Monday, July 31, 2006

Nicole Kidman is Mrs. Coulter

Nicole Kidman has been cast as Mrs. Coulter in the upcoming film adaptation of His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass. I wanted Kristin Scott Thomas to get the role, but I'm very happy with this choice, as are the many people who had wanted very early on for Kidman to play the role. Kidman joins Dakota Richards (Lyra), Adam Godley (Pantalaimon), and Paul Bettany (Lord Asriel).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Review: Lady in the Water

Much like the critic (played by Bob Balaban) in M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water, most real critics nowadays have turned into bitter, petty people who can't enjoy a film. Most of them are right in saying that the film had a lot of unrealistic, contrived and pretentious moments (I found myself saying "Huh?" in some of them), but it is nowhere near deserving of such harshness (it currently stands at 22% at Rotten Tomatoes). In its worst moments, the film is easily juvenile, and these are when Shyamalan seems unable to adequately realize his undoubtedly creative thoughts and put them effectively to screen. But Lady in the Water is a very entertaining and even inspiring film that does make you ask yourself certain questions about roles in the world and futures, and Shyamalan sets his plot in a bedtime story that evokes wonder and awe as much as any ancient folktale. It helps that Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard are highly capable actors, and that, unlike many of the most prominent critics, I can still appreciate creativity and intention. Grade: B

Image from IMDb

Mini-rant on Miss Universe 2006

Yes, I do watch the pageant. But for some time now, I haven't rooted for a candidate as much as I did this year. But just like the last time (1999, when Philippine candidate Miriam Quiambao fell one place short of the title), I ended up disappointed. Japan's Kurara Chibana had it all: looks (whoa), smart answers (atypical, but cute, charming, and still smart), a fanbase (the cheers for her were thunderous), and a killer national costume (literally: she wore a sort of samurai suit; it won Best National Costume, deservedly so). But she still lost to Puerto Rico's Zuleyka Rivera Mendoza, who admittedly was the more typical Miss Universe. This makes it Puerto Rico's fifth Miss Universe crown. Japan has had only one. Come on, if Chibana's answer to the final question had been bad (as Quiambao's had in 1999), I'd understand her loss. But it didn't. Maybe the male judges (which most of them were) didn't like her answer about male violence about women being something she wanted to change. I'm just really disappointed.

Cinemalaya 2006 Winners (and my reviews)

The winners of the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival 2006:

Best Feature Film: Tulad ng Dati
Best Director: Ron Bryant (Rotonda)
Best Actor: Alchris Galura (Batad: Sa Paang Palay)
Best Actress: Angel Aquino (Donsol)

Out of the eight films in competition for the feature film award, I was able to (unfortunately) catch only four. One of those other four that I failed to watch was Tulad ng Dati, the film about local band The Dawn that ultimately won the top prize. I thought that Donsol would easily get the award, for it was a very well made film of high technical quality, and the principal cast (particularly lead actor Sid Lucero) was highly capable. Then again, I wasn't able to see all the entries.

Donsol is the type of local film that one would be proud to show to an international audience. Not only does it show how breathtakingly beautiful the Philippines really is despite all the bad rep; it is a strong love story that, while not exactly original, plays on the metaphors of the whale shark elegantly and allows the movie to be as much about the location as it is about the characters. Lucero is a natural and is able to show here how good an actor he is, Angel Aquino holds her own and strongly provides the central drama to the plot, and supporting actors Cherie Gil and Jacklyn Jose are, as always, flawless in their performances. I thought this film would run away with the major awards.

Sid Lucero would have easily deserved a victory, but so does Alchris Galura, lead actor of Batad: Sa Paang Palay. I am always very happy to see actors in the Philippines being so natural in their performances, because such is very rare nowadays (most local actors tend to overact). Galura is a very charismatic young actor who effortlessly makes you sympathize with his consuming obsession over having rubber shoes (he's an Ifugao). Set amidst the beautiful rice terraces and with great original tribal music, this is another very good film that should be shown outside the country.

The other two films that I watched, Mudraks and Rotonda, are, in my humble opinion, well meant but mediocre films. Rotonda is the typical Filipino indie: dark, ensemble-driven, and ultimately with a violent ending. I am no expert in directing, so I wouldn't say that Ron Bryant did not deserve to win over Adolfo Alix (Donsol), although that is my opinion. Case in point: Epi Quizon's performance in Rotonda is one of the most forced, unregulated, grating ones I've seen in a long time (that scene where he was shouting was PAINFUL). I'm certain that I would have appreciated Mudraks more had there been none of the terrible technical difficulties that were present during the screening that I caught, but taking that into consideration, I still could not say that anything in the film was remotely special, from the acting, to the story, to the technical details. I had expected it to be a stirring drama, but it did not elicit any strong feelings from me.

