Sunday, December 23, 2007

12 Daze of Christmas

"From the early 1950s to the mid-70s, the hippest places in Las Vegas were the little casino lounges, where free-swinging entertainers presided over 24-hour parties in what were the city's 'living room.'

"Fay McKay was one of hundreds of Las Vegas entertainers for whom show business was a job. Her 'signature' number was this parody of 'The 12 Days of Christmas,' which she performed in showrooms throughout the city and around the world."

-"Lost Vegas: The Lounge Era"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Peek-a-Books #1

"All books are either dreams or swords,
You can cut, or you can drug, with words."


Note: My Bedside Companions for the last 2 1/2 Weeks...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lea Salonga puts Tarrytown under her spell

Despite having to run almost two miles from the other end of the Terminal to catch the Northwest Airlines Flight from Detroit-Metropolitan Wayne County Airport to La Guardia, having missed our original morning flight earlier, we were still in a very good mood.

And flying all the way from Michigan two days before the event and then “hitching” a ride from the Bronx to Tarrytown, New York on the day of the concert with old friends in tow in exchange for the promised prime concert seats, we were in cruise control.

The uneventful 30-minute trip on the slow, lazy road to this little picturesque village on the eastern shore of the Hudson River did not dampen our enthusiasm a bit. We arrived at historic Tarrytown at quarter past seven on the cool and chilly evening of November 2. We were in high spirits in anticipation of a wonderful evening of music at the Tarrytown Music Hall.

Yes, we traveled far for the much-awaited concert of Broadway Star and Tony Award Winner Lea Salonga in this side of Westchester County, New York.

As we walked from the parking lot, braving the wind chill gnawing at our bodies and numbing our skin, I couldn’t help but notice that Tarrytown is really quite old, small and dark compared to the other places that I have been to.

Tarrytown has that distinctive air of the old world with clusters of Victorian and Gothic revival houses built in the late 1800s and early 1900s lining its narrow streets. And what with Sleepy Hollow just a stone’s throw away only added to its allure and mystique, at least for a history buff like me.

In fact, pictures of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman suddenly materializing out of nowhere circled in my mind as I turned the uphill corner towards the venue. But tonight, Washington Irving’s character from his classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, will take a back seat to the Lady of the Night.

As we neared the Music Hall, we suddenly realized that Tarrytown has turned into a Pinoy Town. In every street and corner, bar and cafe, store and restaurant, one could see and hear the unmistakable sound and presence of the Filipinos who came with full force.

This I can say, Filipinos really know how to party and can be counted upon to support a very talented kababayan as she tries to wield her magic again in Uncle Sam’s America. There were a lot of American fans too who flew in from as far as Texas and California. Some even drove for hours from Canada and various places on the East Coast. The majority of them, of course, came from New York and neighboring New Jersey.
They all came with one purpose and one purpose only -- to hear once again this song bird who has captivated the ears of the world since she was 17, when after a global search she was chosen to essay the role of Kim in the hit musical Miss Saigon, to which she never looked back.

The Music Hall on Main Street was built in 1885 and is one of the oldest theaters in Westchester County, where various luminaries from US Presidents (Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft & Woodrow Wilson) to legendary musicians (Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, etc.) among others have once graced its hallowed grounds.


The concert did not start on time, although the musicians were on stage before the 8pm call time, but since heaps of people were still pouring in and also queueing for the restrooms, the musicians bade their time until Bjorn Olsson, the Executive Director of the Music Hall, appeared on stage to welcome everybody with a crisp and effortless “Mabuhay!” which he confessed he had learned a few minutes before he went up the stage.

He proceeded to his short and concise speech and finally called on Lea Salonga, who casually sauntered onto the stage in a simple but elegant black pantsuit, went for the microphone, and then those old familiar lines from Stephen Sondheim’s SOMETHING'S COMING came out flowing like a cool breeze into the warm night air.

Could be, who knows?
…If I can wait, something’s coming, I don’t know what it is, but it is gonna be great…

It was a very appropriate opening number for Lea and surely an omen of things to come for the mesmerized audience who erupted into thunderous applause at the end of the song from West Side Story.

After greeting her Kababayans in the audience, she shared to us that it was the first time for her to hear a non-native speaker pronounce “Mabuhay” correctly, and opined that as a Filipino she doesn’t want to hear Mabuhay being butchered, to the delight of the large Filipino crowd.

