An old post from peoplesforum back in September, 2002:

I'm guessing Andrew Niccol is the best practicing science-fiction filmmaker at the moment. He has a unique storytelling style, fleshed out by his visuals when he directs--sort of cool and distanced and impeccably lit, like, as some critics pointed out, Michelangelo Antonioni doing SF. It's a refreshing alternative to the Blade Runner look, with its huge buildings and flying cars and flashing light-n-sound show.

And he's thoughtful, which I like. He takes an SF theme--a society obsessed with genetics (Gattaca), a man raised entirely in a TV studio set (Truman Show), and here, a totally virtual actress--and sort of runs his fingers through them, pondering the various meanings. The ideas aren't totally original--The Truman Show is basically Dick's Time Out of Joint--but he does take SF cinema out of the kindergarten level, with its laser blasters and screaming spaceships, into the intermediate level, where the kids can actually sit down, take up their pencils, and do a few sums in their heads.

I like his quiet ways, I like the apparently always-obtuse angle by which he approaches his subjects, and I love the little jokes he slips into the margins. Maybe the best part of the movie are the jokes in the margins, the way the best part of MAD magazine is sometimes the doodles sketched into the borders of the feature stories--like when Elias Koteas as the computer genius who created Simone, one eye eaten away by cancer, looks at the fleeing figure of the filmmaker played by Pacino (who has taken Koteas for an obsessed lunatic, which he just might be), and the giant portrait of an eye on wheels casually rolls by behind him, pushed by some janitors. Or when Pacino the filmmaker is fired by his producer ex-wife (Catherine Keener), on the set of a New York street so detailed and expansive I wouldn't put it past Niccol to actually have shot it in New York, just to add an unnoticed layer of irony. Or when the virtual Simone is rumored to count among her lovers "Mick Jagger, Stephen Hawkings, and Fidel Castro" (Niccol's joke here seems to be that even Simone's lovers are too cool for words). And I can't help laughing when Pacino later visits Koteas' grave, and presents him with a plastic flower, muttering "I know you'd appreciate this..." Niccol's sense of humor is finely tuned, the jokes floating in from all kinds of unexpected angles.

Which makes you wish it's a better movie than it is. What Niccol lacks, apparently, is what The Truman Show (probably Peter Weir's best work, or at least the one of his I liked the most, for what it's worth) lacked compared to the Dickian original: a sense of urgency, an intensity that would make the proceedings more then the sum of its marginal jokes (Truman Show had a wonderful throaway line too, when Ed Harris as the megalomanic TV director says "cue the sun"). You FEEL Dick's worlds in your guts; you feel the parade of losers and freaks and struggling underpeople, and you feel the increasing sense of paranoia and fear. Niccol, as noted, likes to cultivate a distant tone, which is his virtue and ultimate flaw. Even his presumed model, Antonioni, had intense moments; Dick has many.

There are so many details that feel wrong about Simone, almost as many as the details Niccol gets right: the jellybeans are a direct steal from horror stories about rock concert contract riders (had a sudden vision of Groucho and Chico doing their classic showbiz contract routine over jellybeans--A Night at the Rock Opera, anyone?); on the other hand, actors whose egos have grown large enough to get in everyone's way usually end up directing and producing their own films, not walking out of someone else's. And a satire about how unnecessary actors are doesn't seem as pointed as a satire about directors--some of the greatest egotists in the world, there--treating actors as unnecessary (George Lucas, anyone?). And ultimately, it should be pointed out, but isn't here, it's all just fodder for the insatiable appetite for entertainment of the general public. The Truman Show at least got that much right: after all that sturm and drang, after Truman's fateful decision with regards to the show, the last shot is of a pair of security guards, wondering what else is on television...

Simone herself is a blank--an intriguing choice. Apparently Niccol wanted her to be a kind of tabula rasa for people to project their fantasies into, but we don't see that happening, the way, say, Dorothy Michaels (another construct from another comedy) turned into something women all over America could project their fantasies into. The most obvious person to fill Simone with a personality is Pacino himself, as Viktor Taransky (sort of a cross between Andrei Tarkovsky and Victor Frankenstein): but again, we don't see it happening. We see Pacino talking and the words coming out from Simone's mouth and in her voice, but that's about it: she remains as blank as when she's spinning in cyberspace.

Some of the plot developments (SPOILERS) are lovely--I like it that when Pacino disposes of Simone he's arrested for murder, and he has a harder time proving she doesn't exist as he had proving that she does. I didn't like it that Simone is accepted so easily--you shoot a movie where the star is nowhere to be seen, and suddenly there she is up onscreen, and what are you supposed to thinK? "Digital fixing" feels uncomfortably close to "digital construct," especially nowadys, when talk of "digital actors" is common. (END SPOILERS)

So many things right, so wrongheaded an end result...it's really sad. Niccol is like William Gibson without the attitude, or Dick without teeth--he has the brains, but not the guts or passion to do great SF. Ultimately I stick to my orignal statement, but with a caveat: Niccol is the best SF filmmaker at the moment--which is saying something, but not much.