The Cinemalaya is a good showcase for what we're capable of despite low budgets, as long as there's commitment and originality. More power to such festivals!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

75 Great Performances: 25-21

25. Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow in King Kong (2005)

Fay Wray’s would forever be considered the iconic Ann Darrow, but one would be hard pressed to call it the most well performed. In 2005, Naomi Watts gave that year’s most undervalued, overlooked performance. Her portrayal of Darrow in Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong deserved every praise it garnered and more. In the film, Watts is pushed down, carried around, thrown in the air, and at times, as the role warrants, she does some vaudeville stunts of her own. Her sympathy for Kong is evident in her sweet gaze on the towering primate and in her protective stance atop the building. Watts’s Darrow is someone you could easily see as being the beauty that would fell the beast. With her physical and emotional investment in the role, Watts easily gave the film its human heart.

24. Shirley MacLaine as Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment (1983)

Strong, incorrigible, and, ultimately, fiercely maternal, Shirley MacLaine’s Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment is a strong, significant role that we no longer see so often played by veteran actresses. Whether she's having fun with Jack Nicholson or breaking down at the sight of her daughter (Debra Winger) in pain, MacLaine is simply perfect for the role. She was justified in saying during the awards ceremony that she deserved to win the Oscar for Best Actress that year.

23. Diane Keaton as Bessie Greenfield in Marvin's Room (1996)

Diane Keaton thankfully got nominated for a heartbreaking role in a film that few would probably remember, Marvin's Room.
She plays a leukemia patient constantly at odds with her sister Lee (Meryl Streep), and her character's moments with Lee and Lee's son Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio) are precious moments of sincerely acted familial love. All three actors shine in this film, but it is Keaton as Bessie Greenfield, perhaps her most underrated role, that carries the film to its emotional last scenes.

22. Julianne Moore as Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven (2002)

2002 is arguably Julianne Moore's best year, with two fantastic performances (as Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven and as Laura Brown in The Hours). Until the time I'm writing this, I'm still debating with myself as to which performance I consider "greater," and thus which performance to include in this list. For sheer strength, significance, and the fact that it's so much more memorable, I'm giving that distinction to her Cathy Whitaker, suffering wife and woman. But I'm still citing her Laura Brown as an amazing performance, one that should have either won her the Supporting category or gotten her a co-lead nomination with Nicole Kidman. Think of this as #22a and #22b.

21. Marlee Matlin as Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God (1986)

Marlee Matlin is easily one of the actresses I miss seeing the most in films nowadays. Not only is she astoundingly beautiful; she's also a very expressive actress. Though she can speak very fluently, she can shift from speaking to signing and vice versa without missing her rhythm. In Children of a Lesser God, she plays Sarah Norman, an angry, volatile hearing-impaired woman whose love can be as fiery as her anger. It's a great joy watching Matlin perform whatever her emotion is at a certain moment. With her it's like a dance, silent yet powerful, smooth yet fierce.

#s 30-26
#s 35-31
#s 40-36
#s 45-41
#s 50-46

Introduction and #s 75-51

Most Anticipated Films of 2006

We're halfway through the year, and some of the most exciting films (e.g., X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, etc.) have already been shown. But as with most years, many of the truly best films have been reserved for the last few months of 2006, and some of them are among the most anticipated by Oscar pundits and film buffs alike. This is my own list, in alphabetical order (it's hard to determine ranking):

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; Starring Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt, Gael Garcia Bernal
Oscar Potential: High, Major Categories

Fresh off from victory at Cannes, this multi-cultural ensemble could have the same emotional impact and Oscar output as last year's Crash.

Directed by Stefen Fangmeier; Starring Edward Speelers, Sienne Guillory
Oscar Potential: Low, Technical Categories (Makeup, Score, Visual Effects)

I really liked the book, but excited as I am, I'm slightly worried how this is going to turn out.

The Fountain
Directed by Darren Aronofsky; Starring Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz
Oscar Potential: High, Technical Categories (Costume, Visual Effects)

Looks from the trailer and poster like this is going to be a serious head trip. Very interesting premise, cast and visual aesthetics.

Gedo Senki (Tales from Earthsea)
Directed by Miyazaki Goro; Voices of Sugawara Bunta, Okada Junichi, Teshima Aoi
Oscar Potential: Uncertain (Animated Feature); is it eligible?

He's not his father Hayao, but it's now extremely unsafe to bet off Studio Ghibli from the Animated Feature race. The question is whether or not it's eligible this year. But it looks extremely well made (as should be expected from Studio Ghibli), and it's based on a fantasy classic.

The Good German
Directed by Steven Soderbergh; Starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Beau Bridges
Oscar Potential: Very High, Major Categories

Another potential Oscar turn by the great Cate Blanchett, so I'm there.

Goya's Ghosts
Directed by Milos Forman; Starring Natalie Portman, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgard, Randy Quaid
Oscar Potential: Very High, Major Categories

Forman returns to the big screen with a potential epic period piece about painter Francisco Goya.

Notes on a Scandal
Directed by Richard Eyre; Starring Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy
Oscar Potential: High, Acting Categories

Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench, the two Elizabeths, finally together, and in a film about a teacher-student scandal.

