The Screening Room Blog
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Miyazaki hand draws 'Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea'
VENICE, Italy -- Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki explained today why he hand drew 170,000 frames for his latest animation "Gake no Ue no Ponyo" ("Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea") which is showing in competition at Venice.

The 67-year-old, famous for Oscar-winning "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle," said he has gone back to basics with this film, rejecting computer animation in favour of the humble pencil: "Currently computer graphics are used a lot and this use can at times be excessive. Animation needs the pencil and man's drawing hand which is why I did the film this way."

The film tells the story of five year-old Sosuke who finds a goldfish (Ponyo) with her head stuck in a jam jar. They become friends but when Ponyo decides she wants to be human, the waters of the sea she used to live in begin to rise causing disaster for Sosuke's home town.

One critic I spoke to said that this was the film he is most excited about seeing this festival, despite it being made for children. Another journalist told me that it was the only film this festival that they had "really fallen in love with."

Miyazaki said that many of his staff had been having babies recently and seeing them from birth made him want to make a film for them. When asked why he wanted to make a film about the sea, he said: "The sea is something so very complicated but I just thought it would be great to draw it with crayons."

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Natalie Portman brings short film to Venice
VENICE, Italy -- Adding a bit of spice to a festival that has been pretty short on big names, Natalie Portman arrived in Venice today.

Along with the likes of Scarlett Johannson (who released an album of Tom Waits covers earlier this year) Natalie Portman is one of those Hollywood actresses blessed with serious intellect as well as beauty and talent.

The Harvard graduate, published academic and star of "Closer," "Garden State," and "Leon" has now added directing to her intimidating roster of skills.

Portman's directorial debut, "Eve" will open Venice film festival's short film section, Corto Cortissimo tomorrow afternoon.

The 17-minute comedy starring Lauren Bacall and Ben Gazzara will screen in an out of competition slot.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008
Yakuza in the Favela: 'Plastic City' by Yu Lik-wai
VENICE, Italy -- I had a cinema rock 'n' roll moment last night at a screening that ended after midnight.

We were waiting to watch "Dangkou (Plastic City)," Hong Kong director Yu Lik-wai's (right) Asian gangster movie set in Brazil in the PalaBiennale cinema, which has the shape and dimensions of an aeroplane hangar and the biggest screen I think I've ever sat in front of.

The cinema was packed. There were probably 500 people there and the place was crackling. The crowd wolf whistled and cheered as if we were at a music gig waiting for a band to come on: Not what you expect watching an art house film late on a Friday night. It was a perfect collective experience -- one that reminds you what going to the cinema is all about.

Yu's film, which is in competition, is set against the backdrop of Brazil's huge Asian community (Brazil has the biggest Japanese population outside Japan) in a place called Liberdade, São Paulo -- the community's epicentre.

With dialogue in Portuguese as well as Cantonese and featuring Japanese star Joe Odagiri as well as "City of God" actor Phellipe Haagensen, the film reflects the global melting pot culture that Liberdade represents -- something that Yu is fascinated by.

Although he has previously directed two features "Love will Tear us Apart" and "All Tomorrow's Parties" (both of which showed at Cannes Film Festival), Yu is renowned as a cinematographer. He has worked with Wong Kar Wai and was Director of Photography on Jia Zhanke's "Sanxia haoren" (Still Life) which won the Golden Lion here in 2006.

I was really excited to see this film and Yu's cinematography is exquisite, especially the aerial shots of São Paulo and his panoramas of miles and miles of favelas. I have also been reliably informed by some Brazilian colleagues that he very precisely captures the Liberdade dialect, which the director says he spent a long time in the city researching to get right.

But when the film ended, I was left feeling really muddled by the plot and ultimately quite disappointed. Whatever message Yu was trying to get across was lost on me. What a contrast from the high hopes I had going in.

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Filming underwater at Pinewood Studios

LONDON, England -- It's not every day you get a chance to watch a shoot in an underwater setting but that's exactly what happened at Pinewood Studios recently when I went to shoot "The Screening Room" host, Myleene Klass perform a sub-aqua stunt scene.

I had no idea what to expect. I thought I would turn up and see a small swimming pool and a camera but the underwater stage (known as the "u-stage") is huge, with a capacity of 12,000 liters and three viewing windows. An ultra-violet filtration system is used to make the water crystal clear. It reminded me of the tanks at the London Aquarium, but with Myleene swimming around with a team of divers and underwater cameramen instead of sharks.

