Thanks to the people at the TIFF Lightbox theatre.
So! First of all there was:
I'm kind of wondering why this short was nominated. It seemed to be trying too hard with stereotypical Simpsons jokes and the shots chosen (on a 2D screen) were quite obviously trying to play for stereoscopic 3D. Having Hans Zimmer do the soundtrack for this short was unexpected, and it stands out in a good way on a certain scene where I am convinced James L Brooks did what sometimes appeared in the Simpsons, wherein a character is directly imitating the acting in a scene from a great work of cinema/theatre. It looks jarring placed next to the usual Simpsons animation. The Simpsons Movie did a better job for Oscars.
Then there was:
Aaand I loved this. The animation in this one wasn't entirely smooth. It looked like some scenes were just slightly faded keys and others were fully inbetweened, however the faded-keys only ever happened when the character (Either Adam or Dog) was very, very small in the shot.
Which, I will say, was a lot. This film was made to be seen on a giant screen. The layouts were beautiful, looking very similar to Impressionist paintings, and in many shots they were the focus. The characters were so small in screen I question how this may transfer to television or even smaller computer monitors. As a storytelling device, however, I loved it. I did also like the interaction between Dog and Adam (and the acting was truly what one could expect being the 'first man' and 'first dog' meeting up at the time). The film was also slowly paced, but seemed more like it was meant to tell the audience to be patient rather than trying to stretch time. I really enjoyed the color palette used, and when Adam is (inevitably) kicked out of Eden, and it presents a truly bleak picture of things. The subtle suggestion and transfer of the bright, colourful garden to this scene is also very well done, and very quiet. The poses and acting are great, and I'm almost sure the entire thing was done using pencil-and-paper, which is just amazing. Thumbs up.
Next was Fresh Guacamole by PES who I'm sure released this short earlier last year (possibly even earlier than that) as I have seen this clip before. The audience (which was notably older, and notably rich, although that may have been because it was a Friday Afternoon) laughed the most at this, probably because they were delighted at what non-food props were used to fill in for ingredients. I think this short was entirely meant as a technical stretch. PES did another short before this: 'Western Spaghetti' using the same style, same 'props as food' thing, and this worked out nicer. I was entertained, but I'm not sure this deserves an Oscar for it.
Paperman I've seen before Wreck-It Ralph, and in this I was quite pleased with the animation. It was smooth, masterful, and that weird combination of 2d and CG that it invented. I enjoyed the humor and acting more, and Disney knows how to be snappy when it comes to set up and punchline jokes. The first time I saw it I wasn't big on 'magic paper airplanes' but whatever, the music makes it all 'It's oh so magical!' and my heart was all 'Look the world is helping them be together!' so I'm pleased but not in shock over this short.
Head Over Heels is about an old man and his wife living on separate planes of gravity in the same house. It was fun to see the execution of this story, and stop motion is always fun, although I wasn't sold either way from it. I enjoyed how the story was resolved, which was creative, and I hope the people who worked on it get their due recognition. Not sure if it deserves and Oscar.
And those are the noms! I'd like Adam and Dog to win, but I have a feeling Paperman will, being so progressive in sticking 2D on 3D and being in black-and-white-40's land. If not, then Paperman will win the technical Oscar and, Adam and Dog will win the Oscar in general.
Yup, this past week as part of my 'Watch Everything Nominated for Oscars' this year I actually went and watched Zero Dark Thirty in theatres.
My review of this kinda requires some forwarnings:
1. I am not American. I strongly got the impression that this film is sort of geared towards Americans.
2. I had no idea until after seeing the film that there's controversy about the torture/interrogation scenes.
3. I have seen nothing else that Kathryn Bigelow has done. Nothing.
4. I don't know what's been embellished for film and what legit happened in RL or was spoken of in the book.
I remember reading somewhere that there are two kinds of films - those driven by character, and those driven by story. Character driven films are like 'The Avengers' because the plot is just 'Loki wants to take over Earth' and we just pay attention to how the characters interact and play with one another - we remember Tony Stark/Bruce Banner, and the Black Widow/Hawkeye interplay.
