Thursday, September 6, 2012

The ABS-CBN Philharmonic Scores, Manila Enjoys a Potter Riot

Last Sunday, I went to see the ABS CBN Philharmonic play to a full house.  It was their first major concert and according to conductor and musical director Gerard Salonga, it was the first time he saw all the seats filled up for the orchestra’s performance—not to mention these were bought tickets and not freebies.

The Meralco Theater brimmed with people of all ages who attended a concert designed around the musical scores of the legendary composer John Williams. Williams wrote the music for the Star Wars films, the Harry Potter films, the Indiana Jones films, Superman, Jaws, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind—to name but a few.

Gerard is the only conductor I’ve seen who addressed the audience throughout the show:  introducing the pieces played, telling a story or two and offering a little bit of trivia behind the music. At one point, he turned around to reveal the classic blue shirt with the Superman logo on it under his conductor’s jacket. He was obviously having fun.

I’m not an expert on concertos and orchestras (I do believe there is protocol both for the performers and the audience), while I can’t give  proper notes on how the 40-piece ensemble worked together or how the kettledrums sounded, to me, they were great and polished.

They did justice to the cinematic music which took many in the audience back to their childhoods (no matter how distant or recent). The show ended with a second encore--the closing credits from Star Wars, at which point, over a dozen members of the Philippines Outpost of 501st Legion of Stormtroopers (these folks are recognized by George Lucas himself) joined the orchestra on stage. Darth Vader, C3P0, Boba Fett, Stormtroopers and some of the gang from that galaxy far, far away.

Superman (aka Gerard Sison) was also on hand for photographs before the show. If anyone from the ABS-CBN Philharmonic reads this, can you do another one, with the music of Hans Zimmer? We’ll provide the pirates.

Harry Potter didn’t just have a moment at this concert though; he had a bunch of moments last week as “Potted Potter” played 10 nights here. The show is currently touring the region--apart from Manila, they go on in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand.

Potted Potter was a quite a little riot for a show with but two cast members, a humble set and a quick running time. Potted Potter fits all seven books in 70 minutes. The lads, Jesse and Gary, were marvelous comedians and it’s great how they fixed parts of the script especially for the local audience—they asked for a “walis ting ting” for playing Quidditch, Harry Potter sulks in his room to listen to the “Eraserheads” and the backdrop of for the scary forest looked more like “Boracay.”

Next week, I’m looking forward to catching the Metro Manila release of Cinemalaya’s “Ang Nawawala” directed by Marie Jamora and starring my coloring book partner, Annicka Dolonius.

Photo by Niki Yarte

The ABS-CBN Philharmonic performed the music of John Williams September 2nd. Potted Potter ran from August 28 to September 2. Ang Nawawala opens in cinemas in the city September 12th.


Every now and then I find myself in the mood to grab a beer, scratch my stomach and watch one of these indie caper films where some really cool and funny dudes get themselves into a lot of trouble, often involving gangsters: Ghost Dog by Jim Jarmusch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels by Guy Ritchie, In Bruges by Martin McDonagh. I felt it was good time to revisit a cult favorite: THE BOONDOCK SAINTS.

Right off the bat I have to say, this flick is my favorite from the vigilante genre. Irish-American brothers, Connor and Murphy McManus are the epitome of the vigilantes boys and girls next door want to be. They smoke, they drink and armed with the signature Irish wit and charm, they don’t over rationalize what it is they do and always seem to be having a good time doing it. That philosophy holds true for the rest of the movie as well. Actors Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus are more than believable as the chummy brothers who are never at a loss for shenanigans.

However, it is Willem Dafoe’s character, homosexual FBI detective Paul Smecker that steals the show. Smecker is tasked with catching the vigilantes, dubbed by the media as ‘The Saints’.  Breaking down murder scenarios in his own unique style, which is part Sherlock Holmes and part CSI with opera music playing on the headphones of his Discman CD player (they made the movie in 1999). In these scenes, Dafoe’s choreography alone is worth the price of admission. Trying out new  wardrobe at the film’s climax, and his bed scene with another man is just gravy and dessert, you choose in what order to take them.