She then told us that for our listening pleasure, she had put together songs “that I personally enjoy, songs that have in one way or another been associated with me.”
And this being her first concert in many, many months, she wanted it to be special, and added to the audience‘s amusement, “You have no idea how it feels to sing without having to cry! All of you who have seen Les Miz in the past seven months know what I mean,” in obvious reference to her role as the tragic Fantine in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables, where she brought back to life the character that Daphne Rubin-Vega killed.

People just couldn’t get enough of her as the cameras kept on flashing without let-up, prompting her to ask the concertgoers to "go easy on the cameras” and revealed that her “eyesight must have graded more, from the ‘strobing’” and that she might “have an epileptic attack” in the process, although she quickly added that although she doesn’t have epilepsy, she didn't want to “start that right now, seriously” and politely asked us to just “relax, sit back and enjoy the show.”

Lea Salonga’s voice was so pure that when she sang I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE from the Musical Guys and Dolls, it was like hearing the confession of a young and innocent girl, where one could really feel the simple yet heartfelt message of the song.

Then she reminisced about her early years as a performer wherein she shared that she used to sing on top of the table, to the delight of her mother, and can still vividly remember her first standing ovation at age 8 in a “blue dress and white cardigan and suffering from an allergy attack” on the day of her audition, landing the lead role for Repertory Philippines’ production of Annie The Musical that eventually paved the way to her pursuing a career in show business.

She sang TOMORROW in an up-tempo manner and got away with it. She sang it in a way that one couldn’t help but think that the song was and still magical in Lea’s capable hands after all these years. It was well-applauded and I’m sure many in the audience were having flashbacks of that cute little girl singing this very familiar tune on black and white TV many, many years ago and half a world away.

The star of the night admitted that even after years of being in the business, “there’s still quite a few roles I’d like to play. Hopefully, one day I’ll get the opportunity” as she rendered a haunting and beautiful rendition of I DON'T KNOW HOW TO LOVE HIM from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar and made a very good case for herself for the role of Mary Magdalene.

If only Andrew Lloyd Webber was in the audience…

Ms. Salonga paid homage to Mr. Lloyd Webber by declaring that she found the very talented songwriter to be “incredibly prolific” and confessed a role she has coveted for most of her life, showing her wit in the process to the delight of everyone--

“A role that I always had my eye on from when I was quite young but even at my age now… Fine, I’m 36! But I still look darn hot!”

And added feeling intimidated by the role despite coveting it badly.

“Even though I’m older than the person upon whom the show was based when she passed away. It’s still a part of musical theater canon for female singers, it intimidates me incredibly and I am not yet brave enough to tackle her on” but swiftly added that when the right time comes, she’ll be able to handle them like the rest.

YOU MUST LOVE ME from Evita the Movie came next and it’s not even fair to Madonna to merit a discussion here of the vocal discrepancies between her and Lea.

Lea Salonga’s voice can melt the heart of any strong man and surely is capable of capturing the hearts of a thousand Perons, too. Evita is one role that she can do without question, if you ask me. I am sure the people who heard her sing live that night and the ones who have heard her before will surely agree with me.

And she shared to us a funny little secret about a role that,

“I’ve wanted sooooo bad that while I was in Miss Saigon I kept dropping hints & not very subtle ones either“... to Cameron Mackintosh, perhaps?

“Yeah, I’d like to play Eponine in Les Miserables.”

And her ploy was amply rewarded when--

“I was very fortunate to be asked not too long after I left Miss Saigon to be a part of the big production“ and sang the most applauded song of the night that merited a standing ovation from the crowd.

It was her audition song for Miss Saigon, ON MY OWN.

Then she sang the Tagalog song, HAHANAPIN KO that was composed by Jose Mari Chan and popularized by Anthony Castelo in the 1980s and dedicated the song to “all the Filipinos that have left the country and still love our Motherland.”

Buckets of tears flowed from the Pinoy concertgoers as her smooth and soulful rendition of the ballad touched the hearts of so many of us Filipinos who have not returned to the old country in years. The song and the tears became a form of catharsis for many of us because not only does it link us to our past, it also reminded us of Home…

Her solemn version of SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, from the musical Oh, Kay! by the prolific duo George and Ira Gershwin, added another dimension to the concert and with only a guitar accompanying her, the song became even more personal and meaningful…

“Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome
To my heart he carries the key…”

Suddenly somebody from the audience sneezed loudly and like the trooper that she is, she blurted out “Bless You!“ in between the song lyrics and went on to sing the song in its entirety without missing a beat even as the audience was now laughing their hearts out. The sneezing bandit was never identified but surely, nobody would have liked to be in her/his shoes that night. Ha-ha.

Lea Salonga is an artist who knows how to interact with her audience and can really play with the crowd.