Zero Dark Thirty I can safely say is a story-driven film.
Sure, the character of Maya (Mya?) should theoretically be a character I should find appealing, especially because for the ENTIRE film there is NO hint at her being a love-interest. NONE. Which I think is a great thing for the film (it also passes the Bechdel test as statement of fact; I don't think a movie is good or bad whether or not it passes this test, but it's a nice sticker on their nametag, so to speak, so long as the qualifier of 'The two don't speak about a man' doesn't apply when any conversations cover Osama bin Laden) especially because there are literally two women in this film as characters: Maya, and her friend (who is only in it for half the movie) and that's IT.
This makes sense for this film because I can completely understand how the CIA and a lot of the military is still a boys-club, again as a statement of fact.
As a Canadian I can say I didn't get the real impact of this film. I was young when 9/11 happened, and (as a compliment to the actors) I truly got the impression that everyone involved in the search for bin Laden took 9/11 personally, and that was what was driving them. Rightfully so, I suppose, or else they wouldn't keep working at it for 10+ years.
There was also a good job of the film to introduce the process-and-follow-through of the giant web of information, suspects, and informants involved in this search. I kept up with 80% of it, and not having immersed myself in the media and history of this whole story, I call that a compliment.
The film itself is not beautiful - it has good camera work but doesn't have any gorgeous cinematography. I guess in a film like this it's not very necessary; having a shot you'd keep as a wallpaper on your computer draws you out of the mood this film sets; it's not supposed to show off grand vistas and the like. You're not supposed to have your breath taken away, you're supposed to be holding it because who knows what could go down next. Whether it was story-intended set up or not, there are a few scenes that impress how dangerous working with this case (is?) was, and so it's better if the audience isn't pushes away. There was some fun camera work involving night-vision-goggles near the end of the film that I enjoyed at first, but was a little trying as it went on.
I will say for pacing that I got bored. Yup- after hour 2 I just sat back and looked around; I knew what was happening was probably very important to impress that working on this case after a presidential election where Obama was to be Commander in Chief would mean many different struggles for Maya and her team, but they had lost me.
For acting, it was 8/10. I could outright frame the two scenes (the only two!) where Maya is in a head-on shot where she's foaming-at-the-mouth angry or relieved-and-crying that are just trying so hard to be the Oscar-nominee-sequence like in Wayne's World. It has no element of narm in it at all, it's just obviously framed that way just in case Jessica Chastain get's an Oscar nomination from it.
For the interrogation/torture sequences they weren't super shocking; maybe it was because it was a film that I assumed it was 'Movie Land' actions? As things went on between interrogatee and interrogator the steps and theories behind the actions done were explained to the audience by themselves, so I still have no real sure opinion on it. Maybe because it wasn't as much an asshole move as the photos from Guantanamo were, or Bigelow chose to avoid the more graphic-bloodthirsty scenes? I'll have to rethink this in the future.
I think Zero Dark Thirty covered this era in American history well, for being the only film to cover it that wasn't a documentary (which could be saying something). I do wonder if it was nominated for Best Picture just because it relates to 9/11. Zero Dark Thirty is a good film, don't get me wrong, but is it a great one? Is it worth Best Picture?
As a challenge to myself, and because it would be really easy thanks to my internet provider, I've decided to watch most of everything nominated for the Academy Awards. It also helped that I've seen roughly 5 or so of what's there, and that a local film festival theatre is showing ALL the nominated shorts (both animated and live-action) in the upcoming week, so that'll be handy.
So tonight, I decided to try my hand at watching a film nominated for best screenwriting:
Dir. Wes Anderson
It's the story of a boy and a girl who are roughly 12 or 13 living on a summer-camp/cottage island in 1965. They meet up, fall in love (as much as 12 year olds can), and decided to run away from their respective miserable living conditions, and adventures ensue.