Before she was allowed in the water, Myleene had to have a safety briefing and training session and was made up with special waterproof makeup before taking the plunge and starting the underwater shoot. I thought it looked pretty difficult -- remembering to hold your breath underwater, keep your eyes open, look relaxed AND act out your part.

Pinewood Studios' u-stage has played host to many movies including "Atonement," "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," and "Casino Royale."
For the scenes in "Elizabeth," they brought live horses in to swim in the tanks.

Getting scenes right in an underwater setting can be tricky, despite the skill of the actors and stunt professionals who often have to work in difficult situations like sitting in a sinking car pretending to drown in low lighting. Because of this computer imagery is often used as a finishing touch.

We spoke to the diving team -- this is a day job they love doing and some of them have become so accustomed to being underwater that being on dry land seems strange.

As we packed up to go home, I realised that underwater stunt work and computer graphic imagery go hand in hand. There are some things you just can't practically do, and that is where technology comes in to create graphics which make scenes look real without putting actors and stunt professionals in danger.

-- From CNN's Petra Ayar

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Friday, August 29, 2008
Sprucing up the red carpet for 'The Burning Plain'
VENICE, Italy -- I was walking past the red carpet yesterday and spotted a little bit of sprucing up being done in preparation for the hotly anticipated premiere of "The Burning Plain."

They were getting ready for the film's star Charlize Theron (one of the few big names present at what people are saying is a very low key festival) and director Guillermo Arriaga to walk down it a few hours later.

Post-premiere night glitz, the general Venice consensus on "The Burning Plain" is that while Arriaga may be a talented scriptwriter (penning "Amores Perros," "Babel" and "21 Grams" among others) his directorial debut resorts to some pretty soap opera-ish tactics and if his now trademark deconstructed plot wasn't so cleverly deployed, the film's melodrama would be more obvious.

That said, Charlize Theron and 17 year-old Jennifer Lawrence put in great performances that have tongues wagging about possible "Best Actress" or "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar nominations for them.


Wim Wenders' top 5 movies
VENICE, Italy -- This morning I met with past Golden Lion and Palme D'Or winner and president of the jury at this year's Venice Film Festival, Wim Wenders. I asked him what his favourite films are. Wenders said: "Ok, I'm not going to go with the obvious ones. I don't want to disappoint you." Here's what he chose:

1. Only Angels Have Wings
(Howard Hawkes, 1939)

2. Salt of the Earth
(Herbert J Biberman, 1959)

3. Le Petit Soldat
(Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

4. La Notte
(Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961)

5. Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället)
(Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

And Wenders looked so aghast when he realised he had already used up his five choices that I let him have a sixth:

6. The Wolf Child (L'enfant sauvage)
(François Truffaut, 1970)

Do you agree with Wenders' choices? Let us know in the comments box below.

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Who owns this mystery yacht?
VENICE, Italy -- Yesterday, I experienced one of those strange moments when life imitates art.

There is the most huge, glamorous yacht moored next to the waterfront outside my hotel near St Mark’s Square in Venice. This thing must be about 50 meters long. It’s all mahogany panelling, white-clad deckhands and, of course, the ubiquitous sunglasses-wearing security men loitering outside.

Each morning as I wander down the waterfront to catch the vaporetto (water bus) across the lagoon to the Lido where the festival is running, I wonder who on earth owns this floating behemoth.

Yesterday, completely by accident, I solved the mystery.

I was in the festival’s cavernous Sala Grande cinema watching a documentary when the very boat –- moored in exactly the same position –- popped up on the screen!

I now know the boat belongs to tan-fastic Italian couturier Valentino Garavani who is in town for the premiere of “Valentino: The Last Emperor.” I am now also fully au fait with the interior of his floating palace.

The film is great, too. I went in expecting 90 minutes of fashion fluff, but ex-journalist Matt Tyrnauer ended up chronicling Valentino's last days at the head of the fashion house he created more than 40 years ago.

The ex-Vanity Fair special correspondent managed to gain complete access to Valentino and his associate of 47 years, Giancarlo Giammetti. “They were extraordinarily brave to let cameras live with them for two years. I think that was admirable,” says the director.

The crowd gave Valentino a standing ovation at the end of the screening:

Valentino says: "I wanted to show myself as I am because I couldn't care less about the camera." And there are some hilarious moments -- one of his five pugs having his teeth brushed by the butler; an unplanned moment where the maestro throws a hissy fit because he's not getting enough attention: "I want everyone on their knees in front of me!"

