Friday, September 23, 2005

Updates to Predictions

I have updated all predictions except for the Supporting categories to reflect recent buzz and the results of the Toronto and Venice film festivals.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Mini-Review of "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children"

I HAVE FINALLY SEEN IT. After two years of waiting. Was it worth the long wait?

Heck, yeah.

Picking up from the events of the PS game (the film starts with a recap), Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children starts with the pace of a hyper-charged video game cut scene and almost never loses that energy. Ever wondered how the special battle scene moves of Cloud, Tifa and the rest of the gang would look like if actors were to actually enact them onscreen? Well, you'll see it here, and the fanboy/girl in you will weep with delight. Before this film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within had the cleanest, most realistic animated characters. In some ways, it still does, but there's no question as to which film comes across with more life. Where The Spirits Within was flat and gray, Advent Children was alive and kicking and vibrant. It's not a film with a brilliant, convoluted story, but the plot serves its purpose of giving the necessary backdrop to the characters and to the return of a lot of people's favorite video game villain. In fact, one could very well conclude that the entire plot was just designed to give a justification for the return of Sephiroth. But visually, there is no word strong enough to capture the beauty and intensity of the action sequences, how smoothly and breathtakingly wonderful everyone moved. There's a lot of fan service, too (watch for Tifa's fight for one that's particularly very amusing), and humor. But if you're a fan of the game, and you're familiar with what happened, then you're bound to feel just a tad emotional during the last scene. Of course, I'm not saying what happens there.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Other Otaku Stuff

Sigh. Haven't watched a movie for some time now. Last one I watched was, on DVD, Bronenosets Potyomkin (The Battleship Potemkin). Interesting film. With that and Wings, the first Oscar Best Picture winner (for production), I've realized that I'm beginning to like silent films. I fully intend to watch more of them.

Anyway, on to other stuff I'm interested in aside from movies (the blog IS, after all, named otaku). September and October are big months for my other interests, namely literature, music and gaming. Here's a rundown of some of the things I'm looking forward to:

1) Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children DVD - Ok, still a film but...Finally! I've been waiting for this for more than a year! The trailer looks fantastic, and I'm sure it's the film that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within should have been. Bring on Cloud and co.!
2) DC Heroclix Icons - I'm actually not a very devoted player of Heroclix (yet), but I am planning to buy a booster pack of this to augment my growing army of heroes and villains. I'm not one for the really cheesy stuff, but if I find a veteran Superman, Alleluia.

1) "Knife of Dreams (Wheel of Time Book 11)" - Like many other WoT fans, the pacing of the books has annoyed me from time to time. I mean, practically NOTHING happened in Book 10! But that just makes Book 11 such a must-have. I was able to read the prologue, and I am very excited about it. If this is indeed the second-to-the-last book of the series, then A LOT is bound to happen.
2) "Extraordinary Machine" - The third studio album by musical wonder Fiona Apple. This has been shelved for far too long. Apple is a brilliant musician and her fans (myself included) are salivating for another album after "When the Pawn..." Will buy it as soon as it's out.
3) "A Game of Thrones RPG and Resource Book" - published by Guardians of Order. It promises to be the ultimate resource for the fantastic "A Song of Ice and Fire" books by George R.R. Martin. And it's a d20 book, too, so I can finally design characters and adventures based on this marvelous series.

And in November, the fourth book in that series, "A Feast for Crows," will finally be out. This is my favorite fantasy series of all time, and many are just as enamored of it as I am. Can't wait for this to come out and occupy most of my waking time.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Best Actor 2005

This category usually doesn't interest me as much as the Best Actress category does, but this year there are so many possibilities, many of whom are actors that I really like, so it's rather fun to catch the buzz on their performances. Right now, there's no question that two actors are leading the race in terms of buzz and critical praise: Ralph Fiennes and Joaquin Phoenix (two of the best actors around, IMO). Fiennes is getting astounding raves for his performance in The Constant Gardener, which is also generally being lauded. Fiennes has always been a fine, incomparable actor (can't wait to see him as Lord Voldemort), and the Academy has not been unkind (he has been nominated twice). But in terms of being more in the Oscar mold, I still think that his role in The White Countess is what will get him a nomination. The best that can come out of the first film is probably strong momentum for when the second comes out and the awards season begins. I won't change my opinion here until a) I watch both films and realize that he's better in the first, or b) The White Countess is moved to 2006 and therefore officially abandons Oscar contention.