We all know that she became a Disney Princess not only once, but twice but she explained to us good-naturedly her apprehensions about it--

“My daughter would probably not believe that Mommy got to do that and is probably looking at me rolling her eyes!”

You can tell by the way she talked that she’s one proud mother to Nicole as she further confessed that her fears have some basis when she said,

“She’s ignoring me already and she’s only 17 months old!”

She did sing the two Disney songs from Aladdin and Mulan but with just the short Princess Jasmine part of A WHOLE NEW WORLD for the former, and a different and more complete version of REFLECTION for the latter.

She intimated that she got to record the "long original” version from Mulan but executives at Disney only released the short version for the movie, and as a form of “revenge” she always sings the complete version in her concerts.

A parade of beautiful songs highlighted the second part of the show and it was a blast seeing Lea’s expressions change from song to song--

--Her phrasing’s perfect, her diction impeccable and her voice crystal. Her effortless singing can literally and figuratively take you to a whole new world of musical magic.

She proclaimed that she loved ABBA and one can discern her respect for the immense talent of Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus in the song she chose to sing from the musical Chess.

Her poignant SOMEONE ELSE'S STORY can make you cry unabashedly without regard for anybody.

She can make you high and giggle with her sweet and girlish interpretation of the Kristin Chenoweth’s original “TAYLOR, THE LATTE BOY", one of the most applauded numbers of the night.

WHEN OCTOBER GOES was written by Johnny Mercer just before he died of cancer in 1976, and accompanied by a beautiful albeit melancholic melody that Barry Manilow composed in honor of his friend. Lea gushed how Manilow, known more for his cheesy compositions, was able to pen such a beautiful song. She fell in love with the song so much that she included it in her latest album “Inspired.”

You could see the smoke in Lea’s eyes when she admitted that she had her own share of heartaches, too. But she did not give up on love and in the end found the man of her dreams.

She opened her heart to us and dedicated the next song, I STILL BELIEVE IN LOVE, from the musical They‘re Playing Our Song, “to all the singles out there” and asked them to “never give up on love.”

The very emotional I'D GIVE MY LIFE FOR YOU put the music hall in silence and induced goosebumps on our skin, even 18 years after we first heard her sing that now classic song from Miss Saigon of what every mother would/can do for her offspring.

The night would not have been complete without the song that brought her back to Broadway. Her crystalline voice soared anew as she gave life to the Les Miserables' tragic character, Fantine, in I DREAMED A DREAM...

"But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder. As they tear your hope apart. As they turn your dream to shame!"

Lea showed us here her versatility as she shifted from one difficult note to another in an effortless show of vocal prowess, not to mention her heartbreaking interpretation of the song. She did it with much aplomb to the delight of the audience.

I have never heard Billy Joel’s homage to the Big Apple sang as beautifully as Lea did. In NEW YORK STATE OF MIND, she bared that she would never get away from New York, that no matter what she will always come back to New York. She considers the Big Apple as her home away from home.

The medley of SOMETHING WONDERFUL/BEING ALIVE from the musicals The King and I and Company, respectively, have in a way summed up the wonderful evening with Lea Salonga. I guess you could safely call it a night of enchantment in the enchanted village called Tarrytown.

Her encore of the Beverly Craven original and carrier single of her album "Inspired", PROMISE ME was hauntingly touching and well-received. I can say that she gave justice to the song and owned it in the process.

The concert lived up to its promise and it was a night to remember forever. Lea Salonga came aptly prepared to give her fans their money’s worth and she did not disappoint. Her song selections complimented her voice really well. The venue was suited for a more intimate and personal approach and she exploited them to her advantage.

The years have been kind to her, too and she really has matured as a singer and a performer -- confident, poised, witty, charming and beautiful.

And of course, She’s HOT!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Muted Silence

Marcel Marceau
(March 22, 1923- September 22, 2007)

The Master of Mime died two days ago at the age of 84.

Like his idol Charlie Chaplin, he perfected his art whom he fondly named as "L'art du silence" which brought him worldwide fame and accolades wherein eventually his name became synonymous with his art.

His striped suit, battered silk opera hat and single red rose became his signature as he single-handedly showed the world his enormous talent and the uniqueness of his craft.

He conveyed to us through his performances the soul of every human being. He showed
us that just by a sudden flick of one's finger or in the blink of one's eye, one can fathom the deepest recesses of human emotion.

He tackled the different aspects of human emotions in the The Mask Maker and his Youth, Maturity, Old Age and Death proved to be so powerful that prompted one critic to say that "Bip" accomplished in "less than two minutes what most novelists cannot do in volumes."