But the film is also moving. Tyrnauer can't have known it would end like this, but he ended up shooting 250 hours of footage during the time of a hostile takeover that led to the 75-year-old maestro being replaced as head of Valentino by 35-year-old ex-Gucci designer Alessandra Fachinetti.

Ultimately, the film is an extraordinary portrait of Valentino and Giametti's relationship. It's not made explicit whether the couple's bond extends beyond the boardroom, but when Valentino accepts the Legion d'Honneur it is Giametti to whom he offers an emotional special thanks.

As I walked to my hotel last night, Valentino was partying the night away at his opening night bash with the likes of Eva Herzigova. I looked up at the windows of the boat feeling like I knew the distant man a little more intimately.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008
The case of the stolen ladder
VENICE, Italy -- You wouldn't imagine a ladder would be that high on a cameraman's list of red carpet essentials. But in fact, that's exactly what they use to get themselves head and shoulders above the opposition to bag the perfect shot.

And this is where our tale of woe begins. Having hauled almost 20 pieces of luggage (TV crews do not travel light) from London to Venice without losing a thing, the team hits the Lido on the first night for the "Burn After Reading" red carpet event. It's 30 degrees, Todd our cameraman is broiling in the compulsory tuxedo but the shots are bagged and we go home happy.

Next morning Todd wakes up in a sweat: he's left his ladder propped up against a wall in the festival grounds and there's a star-studded premiere for "Valentino: The Last Emperor" later that evening. We've got to get the ladder.

The ladder isn't where Todd left it and it is up to producer Lidz-Ama to sort things out. At the main press office she asks:"Do you have a Lost and Found?" "Why? Are you lost?" replies the woman. "Where do you want to go?" she continues helpfully. "No, no my cameraman has lost his ladder" says Lidz-Ama who is then directed to the Baggage Drop-off Point.

"My cameraman has lost his ladder," Lidz-Ama explains when she arrives. This causes a bit of a ruckus. The manager is called over: "Luca, we've lost this woman's ladder." Lidz-Ama begins to try to explain -- again.

"No, no we havn't lost her ladder. Her cameraman has lost the ladder it was never checked in," pipes up another man.

"This is a matter for the police" says Luca and takes Lidz outside and starts hollering for a policeman in the street. They finally find a policewoman who can speak English: "Madam, I speak English I understand someone has stolen your camera."

By this point Lidz-Ama is thinking, "Who cares. It's just a ladder," but it's too late. The ladder has now been registered with the police and Biennale security and if they find whoever (possibly quite innocently) took it away they will be arrested on the spot for stealing essential CNN equipment.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Brad Pitt and George Clooney: dangerous to be around
VENICE, Italy -- My big toe is throbbing. In fact, both my big toes are throbbing. One is my own fault: I dropped my camera on it as I jostled in a scrum of people to see if it really was Brad Pitt in the blacked-out car with "Mostra" printed on the side.

But the other one I take no responsibility for. I'm blaming a thoughtless cameraman for that one. He backed onto my toe trying to get footage of the car that might have had George Clooney in it. I yelped. He ran off after the the car without a backward glance.

That's not all, either. I was also elbowed in the head by an overzealous amateur photographer. She was trying to get the best shot of him through the crowd; something tells me her photos aren't going to give the ranks of the world's press too much to worry about: "Oh my God! I saw the top of his head! I saw the top of Brad Pitt's head!"

What the photographers see:

What the crowd sees:

All this happened as I wandered among the crowds outside the premiere of the Coen Brothers' new movie, "Burn after Reading," the opening film of the 65th Venice Film Festival.

In fact, just moments earlier I had been thinking to myself how cool and laid back the Italian crowds are. Sure, there were police and the ubiquitous shades-and-black-suit-wearing security men, but the premiere guests (some of whom are quite famous in Italy, for example, "81/2" actress, Claudia Cardinale) walked casually through the crowds to get to the red carpet and everyone was behaving impeccably.

But then the real stars of the show turned up. I suppose the incredible hysteria is a testament to their celebrity. The screaming got louder and louder and gaggles of young girls were running and pushing to keep up with Brad and George as they worked the crowds, signing autographs and indulging in badinage with the crowd. "BRA-AD, BRA-AD" started the chanting. (Poor George.)

Co-stars Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand were there, as was renowned German director and head of the jury, Wim Wenders -- but the crowd were not there to see them.