Rounding out the main cast is Scottish actor Billy Connolly, who plays “Il Duce,” a hitman hired by the mob with a surprise connection to ‘The Saints’.  On a totally unrelated point (and maybe because I’m a Razorback fan) Billy Connolly kept bringing up images of Razorback guitarist Tirso Ripoll.

Not wanting to turn anybody off from a movie I deem should be on everyone’s “Must Watch” List, there is an actor named Bob Marley in Boondock Saints and it’s sequel, All Saint’s Day. But it is Bob Marley a Caucasian actor, not Bob Marley the reggae icon.

Some may also get a kick from seeing porn legend Ron “The Hedgehog” Jeremy as gangster Vincenzo Lapazzi.

Great soundtrack too—though one wasn’t made for the film. A sequel was made in 2009, I think we’re all good and ready for the next.

 Billy Connoly aka "Il Duce" reminds me of Tirso Ripoll of Razorback.

Mark Your Calendars, The Walking Dead is Coming Back

Criminals are everywhere these days—does a week ever go by without someone we know telling us they were held up, threatened and / or robbed while trying to eat or get a ride home? It’s scary out there and it doesn’t help walking around with the feeling that not enough is being done to address the alarming situation. More and more people seem to think it is perfectly OK and all in a days work to hurt, attack, threaten and in some cases even end the lives of their fellowmen in exchange for their gadgets. What have we done to ourselves?

No wonder we love zombies—they make us shift our priorities a little. Criminals in a world where it seems police (who may be crooked themselves) have to struggle to take them down make us all feel so helpless. Bring out the zombies and suddenly, we feel empowered—suddenly having the license to take out that ax, saw, shotgun, bolo.

In less than 10 weeks, one of the world’s favorite TV shows, “The Walking Dead” will begin its third season. According to Fox International Channels
The show “will begin its international rollout on Monday October 15” (within a few hours of its October 14 debut on AMC in the US). The Philippines is one of the 122 countries in the international rollout, providing what I imagine to be a decent chunk of the show’s 200 million international viewers.

It was all madness and chaos when we left our bedraggled and besieged bunch of survivors. They are back on the run with Andrea lost and on her own in the melee that wrapped up season 2. Of course the set up is all ready for two new important characters—sword-wielding warrior Michonne (Danai Gurira) with her two zombie “pets” and the mysterious and menacing “Governor” played by British actor David Morrissey (who I remember best from an episode of Dr. Who, “The Next Doctor.”)

For those who have seen the season three trailer, you all know about the return of Merle—Daryl Dixon’s brother. Just when our favorite redneck Daryl was beginning to resolve all his sibling issues. How Merle got out of that shackled situation in season one, maybe we’ll find out. Oh Daryl, I wish I could have your back on this one.

The fear of zombies is apparently something we can face. As a dear friend of mine would tell her children: “Huwag na kayo matakot sa multo’t aswang, sa tao kayo matakot.” (Don’t be afraid of monsters, be afraid of people.)

In the meantime, we’ve seriously got to figure out a solution to the meanness in our streets.

Photo by Karen Kunawicz, San Diego Comic Con 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012


This week’s edition of Fangirl is handled by none other than the notorious Capt. Hank Sparrow of Black Pearl Philippines who is not only a pirate, but a bartender, former rock star and sometime journalist.

Who better to chat with Michael Stuhlbarg, the actor who plays legendary gangster Arnold Rothstein on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire?

Boardwalk Empire is one of the best shows on television at the moment—it is currently renewed for a third season in the US. It is set in Atlantic City in the 1920’s during the time of Prohibition and the story revolves around the lives of politicians, gangsters, government agents and the men and women who weave in and out of their world.

Rothstein is based on an actual historical figure—an enterprising mobster based in New York. He was “The Brain” who ran an organization that included “Legs” Diamond, “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Dutch Schultz. It’s inevitable for this kingpin and Atlantic City’s Treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) engage in some sort of highly lucrative but certainly shady dealings together.

