I watched this at a free preview screening held at the Sunset 5 Laemmle Theater. It surprised me a little to see that about half the audience were Chinese.
I have to say I liked this less compared to Hero or House Of Flying Daggers - it's like I like his martial arts period epics in descending order ... interestingly, that's correlated with an increasingly bigger budget and number of extras.
The film is quite imbalanced, really - much of the beginning half was made up of personal loves and rivalries within the Imperial Family and some of the courtiers and officials. The web of conceit and scandals are quite elaborate, flying in all directions, all tied to the Empress and Emperor (needless to say, they are played well by Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat). Then when the oft-mentioned Chrysanthemum Festival arrives (hence the yellow flowers filling up the entire courtyard of what looks to be the Forbidden Palace ... which must mean at least a million flowers and flower pots are used up), everything goes into havoc mode - pandemonium, resolution, betrayals, everything.
It's almost as if Zhang Yimou staked everything on the battle sequence on the palace grounds - and yes, of course they are breathtaking. Even though the numbers in play here are smaller than either Troy or Lord Of The Rings, here the battle sequence is more awe-inspiring than Troy and more real-looking than Lord Of The Rings can ever hope to be. Much of that has to do with the gold plated armour that each and every one of those soldiers wear - with efficient use of sound effects, you never ever suspect that they are probably plastic or something. (In retrospect, they've got to be because the actual scenario - possible during ancient times, of course - would have involved, say, the volume of gold equivalent to the cubic volume of the old wing of 1 Utama. You just can't imagine that - that's what the filmmakers are there for, to direct tens of thousands of extras to re-enact that sight for you.
Unfortunately, what you lose with such a huge battling army is the artfulness of martial arts sequences. Looking at Hero and House Of Flying Daggers, many of the fight sequences were well choreographed, as in they were very poetic and all that. (To an extent, The Banquet went too far and made them into a dance, and whether that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on how willing you are to enjoy movies.) Here, Zhang Yimou kept the same martial arts choreographer (Ching Siu Tung), but there isn't much of an artfully choreographed fighting sequence, which is kinda disappointing. But never mind, just have to wait for the next one then.
Those who value story far above everything else will be disappointed though. (Stress the word far.) But, for people like me, who value spectacle quite highly - yes, the battle sequence alone is worth the price of admission. (In this case, free. Bah. Still, what are you guys paying, RM10? And how much did they spent destroying a million chrysanthemums in flower pots?)
I have to say though: Jay Chou, the bugger can actually act. The wispy beard helps a lot, of course, but his performance was quite heartfelt in the movie. (I never saw Initial D.) Now he's on my list of 'actors I like to work with (in the possibly delusional future)'. That Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat were good isn't surprising - perhaps that's why I kept thinking about Jay Chou on my 45-min walk back to my place ... coz he surprised me.
Ultimately, not the classic I hoped it would be, but as with (almost) any spectacle film it was worth my time. (Stress almost.)
How Good I Think The Film Is: 7/10
How Much I Liked It: 7/10
At What Point Did I First Look At My Watch: 25 mins
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Hair & Make-up
PS - In reality, the art direction and costume design in this film would have beat ANY film that dares to compete against it during the Oscars, hands down. But the Oscars isn't reality. Remember, they gave the Best Original Score to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when Gladiator was ... sigh, bastards. Sorry, that was a rant.
PPS - It's entirely possible that they made this film purely as a prelude to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. You know, like a show-off thing to the West saying, hey, look, this is just a little bit of what we can do - and if you liked this, the Olympic Games opening ceremony will blow your brains out! And we haven't even talked about the closing ceremony!!! Hey, it's possible, seeing as the film is almost guaranteed to get the Chinese saying stuff like "it's shallow" or "not meaningful enough", whereas Westerners will willingly gouge their eyes out if they get to just watch this once. (That's hyperbole, of course.)
People who know me will know that I don't generally appreciate old films, classic films, etc. I couldn't stand watching past the first third of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. I was left wondering why something as bland as Casablanca ended up on No. 2 on the AFI list ... and consequently scared me off No. 1. I don't know how I managed to slog through Ben-Hur (I suppose the chariot sequence helped). I was so mad I wasted money buying North By Northwest. And Gone With The Wind was difficult to complete, to say the least ... and of course, frankly, in the end I don't give a damn anyway. (Wait, that's lame.) So don't ask me to watch Easy Rider or The Conversation or Bonnie & Clyde or Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and so on.
