Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shudder at the Infinitely Inferior

After a drinking session with his friends, Tun and his girlfriend Jane hit the road. They are driving through a dark highway when an obscure figure in a dress crosses their way. The car goes to a halt, Jane tries to step out, but Tun dissuades her. They flee, but they return to the scene the next day, only to be told by the traffic police that there is no body or a reported accident. 

Days later, shadows and fogs turn up at their photographs. Tun's drinking buddies commit suicide one by one. How are they related?

The distortions can be explained away as bad film, but what about those taken by Polaroid?

Shutter (2004) is a movie from Thailand that should be included in film syllabi everywhere. The makers have a vision of what they want to say, and they sure know how to say it. See how a ghost pursues Tun on a fire escape ladder, or how a friend of his jumps to his death from a building.

Moreover, this is one movie with no unnecessary shots or scenes. Everything is needed. Yes, even the bathroom scene. It not only leavens the proceedings with humor, but it also makes a sly characterization of the producing country.

Shutter is also laced with spirituality, and I'm not just referring to scenes in the temple or burial beliefs. The concept of justice, of the innocence of children, and the immutability of karma. And love that endures: in Jane's case, and Natre's, and yes, even in the case of Natre's mother.

So who is Natre? If you haven't seen it yet, that you have to find out for yourself.  

Shutter knows its metaphors and places them well. The praying mantis applies not only to Natre, but also to her mother. Because we get to know the mother first, her subplot acts as a foreshadowing of the final reveal.

The twist in the end is also well-earned. The pieces of the puzzle are presented early and when the last piece drops, it's as satisfying a finish as in The Others (2001).

In 2008, Shutter was remade into an American movie, perhaps an inevitability. Starring Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor, it was transported into Japan, and henceforth lost all of its original identity without assuming a new one. It is so faithful to the original that it has become almost a shot by shot remake for a good part of the movie.

They could have done away with a lot of the shots, and to cite one sequence: You remember the one where Tun goes into the dark room and receives a call from the other room? In the remake, they show us the new Jane getting out of the apartment, walking around the city, and actually making the call. Comparing the two movies is a lesson in economy and precision.

Also, the new version presents a more helpless version of Natre in Megumi. Where Natre had tried to resist her tormentors with all her might, Megumi was all weakness. Ben even says that Megumi was the one throwing herself at him; where Tun and Natre did share something special. An Asian latching onto an American; the American forcing himself on her; the Asian girl being vengeful. It's tempting to have a political-sexual reading on this.

The remake was a critical and commercial dud, both in theaters and on video. Now that's the immutability of karma.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Brad Pitt on Robert Redford:

"I'm drawn to his strength, his classiness, his introspectiveness, and his sadness."

Nicole Kidman on Dustin Hoffman:

"He's always saying, 'Let's try that scene again.' When a scene starts to fly, unpredictable things start to happen."

Monday, March 23, 2009

She Was a Teenage Bride

Betsy Blair died March 13 at age 85.

She married Gene Kelly in 1941 when she was 17, and he 29. They went to Hollywood and the choreographer became a big star. On the other hand, she took parts but her career went to a halt because her leftist leanings got her into the Hollywood blacklist. 

Blair was nominated for a best supporting actress Academy Award for Marty (1955), and two years later, she and Kelly divorced.

She refused to say something bad about Kelly, saying only, "... it just came to an end."

She was known better in Europe an took roles there. She moved to London and married Karel Reisz, the Czech director of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. He died in 2002.

Blair is survived by her daughter, Kerry, with Kelly.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Obscene, Indeed

Here are some of the words heaped upon an actress whose death Richard Corliss calls as "obscenely early":

"For everyone who knew and loved her, Natasha's death is a terrible, devastating loss. She was a star. A great actress, a beautiful woman, a fiercely loyal friend, a brilliant and generous companion. She was an adoring and loving wife and mother. She was unique. ... I cannot imagine a world without her wit, her love, her mischief, her great, great talent and her gift for living. I loved her very much. She was a supreme friend. I shall miss her deeply." - Ralph Fiennes.

"Tasha is irreplaceable. I cannot think of anyone kinder, more generous, thoughtful, smarter or more fun." - Mia Farrow, whose two children were Richardson's godchildren 

"Natasha was brilliant, beautiful, funny, talented beyond measure, as emotionally raw as she was razor sharp...." - Jodie Foster, co-star of Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson in Nell (1994) 

"She was one of a kind, a magnificent actress.... She was also an amazing mother, a loyal friend and the greatest and most generous host you could ever hope to meet." - Sam Mendes, her director in "Cabaret". She received a Tony Award in 1998 for the Braodway musical.