The man surprisingly shunned alcohol and you may have notice a scene in the season one where he takes iced milk. I doubt he ever got teased about it (either that no one lived to tell the tale).

Michael's biggest break was being cast in a Coen Brothers film "A Serious Man," you may have also seen him in Martin Scorsese's Academy Award winning film "Hugo."

Manila Times: How much fun is it to play a legendary gangster (Arnold Rothstein) on an incredibly well made show like Boardwalk Empire?

Michael Stuhlbarg: It’s a great amount of fun but it’s also a great amount of responsibility--at least I take it as such. I’ve tried to delve as deeply as I can into his life, how he lived it, the people he knew, what he did, what influenced him. It changes you somewhat to learn about someone’s life, to get a chance to live in it for as long as I’ve gotten a chance to so far. It’s the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent exploring a character so that’s been a great delight and challenge as an actor. I can’t wait to see where they take the character this season.

How did you learn speak with the cadence and cool deliberate ruthlessness of Arnold Rothstein?

I looked around for any tape on him and couldn’t find anything, so I just used my imagination and took as much of the historical information that I could find. He was raised in a middle class household in New York City in the late 18oo’s.

I tried to just imagine what he would speak like. I saw as many gangster films as I could and let that sort of play around in my imagination. I imagined him to be a man of authority. He didn’t necessarily have to raise his voice. Historically, he was an even-tempered conservative man and didn’t necessarily show his anger unless it was essential to get his way. It was a natural organic process of just trying to figure out what felt right. I would be curious to know how he actually spoke (laughter) someday.

You have some of the best and wittiest one liners

Thank you. It’s been great writing so far.

Aside from Billiards did you have to learn other betting games and other forms of gambling for the role?

Yes, along with getting some tutorials on billiards, I was offered an opportunity to learn more about the game of poker. HBO hired a gentleman to help me learn more about the skills of poker playing. To practice, I have arranged some games of poker with my friends so I can keep up with the kind of mind that plays poker. So yes it’s mostly been about learning poker and billiards it’s been great fun and I’ve been enjoying it. I still have an interest in poker but I very rarely play for real money

Do you win?

I do better now then I did before.


Catch Michael Stuhlbarg on Boardwalk Empire. Second season premieres in Asia on March 8 at 10pm on HBO. Also look out for him in Men in Black 3 and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Rothstein (seated) is known to have taught Lucky Luciano how to look sharp.


Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” was my favorite book of 2010. I read it because I thoroughly enjoyed author Seth Grahame-Smith’s “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (2009) immensely and will always be fascinated by period pieces and a well imagined vampire story.

Tim Burton is currently producing the film version of the book and thanks to friends at 20th Century Fox, I got to participate in a live “chat” last week (which was a bit like a 15 minute talk show) with director Timur Bekmambetov (Nightwatch, Daywatch, Wanted), author and screenplay writer Seth Grahame-Smith and actors Benjamin Walker and Rufus Sewell (Dark City, Knight’s Tale, The Tourist).

The film is treated straightforwardly like a “period piece with vampires,” as Grahame-Smith says he, Tim and Timur took the whole concept seriously, never winking and not making a joke out of it.

Grahame-Smith says while he had remained true to the sprit of the book, there were also things he had to let go of, “kill your darlings” so to speak. But the cast and director were ready to point out he had to “create new darlings” like Adam, the new vampire villain character to be played by English actor Sewell.

According to Sewell, “Adam is the first of the vampires…the vampire from which all other vampires came.” He is described as “formidable and ferocious,” yet also “a gentlemen, a great soldier for his cause…in a vampire election, you would vote for him, he’d make a great president for the vampires.”

Grahame-Smith goes further by adding, “We had this image of him in the script—we had him descending the stairs like Rhett Butler,” and describing him as “classic, elegant, but vicious.”

Sewell also says he gives “a nod to the great vampires of the past…when I grew up, it was Christopher Lee.”

For research, Benjamin Walker did a lot of reading—most especially work by Pulitzer Prize winner biographer and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and a book called Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk, which he found very “helpful” as it talked about “his (Lincoln’s) depressive nature, how he dealt with death, his gothic side…it lends itself nicely to the story we’re telling.”