Welles vs. Hitchcock

From pinoydvd:

rse: I like Hitchcock movies a lot.  My only problem is that most of his movies look “stagy”.  He rarely shoots on location.  That makes his movies look more like stage plays.  I prefer Orson Welles’ more free-style kind of film making.  I also think that Welles edits more fluidly than Hitchcock.

Welles does great editing--even more so in later films than in earlier ones. But Hitchcock, control freak that he is, preferred the kind of perfection he can find in studio sets. Sometimes that hermetic, antiseptic look helps him--in Psycho, for example, the impossibly clean bathroom seems all the more defiled when blood splatters on its walls. In most of his films, actually, the stylized artificial look, so comforting, so placid and featureless, is really a prelude to the mayhem to come.

Welles rarely had that kind of luxury after The Magnificent Ambersons--he had to find his atmsphere wherever he can, and shoot it quickly before the crowds came, or the fog lifts, or whatever. There's great atmsophere in his films, but it's a different kind.

Welles and Hitchcock, they're very different flavors, great in their own unique ways.


Fernando Poe, Jr. is dead

Da King is dead

Fernando Poe Jr. had an amazing career--200 films in 53 years (he made a film only last year), about three years longer than John Wayne's.

Some of his films--Celso Ad. Castillo's "Asedillo," Eddie Romero's "Aguila," Romero and Gerardo De Leon's "Intramuros: the Walls of Hell"--are worth watching.

He was so popular he ran against the incumbent president only this year--and nearly won.


George Stevens

The early Stevens are quite good; Gunga Din is a gas. I don't like the later films, when he got gigantic.

Parts of The Greatest Story Ever Told were directed by David Lean. And Max Von Sydow is impressive when he prophesies--he brings a Bergmanesque gloom to the moment.

ted fontenot: Stevens can get heavy-handed, even ponderous, but I think he has quite an oeuvre--varied, high quality. Gunga Din is a fine movie--everyone is good, even the stereotypes. It's fun to see Grant just cut loose--he essentially pretends he's doing an extended Vaudeville routine. Hawks, I believe, was set to direct the movie--he had it storyboarded and all fixed up to do, then he pissed off the head of the studio or some big producer.

Comedies I like: Vivacious Lady, with Ginger Rogers and James Stewart right before his breakthrough. I find Rogers unappetizing when she gets coarse (probably something like the way Jack Lemmon affects some people when he becomes morally outraged), but Stewart is pitch perfect--a great drunk scene to compare to the one he has in The Philadelphia Story.

I've already lauded at length The More the Merrier. If it ain't quite as good as Bringing up Baby and His Girl Friday, or the best of Sturges or Lubitsch, I'd hate to live on the difference. Woman of the Year is really good, too. I'm not a big Tracy fan (and I like Hepburn a lot in some things and not at all in others--this is up her alley, though), but he's flawless here. Still, Stewart, Grant, Fonda, or McCrea would have been much better--more depth and magnetism with these guys.

The Talk of the Town is interesting. Kind of an intellectual, Shavian comedy. Unfortunately, it's Irwin Shaw, not GBS. But the best Irwin Shaw. Grant's character is really a plot device, pretty much like it was in The Philadelphia Story. The movie really belongs to Colman. But it's still good.

I even like some of his later more heavy stuff. Not A Place in the Sun, but definitely Shane and The Diary of Anne Frank. Both are powerful and well-crafted. Hell, I'm even a sucker for I Remember Mama.

Gunga Din might be the only way I'd like my stereotypes--not taken seriously, and played up for what they're comically worth. It's The Front Page set in India and it proves the plot is foolproof, even when transposed in another country.

Shane I tend to like, in a heavy-handed sort of way--can't not like whatsisname, Jack Palance grinning his way into his gloves like that. But Stevens used to have a lighter touch, like Lean (may be why they collaborated at one point, with Greatest Story).


The '70s

It's not just Coppola (The Godfather movies) or Scorsese (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver) or Robert Altman (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Thieves Like Us) or Francois Truffaut (The Story of Adele H.), or Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God), but also of Brocka (Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Insiang, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang), Bernal (Pagdating sa Dulo, Aliw), Celso Ad. Castillo (Pagputi ng Uwak, Pagitim ng Tagak, Burlesk Queen), Mike de Leon (Itim, plus the cinematography of Maynila sa Mga Kuko) and Mario O'Hara (Mortal, Mga Bilanggong Birhen, Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos).

Here's where separating Filipino and foreign film threads is a disadvantage, because the story of the '70s is of a smattering of international talent (Herzog, Truffaut among others) and a flowering of American filmmakers (one of their best and most productive periods, in my opine). And in one corner of the world, starting to get some attention, a modest Golden Age of Philippine Cinema.





Looked at Visconte' Ossessione (1943) and it's gorgeous, maybe my favorite Visconte until The Leopard. Lovely little touches here, and there--like when Calamai sits down and first pours her heart out to Girotti, Visconte inserts a shot of him listening to something (a seashell, I think), and in his innocence, hands it to her to listen (she does with a touch of maternal indulgence). It's a lovely touch, the implication that Girotti's a boy in a man's body, an innocent to possibly be duped, or fallen in love with. You can't help but fear for this big boy.