Let me begin by saying that this is a Wes Anderson film and I don't understand Wes Anderson's humor - years ago friends sat me down to watch 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' (by Anderson) and I just didn't Get It (tm). The shots were great, the costumes wonderfully graphic, and the entire film looked like it was appealing. But it was lost on me. So for all intents I started watching this film while reading a book - I expected to pay half attention.
About 15 minutes into the film, I started actually paying attention. The characters were interesting, in a strange way. Yes, this film was about a 12 year old boy and girl falling in love and running away, and no, these two act nothing like actual 12 year olds, but instead like how 12 year olds think they're acting like when they are 12 and oh so mature and refined compared to their peers. Based only on the story summary and the poster, I could say the young boy looks a heck of a lot like Rushmore (another Wes Anderson film) but I haven't a real clue.
The much more relate-able story is how the parents and adult characters act (which is to say, not nearly as refined as the young couple, and much more human and less a front) when faced with their daughter gone missing, and a boyscout in their charge run away from camp on a large and mostly unbuilt island.
So screenwriting-wise, this works great. Cinematography-wise it looks lovely, and almost too put-together. Each opening shot looks like a storybook and being set in the 1960's the colors are bold while everything is under a sepia tone people like to think the 60's were always like before hippies and soft-filter came in in the 70s.
I enjoyed it. It's not taking my breath away, it's not changing my life, but I can say I saw it, and that's good enough for me, right now.
So there was recently an article published regarding the Toronto Transit Comission (TTC) and the recent decision to phase out the maroon, pale blue, and grey uniforms most commonly known to the employees of the TTC.
Of course, some people chose newer options that are relatively impossible to realistically consider as new designs for the employees, but then I came across an article normally considered farce. And it got me thinking.
This weekend I had the chance to view two films that were opening this week, The Master (in 70mm) and Looper.
The Master is, in not-so-nice terms, Oscar bait. It's a sweeping drama of (as the trailer shows) Joaquin Phoenix's character Freddie (who is already unhinged and getting moreso as time passes), and his interactions with Philip Seymour Hoffman's character known mostly as Master. Master runs an organization of sorts based around his book, which takes (very) heavily from Scientology. Before watching this film, I had read a review wherein a former Scientologist saw it and reported that while the Master's character was heavily influenced by one L. Ron Hubbard, the details were not present. Said reviewer also wondered how this film was to be viewed by one unfamiliar with Scientology's views.
Well, I am only slightly familiar, and the audience I saw the film with was about the same, as well. Audience reactions were spotted throughout the film at certain lines or scenarios, while I only 'caught' a few.
Anyway, as a film the shots and costumes were great - very lovely.
The acting was incredible - Joaquin Phoenix should receive an Oscar for his role, as he truly plays a man losing his grip on the world. Many times during this film I was wondering if Phoenix really was that much of a jerk on set (I should hope not, but with method acting I'm sure one can't compartmentalize things as cleanly as wanted). Hoffman does an excellent job of playing the charismatic and outright jolly at times leader of The Cause, who is a joyful, concerned and almost manic person most of the time, and snaps (quite loudly and with much cursing) at unexpected and shocking moments. It makes me wonder if the two characters became so connected over the story of the film because they were so similar and yet took different paths?
Amy Adams' role as the Master's wife was very well played as the devout follower of The Cause who is brought to fury and frustration upon seeing her husband and his following questioned and mocked by others, but admittedly her performance next to Hoffman and Phoenix, while great, is not as wild and colourful. She is a Monet next to a Kandinsky - the erracticism of the characters they play draws the eye too much away.
The shots were beautful, and were worth seeing on 70mm, although I must admit, I'm not sure what 70mm would do other than provide a different field to work with and greater detail (which was present and appreciated).