A couple of mature ladies jumping up and down, shouting "Bello! Bello!" (which I'm guessing means handsome) at Brad and George who were definitely young enough to be their sons. Another woman was saying: "My hands are slippery, I'm so nervous, " as the boys in black worked their way steadily towards her.

I haven't yet seen the film (that's later today) but even if the critics don't like it, I can vouch for the fact that there are at least a couple of thousand women who are definitely going to watch it -- if only for another chance to gaze at Brad and George.

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Monday, August 25, 2008
A clip from "Jar City (Myrin)" by Baltasar Kormakur

I watched this film by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur recently and really enjoyed it. Set in Reykavik, it's a really nice twist on the cop thriller. Yes, Inspector Erlendur the main protagonist is a grizzled, cigarette-smoking cop but he also wears cardigans and eats sheep's heads for dinner.

The plot goes something like this: When an elderly man is found murdered in his flat, Erlendur and his team find a photograph of a young girl's grave. It opens a very cold case leading Erlendur along a trail of unusual forensic evidence, uncovering secrets that are much larger than the murder of an old man and actually concern the genetic bloodline of the entire country.

The screenplay is based on the novel "Myrin" by Arnaldur Indridason, who won the Scandinavian crime writers Glass Key Award in 2002.

Kormakur (who first hit the international movie scene with "101 Reykavik" in 2000) is smart enough to know how astonishing the Icelandic landscape is, and the film is full of beautiful shots of the snow-dusted volcanic mesas that surround Reykavik and the desolate, windswept countryside.

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Bollywood extravaganza is Unforgettable
LONDON, England -- My right ear is still ringing almost 24 hours after it happened.

A host of Bollywood's biggest stars put on a glittering performance at London's 02 Arena in front of 20,000 frenzied fans as part of "The Unforgettable Tour," described on its website as "an extravaganza of Indian cinema's magic."

The performance in London was the final date on the first leg of the tour across nine cities in the U.S. and UK.

Among the most frenzied of all the fans was the 16-year-old girl who occupied the seat to my right. In fact she rarely occupied it at all, preferring to jump up and down while delivering ear-tormenting screams.

The object of her attentions was 65-year-old legend of Indian cinema, Amitabh Bachchan. For the few uninitiated members of the crowd, a short but stirring video trailer preceeded his appearance on stage.

If Amitabh is a modest man, he must have been slightly uncomfortable as he listened to the trailer, which declared him to be India's "Unforgettable Legend." But the audience roared its concurrence and my teenage neighbour screamed her adulation at a man old enough to be her great-grandfather.

I tried to imagine a similar reaction to Clint Eastwood's arrival on stage -- but such comparisons immediately vanished as the veteran Indian actor burst into song and proceeded to gyrate energetically among a posse of dazzlingly-dressed dancers.

Amitabh may be the main draw but the supporting cast wasn't far behind him, judging by the decibel level achieved by my caterwauling companion, who changed to a series of guttural "phwoaaars!" when Abitabh's son, Abishek, marched through the crowd to the stage flanked by burly security guys.

Abishek is a superstar in his own right and last year extended Bollywood's strongest dynasty by marrying the golden girl of Indian cinema, Aishwarya Rai.

Abishek's a lucky lad indeed, according to the trailer for the new Mrs Bachchan, which declared her to be "the world's most beautiful woman" as well as "the fifth most Googled name on the internet."

The celestial body of the former Miss World was lowered from the heavens as she started dancing and lip-synching to a medley of music from her Bollywood blockbusters. But there's no outcry over singing simulation here: lip-synching is a long-established and accepted part of Indian film.

Other stars to appear including Preity Zinta, Shilpa Shetty and top Bollywood music directors Vishal and Shekhar. The music was uplifting and percussive, the choreography by Shiamak Davar stunning.

My wife and two young children loved it as much as I did, but the youngest lacked the stamina to endure all of the four-hour epic. As we stood up to leave, a girl two seats to my right leaned across and yelled: "I'm sorry about my friend, she's a bit of a wild one I'm afraid!"

I was about to say that it was fine and that her behavior wasn't the cause of our departure when her pal gave vent to an enormous expression of "Oh my Gaaawwwwd!" as another of Bollywood's brightest took to the stage.

The rest of my words disappeared in a screech taken up and repeated by thousands of girls across the Arena as the dhol drums rattled out more bhangra beats.

Post by: The Screening Room's Neil Curry

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The Screening Room brings you the inside track on all aspects of the movie business around the globe. Find out what presenter Myleene Klass has been up to, and send us your comments and suggestions for our Top 10 movie list of the month.
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