"She was quite careful about what she did. But what she did, she went into with a full heart and a passion. She was very discerning, very serious about the film roles she chose. It's absolutely tragic that somebody with so much to offer, and of course from this great acting dynasty, should be taken at this time of her life, and tragic of course for her family." - Michael Coveney, British theater critic

"As a stage actress she was really coming into her own, she was becoming a major star and taken extremely seriously on the stage and also her film work ... was excellent. She had a sort of luminous presence on the stage, but offstage she was a very shy, very easygoing, almost self-deprecating character who didn't like being made a fuss of." - Tim Walker, theater critic for the Sunday Telegraph, a British newspaper

Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Heiress Named Natasha

Natasha Richardson, 45, died Wednesday in New York.

She fell during a beginners' ski lesson at a resort in Quebec, and suffered a head injury. She was brought to a hospital in Montreal, and then to another one in New York.

Her theater resume included Patrick Marber's "Closer" (1999), and revivals of "Anna Christie" (1993), where she co-starred with her future husband Liam Neeson, and "A Streetcar Named Desire" (2005).

She received a Tony Award for best actress for a revival of "Cabaret" (1998).

She came from generations of actors that included her mother Vanessa Redgrave, with whom she appeared this year in "A Little Night Music" as mother and daughter.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bad Day

The screenwriter Millard Kaufman died March 14 of heart failure. He was 92.

Kaufman was nominated for an Academy Award twice- for Take the High Ground (1953) and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955).

Kaufman was one of the creators of Mr. Magoo, the cartoon character. He wrote the short film Ragtime Bear (1949), in which the character appeared for the first time.

He had his first novel, "Bowl of Cherries" (2007), published at 90. The publisher McSweeney's- known for younger authors- intends to release a second one later.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

American Pastor

The American writer Philip Roth celebrates his 76th birthday today. 

He has won three PEN/ Faulkner Awards: for Operation Shylock, The Human Stain, and Everyman.

He has received two National Book Awards: for Goodbye, Columbus, and Sabbath's Theater.

He got a Pulitzer Prize (for American Pastoral) and a National Book Critics Circle award (for The Counterlife). 

Several others were awards finalists.

In 2006 The New York Times Book Review released the results of their poll of the best American fiction in the last 25 years. Of 22 books, six were his: American Pastoral, The Counterlife, The Human Stain, Operation Shylock, The Plot Against America, and Sabbath's Theater.

The critic Harold Bloom ranks him alongside Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, and Thomas Pynchon as the best American novelists of our time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Gene Kelly on Judy Garland:

"The finest all-round performer we ever had in America was Judy Garland. There was no limit to her talent."

Adolphe Menjou on Shirley Temple:

"She knew everyone's dialogue, and if you forgot a line, she gave it to you. We all hated her for that."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Novels of Interest

"Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction on February 26. The finalists were "Serena" by Ron Rash; "Lush Life" by Richard Price; "A Person of Interest" by Susan Choi; and "Ms. Hempel Chronicles" by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum. The award comes with $15,000.

On March 12 the National Book Critics Circle chose to give their prize to "2666" by Roberto Bolano. Bolano was an author from Chile who died in 2003. The book's translator, Natasha Wimmer, received the award in his behalf.

The prize for criticism went to "Children's Literature" by Seth Lerer. The awards, though, do not come with cash.

They gave the lifetime achievement award to the American center of PEN. Yes, PEN.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

James Purdy Begins

The author James Purdy died Friday in New Jersey at 94.

His works divided reviewers, but "Cabot Wright Begins" and "Eustace Chisholm and the Works" are stil considered classics. Susan Sontag praised the former, and compared it favorably to  Voltaire's "Candide." The latter gained respect over time, enough to be given the Clifton Fadiman Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

Among his supporters were Dorothy Parker, Dame Edith Sitwell, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Angus Wilson, and the businessman/critic Osborn Andreas.

La Dolce Vita

The screenwriter Tullio Pinelli died March 7 at age 100 in Rome. 

He committed to film work in his late 30s and wrote or co-wrote more than 70 movies in his career. He was Federico Fellini's co-writer of 8 1/2, I Vitelloni, Juliet of the Spirits, La Dolce Vita, La Strada, and Nights of Cabiria- certainly one of the best working relationships in movie history. They started together for directors such as Michelangelo Antonioni, Pietro Germi, and Roberto Rossellini. They had a fallout in 1965, but got back together

Pinelli was a close friend of the poet Cesare Pavese and had fought for the Resistance in World War II. He is survived, among others, by his second wife Madeleine LeBeau, who appeared in Casablanca.