The story, for me, was confusing. I'm sure it will be picked apart a hundred times over, but this is a character piece with 70% of the film being entertaining. At 2.5 hours long, I was waiting the last half an hour out. Some scenes don't feel necessary to the plot, and it felt like the story was divided between moments where the characters were evolving and progressing, and moments where the writers could make references to Scientology. Not too often did it seem like the two were interconnected and necessary. The way the film ends makes me wonder if it wasn't told chronologically. Yes, there are flashbacks and memories that we see referenced at random times, but there is a portion of the film that takes place with Phoenix's character in the Navy and I wonder if his character goes back to it after the final story arc-moment of the film.
Rating: I'm glad I saw it, but I wouldn't see it again. I didn't enjoy it, but it will receive awards for sure.
P.S.: The acting is so good, mind, that I can't help but wonder if Joaquin had been planning for this role back when this happened:
Tonight I had the chance to see a film titled 'Craigslist Joe' which, as the trailer above summarizes, is the story of one man who attempts to live and travel strictly off of the kindness of people on craigslist. The documentary itself was good, cute in a way. I was a little surprised that Joe, the man in question, experiences no major setbacks or downfalls throughout his journey, and that everyone he meets is of the new-age, 'hippy' mindset. I suppose this is to be expected when who else would allow a complete stranger to sleep on their couch, or travel in a car with them for long distances.
In a way it was very uplifting to see someone supported entirely by the kindness of others, and the variety of backgrounds these people come from - old hippies who use crystals and pyramids, former actresses who need rooms cleaned, an Iranian family who were refugees from Desert Storm, etc. I know of a few people who would fit in just fine with this crowd, and who would gladly support a stranger in their travels (this is where I admit I'm not one of these people, although given a few years and the right company, I admire these people and might one day be counted among them).
I also thought it was an interesting view of America. Joe travels ( and in many ways, finds a place to sleep) by accompanying people in their vehicles as they drive across country. This is a little of the view of North America, where driving is a necessity should one wish to travel entirely off the kindness of strangers.
The travels of Joe also happened to occur during the month of December, and I wonder if that played a part in how generous craigslisters were; were he to travel around, say, February, the 'spirit of giving' is not nearly as present amongst the general public and I wonder how easily he would have found lodging or rides.
So I liked this film, not amazingly so, but I'm glad I could see it - I saw it through an indie theatre, and Craigslist Joe would do fairly will in the major theatres so long as they are the type to play 'Indie' films alongside blockbusters.
Rating: 6.5 to 7 out of 10
Robot and Frank I saw a little further back, and I enjoyed it better than Craigslist Joe. It's about (again, as the trailer shows) an older man (Frank) living on his own and his children get him a robot as a house assistant - a butler or an aide, if anything - and Frank who so happens to be a former thief, brings the robot into play as his wing-man when doing one or two last 'jobs'.
I was impressed with the acting, especially by whoever was playing the robot, as my suspension of disbelief was quite readily thrown on about 30 seconds after the robot began to move (my only issue was how light the robot seemed at first - easily lifted from a car trunk by a young man).
The underlying story of how Frank is dealing with Alzheimer's was also well played, with a few spooky moments where Frank forgets who (rather, what) he is talking to. The world built around the film also shows a few choice signs of how it's set in the 'near future', from television-phones to movements both for and against robot labor.
It was an elegant story, with the main focus being the story of Frank, although I found a few elements could have been adjusted - I wasn't sure why Frank stole a certain book in the film other than as a reason to practice thieving with the robot. Susan Sarandon's character appears heavily in the beginning and the end of the film, but disappears during most of it.
I enjoyed Frank being shown, with flaws and all - and not even quirks, but active flaws that the audience feels a little uncomfortable with seeing. How Frank reacts to and manipulates his family in order to divert blame or confrontation with other people is the example that stuck with me.