Now that he has quietly faded into the night,

the world is in silence...

Au Revoir Monsieur Marceau...

See him dance the Tango...

  • Here

  • ...

    Thursday, June 28, 2007

    AL PACINO: Man of the Hour

    “Say Hello To My little Friend!”

    If you don’t know that line you probably don't know who Tony Montana was nor you have not seen Al Pacino at his wicked- best. And I would probably say that you missed one of the best "bleep" movie of all “bleep’ time!

    Those were the words that cocaine- powered Tony Montana in the movie Scarface hurled to his enemies behind the door before unleashing the M- 203 grenade launcher at them in one of the highlights of the brutal and savage film by Brian de Palma and script written by Oliver Stone in the early 80’s.

    Last night, his colleagues at the American Film Institute (AFI) and his legions of fans have once again said hello to this diminutive man by Hollywood standards but a giant one in stature both in life and on the screen by presenting him the 35th AFI Life Achievement Award reserved only for the silver screen’s elite. The televised show was actually held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, CA days earlier.

    I’ve watched the show on USA Network amused, enlightened and in awe of the actor as his friends and colleagues recalled their various encounters and moments with one of Hollywood’s foremost icon who sat and watch from his seat applauding and sometimes teary- eyed and exclaimed in the end that he “needs a character” in reference to his having been at a loss for words for the first time in his life.

    Al Pacino is one lucky guy indeed in the dog-eat-dog world of show business having figured and acted prominently in many of the most thought- provoking and influential films of all time.

    He is one actor who put his life into every character that he plays down to the minute details that gained him the respect of his peers and fans alike. His talent, versatility, hard work and dedication that he put in every role make him a very good role model for new actors learning their chops.

    The list of his great movies is quite long but here’s a few that will surely find their way into any movie fanatic’s list of must- haves--The Godfather Trilogy, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Carlito’s Way and of course, Scent of A Woman where he finally won an Oscar for Best Actor in 1992 after years of being snubbed by the Academy by playing the role of the blind Lt. Colonel Frank Slade and in the process danced with the lithe and beautiful Gabrielle Anwar.

    The power and influence of a man as they say can be measured by the respect that his peers have for and had given him. If so, what I witnessed last night as they gave an endless parade of tributes and accolades to the Man of the Hour was a fitting witness to his immense talent and pull among Hollywood’s best and brightest stars.

    The show opened with Robin Williams acknowledging the night’s Honoree’s looming presence in the crowd and said that “ you put Robert de Niro in a dryer and you got Al Pacino” and proceeded to raise a glass of wine for him.

    Sir Sean Connery lamented that they have “known each other for 30 years and never worked together which was my loss.” He added that “ I was in that chair last year and I know how it feels--there’s nowhere to hide!” that elicited laughter from the audience.

    Then they showed clips from Serpico showing him with a beard, his character's unorthodox ways and such that in those days was a big no- no for a normal clean- shaven policeman and Dog Day Afternoon where he played the role of Sonny Wortzik wherein he was shown ranting outside a bank he’s trying to rob so that his “gay” lover can have a sex- change operation, a controversial role which was a major risk at that time for any actor who value his money and star power.

    On a side note, a thought occurred to me that, that kind of standoff which lasted 13 hours while holding 11 people hostage will never happen in the Philippines for the moment he steps out of the bank, he will be dead meat from some trigger- happy policemen who were only too willing to get the job done and end the situation asap and go home. Ha-ha.

    “Are you sober, could you read the script again?” showed how persistence can pay off and in this case for Frank Pierson (the scriptwriter won an Oscar for the movie) by getting a reluctant but talented actor to star in the sensitive film.

    It was also said that Al Pacino turned down the script seven times before finally agreeing to do the film and once again defied the norm and helped change our outlook of what a film should be.

    Jamie Foxx who starred with Al in Any Given Sunday thanked him, “ for allowing a young African- American for getting this thing on” and proceeded to tell about his experiences with the man--“no ego, played chess together in his trailer” wherein addressing Al and confessing, “ I let you win because I need to hear more stories…”

    He went on with his story wherein in one of his scenes with the esteemed actor, “ I tasted you, I noticed wetness flying on my face! What do you call that mouth moisture? I said to myself, this is the greatest actor in the world but I need a squeegee!” that brought the house down.

    Jamie then addressed the crowd as he mimicked Al Pacino, “Your Juiciness, I got Al Pacino almost in my mouth…I took the juice, I took the DNA inside of me and the next thing you know I won an Oscar!”