Joaquin Phoenix is also a former nominee (for The Gladiator), but he can still be considered an underrated actor. Now he and costar Reese Whitherspoon are being considered as the best elements of Walk the Line (itself a praised film this early), with career-best performances. Jamie Foxx's win last year for playing Ray Charles at first had me worried that Phoenix was not going to get Oscar attention, but I greatly doubt that scenario now. The Academy loves biopics and the actors that are able to capture the greatness of those that they portray. It is being said that Phoenix was able to do just that. Plus, he sings the songs in the movie!

Tommy Lee Jones has been nominated before and even won (for The Fugitive), and recently he took home Best Actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Cannes has never been a good predictor of Oscar glory (Bjork, who won in Cannes for her amazing turn in Dancer of the Dark, was snubbed by the Academy), but he's American, and he directed this film as well. Chances are, he'll take another nomination for this, though a win is doubtful.

The last two slots are, I believe, a toss-up between three actors: Jake Gyllenhaal (Jarhead), David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck.) and Robert Redford (An Unfinished Life). Gyllenhaal, a young, talented actor, has been getting decent critical attention for some time now, so playing one of the soldiers in Sam Mendes' Gulf War movie can do the trick. That and his other strong role, that in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (for which he's likely to go for Supporting). Strathairn is an extremely underrated actor, but he seems to be in good form (from the trailers) and early reviews say that he actually is. Robert Redford, who prior to my 2 September update of the charts was among the contenders, has, unbelievably, only one nomination (for The Sting) as an actor to his credit. I'm not one for this kind of Oscar attitude of giving career awards, but yes, isn't it time to give him at least another one? Roeper has just recently praised his performance in this movie. Right now I'm considering replacing Gyllenhaal with Redford, but I'm hesitant to do so. There are other actors also vying for Oscar glory, like Steve Martin for self-penned Shopgirl and George Clooney for political drama Syriana, or even Colin Farrell for either The New World or Ask the Dust. That's why this category is becoming more interesting than it has been for the past few years.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Review of "Manderlay"

Let me begin this review by saying that I loved Lars Von Trier's Dogville. How much? Well, I think it's safe to say that it's among my Top 20 films of all time. I came out of the theatre convinced that Von Trier is a genius. My viewings of Dancer in the Dark and Breaking the Waves only reinforced that view. So when I learned that Manderlay, the sequel to Dogville, was going to be shown at the Cinemanila Film Festival, I awaited it fervently.

The first half or so of the second film in his trilogy on the USA, Manderlay, had me thinking (unfairly, as I would later realize), "What went wrong?!" The casting changes, primary of which was Bryce Dallas Howard replacing Nicole Kidman as Grace, were not a problem. In fact, Howard did a very decent job throughout the film (as she did in The Village: a severely underrated performance). The plot seemed to plough on at first, though there were amusing interjections in certain places, like Grace's story about her canary. It was difficult to be drawn into the plight of the people of Manderlay for some reason.

I would later realize that it was the same with Dogville. Both films reached a high point in the third or fourth chapter (I'll see it again, just to make sure) and never let go from there. Suddenly, the town and its people became compelling figures on Von Trier's almost bare chalk-marked set, and each one was beginning to have a distinct character (much like the categorization of the blacks in Mam's Law). Howard shone as Grace with a charm both delicate and strong, and with one of the most beautiful faces to appear on screen (and get such good close-up shots) in recent times. That's saying a lot, since neither her nor her costars (particularly Danny Glover, with a subtle performance) was ever flashy. With such understated acting, it's sometimes difficult to get involved. But here, it worked.

So did the familiarity. Key elements in Dogville were still there: the set, the music, the general mood of a calm before the storm (or, as Gandalf says it, the deep breath before the plunge). If you ignore the fact that Kidman becomes Howard (and it was unexpectedly very easy to do so, without taking away from Kidman, whose role in Dogville was, in my opinion, her best), there's a continuity that makes you feel that you didn't go too far away from Dogville (though it's in another state from Manderlay). In fact, that's what the film ends up trying to say, and the way the story develops near the end makes you agree.