Pan's Labyrinth
Directed by Guillermo del Toro; Starring Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Sergi Lopez
Oscar Potential: Low, Technical Categories (Makeup)

The trailers promise that it's going to be a feast for the eyes. I'm hoping it's much more than that and that it delivers as a superb dark fantasy piece.

The Prestige
Directed by Christopher Nolan; Starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, David Bowie, Michael Caine
Oscar Potential: High, Technical Categories (Costume)

What more can you ask for than a period piece about combatting stage magicians (Jackman and Bale) directed by Christopher Nolan and pitting Wolverine and Batman against each other ?

The Science of Sleep
Directed by Michel Gondry; Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Oscar Potential: High, Major Categories (Screenplay)

Another potentially trippy film, from the brilliant Michel Gondry. A potential acting showcase for Bernal.

Image from Ain't It Cool News

Cinemalaya 2006

Cinemalaya, the Philippine Independent Film Festival, is running from 17 to 23 July at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I'll have reviews of the films I've watched here soon, but I'm highly recommending Batad: Sa Paang Palay and Donsol.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Trailers at

Great new trailers are up at, including ones for The Prestige, a Christopher Nolan film about two warring magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman), and The Science of Sleep, another quirky film by the one who brought us The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry. This new one stars Gael Garcia Bernal. These are now among my most anticipated films of the year, a list of which I'm going to put up soon. Other notable trailers up are those of Pedro Almodovar's Volver, the female cast of which won the collective Best Actress award at Cannes, Little Miss Sunshine starring Greg Kinnear, Steve Carrell and Toni Collette, and Charlotte's Web, with Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts, and just about everyone else in Hollywood. This promises to be a great film year.

Image from IMDb

Friday, July 14, 2006

Review: Romance & Cigarettes

Once you get past the innane musical sequences in John Turturro's Romance & Cigarettes (that's basically the first half), it's actually a decent enough film. It's a great ensemble film, with Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, Aida Turturro, and especially Kate Winslet as Tula turning in impressive performances (does Winslet ever not?). But like I said, the first half is almost unbearable ( I was tempted several times to just turn the DVD player off), and the last half falls easily into sticky melodrama (though this is where Winslet and, in just a scene seconds long and without words, Parker, shine). If it weren't for the very capable cast, the film would be an unforgivable disaster. Grade: C+ (see how much a good cast matters?)

Review: United 93

A movie packs a greater emotional punch when you already know what tragedy will befall the characters introduced at the beginning. Paul Greengrass's United 93 is inarguably a powerful film, and Greengrass achieves this sense of familiarity and utmost sympathy with the characters without having to milk the saccharine and melodramatic for all it's worth. Packing a worthy ensemble that includes people actually involved in the real-life events playing themselves, the film quite works from beginning to chaotic then silent end. But don't expect the best acting or the steadiest camera work. In fact, if you're the type who pays attention to ever technical detail of a film to make an assessment of the whole, don't come into the theatre with such great expectations as the reviews would lead you to make. Grade: B

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Updates to Predictions

I've made updates to my predictions in many of the categories, including all the majors. Check them on the sidebar.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Review: Superman Returns

Now that a flying superhero can be rendered realistically with great, advanced visual effects, DC's frontliner (along with Batman) Superman has returned to the big screen. But Superman Returns with more than just big explosions and high-speed aerial stunts (of which there many, and all are breathtakingly superb). He comes back with heart, thanks to Bryan Singer's refreshing take on the superhero. If you've had any doubts that Superman is comicdom's strongest superhero, watching this film would dispel them. Here Superman can lift continent-sized chunks of rock with very little exertion evident on his face. Is it a failing of new Superman Brandon Routh? Prettier than Kate Bosworth and with looks, mannerisms, and voice eerily reminiscent of the late Christopher Reeve, it would be easy to overlook Routh's inexperience. In this first of what would undoubtedly be a franchise, he manages to own the role and show the viewers that he's here for the long haul.

Emotionally, Superman works, though nowhere near as large in scale as on the visual level. Superman is obviously being granted a strong human aspect in all his cosmic giftedness (it has been written in many reviews that this Superman is almost Christ-like), and the last few sequences are a good instance of this, but the movie as a whole still falls short of emotionally binding us with the Man of Steel, something that both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 and, to a certain extent, Batman Begins, were able to do very well. Kevin Spacey, always a great actor, is not as nasty as many would have liked him to be, resorting to just giving a slight edge to the personality already established by Gene Hackman in the earlier films. Kate Bosworth could have been a tougher, more mature Lois Lane, and Eva Marie Saint is barely a presence. It is Parkey Posey who quite handily steals a lot of the moments, with her one-liners and her visible hesitation to go as evil as Lex Luthor. (Ever noticed how much Bryan Singer brings closeups to her face whenever Lex mentions doing something nasty?)

Overall, the film is wonderful and worth watching more than once, but it could have been better in terms of substance. Grade: B+

Image from IMDb