    Oliver Stone for his part shared three things about the lessons and influence of Scarface: “That every dog has his day” and that “if you can swallow the poison and live, everyday above ground is a good day” and finally, “no matter how many scripts I write, I think 'fuck you' and 'say hello to my little friend' as my contribution to the culture.”

    And added that with Pacino's Tony Montana, you can finally say “goodnight to the bad guy, you’ll never see a guy this bad again.”

    Scent of a Woman co- star Chris O’ Donnell shared some insights of Mr. Pacino’s funny side. He was surprised one day that he got a letter from him stating, “I couldn’t tell what you’re doing because I sort of never saw you but I heard you’re outstanding! ” Of course we all know that he played a blind military man in the movie.

    Two lovely ladies who I haven’t seen on film in a long time also paid their respect to the Man--

    Gabrielle Anwar who as a teenager danced the sensual tango with Mr. Pacino on the way to the latter's only Academy Award joked that “dancing with Al Pacino is something I haven’t recovered yet” which she quickly added the reference to her big toe to the laughter of the crowd. She still looks lovely if you ask me.

    Troubled actress Winona Ryder, another lovely lady and starred with him in his directorial debut in Looking for Richard made a rare appearance and admitted that he “ wooed me and he won me and he utterly seduced me…Not only as Lady Anne to his Richard…Still completely and utterly seduced. “

    And looking straight into Mr. Pacino’s large dark eyes uttered seductively, “And I would give my kingdom, my kingdom to be wooed by you again.”

    The American Film Institute (AFI) is a non- profit organization that was created in 1967 to preserve America’s Film Heritage and train future filmmakers which was made possible when then President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation creating the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1965 whose Board of Trustees in turn established the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1973.

    The AFI Life Achievement Award is recognized and considered to be the highest honor given to a career in film. Stars like Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, and Meryl Streep as well as Directors Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese just to name a few were all recipients of the prestigious award.

    This year’s honoree Al Pacino will be very much at home in their company, all giants of the silver screen and talented actors/actresses in their own right.

    One touching moment in the show was when Hollywood’s Nanogenarian Icon and Mr. Spartacus himself, Kirk Douglas, who survived a stroke in 1996 which left him partially impaired valiantly walked to the center of the stage to honor Mr. Pacino.

    In his husky, halting and slurry speech he proceeded to say that it is magic when an “actor can convince us that he is blind with his eyes open” and “he is blind but can dance the Tango like Al Pacino” did in Scent of a Woman.

    “I know where he gets his magic” he said and stopped abruptly with his speech and spitted a powerful, “hoo-ah!” to the delight of the crowd. ("Hoo-ah" is the often used expression by Mr. Pacino's character Frank Slade)

    He then cajoled them to say the magic word together as he counted from 1-2-3 and the Kodak Theater reverberated with a loud chorus of “Hoo-ah!” followed by thunderous laughter and applause.

    It was magic indeed seeing Kirk Douglas doing "Hoo-ah!" on stage and still a trooper in his advanced age and state.

    Kevin Spaceyfor his part stated that Al Pacino who has two Tonys under his belt “never used theater as a stepping stone for movies and left” for despite his success in film he remained true to his roots by doing stage from in between and also films that are based on plays like the acclaimed Glengarry Glenn Ross for which he earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor the same year that he got his Best Actor trophy from the Academy making him as the first and only (?) male actor to be nominated for two different films in the same year.

    Samuel L. Jackson narrated his experience with Pacino as well as his bit role in the movie Sea of Love during his early years in the business which he goes on to say that in the credits he was named only as “Black Guy” after being promoted to a “talking” part from a “clip board guy #2” role.

    Then came Mexican- American Comedian George Lopez' turn who made a raucous but funny impersonation of Cuban Tony Montana complete with the accent as well as poking fun at various Hollywood personalities and parodies of some famous films' immortal lines.

    Mr. Lopez proclaimed that “Tony Montana was the Lindsay Lohan of the 80s” and that in his films there are a lot of “eating, non-stop drug use, sucking and drinking. It shows you how life is unfair when Al Pacino got an AFI while Paris Hilton is in jail!”

    He also revealed that contrary to popular belief it was not Tony Montana who said the famous line “when you got the money, you got the power; when you got the power, you got the woman” and asked the crowd, “you know who said it first? Rosie O’ Donnell!”

    George Lopez further explained that Scarface transcends film genre and generation and backed up his claim by quoting famous lines from--Jerry Maguire ("You had me at fuck you!”), Wizard of Oz (“Toto we’re not in fucking Kansas anymore!”) and Gone with the Wind (“Frankly, my dear I don’t give a fuck!”) in obvious reference to the movies record use of the F- word which many people say that if you remove all the cuss words in Scarface you won’t understand the movie at all.