So it's a bit of a surprise that I picked this one up. I guess it's because I keep hearing about Yasujiro Ozu from Yasmin Ahmad's blog. I happen to come across it at my local library, so I thought, what the heck, I have a long holiday.
So I watched it, and it helps to know what to expect - that it's black and white, that it's slow, that the Japanese have peculiar culture and customs. I was more engaged than I thought I would be, even though the story can only be described in a word: mundane.
I don't really mean that in a perjorative way, more as an adjective. Tokyo Story tells a very mundane story - it's about an old couple visiting their children in Tokyo. There are no villains at all, unless you become too academic and say that, yes there is, and try to reason out who and why that's the case. And, contrary to what my tutors taught, that every film story NEEDS conflict, there isn't one here, unless you become too academic and say that, yes there is, and try to dig out that conflict hiding inside somewhere.
Otherwise, everything that happens in the film is typical, normal, not out-of-the-ordinary, not even dramatic. Stripped bare of all that, what you get are portraits of relationships between the characters, and they were surprisingly touching. The old woman was especially maternal, very kindly, and she smiles all the time in that Japanese manner, which makes one really wish she's one's grandmother. (I actually miss her in the end. I miss her small bag that she carries around throughout the film, where she puts all her things, her clothes.)
(In fact, at various points in the movie, the old woman reminded me of my mother, reminded me that I haven't done enough as a son. It stirs up emotions, these things.)
The children are, to varying degrees, happy that their parents are enjoying themselves in Tokyo but mildly annoyed that they couldn't take them anywhere. In most films that would have been taken further and the children demonised as unfilial bastards, but no, here, they have perfect reasons to behave the way they did, which strangely seems contradictory even when it's not. They simply have work to do, separate family lives from the core family and all that. And the old couple were more than understanding.
Everything happens so slowly, and I wouldn't make a film that way. But I understand.
I liken this picture to a still portrait of life, the way European painters used to like to paint. A portrait of everyday life, fanned out into 2 hours 15 mins of 24 frames each second. It's strange how that is enough to touch someone.
This is the twelfth movie I saw at the Hollywood Arclight Cinemas. It is also the first time I saw a movie at its unique Cinerama Dome, the only surviving geodesic dome cinema in the world, with a slightly curved screen that is meant to envelope the viewer (or at least those sitting in front) with the images and sounds from the film. Not to mention its largest screen.
This is the second Hugh Jackman movie I saw in two days, the third in a month. There won't be a fourth though - Flushed Away isn't exactly, err, appealing.
Now, animation films have undergone a kind of peak period (as opposed to troughs) this past decade, with it getting easier to make. However, it is far from a Golden Age, for this simple reason - the rise in number of films was not matched by quality. In the good ol' Disney 2D days, it takes such and such years to squeeze out one that every year we only get one, but at least Disney made each one count, right up to Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King. These days, well, the last really good ones were Shrek and Ice Age, and then there's The Incredibles of course. But all those animations have already been infected with the referencing-to-real-world-pop-culture virus, most notably started by Shrek. It was fun of course - it definitely allows us adults to enjoy the film ... but now it's gotten to the point that movies are developing schizophrenia. Half the time the movie aims at adults, the other half at kids, and annoying any one side at any time. (Chicken Little, anyone?)
When the trailers to Happy Feet came out, I thought, ooh, nice idea. Penguins were starting to get noticed last year for obvious reasons (of course Happy Feet would have been in production long before that) due to their inexplicable inherent cuteness. And of course the best part of Madagascar were the insane penguins (with shiny feather backs). I didn't think too much of it, but to have them tap dance and sing was brilliant, I thought. So there it lay in my mind.
I don't really know what was the reason behind my compulsion to go watch it today, but I'm glad I did. The opening sequence had me hooked, and immediately announced that it was somewhat different from the movie I thought I'd see.
Happy Feet is a fun family film. It's fun because it ties itself to the musical tradition of older Hollywood movies. The swirling, swooping shots, 720 degree camera turns - it all worked, and was entirely appropriate for this particular story - it recalls the word, dizzying. And my, were the songs and dance dizzying. The voice talents they picked were perfect for the roles - though it took me a while to shake off the thought, 'ooh, look at Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in penguin form'. (By the way, someone must cast those two as a couple in a movie some time, they seem to go great together, can't explain why.) I particularly enjoyed it because I love tap dancing - I love anything percussive, in fact ... and because the movie is kind of about tap dancing the music had to take on percussive beats as well - you can imagine my euphoria. I got to the end credits and saw that the score composer was John Powell - and suddenly it all made sense. Wise choice.