And the neorealist trappings work so well with noir--the grit, the sweat (you can smell the exhalations off the fat husband's armpits), the harsh sunlight on paving-stone streets capture the spirit of small-town noir so much more beautifully than, say the Hollywood version does (John Garfield is perfectly cast, but Lana Turner looks every bit the star she is to be a credibly slatternly housewife). And the two lovers here (Calamai and Girotti, who look anything but celebrities) feel more genuinely conflicted--their hearts wanting more than anything to trust each other while their brains tell them that's the last thing they should do (their brains are right by a mile).

If I remember correctly, the Cain novel has the lovers go scot-free, and then meet their fate; Visconte goes less for irony and more for that sense of implacable Fate, turning her wheels--which feels more in keeping with neorealism's sensibilities. Beautifully bleak.


Argento's Inferno

Checking Argento's Inferno again--what can one say except that at his best he's directing opera more than anything else (that's why he keeps coming back to the theater in his films). Colors, music, gorgeous sets and costumes, all orchestrated and tautly designed to evoke terror and a ravishing of the senses, simultaneously (maybe--at his very best--a ravishing of the senses through terror).

Everything else falls by the wayside--plot, characterization, social commentary (I can almost hear him snorting at the very notion). Above all is the image, and its power to evoke powerfully primal emotions. This isn't a cinema for the brains, but for the gut, even gonads.


Lucio Fulci's Zombie

Watching Lucio Fulci's Zombie again and trying to compare it with Romero's Dead movies.

Well, you miss the realism of Tom Savini's makeup (which is so crucial to the Dead films he should be credited as co-director--and Romero as much as admits Savini directs the scenes in question). Despite Ian McCulloch's disparaging remark that the undead in Zombie look 'dead' where those in Romero's Dawn of the Dead look like 'actors in rubber suits,' Savini really gets the details and textures and even internal anatomy right (McCulloch probably hasn't seen what Savini could do in Day of the Dead), not to mention there's actually a rationale for the successively more gruesome makeup--as each movie (Dawn and Day) is set some years after the previous one, the zombies rot accordingly.

Then there's the fact that while Romero has always worked with small budgets, Fulci's film has that 'no-money' look (they get kicked out of a newspaper office by Rupert Murdoch when their unauthorized shoot--they had asked a janitor for permission--interrupts a meeting).

Despite which, there's something to Fulci's film. Where Romero does (usually sharp) social commentary, Fulci does frank eroticism--at one point, Auretta Gay goes on a scuba dive in her glorious altogether (with a closeup of her tightening a crotch strap that makes your eyes want to cross), and later has an encounter with a zombie with a rather sensual slant (she struggles with him wedged between her legs, in a slow-motion parody of rape). (SPOILERS) The shark topping off the scene looks uncomfortably real--you wonder if the stuntman they used actually survived the shoot (END SPOILERS).

Then there's that one notorious scene--y'know what I'm talking about--that illustrates all the differences between Romero and an Italian filmmaker like Fulci. Romero's got an unflinching eye--he shoots the most graphic horrors straight on, no frills, with bright lights to catch all the splashing gore. Fulci savors his horrors--when (SPOILERS) arms grab the woman head, Fulci gives you an extended, breathless moment where her eye is suspended before the wooden spike. And he doesn't just film it going in (with accompanying exploitation-flick shriek sound effect--just to make sure you jump, if someone isn't already screaming), he has to show you the eyeball tearing sideways, to emphasize the fact that it's in there and not going out except in the most agonizing manner (SPOILER END).

There's a cruelty to Italian horror filmmakers that outstrips any other nationality I can think of (Hong Kong filmmakers may do lengthy closeups, but you don't get the sense that they're enjoying the blood and pain, at least not to the same degree). Wonderful filmmakers, but with radically different flavors.

When will Filipino films win an Oscar (or: answering a moron)

From pinoydvd:   xage: When they get an Oscar nod.. which I doubt.. even if there is a BLUE MOON.. no chance in hell a pinoy film will get an Oscar nod..     

What qualifies for a mere fifteen minutes of fame are the Oscar winners. Anyone care who won Best Picture in 1980? Anyone care who lost ?

Apparently the latter. The winner was Ordinary People, which hardly anyone remembers anymore. The loser was Raging Bull, which nowadays is almost unanimously listed as one of the best films of the 1980's.

And the list of great films that never won or aren't even nominated are endless...not to mention the filmmakers. Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, Isao Takahata, Ritwik Ghatak,  Raj Kapoor, Mrinal Sen, Robert Bresson, Jacques Rivette, Jean Luc Godard, Tian Zhuangzhuang, King Hu, Tsai Ming Liang, Hou Hsiao Hsien, anyone?   Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag is still cited by film critics all over the world--was cited, in fact in Goeff Andrews' book, Film: The Critics' Choice as one of the 150 great films in world cinema.

Not a lot of Oscar winners in that book.