Timur Bekmambetov on the other hand, read work by a Russian man named Bushkov, which contains “civil war secrets Americans don’t want to talk about.”

Regarding physical preparations for the role, Walker says he had to lose weight as Lincoln was a tall but gaunt figure; he did a lot of Wushu, stretching and “hitting people with rubber axes.” Rufus Sewell, on the other hand, says Adam is “high up on the blood chain,” and basically just sends his minions “so I did a lot of training sitting comfortably in a big chair” with his fight scenes happening in the “final reel of the film” in a new climactic sequence written for the film.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is set for US release on June 22nd. In the meantime, you’ll find Grahame-Smiths’ handiwork in another Tim Burton project, “Dark Shadows” starring Johnny Depp and set for release on the 11th of May.

Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Aliens Invade Moscow in "The Darkest Hour" (Manila next?)

In the Dr. Who series, in the event of an alien invasion, the creatures from distant worlds prefer to start by infiltrating or destroying London. Big Ben was demolished in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks and in HG Wells’ novel the aliens also battled the humans in England.

In films over the last 60 years—King Kong, Soylent Green, Superman 2, Ghostbusters, Armageddon, Godzilla, Independence Day, Cloverfield, I Am Legend including the aforementioned Mars Attacks and the film version of War of the Worlds—the city of New York remained a perpetual favorite target. In Dragon Wars and Battle Los Angeles, the city of choice was Los Angeles—yet another favorite city to demolish.

In the upcoming film, “The Darkest Hour,” director Chris Gorak promises us “something different” from the usual alien invasion films. For one, the action is set in an “exotic” location—that location being Moscow. In a special presentation that coincided with the weekend of San Diego Comic Con 2011, Director Gorak took members of the press on a tour of storyboard images from the film as interpreted by comic book artists—including Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night) and Pia Guerra (Y: The Last Man).

The director and crew were all very excited to set a story and shoot in the backyard of producer Timur Bekmambetov (Nightwatch, Wanted). The main characters are set up in place where the language, geography, cityscape and culture are unfamiliar and well, “alien” to them. “Come see Moscow. Worthy of destroying," producer Tom Jacobson has said in many an interview.

Second, these won’t be the usual aliens that may resemble insects, amphibians, cephalopods, or the typical large headed creature with the small nose and gigantic black eyes. These aliens are invisible.

Gorak says—“Normally with most kinds of invasions, you feel safest during day, you can see the dangers around you. In this scenario, the it’s safest a night.” That’s because the aliens react to electricity. The humans get to see them at night because of the (yellow-orange) light they emit.

The male leads are Emile Hirsch (Speed Racer, Into the Wild), Max Minghella (Social Network and incidentally also the son of late director Anthony Minghella) and Joel Kinnaman (Swedish American actor who appeared in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and soon to play Lancelot to Kit Harington’s Arthur). All three were on hand at the presentation with Gorak, Jacobson and another producer, Monnie Wills.

The story begins with two American software entrepreneurs (Hirsch and Minghella) arriving in Moscow to do business, only to find out their deal has been sabotaged. They go to a club to temporarily bury the thought of the treachery. However something bigger and more treacherous is happening outside—lights appear in the night sky, and there goes the neighborhood. The aliens arrive.

The main cast is rounded out by Russian actors who have worked with Bekmambetov before: Dato Bakhtadze who was “The Butcher” in “Wanted” and Yuriy Kutsenko who played Ignat the incubus in “Nightwatch.” They are joined American actresses Olivia Thirlby (Juno) Rachael Taylor (Transformers).

How do these chaps in a strange land survive? How does the Russian homeland resist these invisible invaders? We’ll just have to find out in The Darkest Hour.

At the close of the presentation, while Gorak went on about the thrills of shooting in different and exotic locations for an alien invasion, some journalists inquired after a possible sequel. To which I uttered, “Invade Manila!”

Hmmm. Alien invasions. More fun in the Philippines. Now there’s an idea that deserves another go.

P.S. Here are my photos of Joel Kinnaman and Emile Hirsch.