So basically, the music was great, and the dancing was cute - and quite breathtaking when the camera pulls back to reveal tens of thousands of dancing penguins. ('Dancing penguins' sound like such a wonderful idea, don't you think?) But they did not err at the story as well. The reason why I began by talking about animation films in general is because I honestly think this is, next to The Incredibles, the best piece of animation to come out since Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King. (Fuck Toy Story.) While Happy Feet is no longer melodramatic the way those animations were in the early 90s, it treats itself like a film rather than an animation and sought to engage the audience as film first and animation second, and that is the reason why Beauty And The Beast earned itself a Best Picture nomination.
The story is great because it tells us moral tales the way cartoons do, but it isn't being obvious or preachy or childish about it. I was completely engaged with Mumble (a cute name for a cute penguin), and all the supporting cast were great as well. The love interest subplot wasn't very strong - but who cares ... if anything it shows they know how to prioritise, rather than push for cliches. (The part where Mumble dumps Gloria, for example, had the Amigos penguins cheerfully narrating the scene in broad, film-cliche terms.) And most importantly, it didn't descend into a cacophony of pop-culture-referencing.
That is not to say it didn't reference much - there were many, but each and every one of those references was serving the story. The story picked environmentalism as one of its major themes, and I thought the analogy they used, referring to humans as aliens, was brilliant to say the least. They managed to slip in other references as well - religious fundamentalism, for example - but none of it felt like it belonged outside of the story.
And one more thing the story allowed the filmmakers to do - create awe-inspiring images. You know, those moments when your hair stands up. The scenes of Antarctica that were recreated don't look 100% authentic, of course, yet it's more authentic to its location than any other animations have been to theirs. The greenish, hard parts dotting ice landscapes when seen up close, the different texture of ice depending on how far away one is looking. The most impressive, most high-inducing shot was of the penguins pushing their way against the bitter Antarctic wind, accompanied by awe-inspiring music. This is just one example of at least half a dozen scenes which makes us go ... 'wow...'. Some of them were even laced with heroic emotions, like when Mumble casts himself off the mile-high ice ledge. I think, simple because this had a story to tell, it makes us feel, much more than any brilliantly filmed documentary of Antarctica will make us feel, for either the landscapes or the animals.
The most important evidence that the story was working, and very successfully too, was this: I was frequently left wondering what will happen next, because I honestly don't know.
And by the way, for the first time in a long time, Robin Williams plays the character(s) perfectly.
It seems anathema perhaps that the longest review on site is dedicated for an animation picture. But I'm letting out my enthusiasm for it. My point is, this is one film where the adults can enjoy EVERY SINGLE MOMENT of it (with one exception, the cynics and skeptics will at the very least lambast the ending), while the kids will enjoy every moment that doesn't have anything to do with the big ideas (environmentalism, religious fanaticism, etc).
A word on the ending. Yes, it is overly optimistic - but, seriously, those fuckwits who think it shouldn't have a happy ending, or it should be more bold or intellectual about it, this is a film trying to promote the idea that we should take care of our environment (through the use of the emotionally-arresting penguins), so the ending was entirely appropriate for those purposes. It will never happen in real life, of course - but go fuck off to watch Babel, you'll get that there.
Always, always remember, watch a movie for what it is, not what you want it to be.
How Good I Think It Is: 9/10
How Much I Like It: 9.5/10
At What Point Did I First Look At My Watch: 25 mins
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Sound Editing And Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, Best Animated Feature
PS - Just to further punch in what I meant, I'l give you a contrast of film critics.
This is the one who got the point: http://www.flickfilosopher.com/blog/2006/11/happy_feet_review.html.
This is the one who ultimately misses the point: http://www.reelviews.net/movies/h/happy_feet.html.
This is the eleventh film I saw at the Hollywood Arclight Cinemas, and my second midnight screening.
I managed to keep awake throughout the film, which is good.
I've been waiting for the film for a year, so naturally I try my very best to like the film, and it's damn hard for me to dislike the film. (The same thing with Oliver Stone's Alexander.)