    He ended his one- man show by quoting Tony Montana, “You need people like me so that you can point a finger on me and say, that is the bad guy…. or the waiter!” a potshot to the stereotyping of Hispanics in the movies then.

    And just before he exited the stage, he got something in his pocket and wipe it on his face and when he looked up again, he was transformed into a Tony Montana’s Coke- smeared face!

    "He was magic.”

    Kirk Douglas recalled that he was mesmerized by “this guy, this young actor” while watching The Indian Wants the Bronx eons ago and remembered going backstage and telling : “'Mr. Pacino, you're going to be a star.' That was 45 years ago. What took you so long, Al?"

    Al Pacino in his speech acknowledged that The Godfather made him a household name and a star and showed gratitude to his Director, Francis Ford Coppola whom he admitted he haven’t seen in a long time and thanked him profusely for standing pat on his choice of the actor that will portray the coveted role of Michael Corleone"

    "I hardly ever see him anymore," he said. "Francis didn't just put me in the Godfather. He fought for me. Even when I no longer wanted to be in it. I wouldn't be here without him."

    Francis Ford Coppola in his videotaped tribute in turn revealed that while reading the book, The Godfather by Mario Puzo , the only face that he could picture to portray Michael Corleone was Al Pacino and thereby pursued him rabidly against the odds (Paramount Pictures Executives and all).

    Come to think of it, it would have been a great loss for all cinema fanatics had Coppola wavered and Pacino had passed on the role. But as they always say, he was destined to be Don Vito Corleone's fair-haired boy.

    Michael Mann, who directed Pacino with another equally very talented actor Robert De Niro in Heat as well as in the thriller The Insider with Russel Crowe, confirmed that the actor "doesn't fear. He's willing to go out on a live wire without a net."

    The method actor in Al Pacino made him chose some roles that were really quite risky and unconventional. He was never afraid to experiment with his choices that sometimes made his stars plummet and lose some of its luster.

    Like in several instances after the success of the first installment of The Godfather Trilogy, he starred in some mediocre flicks and made some daring career moves that alienated his fan base and shunned away from his movies.

    It was an open book that he was down on his luck for a time starring in one box office flop after another when the script that will bring back the life in his career dropped into his lap just like that--impressed by his talent and charisma Brian de Palma and Oliver Stone want him to be their Tony Montana in Scarface and so he went to Miami to film the said movie determined to get out of his rut.

    And he did get out of his funk and just like that as the old cliché goes that “you cannot put a good actor down,” his career was revitalized and he went on to be the toast of tinseltown, acknowledged by peers and critics alike as one of the best actor of his generation if not of all time.

    The record speaks for itself--

    He was a two-time Tony Award winner and although he was snubbed by the Academy Awards too many times (7x), he finally bagged the coveted acting plum for his role as Lt. Col. Frank Slade in the 1992 film "Scent of a Woman."

    He was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 by the Independent Feature Project and The Hollywood Foreign Press Association presented him with its prestigious Cecil B. De Mille Award at the Golden Globes in 2001.

    Andy Garcia could have not said it better when he referred to him not only as an artist but a poet and a clown as he praised him deeply and he shared his experiences with the actor and the man:

    “The depth of your artistry is only more overwhelmed by the generosity of your spirit and your warmth."

    "You're Van Gogh. You're Modigliani. That's who you are."

    For all the success and accolades that he received in his career, Mr. Pacino never forgot his roots and showed us the “ordinary” human side of him when after receiving the award from Sean Penn, he was almost speechless for a moment and made light of his nervousness, "I don't have a character tonight."

    "I see my life in movies. I have one question. Why aren't I in rehab?" in answer to Andy Garcia roasting him earlier.

    He went on with his speech and honored his acting mentors Charlie Laughton and Lee Strasberg for helping him of what he has become today. He said that he studied with them and they gave him the world in return.

    He recalled one particular instance where Mr. Strasberg after watching him doing a scene told the class afterwards “you see we take all kinds here” to the delight of the crowd.

    He also confessed on “looking at my reflections at subway doors” and telling himself, “hey you’re an actor!”

    He added that "Charlie and his beautiful wife" took him in their home at "44th Street and 19th Avenue" when he was a teenager in Manhattan and their home became his home away from the South Bronx.

    He mentioned producer Marty Bregman who coaxed him to go to Los Angeles and audition for the The Godfather and Signore Coppola for their roles in shaping his acting and movie career.