I feel this film will be well accepted, being directed a) at the aging boomers (who made up most of the audience I was with) and b) their children (like myself) who will face their parents aging before their eyes and will have to figure out what to do. When the largest population expansion in the past 100 years ages at the same time, the world will cater to it, and robots, however outlandish they sound now, are currently being looked at, if not already employed. This was shown rather well in the slightly out of character, but very interesting, clips of robots during the credits. From ASIMO to robots used to help transport the elderly to and from their beds, it was fascinating to see what technology can, and could, do.
The cinematography, costumes, sets, and storyline was strong, the acting was good, and the story was well done. It didn't capture my heart, but I enjoyed it all the same.
Today I saw the documentary 'The Queen of Versailles' which is the story (mostly) of Jackie Siegel, wife of the owner of a huge timeshare company, and her family. Originally the film was intended to outline the story of the construction of the largest single-family owned home in America (at 90,000 square feet), but the stock market catastrophe of 2008 got in the way of that.
I was quite impressed how the director and producer of the film managed to a) stick with the family while filming when the goal of the film was supposed to be about a house and b) Still had a story to tell despite the unexpected change of focus.
The family, themselves, first have this strong impression that you'd expect when watching the incredibly wealthy (especially new money): they spend all the time, everywhere, on too many pointless, expensive things and the audience can laugh and say 'How stupid; does anyone need that many _____'s?'. But as the film progresses, we see just how much the recession affected them (admittedly not as much as many, many others) and how much stress is stirred up among the family members and how a company built completely off of making people spend money tries to live when there's no more money to go around.
It's a strange dynamic, Jackie and Dave. Dave is incredibly wealthy and Jackie being essentially a trophy wife. There's a strong impression Dave isn't too thrilled to have her as a spouse (probably not helped by him being 70-ish and her being 40-ish and as much as they loved one another, they're in different life stages). Jackie, having formerly been a model as well as a 'Mrs. Florida' (not Miss, Mrs!) champion, sticks to what she knows : poise, a smile in the face of stress, and looking good. Dave is the businessman down to his bones and lives with boxes and boxes of papers and reports around him both in the office and at his home, all while fretting over bills when times get tough.
Balancing out the entire family are also introductions to some of the children, Dave's son from another marriage (although their relationship is strictly employer/employee), the limo driver for the Siegels, and the cleaning/nanny staff members. Particularly interesting was Jonquil, Dave's unofficially adopted daughter. She had come from a tremendously poor mother and at times were sleeping on the streets. To go from this to opulence is a big deal, and Jonquil provides some comments that relate to the audience, as well as imply her feet are on the ground, so to speak.
So without revealing too many spoilers (if they exist in a documentary of this kind), this was a good film that is an interesting story, with interesting characters that sometimes follow stereotypes that are just who they are. If you can, give it a look.
I have this terrible fear that one day I'll throw my phone out a streetcar window. It's always in the back of my mind whenever I sit on one, and I'm terrified I'll follow through with it. It's like jumping off tall places or onto subway tracks.
As people who know me already know, I like going on about what movie is coming up next. The great part is that many of the people I know also participate in the conversation in much the same manner, while a few politely smile and nod while waiting to change the subject.
However, there's one such film currently in talks that even the movie-buffs in my social circle are not too thrilled about: 50 Shades of Grey.
The soccer-mom, Twilight-smutfic that is now a huge phenomenon has moved on to being a film, and thanks to one article, I now have hopes and dream for this release (pun not intended).
THIS article says that the author of American Psycho (the book) really wants to adapt the book to film. This is the greatest news I could have heard.
From the numerous reviews and excerpts I've read of 50 Shades of Grey (I'm not going to deny it, I heard mainstream smut and I went running) the plot could be the most boring thing in the entire world, dotted with great sex. Impossibly great sex. Actually, the author really can't impress enough to her audience that the young, incredibly naive heroine of the story (Anastasia) and the billionaire who wants to own her (Christian) have nigh-on celestial boinking throughout the book. To Anastasia, it starts great and gets better using a logarithmic scale. Not that she would know; obviously, Christian would have to explain it to her on the blackberry he gave her, Anastasia never having owned a cell in her life. And she's a super virgin. Of course, this is entirely relate-able.