That said, I did not exactly dislike the film, nor did I feel greatly for it. The film is just far too cerebral, intellectual and philosophical for me to get it. So pretty much the only way I could engage with it is emotionally.
And I did get flashes of emotions which I identified strongly with, but only hints of it. I tried to grab at those, to feel it ... like sticking lavender leaves into one's face and trying to suck in every single smell particle from it, to experience it as fully as one possibly can. But, as good as the performances were - and mind you, Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz are extremely dependable actors - I couldn't relate as much to the characters. I couldn't feel for them.
Now, the cerebral parts don't bother me - I welcome them. I welcome it if directors aim to confuse audiences - as long as they do it in a way that doesn't annoy me, and here it didn't. I feel like the director knows what he's converying, just that I couldn't understand it.
The visuals are stunning of course. But more importantly, the future sequence has one of those solitary, empty atmospheres which I like. The sound is completely cut off - no background/ambient noise - except for the rustling of the grass as Jackman's character walks about inside his space bubble. It feels peaceful ... calm ... empty, vacuum. In real life, you can really only feel it if you're inside a theatre hall (not a room), and there is no noise coming from the outside, and you sit there not moving an inch. That's the closest one can come to feeling like that. I love otherworldly scenes that are done well, with emotional content in them ... coz otherwordly and emotions are so incongruent.
The conquistador sequence are not as accomplished due to the budget, but still okay. The modern day sequence is easy enough, as it is something we can relate to easier. The interesting thing is having all three sequences, the way they blend in and out of each other (and the way they edited it was fine, though not necessarily seamless, because they are all so different in tone and atmosphere and noise levels, even though all are conveying very similar emotions - urgency, sadness.
One thing worth mentioning though. The beautiful visual effects aside, the cinematography can only be described as accomplished. The way the light falls on skin, I can feel Rachel Weisz as she sleeps, making me feel for Hugh Jackman as he slowly sees her life slipping away. I can feel Hugh Jackman's determination. The hospital/lab scenes aren't lighted with white lights - it's based on golden and black, like much of the rest of the picture's colour palette. It is sensual and emotional.
At the end of it though, I still don't know what to feel about it.
How Good I Think It Is: 7.5/10
How Much I Like It: 7/10
At What Point Did I First Look At My Watch: 60 mins
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Cinematography
This is the second movie I saw within a week with Judi Dench in it ... but never mind.
Okay, I don't know yet whether this is the best Bond film ever made - so far it's GoldenEye, which is also by Martin Campbell, whose style I admire and hope to emulate - but it's damn near the top.
What I will say is this. For the film that introduces James Bond - newly appointed 007 - to the world, it couldn't get better than this. It's a great piece of action filmmaking.
The good aspects of the film so outweigh the flaws that I'm not gonna talk about the flaws. I will mention my satisfaction at the fact that they didn't overdo the cross-referencing of past Bond films (which the last Bond film did far too much of), and that when they did do so it was done intelligently, without seeming stupid or lame. Like when Bond says, 'Do I look like I give a damn what it's called?'.
At the moment I'm so syched. I'm on a high.
Daniel Craig gets a my unqualified approval as the new Bond. Not that he needs it - he is clearly confident about playing the part, has remained resolutely so throughout the past year of pre-release skepticism, and is now being lifted up by cheering hordes of hypocritical fans (which I bet includes a great many film critics).
One more thing. For the first time since Roman Polanski's The Pianist, I stayed on through the entire end titles.
How Good I Think The Film Is: 8.5/10
How Much I Like It: 8.5/10
At What Point Did I First Look At My Watch: 45 mins
PS - The best thing the producers at EON Productions could do for the franchise now, is to make very sure they know what they are doing when selecting the next director for the next Bond film. It is a particular disappointment that none of the directors since Campbell have been successful at topping the last one and a great comfort for me when I found out that Campbell was back to helm this one.
Notes On A Scandal stars Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, and is written by Patrick Marber (previous work: Closer) and directed by Richard Eyre (who previously did the delightful Stage Beauty). In very simplistic terms, the story has Cate having sex with a schoolkid and Judi wanting Cate for herself. Technically the Cate-schoolkid plotline is about pederasty, which marks the second film to address that (the first being The History Boys), thus continuing the strange phenomenon of "film pairs" within the film industry.