    And he also thanked Lady- luck for smiling on him.

    Surely Al Pacino being well- respected and admired in the world of show business not to mention the clout and the perks that goes with it, is one lucky guy indeed.

    So, say hello to my little friend no more, he’s been a GIANT from the very first moment he painted his face into the silver screen.

    Let’s watch Andy Garcia do an Al Pacino impersonation and ritual before takes…

    Originally Posted in bill blahs as a three- part series 06.19.2007

    Wednesday, January 31, 2007

    The Good Shepherd

    I went out yesterday and watched the movie The Good Shepherd and bumped into an acquaintance of mine from work near the restroom while she was waiting for her boyfriend who had to answer the call of nature.

    I asked her about the movie and she was candid enough to say that she did not understand it at all. She maybe telling the truth for Robert De Niro’s movie about the birth of America’s foremost spy agency, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is not your typical spy movie.

    It is a movie that left a lot of questions and delves on a lot of issues in passing that will left the casual viewer with no or limited knowledge about the history of the CIA and the circumstances around its formation to scratch their heads as they try figure out heads and tails of every scene.

    To the uninitiated, the CIA was born out of the old Office of Strategic Services (OSS) of World War II then headed by the legendary Colonel Wild Bill Donovan who proposed to then US President Harry S. Truman to create an intelligence agency that will deal both in overt and covert operations for the United States which led to its establishment in January 1946.

    Thus, the agency that would be responsible for fighting the United States government’s dirty war was born.

    During its history the CIA was responsible directly or indirectly in maintaining that US Allies in the fight against communism would be supported militarily and financially by the United States where the dictum “I don’t care if he is a son of a bitch as long as he is our son of a bitch” was the norm when questions about the morality and soundness of supporting a particular dictator to stay in power as well as the toppling of governments that are against or perceived to be against the US and too- friendly with the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries like East Germany, Cuba and Bulgaria.

    The movie has delved into the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion where Cuban exiles in Miami where trained and armed by the Firm but were abandoned to Fidel Castro’s forces when the plan proved unsuccessful and too hot to handle. They also mentioned in passing the unseen hand of the Office in toppling the new government of Chilean President Salvador Allende and installing their protégé Antonio Pinochet in office through military coup de etat where he would rule that South American nation with an iron hand for decades.

    Air America, Iran- Contra, Low Intensity Conflict were just some of the things that the sinister minds of the people in Langley in Fairfax County, Virginia have concocted in its dirty war against the Evil Empire.

    Even the agency’s use of the mob was shown when Wilson (Matt Damon) paid the Boss (Joe Pesci) a visit where he issued veiled threats that only reinforced the fact that they would leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with perceived enemies of the state.

    The central theme of the movie was focused through the eyes and life of one man, the character Edward Wilson which was likely but loosely based on the life of James Jesus Angleton, the head of Counterintelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency from 1954 to 1974 who was played by Matt Damon as a stiff, cold, and calculating operative whose eyes were opened through the evil that men do and whose life was suck into the cloak and dagger world of espionage that characterize the Cold War; where revenge and betrayal were the name of the game; where there are no permanent friends but only permanent interests; where duplicity is a common trait; where family comes only second to his work and country; where the interest of the United Sates is paramount; where disinformation when handled correctly is power.

    Young and promising Ivy League student Wilson was recruited at Yale by the secret society Skull and Bones where he was inducted into their world of secrecy whose members were a veritable who’s who in the elite circle of the government.

    Bonesmen then and now are said to be so powerful that they have elected presidents, appointed supreme court justices, and count prominent business leaders among its members. Even George W. Bush, the current president, is said to be a member of this so-called fraternity in Yale.

    Fast forward to his stint with the OSS and his years of training with the British spy agency where he learned and honed his craft under the watchful eyes of his old “professor” in poetry in Yale that he “betrayed” years earlier for being suspected as a German spy and Nazi recruiter in the US. He was compelled by an FBI agent (Alec Baldwin) to spy for him as a patriotic American citizen. The death of his erstwhile mentor at the hands of his colleagues was an eye opener for him that will guide his every move as he went further with his career in the clandestine world of espionage.

    Many viewers and critics alike have found the movie wanting in action and fast-paced story-telling as would have been expected in a movie that deals specifically with the CIA. But the movie is not your typical slam- bang spy thriller but rather a deep and long dissection of the history the US foremost intelligence agency and the role of a certain kind of men in its birth, infancy and to what is now the largest and most sophisticated intelligence organization in the world.