But aside from that, how to frame this BDSM-based story so that mainstream audiences will keep coming (again, pun not intended)?
Point One: The fanbase for this film are grown-ups.
This book is for adults. Women are reading this book not to see some fade-to-black scene like in Twilight with Bella and Edward (even if 50 Shades is actually fanfiction from it), they are reading because the hero and heroine do some hardcore kinky fucking. A lot.
This would bring about the greatest point for this film: The rating. After all, how do you convey the story of the book when two-thirds of it is sex is without any sex scenes in a movie?
Therefore, I am convinced this film should have clear sex scenes and thus be rated R. In my dreams, it would be NC-17 and be the greatest grossing NC-17 film after Showgirls, but I think the MPAA would have a fit.
Point two: The fanbase for this film are dedicated people.
These fans are serious. They read the book, they bought physical copies of the book, they are going to see the movie for themselves. They are going to see this film at least once, crap film or not. They are the reason this movie is being made, because 20+ year-old women have money, and boy will they spend it on seeing this movie.
Point three: The studios want to draw in people who aren't part of the fanbase.
With the book fans assured to see this film, the studio behind it would need to look at how to attract the rest of the movie-going public. The subject matter obviously isn't for families, or young children, so they know the demographic they're going for is 16+. They also need to introduce the plot and idea to as wide an audience in this available demographic.
So how do you get people to watch 2 hours of a young girl and emotionally shattered billionaire angst and have sex? Thriller.
Who to direct?
The article mentions David Cronenberg as the one to ideally direct, and this is an excellent decision. With his recent release of Cosmopolis, he's show he a) can do film adaptations of books quite readily (quality of the subject matter aside, not that I'm insulting Cosmopolis the book) and b) is very familiar with the psycho billionaire image; suave with an edge.
In my perfect world David Fincher would be directing, and running off the tone of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He could make the film look like 'shades of grey', especially when addressing the mainstream audience.
Actually I hope the director of photography picks up on this. It's obvious but would suit the tone so well.
Point Four: How do you get the public not expecting Christian to be a pervert?
Over roughly the past 10 years 'Kink' has become more and more acceptable by general public. While the hardcore elements are still 'taboo', the idea of handcuffs, silk scarves, and power play involved in someone's bedroom are almost average thanks to the explanations of BDSM on CSI (there was a running storyline of this), Bones (with a few episodes), Sherlock (Irene Adler plays the dominatrix beautifully), and The Matrix series (old, and truthfully it's played more as imagery than anything else, but counts), among others.
Ok, yes, Christian explains that he's into BDSM because he's been sexually manipulated and abused by previous people in his life - this is not a healthy way to go about it, but it makes sense to the audience. It worked in the film 'Secretary' with Maggie Gyllenhal somehow transferring self-injury into submissive-ness, but many of the people in the BDSM community aren't dealing with a history. They just simply are. They are curious and have fun with roles and sensations. Perhaps 50 Shades could introduce this concept to the audience through the gradual introduction through Anastasia (especially going about the BDSM parts in a sane manner, unlike the books).
Therefore 50 Shades of Grey as a film with kink would not be some massively shocking introductory story for film, although I expect organizations and churches to be protesting this by the masses, if only because it portrays pre-marital sex (what movie doesn't now?), even if it's still between a super-virginal young girl, and a dedicated long-term relationship oriented psycho male billionaire. (It's a straight couple, isn't that ok by movie-sex standards?). But to portray BDSM entirely the same as vanilla sex, while working in some scenes, just doesn't work for the entire film.
There's hope. This film could work. It just needs to be almost entirely unlike the book. Let's not mention the sequels. Marriage and children involved in this? Please.