If it sounds morbid, it is. It's not too surprising to see Cate in such a role - but to see Dame Judi play the deluded, lesbian-inclined old schoolteacher is something rather daring, and if you watch the film she continues to surprise. However, the film is actually quite fun to watch - because it is not a Greek tragedy we are presented here (i.e. not Oedipus) but something more like a dark comedy (i.e. something like American Beauty).
Narrated by Judi Dench's character, the voiceover is biting and sarcastic, and witty at the same time - the audience kept laughing and so did I. Not something you'd expect. There's almost a mischievous, cheeky quality to the film.
Both actresses played their roles really well - and I mean really well. Judi Dench is utterly believable in her character, making her evil and cruel yet strangely endearing to the audience at the same time (the writer mentions during the Q&A that he really likes this character), whereas Cate Blanchett brings a certain believable naivete to her character, and you really pity her, the way Judi Dench's character pretty much ruins her life throughout the whole film. The film portrays the sentiments and emotions behind all decisions and thoughts going on behind the characters' mind really well, and there are almost no false notes.
It helps that the pace was kept really fast - the plot moves and moves and moves. It doesn't waste time. The writer says that this is the producer's influence on his writing - and I didn't mind it at all, except that I felt it moved a little too fast sometimes (not because I couldn't catch it, of course not, but just because I thought the transition from the climactic scene to the beginning of the resolution happened too fast).
The best bits are the screaming bits, when the characters come head to head with each other, and there are at least four such scenes in the film. I love scenes like these - the best lines tend to be from these scenes, and actors are most fun during such scenes. Plus, they were really well handled here, kept me at a leaning-forward pose.
It is interesting to note that, if the info at IMDb.com is true, Andrew Simpson, the actor who plays the schoolkid is quite literally 15 or 16 when the movie was shot. Also, his middle name is Semen. Go figure.
How Good I Think The Film Is: 8/10
How Much I Like The Film: 8/10
At What Point Did I First Look At My Watch: 15 mins
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Actress (Judi Dench), Best Supporting Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Adapted Screenplay
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In short, it's wonderful! It's the best feel good movie I've seen since the brilliant gem that was Chocolat. I was brimming with glee, a big smile on my face, walking out of the film. Partly it's because I haven't seen a non-serious/depressing/intellectual film in some time. But it helps that the cast and crew got it right.
I mean, frankly, it's not a difficult film, nor a highly original one. It is rather difficult to make it real good though. You have to present a story that is about romance, and comedy, and other little things besides, and do it in such a way that the audience is always engaged, and not questioning or waiting for the predictable little nugget around the corner. Not that it isn't predictable - it is, and most romantic comedies cannot avoid it, it's just too difficult to surprise audiences today - but it manages so well to keep the audience engaged with the characters, the storyline, etc that it doesn't matter anymore.
The casting was perfect. I mean, Winslet and Diaz already have major screen presence, but the point is they used it well. The supporting cast they are surrounded with fit in wonderfully into their roles as well. (Winslet is now right up there on my favourites actress' list.)
Also I must comment on the score by Hans Zimmer. As much as I am a fan of his, I was never taken in by his romantic comedy scores - but this one, I must say, worked really well in the film. As in, I can actually feel him try, sometimes, in the more dramatic moments of the movie, and it's not a bad thing at all. I loved it. And I can feel that it would work just as well as a stand alone album - I will definitely be getting this one.
It is wacky, fun - instead of quirky, which too many films try to do these days to the point of routine. Everything's happy and cheerful.
And more importantly - charming.
How Good I Think The Film Is: 8/10
How Much I Like The Film: 9/10
At What Point Did I First Look At My Watch: 90 mins
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Original Score
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I am beginning to think Hollywood filmmaking is sounding too artificial.
You see, back at home I used to look down a little at our slow but steadily rising independent film industry. I mean, these people virtually started out with nothing, of if they had any experience at all, it would be at advertising. As a result, the films they make share none of the entertaining styles or methods as used in Hollywood films. A simplistic way would be saying that Hollywood films are enjoyable, because they are designed to be enjoyable (even including hard-hitting films like Syriana, Babel, and so on ... yes, they are enjoyable); whereas Malaysian indie films are tedious, because the filmmakers couldn't give it enjoyability.
But, what I've learnt in the last couple weeks or so is that every single frame and its contents in a Hollywood film is manufactured. Themes and reasonings have to be had before a single frame is made. Why is the chair there in the scene? Why is it mahogany in wood and colour? Why is it facing this way? Why is there only one chair? Why is the light falling on it like that? And this is just the chair in the office of a rather pedestrian scene. There are, in any scene, dozens of items, many of them that has to carry a meaning before it deserves to be there. This is the production design part.