    In the end, you can only sympathize with these men and commiserate with their families who sacrificed everything so that America can sleep in peace knowing that there are a group of men out there watching and protecting her back.

    The all star ensemble for this espionage- drama; from Matt Damon to William Hurt to Tammy Blachard to John Turturro to Alec Baldwin to Angelina Jolie were like every piece that Robert de Niro has put into place to complete the desired picture and they did deliver.

    And on the lighter side, give me Angelina Jolie anytime, with her classic beauty on the screen and I will not complain enduring 160 minutes of sitting in a dark, musty theater. Ha-ha.

    Again, if you're not familiar with History especially about the Cold War and other dark, cold spy stuffs, you may find this film tedious and boring.

    You better watch Happy Feet, instead.

    Saturday, January 20, 2007

    Master Scorsese's The Departed

    Martin Scorsese is a master filmmaker and one of my favorite directors of all time; his films which are veritable masterpieces showed the enormous talent of the man behind the camera.

    However, it is really funny and a shame that for whatever reasons he has been snubbed numerous times by the Academy Awards.

    If there is a film director out there worthy of the golden statue it is Signore Scorsese--

    In my list of movies - Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Aviator and now, The Departed in no particular order will always be in the top echelons of movies borne out of Hollywood that could stand on its own merits and worthy story-telling.

    The Departed which was based on the Hong Kong‘s 2002 movie, Infernal Affairs once again showed his unequaled touch especially when the subject is about the Mafia and Organized Crime. He has mastered the genre like no other and knows every thing there is like the palm of his hands.

    With a powerful all star cast, he can do no wrong here--

    Jack Nicholson as the Boston Irish Mob Boss Frank Costello is a joy to watch and proves that he can still dish out his trademark “evil self” without much effort unlike most of the younger actors of today, his distracting eyebrows notwithstanding. Hahaha!

    Leonardo Di Caprio as the rookie undercover cop Billy Costigan tasks to penetrate the mob in South Boston has really grown up on this film and Scorsese has done wonders for him and he‘s one actor who’s so at home with the master having been under his tutelage in the past in such notable films like The Aviator and Gangs of New York. He really has evolved into one of the finest young actors of today and he will be a force to reckon with in the film industry for years to come if he will just play his cards right.

    Matt Damon is his usual exceptional cool but explosive self as the morally- torn Colin Sullivan, the mob boss’ protégé since his childhood and groomed to be his eyes and ears in the police force.

    Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg these two veteran actors played the two no- nonsense dedicated cops Queenan and Dignam whose main job and obsession is to eliminate the Irish Mob in Boston’s crime landscape and have done what they have been paid to do as the driven handlers of Billy Costigan in his undercover work against Costello.

    Alec Baldwin’s short but meaty performance as the overeager agent, Special Investigations Unit Captain Ellerby is worth mentioning here and he has shown maturity as an actor through the years by accepting some meaty but worthy non- lead roles in his career.

    Scorsese has woven an action- packed 150- minutes of a thriller here. I must admit that The Departed is the first movie that I have watched in the movie house this year that had my undivided attention right from the beginning up until the end and I tell you it‘s already a tribute to the Director for I usually fall asleep in the movie house in the middle of the majority of movies (boy, they are many) that I have seen this year prompting a friend to quip that the movie house is just a place for me to steal a wink or two, a hideaway from the hassles of my job.

    The film had me on the edge of my seat and glued my eyes on the screen as one scene after scene unraveled until it reached its peak in the end. It is one "bloody" but superb filmmaking that catches your attention which younger directors of today should try to emulate and follow.

    But even the master could sometimes overlooked something like the scene in the movie house where Costigan (Di Caprio) was trailing Costello(Nicholson) in his rendezvous with Sullivan (Damon) where he is shown holding his cell phone in silent mode "texting" his handlers about the so-called meeting between the mole and the puppeteer.

    Afterwards when Sullivan exited the movie theater and Costigan tried to tail him into the narrow side streets, his cell phone suddenly rang that caught Sullivan’s attention and prompting Costigan to scamper into an unscheduled detour to hide thus, letting his prey escape in the process. Such a glaring boo-boo from a well-trained undercover operative in the cutthroat world of the Mafia could only mean one thing in real life--Death.

    There is no letdown here though, for all in all, The Departed is still the best film of 2006 in my book owing to the actor’s captivating performances under the baton of the master storyteller if only the people at the Academy Awards should finally shun their undeserved and unfounded bias to one of the best filmmakers of all time and hand him the coveted Best Director Oscars come awards night which in my opinion is a well- deserved one and is long overdue.

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