Out of Time. Read the book and you’ll be shocked at the similarity.

8. PLANET OF THE APES – The ending came as a complete surprise. Great ending. Fun but too campy for today’s audience.

9. A BEAUTIFUL MIND – I almost fell from my seat when halfway through the film, my perspective of what’s happening on the screen took an entirely different direction. And that’s when the melodrama started.

10. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION – A departure from the usual Agatha Christie’s predictable plot involving an isolated group of people disappearing one after another. Nice twist but it may look tame by today’s standard.

11. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – Anyone familiar with Agatha Christies’ works would find the plot predictable. However, the final twist might still come as a surprise.

12. THE CRYING GAME / THE USUAL SUSPECTS / FIGHT CLUB / OUT OF SIGHT / MEMENTO – Simply overrated.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

My Five Scariest Films



Images from IMDb, MPTv.net, hillcity-comics.com

Were You Scared by These Films?

In the spirit (pun intended) of Halloween, I picked out five of the scariest movies I’ve seen.

5. THE EXORCIST
(Screenwriter - William Peter Blatty; Director – William Friedkin, 1973)
I've never touched my quija board ever since.


4. THE OTHERS
(Screenwriter & Director - Alejandro Amenabar, 2001 )
The last time I got scared. Really scared.

3. ROSEMARY’S BABY
(Screenwriter & Director – Roman Polanski, 1968)
Edge-of-your-seat suspense. Shocking ending.




2. THE UNINVITED
(Screenwriter- Dodie Smith & Frank Partos; Director Lewis Allen, 1944)
Haunting theme music (Stella by Starlight). I felt the chills running down my spine.





1. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
(Screenwriter - Daniel Mainwaring; Director – Don Siegel, 1956)
Highly suspenseful. And frightening. Really frightening!


Images from IMDb

Have fun this Halloween!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Alfredo's Secret

What Is This Man Watching? ( Spoiler Alert!)


When I was a young boy, I religiously watched movies in my town’s only movie theater every weekend (because the movie theater was open only during weekends). I would always watch at the balcony (although it costs more) because the movie projector was right behind the stadium-style seats. When no one was looking, I would sneak under the projection room (which was elevated) and gathered the loose strips of film in the dark. If the strips were long enough, I rolled them together to make toy swords. On lucky days, the loose strips would even contain explicit love scenes. I collected them.

Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso reminds me of those boyhood memories. In this film, a boy and the operator of the cinema projector of the village’s only movie theater became friends. During movie screenings, no one was allowed to see intimate scenes. Even brief kissing scenes ended up on the floor as they were deleted in accordance with the order of the village’s one-man movie censor – the village priest.

The boy grew up to be a famous film director. (If you haven’t seen the movie, please stop reading beyond this point.) After the theater projectionist’s death, a mysterious package was handed to the boy-turned-film director. When he opened it, the package contained loose strips of films from different movies which were pasted together. And he watched them.

By the way, the theater projectionist’s name was Alfredo.
And the boy’s name was Toto.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Has Anyone Seen This Woman?

Who Is She?

I first saw her in Montreal, Canada in the early autumn of 1992. She looked very plain. She was not attractive at all in her red parka. And she was pregnant. But I couldn't get her out of my mind. It was only when I reached home that I realized that I’ve already seen her a few years earlier in Manila. I was not paying attention when I saw her the very first time. How could I have not taken notice of her then? I could not forgive myself.

Then I saw her again. Several times. I spotted her doing menial work after she lost all her possessions. I witnessed how she got intimate with her brother's brother-in-law. I saw her reaction when a photojournalist got obsessed with her. But she never saw me. In fact, she never even knew me. Recently, I heard that she has moved to the United States. So I got excited at the prospect of finally seeing her up close (and if I could find the guts, introducing myself to her).

Since then, I have always wished that I would bump into her along the crowded streets of Manhattan. Or find her seated beside me on the subway train. Or catch her in one of those fancy shops on Fifth Avenue. But I haven’t seen her. In fact, I haven’t seen her for a long time. The last time I heard about her was a couple of months ago. A few people saw her in Miami flirting with a guy named Colin.

If anyone out there gets the chance to see her, please tell her that I’m dying to see her. And touch her. Or just stare at her. For real. Not just in the movies.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Searching For Alfred

During the early 80s, my eldest sister in Chicago sent me a video recorder as a late graduation present. It was a Sony Betamax. Since then, I came home with a bagful of rented videos every weekend.

I rented all the Hitchcock films that I could find. Part of the fun of watching Hitchcock films was a little game which my brother and I played. We would outdo each other in spotting Alfred Hitchcock first.

Hitchcock's Cameos

Monday, September 25, 2006

Who Are These Amazing Men?

The Men Behind The Best Films (My Favorite Film Directors)

Yasujiro Ozu. Zhang Yimuo. Francois Truffaut. Akira Kurosawa. Giuseppe Tornatore. Ingmar Bergman. Federico Fellini. Alfred Hitchcock. Vittorio de Sica. Woody Allen. Robert Altman. Wong Kar Wai. Peter Weir. M. Night Shyamalan. Alexander Payne. Majid Majidi. David Mamet. Fabian Bielinsky. Abbas Kiarostami. Ishmael Bernal. Mike de Leon. Jeffrey Jeturian. Celso Ad Castillo. Lino Brocka. (In order of appearance)