Then there is the lighting. Wow - it is so tedious. Plus, I honestly don't have the feel for it - it's like being tone deaf. Change a light here, add some diffusion there, and the scene would seem very different for my cinematography instructor - but to me, it looks the same (echoing Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada). And so much goes into it, all of that, before the actor has a chance to screw up his or her lines. And sometimes I thought - does it matter that much? Certainly, I agree that some scenes requires the mood to be properly set - a horror piece, or suspense. The most powerful and dramatic moments in the film. But sitcoms? Power play scenes?
And before cinematography can come into play, there is electricity. So much time is spent on cabling and setting up lights (tweenies, betweenies, juniors, seniors) and C-stands, an activity that has utterly nothing to do with the artistic nature of filmmaking. I realise that it is a necessary aspect ... but I still cannot get used to that idea yet.
I suppose I'm still stuck in the theatrical mentality: a film should be about the story, the actors, the props, the dialogue, the powerful dramatic moments, the actions. But in actual fact, a Hollywood film, created the way it is nowadays, is sucking in all these other disciplines that seem far remote from storytelling and acting.
And it is now that I begin to crave for the freedom that is enjoyed by the Malaysian indie directors. They don't have anyone to answer to, nor tradition nor customs. They are at the experimental phase, so they do that, they find their voice. Their style of making films. Like the protracted long shots that so many of them adopt. Is it wrong? Let their audience tell them. Point is, they don't have to feel like they did something wrong. They can think, hmm, will this work? Let's try it. (Only to an extent, of course, because they are putting in their own money after all.)
This, among others, is a reason why I feel like I don't belong here.
Certainly, as seen in the film Swimming With Sharks, this is a film industry in which people feel that they have to join the system, to inhabit its rules in every way, just to step inside and to survive there. And I don't want to believe that I'm the sort who submits.
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Oh yes, Hollywood is frightening - and worse than in a horror-movie sense.
Well made film, by the way. Only Kevin Spacey can pull that role off ... which is now essentially remade into a fluffier film in the form of The Devil Wears Prada.
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So Guillermo Del Toro, who directed such films as Hellboy (aka, haha, Super Sapiens!) and Blade II, walks in and talks and talks for four mins before the film started, which is longer than usual, as most directors usually just pump in a few sentences and then let's the audience watch the film. I haven't seen any of his films, so I was quite hopeful when he said things like "I've worked at some Hollywood movies and I'm tired of the fucking target audience, so I decided to make a film, to hell with the fucking target audience, coz you are my fucking target audience", to happy cheers from the audience.
You betcha the film belongs in the overyped category.
Now, untypically, I don't know much about the story behind the movie. Someone might want to try and correct me if I'm wrong, but this is how I'm interpreting it. Del Toro is basically trying to say that fairy tales don't have to be girly and childish and happy music (or not-scary scary music). So he made Pan's Labyrinth to be almost a horror film with heavy political drama elements and mild war elements with quite a lot of dark and violent and gory scenes, even though one of two strands of the story involves a little girl in her fantasy.
You see, another film made a few years ago also made a spin on the fairytale story, except not towards the direction of horror. That film was Shrek. Shrek was funnier as a spin on fairytales than Pan's Labyrinth was scarier as a spin on fairytales. That's how I saw it. (The Snow White movie with Sigourney Weaver as evil queen was kinda along the same lines as well ... but never mind.) No I'm not suggesting Del Toro is trying to create something totally original here, but certainly he wants to make a fairy tale story that is not for children but for adults only.
Except, there isn't much of a fairy tale here.
Which isn't a problem, really. (There's no other way, that I can see, to advertise the film.) The problem is it didn't capture me, the story, for the most part. I mean, it was good over all - it's frightening, it's tense, and it isn't scared of killing off characters that we ... kinda know already might be killed off coz the rule recently is that anyone can die, who cares about little girls and kind maids and babies. The music and sound effects were hugely overbearing. Which I don't like, but which I acknowledge did its job coz it was very uncomfortable. And there was one violent scene where the audience cheered and I did silently as well coz the villain was positively villainous and his comeuppance was overdue.