Was Manderlay as powerful a film as Dogville was? Maybe not; I didn't leave the theatre with a satisfied grin on my face thinking, "Serves you right" and with my heart pounding, as I did with the first film. But the starkness of the film's end, as intensified by the shot of the United States map, white and blank and misleadingly pristine, as it zooms farther away and shows Grace growing ever smaller across it, consumed as it were by the enormity of it all, is stirring, to say the least. If only for that, and for the hope that in the third film Grace finds whatever it is she must find, I'm not inclined to change my opinion of Von Trier as a cinematic genius, a gem among today's directors.

Weekend Viewings

Finally finished Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma. I'm reserving an actual review for when I actually get to watch it WITH subtitles (it's in Italian), but let me say now that it's a movie that's not for the squeamish. There are scenes here of degradation and humiliation and breaking the human spirit that would make Hannibal Lecter cringe. It is, after all, loosely based on a piece by the Marquis de Sade (portrayed brilliantly by the great Geoffrey Rush in Quills). It's disturbing and sick, but I still recommend that you watch it, just to add to the spectrum of films that you've watched--and to appreciate the power of film as a medium.

Also got to see two high school films: Mean Girls (funny stuff; I'm waiting for what Tina Fey comes up with next) and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Very enjoyable film, and makes you wish that Matthew Broderick would still be as cool as he was then.

Now for one of the oddest films that I've seen in a long time: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Man, that was one big trip into the bizarre. Perfect word for the film: campy. But like almost all campy films, it had its charm. It was amusing to see Susan Sarandon in her role, but it was Tim Curry (almost unrecognizable at first) who stole the show. He's amazing here as the transvestite Transylvanian Dr. Frank N Furter. Most of the songs are memorable and hummable, though I initially cringed at the opening song. For those we have to thank Richard O'Brien, who until my viewing of this was still best known to me as the host of that game show The Crystal Maze. I'm not one for remakes (in general), but if ever one of this film is made, I can imagine Tim Burton directing it and Johnny Depp taking the role of Frank N Furter. What do you think?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Update on Best Actress 2005

Even before I start discussing the other categories, I'm going to make significant changes in my Best Actress predictions. After more careful research and analysis of the contenders, I've decided that I've been an idiot for ignoring Julianne Moore and Felicity Huffman for too long. The Academy (as I do) loves Moore, having nominated her four times before (she would have won for either Far From Heaven, The Hours, or both in an ideal world). In The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, she plays a mother of 10 and wife to a deadbeat. How does she support her family? By winning jingle-writing contests! Just imagine the emotional depth and range of that role (and I am NOT being sarcastic). If not an actual win, she's likely to get at least a nomination.

What about Huffman in Transamerica? The star of Desperate Housewives is playing the role of a transsexual just a few operations away from being a bonafide man before having to look for a rumored son. If that isn't Oscar-bait, I don't know what is. The role has already won her a Best Actress award at the Tribeca Film Festival, and she's an Emmy nominee this year for her hit show. If she wins the Emmy, expect her name to be called out as an Oscar nominee.

Charlize Theron and Joan Allen, who had previously occupied the slots now belonging to Moore and Huffman, still have a chance, but it will be tough for a former (and very recent) winner and an actress in a movie with a very early release date to displace the latter two. We'll see how this one plays out.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck. And Other Musings.

All right, I'm biting. Just saw the trailer of George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, and I must say...I'm pretty impressed and excited about this. And that's saying a lot, since I normally don't really dig these types of films. Then again, I did sort of like All the President's Men... Anyway, I've just added David Strathairn to the shortlist of Best Actor contenders (though Redford may pop in again at any time, depending on how An Unfinished Life is received), and I threw in George Clooney for supporting. Hollywood loves him, and he's in two great political films this year, one of which he directed.

What about Ralph Fiennes? Yup, everyone's going gaga over his performance in The Constant Gardener, so I don't know why I just won't replace his slot for The White Countess with this one. Maybe I have to watch it first. Either way, he's going to get nominated this year for sure, what with another big juicy role coming up (as Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). That is, unless the multiple perfs actually cause a split in votes. In that case, poor Ralph.

Weekend viewing: saw for the first time Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (enjoyed it); Old School (nothing special, though Will Ferrell was, as always, a hoot); Calendar Girls (Helen Mirren: fantastic); and, I hate to admit, being a self-proclaimed film buff, The Shining ("Heeeeeeere's Johnny!"). Creepy film. Claustrophobic is the perfect word for it. It deserves its reputation as among the best horror films ever made.

I am in the process of trying to finish watching Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma. Haven't reached the most disturbing parts yet (according to those I know who have seen it). Must finish it!