Friday, March 13, 2009

This Man's Life

The discussion over who should have won the best actor Oscar has led us to wonder: For what movie role could Leonardo DiCaprio snatch an Academy Award?

DiCaprio is beloved by a good number among my college friends. We have been watching him even before the ship sailed. My own favorites are Marvin's Room, This Boy's Life, and his unbelievably astonishing turn in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

Lamplighter's favorite DiCaprio is The Man in the Iron Mask, and so it is with darkspark. Withavengeance insists he should have been nominated for The Departed.

Darkspark strongly believes Leo will win it; it's just a matter of time.

I have no doubt that collecting nominations will be easy. Remember that he has three already, while it took Brad Pitt 13 years to get his second one.

He has worked with actors such as Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep, and directors such as Steven Spielberg, Baz Luhrmann, Lasse Hallstrom, and James Cameron. His working relationship with Martin Scorsese is the subject of envy, and he attracts talents such as Tom Hanks, Jennifer Connelly, and Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road).  He has done Shakespeare, dual roles, the gay, and the mentally handicapped.

I think he has his best shot if he plays a flashy part, preferably in a biopic. A grandstanding political firebrand. 

On the more commercial side of things, I'd like to see him in a spy movie, something like Mission: Impossible and The Bourne trilogy. I'd also like him to do a thriller in a limited setting, like the Jodie Foster vehicle Panic Room.

Can't wait to see what lies ahead.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No Bad Rap for Rap

Here's from a batang Mandaluyong to a batang Mandaluyong:

Francis Magalona, 44, has moved away from this kaleidoscope world.

We remember the man and the music, how he urged us not only to tolerate diversity, but to accept it and embrace it as well. 

Plus, lines like these: "You can’t talk peace and have a gun."

Coming from a showbiz family with a good name, he lent that image to a music form born and cultivated in the streets- music that did not have much respectability in these parts at the time. Music that was still considered a novelty by many in the early '90s.

Francis M made it hip to be patriotic while using that violently majestic form of American music: rap. He attached swagger to where it would have been corny to proclaim your nationality.

In the process, he gave rap a good name. He did not do it singlehandedly, but his approach, his path, was singular.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wrestling Over Oscar

Midnight at a coffee shop. (No, it's not Moby Dicks.)

Over coffee me and my college friends discuss who should have won this year's Academy Award for best actor. It's been two weeks already, and the aftershock still reverberates.

While Sean Penn received the precious paperweight, darkspark feels it should have gone to Mickey Rourke- the star of such movies as Diner, Rumble Fish, 9 1/2 Weeks, Barfly, and Angel Heart.

Withavengeance agrees: He wonders how Penn could have won when he had taken it home already five years ago.

Lamplighter thinks it's because of Proposition No. 8. Penn is the respected actor they can look to who can give a voice to the Hollywood community.

I think Penn had a lot of advantages over Rourke. He was in the bigger movie- a studio movie- with more earnings and nominations, and better machinery.

Penn was already on his fifth nod, while Rourke was just having his first. Recently, we saw Alan Arkin (three-time nominee) go away with the Oscar, beating front-runner Eddie Murphy (who was on his first nod).

And more than anything, the win is rooted in their respective personas as celebrities.

Because The Wrestler is like art imitating life (Rourke's back story), a lot of voters might have thought, "Is this acting?"

On the other hand, Penn is seen as the brash macho who plays it gay. Now, that's acting. Hence, the Oscar.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It Happened One Night

It's three at dawn, and I'm surfing stations on cable TV.

A movie channel is showing an old black-and-white flick. The setting is a club where people in suits drink and smoke.

The signage says in big, bold letters: "The gayest bar in Manila."

Then Clark Gable comes on, talking to one of those classy leading ladies of old. 

I want to know what the title of this movie is. I want to see it again.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Best

Robert Redford on Meryl Streep:

"There's simply no finer craftsman in the business. She's as good as it gets."

Groucho Marx on Woody Allen:

"They say Woody Allen got something from the Marx Brothers. He didn't. He is an original. The best. The funniest."

Sunday, March 8, 2009


"Acting is just as challenging as wrestling."     - Dwayne Johnson

But aren't they one and the same? So that wouldn't be right- it's logically incorrect to say.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Trip to Bountiful

Horton Foote, playwright and screenwriter, died Wednesday in Connecticut at 92. 

He received two Academy Awards: for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies.

He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for "The Young Man from Atlanta" and he also wrote The Trip to Bountiful.