But it didn't capture me. It sure did capture a lot of other people though. I think they think it is very imaginative, very otherworldly, something like that. Perhaps. But the faun looked really rubbery. So did the eye-on-hands creature. Worse, their movements, acting for a little girl to see. It's fine, it's not that I expect them to have a huge budget if they go out of the studio system. But don't call it a masterpiece. Not when the faun moves like that.
How Good I Think The Film Is: 7/10
How Much I Like It: 5.5/10
At What Point Did I First Looked At My Watch: 60 mins
PS - This was a midnight screening. So I walked home at 2.30 am in the morning, and I think I must have passed at least 5 homeless guys sleeping under thick blankets in my ten min walk home.
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Today I shot the first shooting assignment given to me. We were all put into groups of five and, very fortunately for me, the other four are cool, definitely got a rapport going on there ... even though I'm the odd one out - girlfriend-less, car-less, non-American. The other great thing is that all our projects were quite different, indicating that we all think rather differently. For me I stick to my usual self - out to make a huge statement about something, doing something dramatic.
The shoot went well - I anticipated 2 hours, did it in 75% of that time. Still, it wasn't easy to be concentrating on both handling the camera - some fancy camerawork there - and directing the actors. I cannot multitask - so, often I knew what I wanted to say to the actors at the point I saw them in a bit, but then forget instantaneously what I wanted to say a second later, so I'm left with nothing to say at the end of it except, 'err', 'hmm', 'well' ... So it was definitely right, what the producing instructor said (who's quite the asshole, jerk, whatever the stereotypes of producers are ... except that many among my class liked him because of his down to earth nature) - that the person who starts to hyphenate or wear double hats will hurt the picture. In fact I did try to separate the director from the camera operator - I wanted to grab another camcorder and use it as a monitor of sorts, but for various technical reasons I wasn't able to do so.
Still, interesting shoot. It also exposes my complete lack of technical talents on the camera. But I already knew that.
Then we went out for dinner (at 4 pm, hah). Went to this diner place that looks like it belongs in the 70s. Food was not bad though - sweet potato for fries, interesting, but worked surprisingly well.
Then I went to the AFI Fest screening of The History Boys, a British play adapted for the big screen - but remaining a theatrical film, one that still contains theatrical devices and literary dialogue. It was great - brought tears to my eyes, partly for similar reasons as I explained in The Queen, partly because it brought me back to England, as near literal as that is possible. (Something the Film Gym instructor calls the dream mode ... that when we watch really great films, we are physically reacting to it, whether it is fear or hatred or humour, even though we are not there physically but our body responds in like manner.)
The film touches on education, specifically through dialogues on the subject of History - what is it, how it is determined - a rather philosophical undertaking. Through that is debated, at least in an underlying sense, whether we have "lost the soul in the teaching in the chase for results and efficiency and passing of exams". Intercut are major strands of ideas on sexuality, particularly pedarasty (in the erotic sense, yes), which is a subject I never thought would be explored on film ... in fact it wasn't, it took a play to spur that on. And let me say this - the melancholic nature of homosexuality here touched me much more than anything Brokeback Mountain ever did for me. Also, at some point, Frances de la Tour broke out into a tirade (a rather fun one, coz it's theatrical language) about men and history and how women were shoved aside, ignored, invisible. It seemed out of place, as there was no warning for it nor any discussion thereafter - but it was fun, who cares.
Ultimately, great acting throughout the film. The boys were certainly great - they've "rehearsed" it over the course of a year doing the play, mind you. It also helps that they're mostly good-looking, particularly the principal ones, and not entirely inappropriate with the subject of homosexuality explored. Frances de la Tour was great as the one who observes and comments; Richard Griffiths, whom I did not understand prior to watching the film why he was selected to play this role, played the eccentric one wonderfully and in a way that made me understand his selection; while Stephen Campbell Moore, whom I first saw at Bright Young Things, played the one who seems simple from the outside but very much complex on the inside ... precisely, exactly.
How Good I Think The Film Is: 8/10
How Much I Like The Film: 9.5/10
At What Point Did I First Look At My Watch: Never
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Adapted Screenplay
And basically, after that was a Q&A session, where the audience who asked questions spent like half their "question" complimenting the director about blah blah blah (the usual stuff) before asking the damn question (if in the future I am the director sitting in the spotlight, I shall establish a rule and ask the audience to forego that or just keep it simple, in one sentence). After the Q&A, I thought I should talk to one of those people in attendance, the director Nicholas Hytner and four of the cast. Besides, they're British, and that brings a sense of familiarity to me. And also, it's supposed to be an assignment - how Hollywoody is that ... but honestly, that really isn't the point to talk to people. (I certainly realise that now. I reminded myself ... wait, let me get to the point ...)
Anyway, so I walked past the actors, and didn't talk to them, still scared. Yes, I was really scared. No, these people aren't Tom Hanks or Ridley Scott, but still, I felt scared talking to them. I cannot explain it, so don't ask. So I walk down the stairs, and I see Mr Hytner right in front of me, but next to him is his assistant, or agent, or someone like that. So I continued down, and he goes out - and no one notices him. So I followed, walked out, and ...
... walked past him towards the edge of the street, stood there, looked back a few times, and this went on for about 5 mins (which is agonisingly long under those circumstances), and then walked back into the cinema, then came back out the same way ...
... and said, 'Hi, you're Mr Hytner?'
And so I talked.
And he was quite willing to talk, of course. I asked a few questions, mostly coz I wanted to keep the conversation going ... plus, gosh, it's so good to talk to someone British again - no more 'totally', 'awesome', 'that rocks', etc. He was nice, I try not to be too gushing (read: idiotic sounding). And then I said thank you and walked away, just as a guy comes along to usher them off.
And my heart was still pounding a little, walking my way back home. But I was elated.
And I reminded myself, never get business cards. Never. (Not unless the fellow offers it to you.) If you need to and if you finally got into this business, you will be able to find everyone, with some effort, and when you do and you finally call the person up, you will be able to say, phew, finally managed to track you down. You do that because you really want to talk to them. Not to ask favours, not to ever, ever have these words spew out of your mouth - "hey, first of all I'd like to say that your last film was wonderful ... oh, how is your son now, I heard he was ..." and so on. Or something else as fucking superficial as that.
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Two things. It's interesting to see how every single dept (we learn of seven general ones here) stresses the importance of Collaboration. They must have talked about that behind the scenes, when they planned out the syllabus. Although, hmm, some of the things the instructors say contradict each other, as if they don't really know who the other ones handling the other depts are.
Which brings me to the second note. Each dept stresses its own importance in the film, often out of proportion. As in, if a film production is 100% broken into small little components, sound and production design and cinematography and so on would insist on being at least 50% as important. Producing wants to claim nearly 100% of that, true to its characteristics. Put another way - there will be conflicts of ideas ahead. Stay tuned.
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I will be moving into my studio apartment today. It is the perfect studio apartment - it is near my film school, it is in Hollywood itself (imagine that!), it is cheap, all utils included, it isn't too big, the manager seems nice, there is laundry on-site, there isn't any parking space, the neighbourhood seems fairly okay. Lots of pluses, as you can see.
Just yesterday I did so much. I sorted out the bank account problem, this time for good. I also spent some time applying for health and renters' insurance, covering all the insurance needs I have. Health insurance costs a bomb, as expected - but renters' insurance ain't too bad, as I don't have much expensive stuff anyway.
What remains is the Internet.
I called up AT&T in the morning, at just after 7 am when they begin their customer service. It's quite fun - the first part is automated, but instead of pressing buttons, it tells you what to say (your options), you say it, it confirms it, and then moves on. Then only it puts you through to the proper person to deal with you. I then got one of the longest and most dramatic phone call of my life. So it's quite complicated - I needed to set up a phone service line first before I can set up high speed Internet. So there were many questions, many options. So what happened was the phone call started in the house, then moved into the car, then out of the car into the metro ticket booth when I dropped the coins, then I dropped my water bottle, then the train arrives, and I dropped my water bottle again and thought I'd never make it, then I rushed and press for the door to re-open and it did so I did get it after all, and the conversation wrapped up about 10 minutes after that. Even the woman on the phone thanked me for my patience.
Then comes the most intense day of class yet - this is supposed to be typical. 3 sessions of classes, 2 and a half hours each. Then I had to help shoot a teammate's film. Then I had to rush back to buy the Mac laptop that I've been waiting for on which this is being typed. Then I have to rush back to pack all the stuff properly. Then drive to the apartment, and got stuck for a while trying to remember the key code to enter the apartment. Then had to cart my stuff, which was originally two huge luggage bags but now consists of two huge luggage bags and a dozen plastic bags and stuff like that.
And now I'm here.
It feels great to own a small, nice little cozy apartment. All to myself.
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